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The ongoing desertification and climate change affects parts of Turkmenistan and leads to extensive and often severe problems of land degradation. The response by farmers to increasingly erratic water availability is to turn to ever-more irrigation. The irrigated agriculture in the country, however, relies on aging and energy-intensive infrastructure. This contributes to making the sector into the main water consumer in the country. Irrigated agriculture accounts for as much as 90 percent of the total consumption, but around 50 percent of the water is lost between withdrawal and ultimate delivery due to the inefficient water supply chain which includes outdated water and energy infrastructure in place.
Consequently, water management and energy efficiency in irrigated agriculture become a crucial issue, which have to be handled in order to reverse the damage that not only affects the agricultural and environment but the sustainable livelihoods of the local population by disturbing the economical domain of millions from across the country.
The project “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for Sustainable Water Management in Turkmenistan” works with technology transfer, investment, and policy reform, towards providing sufficient and environmentally sustainable water supply to enhance social conditions and economic livelihood of the population of Turkmenistan, also reducing GHG emissions associated with water management, preventing and remediating salinization of lands.
Started in 2015, the project is financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Ministry of Water Economy (MWE) of Turkmenistan with the total invested budged of 78,285,000$.
About 40 percent of Kahka’s water supply comes from groundwater extracted from 41 wells with electric pumps that run around the clock 365 days per year. The remaining share of water is taken directly from the Layinsuv River via a separate canal approximately 20 km long. Infiltration losses through the canal’s gravel bed are very high – approximately 50 percent, by MWE estimates. Therefore, while about 200 liters are withdrawn from the river per second, only about half is delivered to the purification facility, with the rest entering groundwater.
To ensure that 100% of water reaches the final destination, decrease the number of water wells used for pumping the water from underground, reduce the water losses and associated energy consumption, UNDP project has provided direct investment in a large-scale infrastructure project on municipal water supply to benefit over 35 000 local residents of Kahka town and over 150 000 residents of more than 30 other communities in the Kopet-Dag foothills. The construction of the proper water supply chain along the Layinsuv River replaced the outdated inefficient system with a pipeline and concrete water channels, thus nearly completely eliminating infiltration losses and replacing electric wells with the simplest form of renewable energy – a gravity-based system with water flowing downhill. Installation of the pipeline eliminated the need for continued operation of the wells for at least 10-15 years.
“Today, we have installed the new system for delivering water to the town of Kahka for multiple purposes. The water from the Layinsuv River should be sufficient for farming and cattle breeding needs as well as domestic use of the residents of Kahka. We believe that with the proper exploitation of the new system, the need to use diesel powered wells will go down by 100% for the next 10-15 years. We also hope that the local administration will be able to build new infrastructure around the system, including a small hydropower plant to convert the energy from the water at the end of the new pipeline system to power the pumping station that directs water from the purification facility to the municipal distribution network,” explained Geldi Myradov, UNDP/GEF Project Manager.
The new water delivery system also includes lining of interdistrict canals for reduction of water losses and land salinization, which happens due to the excessive watering of the fields. In the past, UNDP/Adaptation Fund project “Addressing Climate Change Risks to Farming Systems in Turkmenistan at National and Community Level” has proved and demonstrated to the local farmers of Mary and Ahal regions that rational irrigation and use of fertilizers allows preventing salinization of the soil and thus, longer use of the fields for irrigated farming.
The experience has been adopted in Kahka as well, where the project prevents infiltration of the water, teaches farmers irrigation technics tested in the Geokdepe research site and monitors the levels of salinization of the soil and the underground water levels.
First of its kind in Turkmenistan, the Geokdepe research site of 145 ha allows testing irrigation technics for the needs of irrigated farming spread throughout Turkmenistan. In Geokdepe, experts from the National water research institute together with UNDP, GEF specialists and the members of the National academy of sciences test various types of irrigation technology which provides a new opportunity for full integration of supply, delivery, and end use of water.
At the research site, specialists experiment with land use and water supply and collect informational feedback from “smart” systems to observe how to reduce pumping when irrigation needs are low, thus lowering consumption of both water and electricity. In particular, the project has installed dripping irrigation, sprinkler, and farrow irrigation systems and planted first trees and other plants testing various irrigation methods throughout the year. The results generate the innovations that dramatically reduce water loss, reduce energy consumption for pumps, increase yield per hectare and thereby reduce the labor, material and energy needed per unit of crop yield.
The project also builds of the experience and feedback from the local farmers engaged into the UNDP/Adaptation Fund project where UNDP and Adaptation Fund have built the capacity of the local farmers for independent and efficient water and land management, dealing with the effects of climate change and adopting world’s best experiences in the field of irrigated agriculture and nature solutions.
“We became more efficient and see more results from the use of the technology introduced by the UNDP project. In the past, we fought for the water because we didn’t know how much we need it and we often overused it in the fields. Now, we are more careful with the irrigation. People from the local villages come to see how we work and learn from us,” shared Ogultuvak Meredova, a local farmer in Sakarchaga, Mary region of UNDP/Adaptation Fund project.
Using the results of the research in Geokdepe, UNDP will be able to provide policy recommendation and ensure scaling up of the results of its work.
On the top of the listed actions, UNDP and GEF hold seminars for local farmers and staff of the relevant national agencies, presenting innovative technologies and international best practices in efficient irrigation techniques in agriculture.