Valuation of ecosystem services for improved water resources management in the agricultural sec-tor of Kazakhstan

July 2014 – December 2015
Funding sources
International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
  • NGO «Biogen»
  • Turkestan Kazakh-Turkish Univeristy
  • Yugvodkhoz
  • Karatau Nature Reserve
$ 170 308
Thematic area
Ecosystem services

Turkestan region is situated 250 km downstream from the Chardara reservoir, between the Syr-Darya course and the Karatau mountain range. It is part of the South Kazakhstan Province which ranks first in the Republic of Kazakhstan with regards to the area of irrigated agricultural lands. Part of the water resources available for irrigation originates in the Karatau range, but most of it is diverted from the Syr-Darya River, hence originates from the reservoir. Cotton growing and orchards are the two main agricultural land uses in the area. Farmers own or lease agricultural lands ranging from 10 to 150 hectares, though a typical farm stretches between 20 and 30 ha. Other economic activities such as fishery and livestock raising as well as urban areas also rely on this river for water provision. Finally valuable ecosystems such as riparian forests are tightly linked to water availability from the Syr-Darya.

While the Syr-Darya River is the main source of water for irrigation and other economic activities, it carries a high concentration of nutrients, pesticides, sediments and sewage water from upstream irrigated areas of riparian states. Associated with unsustainable water uses, outdated irrigation systems and riparian forests logging, current water uses create a series of difficulties for downstream water users and harm productivity and their livelihoods. Furthermore, water users and water uses are numerous, with different needs for water and impact on this resource, and there is no clear picture on the extent to which each of the stakeholders involved are affected, and for which reason. Similarly, there is no quantitative information with regards to the nature of water users’ problems, whether it is water quantity, quality or timing, while it is key information for solving these issues. Finally, the impact each water use has on the others has not been documented which prevents identifying key actions to positively affect the majority of water users.

CAREC implemented a project in Turkestan area aiming at creating cooperation mechanisms between local stakeholders in order to enhance ecosystem services provision. Specifically, CAREC worked on creating a formal relationship between the Karatau nature reserve, farmers, herders, schools from Khantagi and Ikansuu villages, and a local NGO. After a rapid assessment, water quality and landscape aesthetics were identified as main ecosystem services to be maintained. The former impacts local communities through irrigation and drinking water supply, while the latter is the main basis for developing ecotourism in the area. Two local cooperation schemes were created. The nature reserve committed to develop a plan for rational pasture management in its buffer zone to limit soil erosion and grazing in the Khantagi River bed. Meanwhile water points are being built on remote pastures to destock degraded rangelands. Finally, in order to reduce the grazing pressure, the nature reserve held trainings on alternative sources of income such, e.g. greenhouse construction and management, and promoted the use of water-saving technologies (drip irrigation).

Building on this existing experience, this project proposed to focus on water resources. After completing an agricultural water management analysis of the area and an analysis of the links between water resources availability and economic impacts on water users – with a focus on women – it is proposed to develop specific activities and mechanisms aimed at empowering women groups and promote more rational water uses. Project results have been linked to other CAREC projects and efficiently up-scaled to the policy making level through a regular dialogue between the project team and policy makers during the course of the project.

Finally, the project helped to build capacities of local partners such as the International Kazakh-Turkish University (IKTU – located in Turkestan city) through the involvement of master’s students.

Overall objective: Improving agricultural water management in the low Syr-Darya River Basin will lead to improvement of other downstream ecosystem services sharing same water, and through the identification and valuation of main water-related ecosystem services, a plan can be developed for payment for improvement of agricultural water management.

Specific objectives:

  • Identify key drivers for water use and water use change in the low Syr Darya River Basin and their economic impact on water users;

  • Develop a set of mechanisms, including incentive-based ones, to promote improved water uses, with a focus on women-led agriculture-based, income-generating activities;

  • Mainstream project results into development planning and policy making of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The project had three main components. The first one consists of a baseline assessment which identifies and maps water users, uses and main water use drivers. The second component concerns the development of several capacity-building activities for women groups and enabling rational water use practices to emerge. The third component, developed along with the two others aims at up-scaling the project methodologies and results at the policy level and to link it with educational programs. A brief overview of activities within each component is given hereafter:

1.      Baseline assessment

a.      Agricultural water management modeling (using a SWAT model)

Identification, collection and analysis of existing and additional data for calibrating the SWAT model; creation of a GIS database of topography, water bodies and water infrastructure networks, land uses and soils.

Extraction from the model of information on biomass production, sediment, nutrient and pesticide concentration, water balance related parameters (runoff, transpiration, evaporation, etc.); identification of the most productive way to use water.

b.      Stakeholder mapping

Identification of main water uses and users and their need in terms of quantity, quality and timing of water; identification of main water-related ecosystem services in the project area; identification of water-related issues: origins of the problem and identification of main water users affected; calculation of the economic costs borne by water users because of water-related issues, i.e. low ecosystem services provision (scientific backstopping from the University of Minnesota); identification of women water users groups, their specific water related issues and needs for water saving technologies and additional support (value chain, processing, etc.); creation of a database based on these information.

c.       Drivers of water uses

Research on positive and perverse incentives for water use, on regulations related to land use and water use; identification of other drivers of water use; creation of a database based on this information.

d.      Drawing scenarios for water use

A cost-benefit analysis is completed and trade-off options identified for different water uses under scenarios of changing ecosystem services provision (water quantity, quality and timing).

e.       Capacity building of project staff (CAREC and IKTU researchers)

Capacity building of CAREC staff on using the SWAT model and conducting GIS analysis; capacity building of master’s students from the IKTU’s Ecology department (Natural Sciences Faculty) involved in the project on ecosystem services considerations and supply chain analysis.

1.      Improvement activities

a.      Capacity building and empowerment of women water users: Two demonstration days for women groups on rational water use; capacity building on supply chains of farming products; development of networking (e.g. associations).

b.      Development of incentive-based mechanisms: Analysis and development of cooperation and PES-like mechanisms between water users and other stakeholders.

c.       Application of water saving technologies: Pilot plots to showcase water saving irrigation technologies; technical trainings on irrigation scheduling, irrigation norms.

d.      Capacity building of governmental specialists and policy makers:

Capacity building of district governmental specialist on water accounting and rational water use; Capacity building of policy makers through the publication of a policy brief synthesizing the project results in a clear and relevant language with recommendations ready to be used by policy makers.


2.      Up-scaling project methodologies and results

a.      Creation of a working group: Based on the existing coordination committee in Turkestan organized by an ongoing CAREC project with additional representatives from the partner University and relevant policy makers or experts; the working group gives feedbacks on the project activities and can orientate the project team.

b.      Holding of consultations: Consultations with policy makers to get their feedbacks and recommendations on how to efficiently up-scale

1.      Up-scaling project methodologies and results

a.      Creation of a working group: Based on the existing coordination committee in Turkestan organized by an ongoing CAREC project with additional representatives from the partner University and relevant policy makers or experts; the working group gives feedbacks on the project activities and can orientate the project team.

b.      Holding of consultations: Consultations with policy makers to get their feedbacks and recommendations on how to efficiently up-scale

  • Individual farmers and farmer associations

  • Karatau Nature Reserve

  • Village authorities

  • Local women groups

  • Water uses, water users and associated water management issues are clearly identified and synthetized in a database. Water issues affecting women groups are specifically outlined;

  • Specific empowering and capacity building activities along with incentive-based mechanisms are developed for enabling women groups adopting a more rational use of water resources;

  • Different scenarios with changing ecosystem services are drawn, associated impact on water users identified and their cost calculated, and recommendations on agricultural water management made accordingly;

  • Project results are up-scaled at the policy level through discussions with policy makers in the course of the project and presented as a policy brief.

Project manager – Saniya Kartayeva