|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
1. Irrigated agriculture, which covers 4.3 million hectares (ha) accounts for 90% of agricultural production and over 40% of employment in Uzbekistan, remains a key economic sector, and is the main source of livelihood for rural communities. To further improve rural living standards, the government has developed the Welfare Improvement Strategy (WIS) for 2008-2010. Considering that over 60% of the population live in rural areas and depend on irrigated agriculture for their livelihood, the strategy recognizes inefficient water resources management and land degradation as the strategic challenges.
2. Most of Uzbekistan's irrigation and drainage (I&D) infrastructure has been in operation far beyond its economic life and it is rapidly deteriorating. Since the majority of country irrigation systems are lift irrigations due to its nature, water supplies are getting not only inefficient due to deteriorated irrigation structures but also unreliable due to increased accidents in pump stations and unsustainable due to consequent increase in operation and maintenance (O&M) cost. High seepage water losses throughout systems and in irrigated farmlands due to uncontrollable structures and insufficient and inefficient drainage systems are causing land salinization and degradation problems. Modernizing the deteriorating I&D infrastructure is therefore of paramount importance to ensure sustained agricultural production and economic growth.
3. The current major challenges for the sector include (i) limited investment; (ii) reduced agricultural productivity caused by low water-use efficiency (about 40% on average); (iii) deteriorating I&D infrastructure; (iv) reliance on pump irrigation that covers 65% of the irrigated area, absorbs 70% of the annual O&M budget, and consumes 20% of country's electricity; (v) low pump station energy efficiency caused by the system's poor state of repair and old designs; (vi) poor water management practices; and (vii) high climate sensitivity as 500% water deficit is projected by 2050, resulting in droughts and further desertification. Such a drier environment is expected to be more reliant on already scarce water resources. Thus, substantial investments in I&D and water management will be required to maintain food security.
4. The Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources (MAWR) is responsible for water resources. Although the responsible organization for the development, O&M, and management of I&D, infrastructure within MAWR was reorganized in 2003 from a provincial and district administrative basis to a water basin set-up in which I&D is managed by basin irrigation system administrations (BISAs), they need improved irrigation and water management procedures and practices to manage water more effectively. Improved coordination among BISAs, other administrations in each I&D system level within BISA, and Water Consumers' Associations (WCAs) responsible for water management at the on-farm level, and their improved technical skills would also improve water management efficiency.
5. Surkhandarya is the most southern province of Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Its population is around 1.9 million with over 1.5 million rural inhabitants. The poverty incidence in Surkhandarya is 35%, which is the third highest in the country. Amu-Surkhan BISA covers over 325,000 ha, which is most of the irrigated lands in the province. The main crops are cotton and grains occupying more than 70% of irrigated land being mainly served by pump irrigation systems. The deteriorated I&D network is causing low irrigation efficiency and consequent water logging and land salinization. As a result, the saline lands increased up to 114,000 ha, which make up 35% of the whole irrigation area.
6. Fergana Valley consists of Andijan, Fergana, and Namangan Provinces, and is situated in the easternmost part of the country, which borders the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan. Its population is around 7.8 million with around 5.0 million rural inhabitants. The poverty incidence in the valley ranges between 15.8% and 33.4% depending on province. The valley is subdivided into three large sub-basin units with the total irrigated land of 650,000 ha. In the valley many large and small gravity and lift irrigation systems are connected among each other by canals. The majority of I&D systems including pump stations are not fully operational due to their deteriorated conditions. Most parts of the irrigated area are subjected to salinization, of which 9% is categorized as having an average or high degree of salinization, 15% as being waterlogged, and some 80% suffer from high groundwater levels.
7. Since 2004, ADB has been supporting the government to improve irrigated agriculture and water resources management by implementing three projects, including two in the proposed project locations. The rehabilitation of Amu Zang Irrigation System one of the largest pump irrigation systems in the country aimed to increase the reliability, efficiency, and sustainability of irrigation water supply in Surkhandarya Province. The Water Resources Management Sector Project is sustaining and increasing agriculture productivity in the Zarafshan River Basin and Fergana Valley by upgrading pump irrigation systems, and improving water management, and a plan and capacity development program to improve efficient water supply and productive water use in Fergana Valley. ADB also helps develop water resources sector assessment and strategy through the ongoing regional technical assistance. Lessons learned from these projects will be incorporated in the design of the proposed project.
8. A proposed project is in line with the Country Partnership Strategy 2012-2016, which includes the water resource management and irrigation as one of the core sectors, and focuses on the rehabilitation of a major irrigation system to make the system more energy-efficient and reduce the cost of its operation, and is included in the draft Country Operations Business Plan 2012-2014.