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Land degradation and desertification

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Land degradation and desertification
What is land degradation?

Land degradation is defined by GEF as follows: any form of deterioration of natural land potential that negatively affects ecosystem integrity by either reduction of its long-term ecological productivity or reduction of natural biological abundance and ability to withstand external impacts . Simply saying, land degradation is situation when land becomes less productive comparing to its past productivity. Productivity affects not only people, but also nature – land ceases functioning in the way it used to function previously. Three factors are considered to be the most important indicators of land degradation.

a. Reduction of productivity – reduction of lands productivity can be observed all over Uzbekistan’s territory. Land productivity is generally measured in land class at 100-unit scale. It is not important how it is calculated, but the higher is the class, the better the land quality is, i.e. the more productive it is. Comparing to the beginning of the 90-ties, the land class of irrigated lands has dropped at the entire Uzbekistan’s territory from the mark of 55-65 by 10 units in average. The country land-class map is given below. As can be seen from the indicators, the condition of irrigated lands in Uzbekistan is in most cases determined as “average” or “below average”, and in two regions – Khorezm region and Karakalpakstan – as “poor”.

b. Reduction of natural biological diversity – the land ability to provide certain ecological services (productivity, pollution assimilation, participation in hydrological chemical substances circulation cycles, etc.) directly depends on available abundance of biological forms of life participating in all these processes. As soon as the number of these biological species decreases, the number of ongoing processes and their quality rapidly drops. As the result the land is degraded.
 
Uzbekistan Irrigated Lands Status with land-class grades
 Состояние орошаемых земель по Узбекистану с показателями бонитета
Source: Environment Indicators Atlas, UNDP, 2007

c. Reduction of ability to withstand external impacts – stably functioning, healthy ecosystem provides for mitigation of various natural (climatic catastrophes, natural disasters) and anthropogenic (pollution, temporary disturbance, etc.) external impacts. Exactly the coherently functioning processes within the system, abundance of biological diversity and processes let it restore itself after shocks and continue functioning. Serious abnormalities of the biophysical processes may result in entire disability of a given system to restore. As the consequence, lands totally retire from being used.

Why does land degrade?

The main reasons of land degradation are: irrational agricultural practices, excessive cattle pasturing, destruction of forest and other vegetative cover.

Irrational agricultural practices shows in excessive use of water at irrigated lands, wind and water erosion of the upper fertile soil layer, consolidation and formation of soil crust, soil salinity, and soil pollutions of different nature. It is important to carefully study how the land cultivation takes place.

Excessive cattle pasturing and rangelands scouring show in continuous over-pasturing of increased livestock population that exceeds pastures productivity. In other words, cattle consume more vegetation than ecosystem is able to restore until the next season. Mainly, excessive scouring is observed around settlements or existing/functioning water sources. At the same time, some rangelands do not get enough scouring and therefore degrade. Hoofed animals do not break soil crust, aboriginal seeds do not disseminate and grow, rather scanty flora biological diversity does not develop properly, biological processes become fewer and worse, and as the result we have degraded lands. Previously used practice of rotating pastures is no longer applied. The majority of previously nomadic cattle breeders of Soviet Union turned into settled population and lost traditions of nomadic cattle breeding. Therefore, there is need in restoration of neglected water sources, pastures rotation, implementation of better fodder production, etc.

Practically the same impact on lands is caused by destruction of forest and shrubby cover. It is especially important for arid and mountainous regions prevailing in Uzbekistan. Trees and shrubs in the desert locations form colonies, communities of other flora and fauna species. These communities jointly contain and prevent further desertification, reducing surface wind speed and mitigating wind erosion. These trees-and-shrubs communities form habitats for desert fauna species. These communities provide for development of fodder cultures used by nomadic cattle breeders. Besides, they have a number of other important ecological functions. Wood-cutting in deserts is not only extermination of trees, the survival of the entire desert community is threatened. In mountains forests also fulfill a few ecological functions. By cutting woods in the mountains we threaten not only the integrity of existence and functioning of ecosystems, but also people’s safety: extermination of vegetation in the mountains causes more frequent natural disasters – mudflows, land slides, and avalanches. The population cuts wood and shrubs for fuel to cook food and heat homes without caring about restoring the consumed timber. Some part of forest species is used for construction purposes.

What does the GEF SGP do to combat land degradation and prevent desertification?

The GEF SGP will focus on core reasons of land degradation. And these core reasons are similar to those causing loss of biodiversity. At the same time, they have their specific character. The following are among the main reasons:


* Wide distribution and conventionalism/ubiquity of applying harmful, inefficient plant cultivation and cattle breeding practices;
* Lack of knowledge and skills on applying new, improved management methods, and lack of motivation to apply them;
* Loss of traditional practices of cattle breeding and coordinated usage of available pastures;
* Shortage of lands for pastures and fodder production;
* No access to improved infrastructure or degradation of the available one (draining system, wells, etc.);
* Inability of lack of incentives of local population to cooperate in order to achieve mutually attractive benefits;
* Loss of traditional methods and practices of forest resources consumption, gardening, and reforestation;
* Inefficiency in using timber as fuel and energy inefficiency of available appliances and houses;
* Lack of access to financial resources to fix the situation;
* Legislative and institutional gaps;
* Other reasons.

Combating the above reasons may change land degradation situation to the better and help local communities to have healthy fertile soil to provide for favorable vital functions conditions.

The GEF SGP Outcome 4 is dedicated to this issue:

Outcome 4:

* Previously degraded lands in rural area restored for conservation and sustainable use purposes

The GEF SGP niche in the field of combating land degradation can be vast. The state priorities lie in the irrigation infrastructure restoration and extensive measures on land melioration. The GEF SGP, on the other side, can promote success of governmental measures through prevention of further degradation of cultivated lands and restoration of rangelands and sustainable cattle breeding practices – implementation of rational use of pasture ecosystem resources, expansion of outrun cattle breeding practices, improvement of veterinary services, fodder production, and etc. Thus, this outcome is focused on two areas: irrigated land cultivation and cattle breeding practices.

Objective 4.1:


* To demonstrate practices and disseminate experience of the most sustainable irrigated land cultivation promoting restoration of agro-systems health.

The main factor of flow-lands degradation is irrational land cultivation practices and water use for irrigation purposes. Within the frames of this objective, the GEF SGP will support projects that will alter the existing irrational practices of irrigated lands use and replace them with more efficient ones – practices that will restore and save soil and water resources. Potential projects include projects on using null land cultivation, change of irrigation methods, use of bio-drainage methods, etc.

* Objective 4.2:

* To improve practices of pastures use, fodder production and/or pure-bred cattle breeding.

This objective includes local optimization of the following spheres:


* What measures can be taken so that available pastures are used rationally and in the most efficient way and able to restore and provide maximum amount of biomass for cattle breeding;
* What measures can be taken so that individual households, farmers, and dehkans have sufficient skills in producing and keeping fodder, as well as in right cattle grazing during different seasons;
* What measures can be taken so that population uses the most productive cattle breeds and has ability to preserve and develop genetic diversity of such cattle species.

For more information of successful project examples in our country and abroad please visit Projects section.