Large areas near the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan are affected by a very high degree of land degradation. Intensive soil salinity, rising water table, and falling rangeland productivity all have a damaging impact on farming.
As a result, local communities, who are largely agro-pastoralists, are faced with a lack of good quality forage for winter and low grazing capacity of desert pastures.
All this considerably reduces the incomes of rural populations and causes out-migration, leading to loss of local traditional knowledge and experience of land and water use.
To deal with these problems, ICARDA
started a research initiative on increasing livestock productivity in 2015. Scientists set up several demonstration trials on farms in Karauzyak district in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan.
The research initiative is aimed at studying effective management of marginal (low quality) land and water, production of non-conventional crops as forage for livestock and other alternative uses. And initial results show that many salt-loving species (halophytes) and salt-tolerant non-traditional crops can produce good quality forage and grain under the conditions of high soil salinity and water-logging.
Most of these crops also have a desalinization effect by accumulating salts in the aboveground biomass, allowing less salt-tolerant crops to grow. What is more, these plants produce a large amount of forage biomass rich in nutrients (protein, fiber, cellulose, and various micro- and macro-elements) for livestock feeding.
The most valuable crops tested include sorghum (3 lines), perennial sorghum, triticale, pearl millet (2 lines), sesame (1 line), fodder beet (2 lines), forage and vegetable legumes (6 lines), Jerusalem artichoke (2 lines), Indigofera (1 line), Atriplex (3 lines), Kochia (2 lines), sunflower, sweet clover, sainfoin, salt-tolerant alfalfa, amaranth – all as high potential sources for forage.
Non-conventional crops are planted using marginal water (drainage mineralized and artesian), resulting in effective use of low-quality water. This also helps to conserve water quality, supporting ecosystem function and creating economic benefits for households.
As part of this work, a series of field training seminars were organized in Koybak, Karakalpakstan, from 20 to 29 October 2015, to introduce new forage crops to farmers (about 16 cultivars and improved lines from ICBA).
During the seminars, Drs. Kristina Toderich, head of ICBA’s Regional Office, and Zulfiya Sultanova, of the Nukus Branch of Tashkent State Agrarian University, explained the characteristics of each crop, its use for forage, food, oil production, and nutritional values.
The seminars resulted in establishing a rural women learning alliance, the first of its kind to work with women farmers who look forward to diversifying their household incomes. What is more, the new alliance will be led by Almash Adambetova, a local woman farmer.
(Adapted from the post at www.cac-program.org