Water user associations, irrigation service fee, awareness, canals, watershed management
The main objective of this work is to research the effects of post-Soviet transformation processes in the on-farm irrigation management in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan. This is investigated on the example of the village of Kara-Suu in the Kochkor basin (Naryn Oblast, Central Kyrgyzstan). Historically, this area was characterized by a more or less nomadic pastoral economy. Irrigation agriculture was first introduced by the Soviets in the 1930s.
After the independence of Kyrgyzstan, the government began to implement reforms on all institutional levels in order to decentralize the Soviet structures and make the water sector more effective, sustainable, and market-oriented. On the local level the water reform process included the formation of Water User Associations (WUAs) to improve the operation and maintenance of the on-farm irrigation network. These independent and self-organized associations of water users/farmers should be responsible for the joint operation and maintenance of the on-farm irrigation infrastructure; as well as the collection of water fees from its members.
The study was conducted in the catchment of the Ukok river (Kochkor District), which is a typical mountain river mainly fed by snow and glacier melt water during the ablation period between May and August. In contrary, during the vegetation period the potential evaporation exceeds precipitation thus an efficient agriculture is only possible with the use of artificial irrigation.
During the data collection phase, standardized, narrative and guideline interviews on the subject of agricultural irrigation were carried out with local stakeholders (e. g. murabs, water users/farmers), experts, and staff of the local administration. Furthermore interviews focused on the socio-economic situation of private households in the village as well as on various aspects of the local water management were conducted. A second approach of the research was the mapping of the agricultural irrigation infrastructure of Kara-Suu and the surrounding Ak-Kyya community.
An important result of the case study is that the water users of Kara-Suu irrigate their cropland with an irrigation network consisting of several types of canals, which get their water from three river systems. According to the investigations of on- and off-farm canals it can be summarized, that especially the on-farm irrigation infrastructure in the study area is in poor conditions. Since the collapse of the former state farms in 1991, no administrative unit is responsible for the maintenance of the on-farm canals. Additionally a low awareness, a lack of participation of the local farmers and a lack of financing impede the complicated situation.
Further results from the case study indicate that the introduction of WUAs in this region has only been partially successful. The implementation of WUAs is complicated by local political structures, the inherited irrigation infrastructure, the lack of awareness and a lack of support of water users by local WUA-Support Units.
For the village of Kara-Suu, it is recommended to rise awareness, to integrate locals in decision making processes, to revise the tariff system for water service, to install measuring devices for water consumption and to reconstruct the deteriorated parts of the irrigation system. A murab (water master) system, following regional traditional water management systems, might help to solve the problems. Instead of a WUA one murab should be responsible for each of the watersheds of the three canals serving the irrigation system of Kara-Suu.
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