Discussing food systems transformation in Central Asia

The Independent Dialogue on Advancing Water- Energy- Food (WEF) Nexus approaches to achieve food systems transformation in Central Asia convened by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) was held online on 15 April 2021. This dialogue is one of a series of multi-stakeholder dialogues that insights emerging from these meetings will be presented to the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September 2021.

The dialogue emphasise water’s transformative role in food systems. The key outcome of this dialogue is getting involved and sharing the views of Central Asian stakeholders on sustainable foods systems transformation and importance of WEF nexus under climate uncertainties.

Representatives from regional organizations, key line Ministries and Agencies of Central Asian States, Academies of Sciences, National Research Institutions, Basin Authorities of the region, NGOs, Private Sectors, Donor Agencies and other Development Partners including CG Centers took part in discussions.

There were 7 thematic areas of breakout group discussions:

1 - Moving towards low carbon energy for food production;

2 - Climate change impacts on water and food security;

3 - Policy coherence and institutional coordination in water, food, energy and climate change that operationalize the WEF nexus;

4 - Advancing technical WEF models, tools and frameworks for decision making at multiple scales;

5 - Enhancing resilience of water system across multi-sector (agriculture, domestic, industry and environment) demands;

6 - Socio-Economic Benefits of WEF Nexus;

7 - Community approaches to operationalise the WEF nexus.

 GWP CACENA was represented by Regional Coordinator, Technical Advisory Council Chairperson, CWP-Tajikistan Chairperson, and CWP-Kyrgyzstan Chairperson. Some GWP CACENA partners participated too.

 CWP-Tajikistan Chairperson Prof. Yarash Pulatov moderated the 2nd breakout group discussion on climate change impacts on water and food security.

 Participants assessed the climate change impact on food and water security in Central Asia. Currently, the main threat and challenge are global and regional climatic changes, which directly affect the hydrological regime of river flow and food security. In Central Asia, over the past 65 years in the river valleys, the average annual air temperature has increased by 0.7-1.20 C, mountainous and highland areas by 0.1-0.7 0 C, and in cities by 1.2-1.90 C. While maintaining the existing rates of degradation of glaciation, many small glaciers will completely disappear in the next 30-40 years. To ensuring water and food security under climate change in the coming years, the participants recommend to develop a concept for the rational use and protection of water resources, the water-food-energy nexus doctrine of Central Asia, as well as to implement the Aral Sea Basin Program (ASBP-4).

 Among other measures they defined cooperation between national and regional institutions (IWMI, ICARDA, FAO, Glacier Research Center, Earth Research Institute and other research institutes and universities of Central Asia), adoption of water-saving technologies (drip, sprinkling, subsurface and other micro-irrigation methods) in irrigation agriculture, joint research programs on intensive technologies, the breeding of drought-resistant crops, agricultural diversification, and other innovative approaches for the rational use of water and land resources. Participants also proposed how to assess positive result of such actions.

 GWP CACENA Technical Advisory Council Chairperson Dr. Vadim Sokolov moderated the 5th breakout group discussion on enhancing resilience of water system across multi-sector (agriculture, domestic, industry and environment) demands.

 Participants discussed needs to improve the resilience of the water system in related sectors (agriculture, households, industry and the environment). They agreed that the legislation does not clearly state the “rights” of ecosystems to water. There is no clear methodology for assessing and recording ecosystem water requirements. Weak coordination of actions between sectors of the economy in terms of meeting environmental needs is one of the obstacles in Central Asia for the inclusion (return) of nature in the sphere of the nexus. The existing principles of water allocation provide for releases for deltas and ecosystems, but they are implemented in reality according to the residual principle - therefore, there is no guarantee of stable water supply.

 Nevertheless, the active work is underway to develop environmental codes in countries. A number of projects are being implemented to develop clear environmental legislation and test innovative methods and approaches to improve the sustainability of protected areas (UNDP and GEF, GIC, USAID, CAREC, etc.). Water conservation programs in agriculture are being actively implemented, as well as the transition to less water-intensive and more productive crops. However, how the saved water will be used is not yet clear. The creation of clusters in agriculture should be supported and developed, including the creation of cross-border clusters. There are reclamation expeditions in the countries that monitor the processes of land degradation (salinization, groundwater levels, the state of the drainage network): it is necessary to strengthen the technical potential of these services in order to move from simple monitoring to real management of reclamation regimes, to use of return water effectively, to minimize (optimize) their discharge into depressions and rivers. Environmental portals are being created in the countries: it is necessary to accelerate their development in order to bring up to date the process of exchange of environmental and water management information between all sectors, as well as to raise the status of protected areas of groundwater deposits, and to include groundwater monitoring to ecosystem management. There is a need to strengthen work towards the development of tools and methods for the economic valuation of ecosystem services. Economic instruments are the way to "legitimize" ecosystems as an equal part in the nexus.

 GWP CACENA Regional Coordinator Guljamal Nurmuhammedova moderated the 7th breakout group discussion on community approaches to operationalise the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus.

The 7th breakout group discussed the community approaches to implementing Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus. They defined actions in the next 3 years.   Communities can exert influence on the policy in the field of foreign economic activity only by uniting in public professional and non-professional organizations (NGOs). The existing role and influence of communities on the policy in the field of renewable economic activity are very different therefore, action planning should be maximally adapted to the situation in each individual country. The basis for the success of actions is effective communication between NGOs and other participants in the WEF policy forming   at the state and local levels. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic such communications are shifted towards online format. However, it should be recognized that personal contacts are more effective. Therefore, in the next two years, priority should be given to the creation and maintenance of electronic means of communication in order to then return to more effective personal communication. The joint analysis of the lessons learned will become a kind of "training" for leaders and experts of NGOs and will allow them to interact more effectively with other participants. The communities’ efforts should be directed to understanding WEF problems in order to participate in the WEF management process. It is needed to increase the role of NGOs in the country's legislation or in regulations, procedures and mechanisms related to WEF managing. And finally, to increase financing of measures to involve NGOs in the WEF management process.