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Empowering Farmers

October 27, 2017



How a water management project in the South of Kyrgyzstan develops into a project focusing

on legislation.


We arrive on a rainy morning in Osh, the second largest city of Kyrgyzstan in the South. Jyldyz Abdyllaeva kindly greets us at the office of HELVETAS, a Swiss Intercooperation . After offering us tea, as it is the custom in Kyrgyzstan, she tells us all about the long standing project called SEP Project (Efficient Use of Water). It began with a hot and dry summer in 2008 when the farmers run out of water for their crops. HELVETAS saw the need to handle this problem and started a water management project in the Jalal-Abad region in the South of Kyrgyzstan, explains Jyldyz. She has been managing the project from the very beginning and has seen how it evolved.


What were the initial objectives of the SEP project?

Our initial goal was to teach the farmers different and new techniques how to save water. Especially during July and August the demand for water is very high. We did a lot of trainings in groups and presented them water saving practices. Our outcome surveys showed a decrease in water use and an increase in yield and subsequently an increase of their income. The techniques worked! However, only 5% of the farmers applied the new practices. We realised that we needed more effective measures to change their behaviour. We decided to do video clips and show them on national TV. In fact, they are still on TV today.


Was this approach successful?

Yes, it worked really well. But at the same time, we realised that there are a lot of other problems that we needed to address. We started to work together with the water users associations (WUAs). These associations unite all water users in a specific region. During our talks with them, new issues came to light. Raising awareness among the farmers was not enough.


Source: All pictures are from HELVETAS Kyrgyzstan

What kind of problems came to light?

A lot of problems related to legislation. Let me give you a small example. WUAs lack the power to implement sanctions. If someone damages their irrigation systems, they cannot do anything. Why? Because they don’t have ownership rights. Problems like these were the reason why we decided to change the focus of the project in phase two.


We analysed problems, made an assessment and defined an action plan. In the given example we worked together with legal consultants and analysed the current laws and defined which part of the legislation needed adaptation to fit the needs of the WUAs.


What happens with those recommendations?

We give them to the WUA and the municipality and they decide which actions will be implemented. We can empower them, but we cannot decide for them. The outcome often depends on the humans that are involved. If the WUAs and municipalities get along well, they quickly find a solution. If there is no chemistry and they don’t work well together, it can be difficult.


We work with 18 WUAs in three regions and see a lot of differences in how they handle their problems. First of all their problems differ greatly due to their geographical location. In mountain areas they face other challenges than in flat areas. Secondly, they handle them differently according to their culture and relationship to the municipality.


What are the next steps within the SEP project?

In the third phase we plan to do more government work. We want to change legislation on three levels (municipal, district and national) in favour of WUAs and farmers. We want to act as an intermediator, give advice and empower WUAs and farmers through knowledge. Farmers depend on two resources: land and water access which makes it crucial that the legal basis concerning those resources fits their needs.

Are you interested in the topic of WUAs in Kyrgyzstan? Here you find a detailed description of their role and how they operate:





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