Turkmenistan Agriculture

At the center of Turkmenistan agriculture, this includes the cultivation of cotton, which was already being forced under the Soviet Union, and wheat, which has become increasingly important since independence. In addition, rice is sometimes grown in the north of the country. Together, these crops take up almost 70% of the agricultural area, which in turn is 100% artificially irrigated. The remaining 30% are (mostly extensive) pasture farming. In some reform approaches, the Turkmenistan government has essentially retained the system of state collective farms known from the Soviet era. The state determines the expected returns just as it acts as the sole supplier of inputs and the only purchaser of finished goods. Only the Ministry of Agriculture is allowed to to offer agricultural products on the world market and to maintain contacts abroad. Turkmenistan agriculture is heavily dependent on imports from abroad (machines, spare parts, know-how, etc.). The most important trading partners here are the USA, Germany and Belarus. At the end of the harvest season, in most years, the defined plan targets will be exceeded.

In spite of extensive imports and the distribution of generously subsidized basic foodstuffs, which are regulated by means of purchase coupons, the Turkmenistan government does not always succeed in securing sufficient food supplies for the population. Especially in the late winter months, there are signs of undersupply in rural regions. Deficits exist both in terms of a balanced diet and the necessary daily amount of calories. In particular, the Food and Agricultural Organization and Mongabay provide a lot of partly detailed information as well as further links on agriculture in Turkmenistan. Due to the uncertain supply situation and regional integration of the country, some observers see the risk of internal regional disputes or even possible conflicts over water.

Water demand and water supply

According to harvardshoes, a major regional problem is the considerable water demand of Turkmenistan agriculture. Cotton, rice and wheat in particular require large amounts of water to be cultivated successfully. Due to the largely outdated infrastructure and the water pipes still built into the sand without sealing (see images below), it is assumed that there is between the extraction point (mostly on the Amu-Darja or on the Murgab) and the inflow to the irrigated plot leads to a loss of around 40-65% of the amount of water removed. The need for water is further increased by the predominant use of various methods of watering the reservoir and the almost complete waiver of drip irrigation. In addition to adequate irrigation, the damming methods used in particular also require adapted drainage channels. Since these also suffer from inadequate maintenance, large areas of the cultivated areas are becoming increasingly salinized. The result is lasting harvest losses, which can only be reversed through complex and costly melioration measures

By far the largest hydraulic engineering project in the country – and at the same time one of the largest in the entire region – is the construction of a lake called the ” Golden Age ” to improve water quality and create a freshwater recreational area in the desert region in the north of the country. For this purpose, a natural depression about 2,000 square kilometers in size and 70 meters deep is flooded with water. The water required for this is pumped to the lake from the south of the country via specially constructed drainage channels. The canals are not sealed in any way and at the same time have an average gradient of less than 0.15 m / km (for comparison: the gradient of the Rhine near Cologne is around 2 m / km). According to official information, this gives the sand the opportunity to clean the drainage water from chemical residues from the cotton industry (including fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, pesticides and defoliants). The water purified in this way on its way through the desert into the lake should – according to official information – serve to give migratory birds a rest, to let flowers grow, to generally promote the development and preservation of a biodiversity worth protecting and to encourage the population Create freshwater recreation area in the middle of the desert.

Outside of Turkmenistan, however, this information is viewed critically. It is assumed here that cleaning the drainage water from chemical residues by slowly flowing through a desert is not possible. It is also assumed that this leads to the evaporation of large amounts of water. As a result, the concentration of chemical residues is likely to even increase, contrary to official assumptions. The same applies to the drainless lake itself. Here, too, it is assumed that the content of dissolved chemicals increases continuously with the addition of the (concentrated) drainage water. The development of a biotope that attracts diverse species is generally excluded. Here, too, the opposite effect is assumed, in that the surface of the lake is likely to attract migratory birds, but the chemical pollution of the water would then be fatal for the animals.

Turkmenistan Agriculture

Water shortage and excess

water Water is scarce in Turkmenistan. In agriculture, the limited water supply is the most important limiting factor. The supply of the population is also not sufficiently ensured. Outside the capital, the water supply is limited to a few hours per day in large parts of the country and the water pressure on the pipes usually remains very low during the allocation times. In the absence of functioning pipeline networks, even larger cities are still partly dependent on the supply of water transporters. In the desert regions away from the paved roads, freshwater wells are usually the only source of water.

The capital’s water supply is in clear contrast to this. Here water seems to be available in almost unlimited quantities. The clearest expression of this abundance is an artificial river course to upgrade the southern districts of Ashgabat. The river is fed with water from the Karakum Canal and drains west of the capital. In addition, countless wells are operated. In the concrete or granite basins, the water heats up, which further increases evaporation. The water consumption of the extensive grassy areas is even greater. These require almost continuous irrigation, especially in the summer months. Observers see this not only as a misuse of water as a resource, but rather as systematic waste intended by the government.

A comparatively large amount of water is required from the pine forests in the vicinity of the capital. In order to green the desert, President Berdimuhamedov ordered the planting of several million pines (the president’s favorite tree) in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015, especially in the vicinity of the capital. In addition, three million more trees are to follow annually from now on. Around two million trees were planted here under President Niyazov. Due to the climatic conditions and the sandy subsoil, these trees need permanent fertilization and continuous irrigation. Nonetheless, it is estimated that less than 50% of the trees survive the first year in the desert. In the case of insufficient insulation, the water pipes burst open, especially in the winter months. In addition, the plastic pipes laid above ground appear to be susceptible to UV rays, as corresponding signs of weathering appear after just a few years. If this damage is not repaired immediately, entire sections of the previous will dry up within weeks trees irrigated for years (pictures below). To what extent the light coniferous vegetation actually results in the desired improvement in the urban climate is just as unclear as there are no statistics on the long-term survival rate of the trees. However, a comparison of satellite images shows that large parts of the plantings have withered up after just a few years. In addition, shortly after they were planted, the plantings fell victim to the construction projects in the area around Ashgabat for the construction of monumental traffic axes, magnificent buildings and plazas .

Water pipes

A considerable part of the water pipes still comes from the Soviet era. Particularly problematic here are the smaller pipes made of concrete parts, often over dozens of kilometers. These are not closed at the top, so that evaporation losses occur (see figure below). More important, however, are the water losses from holes in the now often brittle concrete. This is because it is exposed to strong temperature fluctuations without protection and, due to its porosity and direct contact with the water, is particularly susceptible to damage as a result of the frost changes in autumn and winter. Replacing damaged or broken precast concrete parts is time-consuming and can only be done with appropriately heavy equipment. In addition, due to their inflexibility, the concrete pipes have shown themselves to be particularly susceptible to structural damage as a result of earthquakes. Even a single broken concrete part or a collapsed support structure (see illustration below) causes a complete loss of water. If such damage is not repaired immediately, there will be complete crop failure on the cultivated areas within a short time. Even more problematic are the canals for the transport of water over long distances, which are mostly without any sealing and with a predominantly very slight gradient built directly into the sand. This applies to Soviet-era channels like that Even more problematic are the canals for the transport of water over long distances, which are mostly without any sealing and with a predominantly very slight gradient built directly into the sand. This applies to Soviet-era channels like that Even more problematic are the canals for the transport of water over long distances, which are mostly without any sealing and with a predominantly very slight gradient built directly into the sand. This applies to Soviet-era channels like that Karakum Canal (today Turkmenbashi Canal) as well as canals built under the rule of the current President. The water loss here is estimated at around 40 – 85%, depending on the distance and size of the canal.

Accordingly, the numerous and largely existential challenges of the Turkmenistan water management are seen as a predominantly man-made problem.

Water supply in the desert regions

In large parts of the country, the population is dependent on well water. In these areas of mostly extensive pasture farming, after years of intensive studies, a complex system of the most effective possible use of the given water supply had been developed during the Soviet era. With a sometimes considerable effort, the cattle were transported over long distances in the seasonal change. In this way it was possible to guarantee that all wells in the country were used almost equally. In this way, the overuse of wells near settlement was largely avoided. In addition, remote well systems were regularly maintained. This system could not be maintained after independence. As a result, wells remote from the settlement were increasingly used less often or not at all, while the pressure to use the wells near the settlement increased significantly. A continuous decline in the groundwater level can be observed here. These problems have been exacerbated by the increase in the number of livestock since 1991. On the one hand, the livestock serves to provide individual economic security, on the other hand, the increase is due to an increase in government planning requirements. According to FAO statistics and according to UNICEF, the population across the country is confronted with considerable problems with regard to hygienic standards, the separation of fresh and dirty water and, in general, the supply of potable water. Due to the political situation within the country, projects to remedy this problem have not yet become effective across the board.

Planned economy using the example of wheat cultivation

The concrete implementation of the planned economy system should be illustrated using the example of typical processes in wheat cultivation:

  • August to September: the farm buys seeds from the state seed supplier (usually a de-facto state cooperative) and pays access rights for the use of the irrigation infrastructure required (usually set for five years).
  • September to November: The sowing is usually done by machine. The date for this is planned centrally and cannot be changed. Regardless of the current climatic conditions, the seed drills are only available on the date set in spring. The only providers of machines are state cooperatives or state utility companies. The vehicle fleet consists mostly of Soviet-era machines, but modernization with machines mainly from Belarusian production has started. In addition, some vehicles were purchased from John Deere, but so far they have mainly been used in showcase businesses, at demonstrations and at parades. The farms are informed about the harvest targets, the prices,
  • Spring: Unless already done in autumn, fertilizers are now bought from the state supplier. The fields are irrigated via an irrigation network in which the farms have a financial share. The water itself is free, the allocated amount depends on the supply (ie the water flow of the Amu-Darja and the Karakum Canal, which is fed from this, as well as the Murgab, which seeps into an inland delta near Mary).
  • June to August: The harvest time and the harvest quantity were already determined in autumn of the previous year (see above). The harvest time and the plan specifications for the harvest quantity are specific for wheat each set in November. Regardless of the actual weather conditions of the respective year, the company only has the opportunity to call in the required harvesting machines at the intended harvest time. And only on this date will the transport vehicles be made available for onward transport to the state silos. Nevertheless, the company is obliged to deliver the specified harvest quantity. If the planned target is over-fulfilled, he can expect extra payments (in the form of a higher price per unit of wheat delivered), in the event of under-fulfillment he must expect penalties (in the form of a lower price per unit of wheat delivered).

In the event of bad harvests, the farmers, co-op chairmen or the Hakime are made personally responsible for them and must expect the corresponding consequences.

Private agriculture

In addition to working in state-owned companies, the cultivation of private parcels is permitted without state requirements. This actually private agriculture is to be distinguished from the state-controlled, private agriculture. While the products of the former are for personal use and can be offered on the markets (taking into account the state’s pricing sovereignty), the latter is also dependent on the state in terms of inputs and harvest specifications and the equipment required. Special crops such as herbs, vegetables (e.g. cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce) and fruit (e.g. stone fruits, melons, grapes) are grown. The proportion of these products, which are present in all markets, in the supply of the Turkmenistan population cannot be estimated at present. To what extent approaches to land reform The supply crisis as a result of the current economic crisis and the fundamental structural problems of the primary sector in Turkmenistan will either be able to be solved or are merely a mess born of necessity is not yet foreseeable.