Gardens in the Desert
For Navruzhon Alanova, her garden is almost a miracle. What was before a block of dry, loose sand, is now a fertile plot producing fresh fruits and vegetables for her family. This is one example of the work undertaken by the joint ‘Achieving Ecosystem Stability on Degraded Land in Karakalpakstan and the Kyzylkum Desert’ project to enhance the productivity of infertile agricultural land and thereby improve the livelihoods of local residents.
Ms. Alanova herself, a 15-year-old student of a local school, is participating in the Best Green Yard competition organised by UNDP in cooperation with the Global Environment Facility and the Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan. On a small but effective scale, Ms. Alanova is using some of the key innovative solutions proposed by the project to combat land degradation.
The Kazakhdarya village where Ms. Alanova lives is one of many villages that once based its economy on the fish in the Aral Sea, but since the shore receded this bountiful industry has been replaced by hectares of loose sand, blown in the wind and impacting the health, livelihoods and well-being of local residents. To help mitigate these problems, the project has joined with local communities to help hold back encroaching desert sands, preserve biodiversity, and create health and socio-economic benefits for the region’s population.
Awareness-raising programs and trainings regarding best methods of gardening, conducted by project experts working in the field, have literally begun to bear fruit. A few years ago only 3 out of every 4 households had any greenery in their yards, but now the number of ‘green households’ with water-efficient gardens and significant crops have totalled to over 40. These model households are growing apples, peaches, apricots, tomatoes, beetroots and many other products.
Before this project, gardening was almost impossible in the region due to a lack of agriculture knowledge and experience, and an absence of water. These problems have been solved through the arrangement of practical training courses and the installing of effective water pumps. The resulting household gardens have helped ensure that fresh food is always available, that diets are varied, that additional income can be earned, and that village microclimates can be improved. The economic well-being and health of local residents has improved as a result.
Gardening has now become an important part of children’s environmental education. The announced gardening competition stirred vivid interest among schoolchildren like Ms. Alanova, and has served as a catalyst to increase the planting of trees and vegetables in household yards.
Ms. Alanova’s mother has said that her daughter’s efforts have already yielded results. “Our yard is now full of trees, and in a few years we will be able to enjoy their produce,” she said. “I am very glad that my daughter is learning to garden. Our children and grandchildren will inherit this land, and it is our responsibility to improve the environment of our village and pass experience onto future generations.”