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Drought Alarm in Turkmenistan

By News Briefing Central Asia

Turkmenistan faces an uncertain growing season for its key crops – cotton and cereals – as the prospect of drought looms.

At a video conference with provincial governors on May 29, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov instructed them to ensure that sowing and harvesting went strictly to plan.

This year, wheat has been planted on over 850,000 hectares of land and cotton on 820,000 ha, the aim being to achieve harvests of 1.5 million tons for each crop. But irrigation water is in short supply this year, and a water ministry official says the cotton sowing season has had to be extended to the end of June, with the growing area cut.

"The water shortage is causing friction between cereal farmers and cotton growers. The former need water for their wheat, while the latter can’t sow [cotton] without it," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Rice growing, which requires large amounts of water, is also at risk in the Lebap and Dashoguz provinces, where farmers have not even started sowing yet.

In Lebap, a commentator said farmers were looking to plant faster-ripening varieties which would be ready to harvest in three rather than four months.

Turkmenistan consists largely of arid desert, so agriculture is heavily reliant on an irrigation network badly in need of renovation.

Farmers say the Amu Darya river, Central Asia’s biggest waterway and the source of Turkmenistan’s irrigation, is exceptionally low this year. As a result, nothing is reaching northern parts of Turkmenistan, while the major Karakum Canal that runs from the Amu Darya through the south of the country is carrying smaller volumes than usual. Many irrigation canals in the country are completely dry.

From east to west, the southern regions of Mary, Ahal and Balkan are all experiencing shortages. In some place, people are using drinking water from their homes – already rationed to one-and-a-half hours three times a day – to keep crops alive.

"We have to make the best of it," farmer Medet-Aga said, pointing at a dry water channel. "Tapwater is very cold and has a bad effect on plants so we keep it in containers till the sun warms it up.”

This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.