“Without shared efforts, we cannot achieve our goals”

In two neighbouring countries, water sharing leads to modern technologies, cross-border cooperation, and increased women involvement

“Now I can say the water distribution in our area is transparent.” ©FAO


Water is a scarce natural resource consumed not only by humans, but much more by agriculture. The Isfara river in north Tajikistan, shared with Kyrgyzstan, has been the centre of conflicts over water for many years until five United Nations Agencies stepped in to foster cooperation through fair and sustainable water management under the framework of the South-South Cooperation.

“Now I can say the water distribution in our area is transparent,” Shavkat Kayumov, head of the Chorkuh Water Users Association of Isfara district, says with a smile. ”Luckily, due to modern technologies and software, everyone knows what crop is grown and how much land everyone has, and how much water is needed for irrigating the crops on our lands. There is no water theft.”

Since 2016, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been supported by FAO, UNDP, UNICEF, UN Woman, and WFP through the Cross-border Cooperation for Sustainable Peace and Development project. By building cooperation and trust between six pilot cross-border communities, the project, funded by the UN Peacebuilding Fund, should lower the risks of renewed cross-border violence.

“In the past we had very limited capacity and a lack of working conditions, which led to many disputes with water users of both sides. People were not even familiar with water meters and gates,” Shavkat points out.

To ensure fair water distribution among farmers – and ultimately minimize tensions between Kyrgyz and Tajik water users over the shared irrigation canal –, water-measuring devices equipped with data transmitters have been installed in the canal of the Chorkuh Association.

“It was something new for us that could make our job performance easier and more efficient. Thanks to the installed computer programme, we can monitor water distribution among water points and transparently calculate water discharge on the user-friendly display menu,” Kayumov explained.


The water users associations help effectively manage irrigation water systems between Tajiks farms in a fair, effective, and timely manner, collect payments for the water supply, and settle disputes related to the distribution and use of water. To facilitate coordination among the seven water users associations, the project established the Kyrgyz Research Irrigation Institute – the databank for irrigation water use planning. Relevant staff of the associations received training on using the water planning software.

According to Shavkat, the software is “very cost-effective, user-friendly and easy to operate and ensures transparency in water measuring and distribution among the users, particularly in cross-border areas.” 

The developed technology is almost 10 times cheaper and does not require expensive maintenance and running costs. The equipment ensures prompt, accurate, and transparent water distribution even in smaller canals. Devices simultaneously deliver digital information about the amount of water received to the Kyrgyz and Tajik associations.

Planning for long-lasting change

Going beyond measuring the current status, the project assisted the development of an innovative digital water distribution plan, linked to the water-measuring equipment that also helps monitor the plan’s implementation. As Shavkat remarks, this is the first time in the last almost 30 years that irrigation water has been distributed fairly among local farmers.

“I realized the importance of operating an on-farm irrigation system with adequate and reliable water supply in Tajik-Kyrgyz clusters, since we use shared natural resources and therefore, we should collaborate and communicate with each other effectively. […] Sometimes we need joint actions of the Kyrgyz and Tajik communities to fix damaged points of the dams. Without shared efforts we cannot achieve our goals,” notes Shavkat.

At the same time, he understands the importance of building mutual trust among communities across the border, taking into account specific needs and perspectives and focusing on those that promote good neighborly relations, as well as fair and open communications among communities at the border.

Shavkat in his office. ©FAO

Another positive outcome of the associations is that, through them, there are now women participating in the Conflict Resolution Commission responsible to resolve disputes between members of the associations and other water users around the distribution and use of water.

“Also, FAO encouraged female farmers’ attendance in trainings and to become our members. Since the majority of men work as labour migrants in Russia, more women are managing family farms and running agricultural activities. Having women representative in the Commission is valuable, while tackling the problems of women related to water,” mentioned Shavkat.

Shavkat Kayumov wants to remain positive and believes that cooperation of relevant institutions will ensure better coordination of natural resources management along the border to prevent disputes and tensions.

This project is more proof that introduction of new technologies, innovative models, and partnerships, in addition to the exchange of knowledge and skills, are valuable elements of the South-South Cooperation, which addresses global issues and promotes changes in developing countries. It has been proven efficient and effective in agricultural development, climate change, sustainable management of natural resources, strengthening infrastructures, and many more issues around the world.

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5. Gender equality, 6. Clean water and sanitation, 9. Industry innovation and infrastructure, 16. Peace justice and strong institutions, 17. Partnership for the goals