FAO Investment Centre

Keeping the water flowing


Supporting the irrigation sector in the Kyrgyz Republic

The importance of agriculture

The Kyrgyz Republic is one of the poorest economies in the Europe and Central Asia region. The incidence of poverty in rural areas - 40 per­cent in 2015 - is 30 percent higher than in urban areas.

While agriculture was, and is still, the mainstay of the Kyrgyz economy, the sector went through a sharp recession during the 1990s, which led to profound reforms during the second half of the 1990s, including a comprehensive and largely equitable land reform resulting in multiple small individual farms.

Currently, the agricultural sector is driven by small-scale irrigated agriculture and in 2015 generated 17 percent of the country's gross domestic product and about half of it employment: more than two-thirds of the rural popula­tion is employed in agricul­ture. At the same time, however, the transition led to a disregard of the irrigation and drainage infrastructure.

The World Bank and FAO supporting partners

During the past 20 years, the World Bank and FAO have been the principal actors to assist the Go­vernment in developing the irrigation and drainage sub-sector through the following projects:

  • Irrigation Rehabilitation Project
  • Water Resources Management Project
  • On-farm Irrigation Projects - Phase 1, Phase 2 and its Additional Funding.

These projects, particularly the on farm irrigation projects, have significantly contributed to the recovery of the irrigation sub-sector in two main areas: rehabilitating and modernizing irriga­tion and drainage infrastructure; and developing Water Users Association (WUA). “Under the projects, on-farm irrigation networks have been rehabilitated and modernized for a command area of about 230,500 hectares for 111 associations. This has been a huge collective effort, the successful experience is being replicated elsewhere in the country.” Says Samvel Ghazaryan, Irrigation and Rural Infrastructure Engineer at FAO’s Investment Centre.

In addition, 439 legally registered WUAs working about 710,000 hectares of irrigated land were formed. “These associations enable in­di­vi­dual water users to group together in entities that have started to demonstrate the capaci­ty to manage, operate and maintain on-farm systems”, he adds. Further­more, 18 WUA Federations were created, as well as the National Union of WUAs, whose membership numbers over 186 WUAs.

Government commitment – the key to success

It must be remembered that during the transition from state and collective farms to privatized ones, there was a period of significant change. The farm workers found themselves to be landowners, yet the formal organization to help manage the system were not yet in place. The Government passed a resolution allowing WUAs to be established and for the on-farm infrastructure to be transferred to them. Initially the first of the on-farm irrigation projects aimed to work with 160 associations, but at the request of the Government the programme was expanded to the entire country. “As they gained confidence and experience, they started to look at water management outside the WUA command and formed Water Councils and Federations. Clearly, the main reasons for the positive results were the Government’s commitment to providing continuous support in all aspects of WUA development, including technical, legal and institutional aspects. ”added Mr. Ghazaryan.

Keeping the momentum

Irrigation system reform in the Kyrgyz Republic is considered a remarkable successes in terms of irrigation management transfer in the Commonwealth of Independent States countries. The successful experience is currently applied to other projects formulated and designed with FAO Investment centre support, such as the  GAFSP funded Agriculture Productivity and Nutrition Improvement Project which began in 2016

The investments made to establish strong farmers supporting organizations is set to reap dividends for Kyrgyz small-scale farmers in the years ahead.


Photo credit: ©FAO/Samvel Ghazaryan