Land degradation is a major challenge to sustainable development and poverty reduction in the Central Asian region.  The soils of Central Asia currently yield far less meat, dairy and produce than they did a few decades ago.  

A paper by Alisher Mirzabaev of the University of Bonn and two Russian colleagues Anton Strokov and Pavel Krasilnikov, which was published in ScienceDirect this month, estimates the contribution of land degradation to the losses in agricultural profits in the four countries in Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. 

Mirzabaev noted in 2015 that as a result of reduced crop yields, lower livestock productivity, and increasing needs for costly inputs such as fertilizer and labor, the total economic costs of land degradation were estimated to reach 6 billion US dollars annually.  

The findings of “The Impact of Land Degradation on Agricultural Profits and Implications for Poverty Reduction in Central Asia” show that land degradation that had occurred over the previous three decades reduced net farming profits among agricultural households by 4.8 times during the 2009–2010 cropping season compared with the case without land degradation.

The authors found that the poorest farming households are more likely to use their land sustainably, for example by reducing tillage (to cut down on fuel costs), diversifying and rotating crops.  It stands to reason that farmers who are cash-poor have less money to spend on fuel and fertilizer and other environmentally unfriendly inputs.

The poorest farmers are putting more hours into tending the land by hand, doing less of the mechanized work that can deplete soils most rapidly.

The article notes that the impacts of land degradation on agricultural profits have substantial effects on poverty reduction in Central Asia.  From 15% to 45% of the populations in Central Asian countries derive their livelihoods from agriculture.  Moreover, there is a strong concentration of poverty among rural smallholder farming households.  Hence, decreases in farming profits will exacerbate poverty in the region.