Rainwater Harvesting in Kyrgyzstan – A Commitment Award Initiative

Daniar Matikanov currently works at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) as an international advisor to support the organization’s regional office in Yemen. He has been involved in developing projects in the Middle East and in providing consultation for successful program management. He finished his Master of Public Policy at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in 2015 and won first prize in the Commitment Award Ceremony in 2016. One year later, he visited Erfurt for a guest lecture and gladly gave an interview about his project.

The Bulletin: What is your project about? How did you come up with the idea?

Daniar Matikanov: “Water for Small-scale Farmers in Kygyzstan” is a joint project with Batyrbek Alymkulov, another alumnus of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, and Aiperi Otunchieva, a PhD student at Kassel University. The purpose of the project is to support small-scale farmers in the dry areas of Southern Kyrgyzstan. At first, we had to sort out which idea would be most manageable and sustainable, as well as add the most value. It took nearly one year to come up with our idea of the Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) project. It is an innovative and sustainable way to support local small-scale farmers with a limited budget in a sustainable way.

 Did you face any sort of challenges or resistance in the beginning? 

Yes, we did experience some resistance. Before we implemented the project, I used to work in a security sector reform program and at that time I learned that there is always resistance to change. This is the most challenging part of every project. In our case, the farmers could not understand how rainwater can be collected and how it can be used for farming. Our team was afraid that if the farmers displayed constant resistance to our project, we would not have been able to implement the project at all.

We overcame this challenge by providing local people with the scientific principles of RWH and by demonstrating how this method works in person. Frank Loewen, a consultant from Down to Earth consultancy, was mainly in charge of knowledge transfer via seminars and workshops. He had working experience in Central Asia in addition to scientific knowledge about RWH and this greatly benefited our project. With his help, we have begun to see a change in the farmers’ attitudes day by day and that change of perception is still an ongoing process.

What is the status of your project?

We have conducted seminars and workshops with fifteen small-scale farmers and now we are on the final phase of project, which is to establish reservoirs. For the purpose of efficiency, we narrowed down the project to a focus group of four farmers. One of the four received the greatest amount of monetary support to implement the new method on a larger scale.. Then, we supported the other three farmers with implementing the method on a slightly smaller scale. We hope the project will bring additional benefits to other farmers in the region in the long run.

How would you grade the sustainability of your project on a scale from 1 to 10?

It is a bit early to determine this because we are still finalizing the second phase. Nevertheless, I would rate it 8 or 9 out of 10. The project itself includes educational seminars to transfer knowledge about RWH and effective water usage. For example, participating farmers learned how to use the collected water efficiently and they are willing to share their knowledge with other farmers. Therefore, the fifteen farmers who participated in this project can train others how to implement RWH in the future.

How about further funding? Is it sustainable in terms of financing?

The beauty of this project is that the local community participates. Therefore, labor from their side is included in the implementation of projects and only materials need to be financed by us. I believe this project is sustainable and if there is further need for funding we are happily willing to help the locals find new donors.

You implemented the project one year ago. Do you see any visible change in terms of harvest or income?

It is early to evaluate the economic impact of the project, but I am sure there will be a benefit because water is used for farming. However, in terms of knowledge, the change is already visible. In the beginning of the implementation, it was impossible for the farmers to manage water by collecting rain water for irrigation. It was also not easy for them to accept that this would bring significant change. Gradually, they started believing that they can make a large change with such a small idea. This is a transformation of mind and this is something I have already observed.

How does local authority react to your project?

We have worked with the village administration and they supported us by providing seminars for local people. They mobilized their community, but there is one major problem: the local government. Unfortunately, we have not received any interest from the local government until now. They expect big donations from external donors and do not believe we have enough funding to do something of significance for the village. The success of the project could be a good example for them to change their attitudes toward local problems. We are of course willing to cooperate with them if they are interested.

How did you select this specific village at the initial phase? Is there any reason or any connection to this village?

Aiperi was already knowledgeable about the local situation through her work on her master’s thesis. She had conducted her own research on the area even though the topic of her thesis was slightly different from our project. While writing, she had the idea that we could support small local farmers, especially in situations where most of the infrastructure is destroyed and there is no access to water for farming. This region has experienced environmental changes which have affected the area and caused the fields to dry out. This is a paradox because Kyrgyzstan is the second most water rich country in Central Asia. I see the problem as resulting from a lack of infrastructure, a lack of good governance, and a lack of planning. The government does not take care of this remote area even though they can help their people with a small budget, much like our project.

When we talked with village people and local administration about their needs and expectations, their thoughts were trapped in million-dollar-scale projects where they needed big donors from outside. Not only did we not have the capacity to finance such a large project, but we also believed there was room for small projects add value in this village.  We analyzed the local data of Aiperi, and Rainwater Harvesting was the most proper and realistic idea that we came up with.

As a final question, can you give some tips and advice for future applicants?

What we learned from this experience is the importance of good preparation. Having a great idea might not be enough. You should treat this small project as if it were a large-scale one. Keep asking yourself if the budget is enough and do not exclude any challenges or possible factors that could result in failure. Be sure to do your research and do not be afraid to give  it a try. It is an amazing opportunity for Brandt School students who have a great idea to bring something sustainable and valuable to a community. Lastly, it is always easier to implement projects as a group than to work alone, so consider working with friends!

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Soojung Oh is a second year Master of Public Policy student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, South Korea. Her specializations are Public and Nonprofit Management and International Political Economy.