Economics of Land Degradation at the Kyrgyz National Agrarian University

Client: GIZ – Kyrgistan & ELD Initiative | Feb 2020



In February 2020, Vanja Westerberg of Altus Impact had the pleasure of lecturing a one-week intensive course on the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) for 2nd year students at the Kyrgyz National Agrarian University of (KNAU). Whilst learning about plant sciences and soil biology in their agronomic studies, it was their first course on Sustainable Land Management methods, ecosystem services and economic valuation of the environment.


In the course, we analysed direct and underlying sources of land degradation, techniques to regenerate soils health and the relationship between climate change and land use.  Exercises were created on-the-go in order to incorporate students own interests on challenges in Kyrgistan, ranging from the acidification of soils, to overgrazing of pastures, soybean monoculture and degrading walnut forests. We used these examples to develop case-study exercises that were fed into cashflows models and cost benefit analysis framework.

The final day, we studied the different regulatory and economic instruments that can be used to avert pollution and land degrading practices and how these can rectify market failures. We also looked at policy failures that unfortunately are at the heart of many poor farming practices, highlighting that estimated $1 million is spent per minute on harmful agricultural subsidies in the world. We cannot argue that we lack the financial resources to protect, restore and promote life on land (SDG 15), but we may lack the knowledge to act correctly and this is where the Economics of Land Degradation toolbox comes handy.



What was particularly powerful for the students was to see how natural and social sciences can combine, making for comprehensive assessments and effective communications tools. When we translate the benefits of action into dollar terms, decision makers – from the ground to national level – can understand, in simple metrics, the case for re-thinking “business as usual” practices.

Overall, I was impressed by the students motivation and dedication and I am convinced the course has provided a solid foundation for addressing the some of the greatest challenges of our century, notably that of safeguarding life-sustaining ecosystems and the long-term productivity & profitability our farmlands.

As one student concluded: …. If we can raise awareness and interest within the government and society as a whole, we can all begin to take care of the environment and prevent further degradation and pollution of land, air, soil and water resources. I realise that the environment is our economy and if we harm the environment we harm our nation. Thank you sincerely for having shared your skills and knowledge with us. (Turat Zhumabaev)

The course was organised and funded by the ELD initiative and the Regional Programme for Sustainable and Climate Sensitive Land Use for Economic Development in Central Asia (SLU CA) under the German development cooperation (GIZ). At Altus Impact, we are grateful to the ELD secretariat for opportunities like these, where we can stir interest and create green impact through young professionals to be.

Photos from the event