Climate Change, Water Resources and Food Security in Kazakhstan

Newton Fund, Institutional Links Programme


This project aims to examine and predict impacts of climate change on water resources and crop production in Kazakhstan bringing together experts in climate and land surface modelling, hydrology and food security.

Agricultural production accounts for 9% of national GDP providing 25% of national employment in Kazakhstan. Large-scale grain production dominates in the north making Kazakhstan one of the largest importers of grain in the world. Here, frequent droughts are the single most important determinant for grain yield. Household farms dominate in the south supplying produce for local consumption. Their yields depend on runoff generated by seasonal melt of snow pack and glaciers in the Tien Shan Mountains.

The global climate scenarios indicate that the projected increase in air temperature will result in changes in the amount, seasonality, intensity and distribution of precipitation; increase in evaporation; more frequent droughts across the country and retreat of glaciers and snow pack in the Tien Shan limiting runoff in the south. There is evidence that these changes are already occurring. Various studies have suggested, however, that crop production may benefit from higher winter temperatures accompanied by an increase in winter precipitation, a longer growing season and CO2 fertilization effect.

The future crop production and related risks to food security depend on the combination of factors such as climatic variability and change and changes in land use, national and local institutions, policies and management. The available scenarios of crop production are highly uncertain and, for grain, range from a significant decline due to increasing frequency of droughts and higher summer temperatures to a significant increase due to milder winters. This uncertainty partly originates from the lack of detailed assessments of the observed and projected climatic fluctuations and of the associated changes in the land surface water balance and their impacts on crops. This project will deliver these assessments and scenarios for the implementation in Kazakhstan food security studies.

Main Objectives 

  • To characterise main environmental stresses affecting crops and to examine links between variability in these stresses and crop production
  • To characterise changes in snow pack and glaciers providing water to for agriculture, their melt and runoff and quantify their links with climatic changes
  • To develop and validate detailed climate change scenarios using the high resolution regional climate model PRECIS
  • To model components of water balance in the selected catchments for the recent past and future climates
  • To model production of selected crops in order to inform and develop adaptation strategies applied now and in the future

Main Research Areas

The project is divided into five work packages. The first work package focuses on the analysis of the observed variability in climate and environmental stresses affecting crops. It will use existing climatic and hydrological data sets and create new ones from data collection using several automatic weather stations (AWS), field surveys and satellite missions. The second work package involves analysis of changes in seasonal snow cover across Kazakhstan, glacier extent and mass balance of glaciers in the Tien Shan Mountains. The third work package will deal with provision of high-resolution climate scenarios using PRECIS RCM for RCP 2.5, 4.5, an 8.5 scenarios using initial conditions from HadGem-ES2 model and, potentially, from other CMIP5 models. These work packages will provide input data for the fourth work package which will focus on hydrological and crop modelling and generate water balance and crop scenarios for the selected catchments in Kazakhstan for impact assessment. The fifth work package will deal with the analysis of existing and development of new adaptation methods and provision of information to stakeholders.

Main research questions

The project employs multi-disciplinary approach and uses a variety of techniques (including state-of-the-art in situ measurements, remote sensing and modelling) to address the following research questions:
  • How did hydrometeorological variables relevant to water availability and agricultural production change or vary in the recent past?
  • How did the extent of glaciers, major suppliers of water in southern Kazakhstan, change in the 20th - 21st Centuries?
  • How do changes in land surface parameters affect water balance and crop production?
  • How will climate of Kazakhstan change in the future?
  • What are the potential impacts of climate change on water availability and agricultural production?
  • What adaptation strategies have been and can be developed and how can we improve resilience to the potential impacts of climate change on arable agriculture?


Barrett, T. Feola, G., Krylova, V., Khusnitdinova, M. 2017. The application of Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Innovation Systems (RAAIS) to agricultural adaptation to climate change in Kazakhstan: a critical evaluation. Agricultural Systems, 151: 106-113.

Feola, G., Barrett, T., Khusnitdinova, M. Krylova, V. 2017. Расход воды в сельском хозяйстве юго-восточного Казахстана: текущие сложности и адаптационные меры по нехватке воды для орошения. Research Brief, University of Reading.

Feola, G., Barrett, T., Khusnitdinova, M. Krylova, V. 2017. Agricultural water use in Southeast Kazakhstan: current challenges and adaptations to water stress. Research Brief, University of Reading.

Kapitsa, V., M. Shahgedanova, H. Machguth, I. Severskiy, A. Medeu. Assessment of Evolution of Mountain Lakes and Risks of Glacier Lake Outbursts in the Djungarskiy (Jetysu) Alatau, Central Asia, using Landsat Imagery and Glacier Bed Topography Modelling . Natural Hazards and Earth Systems Sciences Discussion Papers.

Shahgedanova et al. (2016) Impacts of climate change on river discharge in the northern Tien Shan: Results from long-term observations and modelling. In: Medeu, A. (ed), Water Resources in Central Asia and Their Use. Almaty, Kazakhstan. 248-258

Yapiyev, V., Sagintayev, Z., Verhoef, A., Kassymbekova, A. , Baigaliyeva, M. , Zhumabayev, D. ,Malgazhdar, D., Abudanash, D., Ongdas, N. and Jumassultanova, S. (2017) The changing water cycle: Burabay National Nature Park, Northern Kazakhstan. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water. ISSN 2049-1948 doi: 10.1002/wat2.1227

Participating organisations and their rolesUoR_logo_w

Lead PI: Dr. Maria Shahgedanova (


The University of Reading (UREAD): Climate, hydrological and crop analysis and modelling, remote sensing including soil moisture, dust storms and cryosphere; research on adaptation and resilience.

Contact: Dr. Maria Shahgedanova (


Kazakhstan Institute of Geography (KIG): Collection and analysis of meteorological, hydrological and glaciological field and remote sensing data; establishing new measurements in the northern Tien Shan; hydrological modelling

Contact: Prof. Igor Severskiy (‎)


al-Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU)GES_al-farabi-uni-logo: Analysis of climate data; collection and analysis of in situ data on the components of the water balance and droughts including new measurements at the KazNu Agro-Bio Centre; analysis of data on crop yields and impacts of environmental stresses; research on adaptation an resilience.

Contact: Prof. Vitali Salnikov (


Nazarbaev University (NURIS)NURIS: Development of climate scenarios using regional climate model PRECIS .

Contact: Dr. Yerbol Akhmetbekov
) and Mr. Dauren Zhumabayev (‎)


Affiliated organisations: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK Met Office PRECIS group



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