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Accepted Paper:

Making the “Sea of Islands” a forest: logics of restoration and monoculture in the Aral Sea region of Uzbekistan  
Kate Shields (Rhodes College)


On May 18, 2021, the UN General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution declaring the Aral Sea region a “Zone of Ecological Innovations and Technologies”. Once the fourth largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea is now 10% of its former volume. The UN resolution is an effort by the Uzbek state to court international investment by reframing the Aral “catastrophe” as an opportunity for innovation. As the UN resolution moves the Aral Sea once again into the global spotlight, the Uzbek state regularly announces the latest statistics on their “innovative” large-scale plantation-style afforestation of the Aral Seabed with the native salt-tolerant plant saxaul. Their stated goal: to mitigate the catastrophe by stabilizing the soils of the seabed and restoring the landscape. In this paper, I present results of remote sensing analysis of actual growth of afforested saxaul on the seabed. Thinking with and against different technologies of seeing (e.g. human eye, satellite sensor), I compare these results to reported afforestation activities, embedded observations from participant observation, and insights from key stakeholder interviews. My analysis shows how attempts at large-scale monoculture afforestation remain partial and incomplete. I argue that co-creating the future of the Aral Sea region instead requires a “polyculture” approach that incorporates multiple scales, species and types of cultivation.

Panel T54GEO
“Improving” the arid lands of Central Asia: Development schemes and their consequences
  Session 1 Saturday 8 June, 2024, -