Global Disruptive Tech Challenge 2021:
Restoring Landscapes in the Aral Sea Region


24 January 2021


February 2021





What is the Global Disruptive Tech Challenge 2021?

The Global Disruptive Tech Challenge 2021 aims to identify and support disruptive technologies and innovative approaches to landscape restoration in the Aral Sea region and Central Asia. The Challenge will select innovators (individuals or entities) from around the world to change the lives of millions of people in the Aral Sea region. Proposals obtaining the best scores will obtain recognition and awards, including a monetary award of up to US $4,000 and an invitation to participate in a 4-month Mentorship Program.

This is your opportunity to help change millions of lives, while showcasing your innovative idea before a global audience. Join the Challenge, get recognition from experts and international organizations, and become part of a restoration community

Why The Aral Sea Region?

The Aral Sea in Central Asia, once the world’s fourth-largest inland water body, has almost disappeared due to more than 30 years of overuse of its resources to grow water-intensive crops, such as cotton and rice. This dramatic change has led to a steep decline in the environmental, social, and economic well-being of the region.

The situation has been further impacted by global climate change, which is already affecting the livelihoods of more than four million people who live in the disaster zone. That covers a significant part of Uzbekistan and the southern part of Kazakhstan; in total, 40 million people live in the Aral Sea basin and might be affected further by the disaster there.

Moreover, salt from the Aral Sea is found far beyond this region, including in Scandinavia and Antarctica. Every year, winds carry some 150 million tons of salt – often toxic due to pesticides and fertilizers used in intensive farming – from the Aral Sea over hundreds of thousands kilometers.

Why Disruptive Technologies?

Innovative technologies and approaches have the power to substantially “disrupt” the status quo of development paradigms. Disruptive technologies can help alleviate the negative impacts on landscapes from natural and human induced factors, while also addressing the needs of economic growth and sustainable development.

Innovators are invited to propose their disruptive and innovative solutions to landscape restoration issues in the Aral Sea region with the potential to scale-up in the entire Central Asia (from the mountains to the steppes).


The submission form template (in pdf) documents can be used as reference but official submission must be performed online.

Hosted by:

See the full list of the project partners here


Land resources, along with other natural resources, are the foundation of existence and development of mankind. Despite the unconditional importance of land resources for human and societal well-being, the amount of land which is characterized by a decrease or complete loss of its biological and economic productivity continues to increase. This happens due to a number of factors, including unsustainable agricultural and forestry practices, climate change, urban sprawl, infrastructure development, and a mining boom.
This Challenge evolves around four focus themes:

Solutions that contribute to sustainable development, e.g. sustainable land management, irrigated and rainfed agriculture, grazing land/pastures, water saving and irrigation, and cost-effective technologies to rehabilitate degraded lands.

Read more

This section refers to the disruptive technologies and innovations for sustainable forestry, as well as solutions within the forestry supply chain, to preserve biological diversity, productivity, resilience, viability and the ability of forests to perform important environmental, economic and social functions.Read more

Focuses on solutions that link local communities with innovations for landscape restoration; e.g. improvement of current livelihoods and creating new livelihoods; cooperation and social sustainability; tourism, well-being, public health and other innovative financial and economic instruments, enabling communities to improve their welfare while restoring the landscape.

Read more

Landscape restoration solutions that leverage data, remote sensing and mapping technologies, precise agriculture tools, and computing power to enable data-driven decisions by policy makers, public agencies, private service providers, and other users of the landscape.

Read more


Join the Challenge by proposing your ‘disruptive’ technological solution for landscape restoration and thus, taking action to build a new, positive reality for the people of the Aral Sea region and beyond.


This Challenge is open to participants (“Contestant”) from member countries of the World Bank. Contestants may be individuals or organizations (profit, non-profit organizations, academia). Contestants are responsible for compliance with legal requirements of their country. They are invited to pitch their solutions on innovative landscape restoration. Also, solutions at minimum viable products (MVP) to more developed stages (e.g. already fully commercialized) are eligible for the challenge.
Also, only solutions that are at minimum viable product (MVP) stage to more developed stages (e.g. already fully commercialized) are eligible for the challenge.

The submitted proposal can be part of different focus themes (e.g. Agriculture – Area 1- and Information & Knowledge – Area 4).

The Challenge is open for both international and Central Asian participants


  • Individuals must be of a minimum of 18 years old as of (date of submission)
  • An individual or a team may submit entries. Individuals who join teams must meet the eligibility requirements for Individual Contestants
  • Any national from a Bank member country can participate

Companies, Organizations, Startups:

  • Must be legally established entities (profit, non-profit) in their respective countries

The following are not eligible to join the Challenge: staff, contractors and vendors of the World Bank Group (The World Bank Group consists of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Development Association, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, the International Finance Corporation, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.), the members of the Evaluation and Finalist Judging Panel; or any company or individual involved with the design, production, execution or distribution of the Challenge and their immediate family members (spouse, parents and step-parents, siblings and step-siblings, children and step-children, aunt, uncle, niece and nephew).

Participants who are ineligible to receive Bank funds under the Bank’s Anti-Corruption Guidelines, procurement rules, and other rules such as on anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism are ineligible to receive cash or any prize under this Challenge.

Contestants should apply online, providing a description of their project proposals. For more information, see general guidelines for proposals.

The Challenge will be hosted online. Submission period begins on November 19, 2020, at 22:00 UTC+6 and ends on January 24, 2021, at 23:59 UTC+6.

The submission form template (in pdf) documents can be used as reference but official submission must be performed online.

Contestants should complete their application through the online registration form.

Structural requirements:

  • Submissions must comply with the format provided on the online platform.
  • Contestants must fill out the online application form (in English)
  • Contestants must attach a completed project proposal (in English)
  • Contestants must be available to attend all events, bootcamps and preparatory activities throughout the challenge
  • Follow the provided template; all documents must include the name, organization and thematic area chosen;
  • Contestants may submit more than one submission. However, overlap between submissions should be avoided, and only one cash prize can be allocated to the same contestant.
  • Each submission must be in English. Proposals that do not comply with the structural requirement will not be considered.
The submitted proposal are scored by the following quality criteria:
  • Be applicable and relevant to socio-economic and environmental conditions of the Aral Sea watershed (Kazakhstan & Uzbekistan) as well as to World Bank environmental projects under preparation and implementation in Central Asia; 
  • Demonstrate a potential for scaling-up to other regions of Central Asia (from the mountains to the plains);
  • Establish a clear path towards practical application of the solution on the ground (indicative implementation road map / draft business plan);
  • Demonstrate positive impacts for local communities (at the environmental and socio-economic levels);
  • Identify result’s indicators to monitor and evaluate the proposal outcome over time
  1. Shortlist selection: Submissions which meet the Eligibility and Structural Criteria will be evaluated based on the Quality Criteria by a selection consisting of representatives of partner organizations, representatives of the World Bank, Global Landscapes Forum, DKU and counterpart representatives in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The selection committee will prepare a short list of 12-16 applicants based on the evaluation results.
  2. Pre-challenge Bootcamp: Shortlisted candidates will receive in-kind support (provided by the Bank and the implementing partners) to prepare for the Challenge day (e.g. technical, business and soft skills trainings, networking, etc.). After completion of the bootcamp, shortlisted candidates will present their projects on the Challenge Day (January 2021), where the finalists will be identified by the Judging Panel.
  3. Four Challenge winners will be selected during the pitch Session on the Challenge Day by Event (February 2021) in front of the judging panel. The judging panel will consist of representatives of partner organizations, representatives, from the World Bank, Global Landscapes Forum, DKU and counterpart representatives in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well as experts. The final winners will receive recognition and awards.


  • Webinar on Restoring Landscapes in the Aral Sea: 15 December 2020
  • Questions and Answers session: 21 December 2020
    Please share your questions with Balzhan Zhumagazina: with subject “Challenge Q&A”.
  • Deadline for application: 24 January 2021
  • Challenge Event (online): February 2021
  • Capacity building program (online): January – February 2021
  • Mentorship program (online): February – June 2021

Please find frequently asked questions here.

Candidates with the top 5 submissions for each of the four themes will have the opportunity to share their ideas with a global audience during the live online challenge event when they present their findings and ideas to a panel of prominent experts from top international institutions in a Shark Tank format.

As a shortlisted candidate, your proposal will be included in a report on key innovations for landscape restoration, to be published online by the World Bank and other prominent partners.

Your solution will also be featured in key media outlets in connection with the Challenge, the World Bank and other partners.

The winners of each theme will receive a monetary award of up to approximately US$4,000. The decision on the final amount is pending.

The winners will be invited to participate in a 4-month Mentorship Program sponsored by the World Bank, Plug and Play, Kazakh-German University (DKU), the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), and other partners. Shortlisted participants will be interacting with the key partners from world leading venture capitalist firms, accelerators, governments and World Bank officials.

Please share your questions with Balzhan Zhumagazina: with subject “Challenge Q&A”. 

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Browse our curated selection of knowledge products to learn more about the challenges of degradation in Central Asia, and why landscape restoration is a key part of the solution.



Balzhan Zhumagazina :

Project Coordinator

The challenge is organized with the support of the Central Asia Water and Energy Program (CAWEP) a multi-donor Trust-Fund financed by the European Union, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The challenge is administered by the World Bank and will inform the Resilient Landscape Program in Central Asia RESILAND CA +, currently under preparation. It is implemented by the Kazakh-German University (DKU), the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) and Plug and Play (P&P).

Agriculture and land management

Agriculture plays an important role in the lives of rural people in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Almost half of the population in the mentioned countries belong to rural areas and are users of natural resources. Thus, their lives are tied to the welfare of land resources.  

During the Soviet Union period, inappropriate land use, including intensive irrigation, overgrazing in steppes in vast arid areas with limited ecological resources, caused numerous environmental consequences. In particular, extensive reclamation of new irrigated lands associated with an overuse of water resources caused a drop in the level of the Aral Sea. 

At the moment, the most serious environmental problems, threatening Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan’s natural resources, include increasing soil salinity and water pollution, wind and water erosion, overgrazing, deforestation and loss of biodiversity, as well as declining arable land productivity. Over the past 15-20 years there has been extensive pasture degradation due to overgrazing, lack of proper pasture management and other anthropogenic factors.  

All of the above-mentioned problems are also typical for the Kazakh part of the Aral Sea watershed, which includes two administrative-territorial division – Kyzylorda and Turkestan provinces. The total area of land resources in the Kyzylorda province is 24,041 thousand hectares, 2,639 thousand hectares of which are agricultural land and 6,506 thousand hectares are forest land. In Turkestan province, the area of land resources is about 11,725 hectares in total, of which 4,131 hectares are agricultural land and 3,014 hectares are forest land. 

The three largest categories of land in Uzbekistan are: lands for agricultural use (46.1%); forest lands (21.7%), reserve lands (27.6%). In total, these land categories cover more than 42 million hectares (95% of the country’s territory). There is land degradation throughout the country, but the most affected areas are concentrated in Bukhara, Navoi and Kashkadarya regions, the lowlands of the Amu Darya river basin, as well as in the Fergana Valley and the so-called Hungry Steppe of the Syr Darya river basin. The drying up of the Aral Sea and the delta of the Amu Darya River has led to a significant ecosystem dysfunction, and this problem is considered as the most serious man-made disasters in Uzbekistan, which have global significance. 

Sustainable forestry

Afforestation measures stabilize the soil and constitute a protecting barrier against the winds, preventing toxic sand-storms. Such measures also facilitate climate-resilient landscape management of drylands and ecosystems. 

The imbalance between the flow of water into the sea and evaporation has led to an increase in water mineralization from 10 to 46 grams per liter. Currently, fish can be found only in the northern part of the Aral Sea, while in the southern part, aquatic biodiversity is limited to salt-tolerant organisms. The declining sea level has affected the groundwater levels and contributed to the erosion of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya river beds. This has also caused the drying up of wetlands in the deltas of both rivers. 

The problem of salt storms from the dried bottom of the Aral Sea is very serious. Furthermore, some areas of salt deposits   can be very toxic. The calculations performed to determine the annual volume of salt dust eroded from the surface of the Aral Sea dried bottom differ significantly. The most common figure is 450,000 tons. This dust spreads over large areas, making it difficult to measure the impacts caused by its deposition, and accurate data are unlikely exist. 

According to various sources, up to 66% of the entire territory of Kazakhstan can be considered as degraded lands; at the same time, according to official data, up to 70% of the territory of Uzbekistan is subject to desertification processes. There, the Aralkum desert has been formed with an area of 5.5 million hectares as a result of the Aral disaster. Widespread afforestation of the Aralkum is needed to reduce ecological tension in the southern Aral region. Increased vegetation cover could help reduce the number dust storms (Novitskiy, 2012). 

Socio-economic development

According to the data of state statistical services at the beginning of

2020, in Kazakhstan, out of the total population of 18 631 thousand people, almost 41.2% or 7 693 thousand inhabitants, in turn in Uzbekistan, out of 33 905 thousand people, about 49.5% or 16 787 thousand inhabitants are residents of rural areas. Most of them are directly or indirectly dependent on income from land activities.

Land degradation and desertification have negatively impacted the overall productivity of crops, livestock and livestock in general. Limited access to high-quality drinking water, dust and salt storms resulting from the degradation of ecosystems, led to a sharp deterioration in the health of the population.

In recent years, in the considered countries, despite the decline in the share of the rural poor, there is a disproportion between overall economic growth and poverty reduction, in particular, in remote rural areas. Moreover, the highest level of poverty was registered in the territories with a higher percentage of degraded land. Rural poverty is usually connected to a scarcity of jobs and low salaries. Rural population often relies more on the use of natural resources. A private family plot of land or a small herd of livestock is often the only and significant source of income. In many villages, people use unsafe open drinking water sources or bring water from elsewhere. In areas where there are problems with land degradation, the population’s standard of living is generally low, which cannot be overcome without external support.

Information and knowledge

There is an incredible amount of information and knowledge about environmental situation in the Central Asia countries. However, most of the time, this information is fragmented, not regularly updated, or not always available. 

In the strategic and program documents in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, it is acknowledged that there is a need for improving the existing land management system as well as “technical” solutions in the form of projects to restore the required level of reclamation of agricultural lands. The documents also acknowledge the important role of scientific research in order to develop new, innovative technologies for the rehabilitation of degraded lands and the restoration of terrestrial ecosystems. In most cases, there is a need to implement a coordinated approach as well as develop solid information/decision support systems (land use planning, mapping (e.g. remote sensing, GIS, etc.), monitoring systems, knowledge portals, etc.)  to achieve the basic provision of sustainable land management (SLM).