Aga Khan Foundation
Tajikistan · 9 May 2023 · 5 min
With just seven percent of its land suited to farming, and the World Food Programme’s estimate that 97 percent of this is subject to soil degradation, Tajikistan imports over half of its agricultural inputs and three-quarters of its food. Additional pressures on the ability to grow and buy food include the effects of climate change on temperatures and water availability, population growth, sudden shocks like COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, affecting global prices.
Under the previous National Development Strategy, which included reclaiming land, resolving farm debts and other agricultural sector reforms, the Government of Tajikistan was successful in increasing gross agricultural production by almost nine percent. As part of the National Development Strategy to 2030, the Government is now working to grow the agricultural sector, monitor nutrition and support imports to ensure economic and physical access to nutritious food.
AKDN is supporting food production and nutrition from several angles: researching, sourcing and distributing appropriate inputs such as seeds; enhancing productivity through training; building rural infrastructure such as irrigation channels; supplying post-harvest processing equipment and food storage; and providing nutrition support for mothers, babies and adolescents at risk of stunting.
The University of Central Asia’s Mountain Societies Research Institute (MSRI) is implementing three research projects on food security and food systems under Thrive Tajikistan: Enhancing Social Services, Governance, and Economic Inclusion in Border Regions, a partnership between USAID and the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF):
● improving the quality of Pamir ecotype yaks through evaluation and selection;
● testing different spring and winter wheat varieties and distributing the most disease-resistant to local farmers, governmental agriculture extension agents and development NGOs in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast; and
● working with the Kulob Botanical Gardens in Khatlon to map wild relatives of fruit plants in mountain pastures and conserve them in nurseries, training local communities to propagate them and sustain food production systems for the future.
“I worked day and night on my land,” says Hamza, a potato farmer from Khatlon, “but our markets have only local seed potatoes available, which are susceptible to many diseases. A large portion of the harvest was of low quality, and we were not able to eat it, nor sell it or use it for the next crop.”
Hamza joined one of the Agriculture Inputs Revolving Funds (AIRFs) set up by AKF and USAID in partnership with communities. Run by the villages’ existing agricultural committees, these provide pools of money that can be used by farmers to buy supplies like seeds and fertiliser. The farmers also receive training on seed selection, production practices and post-harvest handling and storage.
AKF and USAID worked with the local farmers to select and procure Bigrossa potato seeds, which grow well in Tajikistan and are less susceptible to disease. Hamza received 100 kg of seed potato, which he cultivated on three acres of his land using his agronomic training. “This produced 900 kg of high-quality potatoes,” he said. “We have stored 150 kg of seed potato for the next crop season, sold 300 kg and received a good income, and are now using the 330 kg as food for my family. To continue the AIRF and support other local farmers I returned 120 kg of seed potato to the AIRF. Now I am certain that even if there will be food shortages or the food price goes up any time, we will have potatoes available for family consumption, storing crops for next season and income-generating sales.”
AKF has implemented 600 irrigation schemes to date, whereby canal networks managed by the local water user associations divert water from rivers to fields via smaller channels. These have improved land management and raised farming productivity, helping around 720,000 people increase their food and income security.
The irrigation canal in Shamtuch Village, Sughd was built in Soviet times from stones and mud. Mr Murod, the current group leader of the irrigation canal builders, explained that 70 percent of the water drained into the land along the way, with the rest taking four hours to reach its destination.
Under a natural resources management programme funded by the European Union and AKF in 2022, construction materials were provided for the villagers to build a 400-metre concrete canal. Mr Murod says that it now waters 50 hectares of fields in an hour. The residents have received funding for a further 300 metres and are also building a road alongside the new canal, shortening schoolchildren’s daily commute to school in the neighbouring village of Qarqtuda.
In Dusti District, Khatlon, farmers can produce up to 20 tons of pomegranates per hectare, selling them in Khatlon and nationally. Thrive helped 125 farmers organise themselves into a cluster to aid productivity and market access.
The cluster owns 62 hectares of pomegranate gardens, producing over 100 tons annually, but much was lost to spoilage. Thrive renovated an old building into a 140-square metre storage facility to preserve their harvest, as pomegranates require low levels of oxygen and a temperature of 2-6°C. Its air conditioning equipment, two-layer walls and hermetically sealed doors keep the pomegranates fresh for four to five months.
“The storage saved 50 tons of pomegranate from spoilage,” said cluster head Khurshed Buriev. “Some farmers have booked places in the cluster’s storage for the next harvest season. Businessmen come to us even from Dushanbe and Khujand to buy 1 kg for TJS 10 ($0.90). That is profitable for the farmers as they don’t have to pay for transportation.”
Malnutrition rates have fallen over the last decade. However, at the start of 2023, the World Food Programme still classed 30 percent of Tajikistan’s population as moderately food-insecure: unable to regularly eat healthy, nutritious diets. AKF’s Central Asia Stunting Initiative aims to prevent as well as treat stunting and improve nutrition for the whole community, aiding Government efforts to break the cycle of undernutrition across a whole generation.
Staff at government facilities are trained and supported to assess the birth weight of babies within 24 hours of birth, identifying the ones with low birth weight and referring those under 1.5 kg to intensive care. Micronutrients and food supplements such as fortified porridge are provided for underweight pregnant and lactating women, babies and adolescents.
This multisectoral approach to food security and nutrition in Tajikistan combines innovation with conservation, supporting the efforts of Tajik farmers, small businesses and medical staff. It complements AKDN’s irrigation and clean water work to reinforce the progress of the National Development Strategy’s work towards improving seeds, using new agricultural techniques and helping agricultural producers reach markets.