David Lane, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations agencies in Rome traveled in Tajikistan May 11-15, to observe the challenges and progress being made in food and nutrition security there. While there, he visited project sites supported by the World Food Programme, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). He met with local communities and talked directly with rural families about how these programs work together with the Tajik people and government to improve food security, nutrition, and economic growth in Tajikistan. He was accompanied by five journalists from Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama has made ending extreme poverty and hunger in our lifetime a top priority of his Administration. Through Feed the Future, President Obama’s global food security initiative, we have learned a lot about what is needed to increase agricultural productivity, to ensure access to safe and nutritious food, to help smallholder farmers adopt new technologies, and to raise farmer’s incomes.
Since arriving we have learned about a number of challenges that the Tajik people and government are working to overcome. As you know, Tajikistan is the second most mountainous country in the world, after Nepal. Only 7 percent of the land is arable, and almost all requires irrigation to be productive. Yet, agriculture is the cornerstone of the economy—the sector employs around 75 percent of the labor force and contributes 20 percent to GDP.
Ambassador Lane’s learnings from this trip focused on three key areas:
- Empowering Women Farmers, and
- Improving livelihoods for small-scale farmers.
Although Tajikistan has made substantial progress against extreme poverty, malnutrition remains a serious problem. Malnutrition, especially in the crucial early years, robs Tajikistan’s future leaders of physical and mental development. Children must be healthy and well-nourished for Tajikistan to thrive and realize its full potential.
The challenge is not a lack of calories, but rather that diets often lack the diversity that will deliver adequate proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Wheat accounts for almost three-fifths of calories consumed by most people. As a result of this limited diet, many women and children suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, particularly anemia and iodine deficiency.
The government of Tajikistan has recognized this, and joined the international coalition Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) in 2013, adopted a ten-year National Health Strategy, and established a Food Security Council to coordinate strategic decision making concerning food security for the country.
The delegation visited several projects that are supporting the government’s efforts to improve nutrition.
These included a USAID project to cross-breed potato plants to develop strains that are higher in iron and zinc as well as FAO and IFAD projects encouraging growth of alternate crops, such as dwarf fruit orchards and quinoa, to increase the dietary diversity of people.
Ensuring that mothers understand the nutritional needs of their children and how to meet them is also important, which is why USAID and partner Mercy Corps encourage breastfeeding and teach mothers about nutrient-rich foods for young children in their Maternal Child Health training program, which operates in over 750 communities.
Although long-term improvement is the primary goal of the United States and United Nations, many of Tajikistan’s children need nutrition support today if they are to develop to their full potential.
These needs are being addressed in two programs supported by WFP in cooperation with the government of Tajikistan. After identifying children with Moderate Acute Malnutrition, staff at the Kulyab Health Center provide a special fortified food ration and educate the children’s caregivers on how to improve their children’s diet. The nutritious lunches that WFP provides for over 350,000 primary school aged children in Tajikistan improve both their nutrition and school attendance rates.
Empowering Women Farmers
Women undertake 80 percent of the farm work in Tajikistan, often because the men in the family have migrated out of Tajikistan or to a city to gain off-farm employment. We know that by giving women equal access to agriculture inputs and training we can dramatically improve farm output and household nutrition.
With USAID support, the 600 member Chorbogh village Women’s Extension Group chose to focus on potatoes, a food that most rural people eat daily. They studied several potato varieties, selected the best one to grow for their area, and learned how to calculate the value of their crop to ensure a fair price when they sell their produce. They also provide extension services and train other women.
The knowledge and determination of Uguloy Abdulloyeva, chairwoman of the Obchakoron Water User Association was particularly impressive. Under her leadership, with a grant from USAID, the Association repaired irrigation canals, drain and water gates, enabling 289 farmers to irrigate almost 3000 hectares of land.
Tajikistan has boasted an average of 7 percent annual GDP growth since 2009, but much of that growth has been the result of people working abroad and sending money home. It is critical that Tajikistan’s own economy grows for long-term prosperity.
FAO and the government of Tajikistan have teamed up to improve the accessibility of high quality seeds to small-scale farmers, while supporting local seed producers. At the Latif Murodov Seed Farm, they support wheat breeding to provide new varieties of this important food source. One tangible result is the release of two new high-yielding wheat varieties that are resistant to wheat rust and drought.
Smallholder farmers raise 92 percent of the livestock in Tajikistan, so improving the quality of livestock can significantly impact livelihoods and nutrition. With support from IFAD, the Pasture Users Union of Langar built a pumping system to provide water to a high summer pasture, and fenced an area where the animals can stay at night, eliminating the need to walk the cattle 8 kilometers up and down the hill each day. This allows the cattle to gain 30-40 percent more weight and provide more milk. At the season’s end, the owners benefit by earning better prices for their fatter cattle.
The Government of Tajikistan is encouraging land reform through recent changes to land use laws, providing greater land use rights to family farms and small commercial farms. But often people don’t know their rights. Through support of Legal Aid Centers and volunteer local advisors, USAID gives farmers the knowledge they need to benefit from the changing laws and legally ensure the rights to their farm plots. The farmers, both men and women, can then make decisions about what to grow and methods to use to improve their incomes and nutrition.
Donor investment, government commitment and the hard work of farmers and communities are showing results. Communities and households have raised their incomes and improved their food and nutrition security. The next step is to take these and other new approaches to a larger scale to help all of Tajikistan and its smallholder farmers achieve food security and nutrition and a higher standard of living for their families.