BY DAVID LANE
JUNE 19, 2015
We know that when women farmers are given equal access to land and other agricultural resources, farming productivity and family nutrition in communities improves by as much as 30%. We also know that people with secure access to land are more likely to invest in that land and its sustainable use. And yet, around the world many women farmers still have limited agricultural resources and lack secure land rights.
Last May in Tajikistan I met two women determined to gain equal treatment for all. Together, these women fought for rights for smallholder farmers — and won.
Landlocked, mountainous, and still a very young country, Tajikistan is working to re-launch its economy — the agricultural sector in particular — and overcome the lingering effects of almost a decade of civil war following its independence from the Soviet Union. I visited with a group of international journalists from nearby countries on a quest to find out more about this remote place, this effort, and specifically how the United States — through President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative — and the international community are supporting the Government of Tajikistan in achieving food security and improved nutrition
With 75% of the population living in rural areas, agriculture in Tajikistan accounts for 19 percent of GDP, and is a key sector of the economy. Agricultural growth has the potential to contribute significantly to poverty reduction, and women have a huge role, since they comprise 80 percent of the agricultural workforce in Tajikistan — partly because many men go to Russia to find work. Along with a need for improved seeds, better infrastructure, better access to markets, and rehabilitation of the irrigation systems, insecure land tenure stands out as a particular problem in Tajikistan, especially for women.
In fact, it became a huge problem for Bibigul Yudosheva.
We met Bibigul in Western Khatlon Province at USAID’s “Mahbuba” Land Reform Project Legal Aid Center. It was there that the journalists and I began to understand the serious challenges that women small holder farmers face in exercising their right to access and farm their land.
Last year the land Bibigul had been farming for years was unlawfully taken away from her, on a false claim, by the leader of the dehkhan (collective) farm to which she belonged. Bibigul was deprived of her livelihood, income and future. But she fought back, and sought legal counsel from a local legend, a powerful and persuasive woman by the name of Barno Rakhimova, who has been fighting for women’s rights and empowerment throughout her career as a lawyer. With the help of USAID’s Mahbuba project, Barno provides free legal services to Tajik smallholder farmers seeking to formalize their legitimate land tenure rights under recently adopted Tajik laws. Together, Bibigul and Barno took the dehkhan farm leader to court and won! With great pride Bibigul showed us the legal ‘deed’ to the property that she now has the secure right to farm. Newly empowered, Bibigul is preparing to harvest this year’s crop, while considering further legal action to gain compensation for the time that she was not able to farm.
It is clear that given opportunity and access to productive resources, the hard working people of Tajikistan will make a better future for their families and communities. And with the courageous action of women like Bibigul and Barno, supported by projects such as USAID’s Mahbuba within the Feed the Future program, I think it is safe to say that many more Tajik smallholder farmers will stand up for their rights to the land they farm and the future they want.