Uniting Tajikistan’s Farmers to Fix Broken Irrigation Systems
By James Campbell and Meg Karchner
Photos by DAI
Tajikistan’s rugged alpine mountain ranges hold many glaciers; these feed hundreds of streams that flow down to the fertile river valleys, where many people work on farms. Despite this pretty picture, Tajikistan is severely food challenged. The poorest country in Central Asia, Tajikistan imports more than half its food. Many of its most vulnerable families go all day without eating.
Due to Tajikistan’s mountainous terrain and arid summers, a mere 7 percent of its land is arable, and farmers need to make the most of it. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, state and collective farms were divided into Dekhan or “peasant” farms that relied on systems of irrigation and drainage canals. Damaged during a long civil war, these canals received no support from the government and have suffered years of neglect.
When the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Family Farming Program (FFP)
embarked in 2010, its top objective was clear: assist the farmers and government to fix their irrigation systems so farms could eventually yield more crops, create jobs, and promote more nutritious diets.
FFP, a 4½-year, $21 million program implemented by DAI, closed earlier this year with impressive results, including: a reformed Tajikistan water sector, communities trained in growing and preserving food, and the broad dissemination of agricultural and livestock technologies. More than 127,000 households benefited from FFP, including from water newly accessible for household use.
But the project’s signature accomplishment was that it rehabilitated water systems to deliver and drain water on schedule, while establishing effective, sustainable grassroots organizations to operate the systems fairly for all farmers and cooperatives.
USAID’s Feed the Future initiative made it a high priority to focus on the Khatlon region in southwestern Tajikistan, along Afghanistan’s northern border. Given the severity of the civil war in Khatlon, this region presented the most deteriorated agricultural sector and greatest need for food security, income growth, and improved nutrition.