Tajikistan is the poorest country of the former Soviet Union and one of the poorest countries in the world. Of the 8 million Tajiks, approximately 12 per cent live and work partly in Russia. Their money transfers contribute up to 25 per cent to household incomes. Despite this, more than 60 per cent live below the poverty threshold, according to a survey by the World Bank. The FAO Food Price Index shows that Tajikistan has regularly suffered food shortages in the last 20 years. The situation is worst in rural districts.
93 per cent of the topographical area of Tajikistan consists of high mountains. 28 per cent of the land area is used for agricultural production, more than 75 per cent of it as pasture and meadows for hay production. Given the size of the country, the amount of land that is suitable for arable farming is small (just 7 per cent). The dry, sub-tropical climate makes productive crop cultivation more difficult. Added to this is the fact that deforested areas along the valleys and the bordering mountain slopes suffer from erosion. The consequence is regular flooding and the resulting loss of the harvests, which are in any case poor.
In Tajikistan, 77 per cent of the population live in rural areas. The majority are engaged in subsistence agriculture and livestock farming to provide food for themselves, and generate some additional income by selling the small surpluses. At more than 60 per cent, women make up the majority of agricultural workers. The technology and production methods used in agriculture are outdated. It is also afflicted by diseases and pests, inappropriate seeds, a lack of well-qualified advisory services and has almost no access to the market. In order to increase productivity and improve the economic situation of the rural population, there is a need of further training for the farmers, of well-functioning agricultural organisations, access to the market for production goods, but even more importantly, for the sale of their products.
All this – the climate, the geographical location, the low level of agricultural education of the rural population and the lack of agricultural organisations – presents a major challenge for a sustainable and profitable production of agricultural food products. While the first two factors (climate and topography) are conditions that cannot be changed, Caritas Switzerland is targeting the rural population in this project. Caritas Switzerland has supported women’s and farmers’ groups in the rural areas for more than 15 years and cooperates closely with the local and regional authorities. The objective of the projects is to reduce the impacts of natural disasters by improving living conditions and food security.