Tajikistan: Putting environmental resources in local hands

Women help manage natural resources inTajikistan. Photo: UNDP/Safarbek Soliev
Farmer field schools helped introduce new crops and methods of cultivation in Tajikistan’s Vakhsh River valley. Here, a women rides her bicycle in a pomegranate plantation. Photo: UNDP/Safarbek Soliev

Tajikistan’s Vakhsh River valley is crucial to the livelihoods and food security of millions of people, but the degradation of natural resources has been persistent and extensive over the past 100 years. The tugai forests, reservoirs of biodiversity and source of income for local communities, have been stripped at an ever-escalating rate, either to clear land for agriculture or as source of energy.

In the district of Nuri Vakhsh, only 126 hectares of forest survive. In 2008, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) began working with community members to help protect it and regulate exploitation through a forestry management committee.

Highlights

  • Four districts of the Vakhsh River valley in Tajikistan have placed management of natural resources in the hands of local communities depending on them for their livelihoods.
  • Tree-cutting in the endangered tugai forest area has declined by 90 percent since 2008, and population of birds and animals increased by 50 percent.
  • A survey of participants in farmer field schools found that 75 percent of respondents were able to sell additional crops, for a 25 percent increase in income on average.

Local authorities let villagers lease land at nominal rates for grazing. The community management committee is responsible for regulating the number of livestock and the wood-cutting. Dead trees are cleared and distributed as firewood.

“Restrictions are never welcomed by people, but now those involved in the protection of the forests can see the results," says community member Salima Bekmurodova.

After four years, an evaluation of the project found that tree-cutting had declined by 90 percent since 2008, allowing the forest to regenerate, while populations of birds and animals increased by 50 percent. Community members say they feel a sense of pride and ownership in what they have been able to accomplish. "Protecting the forests is a noble cause that should always be supported," says Bekmurodov Kurbonmahmad, a member of the committee.

In the district of Jura Nazarov, UNDP assisted communities with other aspects of sustainable rural development. Almost all of the district’s 14,000 inhabitants depend on farming, but more than 70 percent of the land is no longer arable, after years of poor agricultural and irrigation practices during the Soviet era.

User associations now manage water resources and repair irrigation systems while farmer field schools help introduce appropriate agricultural techniques. A survey of participants in the schools found that two-thirds had introduced new crops and methods of cultivation that proved more productive and better suited to local conditions.

Seventy-five percent of the respondents reported that they were able to sell additional crops, with a 25 percent increase in income on average. The extra funds have gone into renovating family homes, hiring farm labour to expand production, repairing irrigation systems and sending children to school.

Locally managed microcredit facilities help farmers access low-cost loans to invest in new practices. "The project comes with the input of the people," says local leader Gulshan Kulolova. "They learned that they themselves can do something."

Some of these initiatives have already been replicated in nine districts across Tajikistan, with support from the Global Environment Fund Small Grants Programme.

Read the full story in our publication "Empowering Lives, Building Resilience"