Tajikistan agriproducts: gearing up for quality and exports with the help of a mobile lab
August 11, 2022
Zulfiya, a farmer from the Bobojon Gafurov district of Sughd region, is eagerly waiting for the mobile lab team to visit and check the quality and safety of the apricots produced by the ‘Chorsu’ farm that she runs together with her family for the last 20 years. While waiting, bitter memories from five years ago come flooding back as she recalls how the whole batch of their produce shipped for export to Lithuania was rejected by the food lab at the border. It didn’t meet the EU technical regulation for food safety, as the analysis traced a high level of pesticides potentially damaging to human health. An unintended mistake cost Zulfiya and her family almost a year of labour and investment.
Zulfiya is not alone in this struggle. In Tajikistan, there are around 180,000 small farms – individual or family farms - that produce fruits, vegetables, nuts, or honey. The small farms run by individual farmers are usually on plots not bigger than 1-2 hectares (1 hectare = 2.5 football fields), followed by the midsized category of farms, averaging about 20 hectares. The number of agronomists in the country, however, is far from enough to cater for the needs of the enormous number of small to medium producers and processors, even more so in the remote areas. Without the proper professional guidance, agrochemicals are often used in excess, and often not even for the right reasons. When the bad news arrives from buyers’ quality and safety control - or border control in the cases of export - it is already too late. The transportation costs fall on the producer, adding up on the loss of profit due to the rejected batch of products.
Better safe than sorry
There is, however, a way to prevent this. In recent years, Tajikistan is seeing a proliferation of providers that advise and implement food quality and safety standards. One such is “Markazi Idorakunii Sifat”, a quality management centre which for the last 12 years offers advisory services to farmers and processing companies to introduce international quality standards and laboratory analyses and testing of food products for quality and safety.
The centre is based in Khujand, the second-largest city of Tajikistan and the capital of Tajikistan's northernmost Sughd province. However, what sets apart “Markazi Idorakunii Sifat” from other such centres is that a year ago they opened the first - and so far the only - mobile laboratory for agriproducts testing in Tajikistan. Their services are now available “upon call” to almost every corner of the country. UNDP, through the regional Aid for Trade in Central Asia project supported the opening of the mobile lab by securing the purchase of the express equipment and reagents for food safety and quality analysis in 2021.
“We have a large network of clients growing over the past 12 years. And these clients have their value chains – other producers and processors. Then come the cooperatives and associations of farmers and agriprocessors”, “Markazi Idorakunii Sifat”’s director, Mirzoravshan Qobilov, explains how the news of the mobile lab is spreading fast as it is a much-sought service. When the centre receives a request to visit a farm or a processing facility, the lab staff would browse through their database for other agribusinesses in the same area and inform them about their upcoming visit nearby. And so, as they pack the new, modern and lightweight express lab equipment, their trip turns into a 3–4-day mission where they cover as many farmers as possible and other agribusinesses locally. The smart thing to do, given that the distances that the lab travels often reach up to 600 kilometres per trip.
The mobile agrifood lab in action
First, random sampling is taken from the honey and prepared to be analyzed. Second, immediate analysis of the levels of sugar, fructose and moisture content of the honey is performed. Third, fast and reliable results are out in a matter of minutes. This analysis helps honey producers to screen the physicochemical properties which determine the product’s nutritional and medicinal uses.
Fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts like apricots or peanuts, processed products such as preserved fruits or peanut butter, and honey, are most often analysed products in the mobile lab. While some of the analyses are done on the spot with the express equipment, for others the lab technicians take samples for more thorough checks in their Khujand lab. A few days later, via email or post, the clients receive their detailed reports with the results and recommendations on how to improve their production. “We help farmers and agri-processors not only to save their products from failed sale and export, but also to increase their profit”, the lab director concludes contentedly.
“We recommended to the company “Dolina Frukt” to reduce the content of sulphur dioxide in the dried fruits, so that the product meets international standards. And now, the company is exporting 400 tons of dried fruits to Belarus”, the lab technician Nasimjon Buzurgkhonov explains.
Since the opening of the mobile lab in 2021, more than 2000 tests have been done and more than 50 SMEs and farms have been advised on how to treat and store their products to improve the quality and safety. This results in improvement of traceability of products and buffering the risks associated with returns of products that do not conform to export requirements.
To scale up the provision of quality and safety test services and reach to as many small producers and processors, the Aid for Trade project plans to work further with other quality management service providers of Tajikistan. It is important to share the experience of the “Markazi Idorakunii Sifat” centre with the mobile lab management not only to promote wider usage of the mobile lab’s business model, but also to capacitate food safety and quality specialists across Tajikistan with relevant knowledge and skills on advanced food quality solutions.
With the regulations and quality infrastructure in the agricultural sector of Tajikistan still not fully aligned with international market requirements, the competitiveness and export potential of the sector are not fully utilized. To mitigate this and to ensure that businesses can access global and regional markets, further and systemic support is needed with governments and businesses to comply with international food safety and quality requirements and standards.
Working towards a wider systemic change in governing exports, Aid for Trade project supported the Government of Tajikistan to design the new State Export Development Programme for 2021-2025. The program includes more than 160 priority actions, including priority action on ‘development of a strategy for implementation of international food safety standards, including GLOBAL G.A.P. standard’.
The Aid for Trade project is implemented since 2009, supporting the governments and private sector in Central Asia in improving productive capacities and creating decent jobs. In its Phase IV, implemented during 2018-2022, the Aid for Trade project in Tajikistan focused on supporting the country in promoting inclusive and sustainable growth patterns in rural areas and within green productive sectors and creating decent jobs. The project is funded by the Government of Finland.
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