Helping to ensure food and nutrition security in southern Tajikistan

Date: 13.05.2015.

A USAID-funded project is helping smallholder potato growers in southern Tajikistan to earn an additional income of around 6,800 USD per ha. Photo by Timur Abdurakhmanov.

The International Potato Center (CIP), a member of the CGIAR Regional Program for Central Asia and the Caucasus, is implementing a USAID-funded project in southern Tajikistan to help smallholder potato growers increase their profits and ensure rural children have more nutritious food.

Under the US government's Feed the Future Initiative, the two-year Potato Production Support and Research Project to Improve Food Security in Khatlon aims to enhance the welfare of smallholder potato farmers through increased income and food security, and addresses childhood stunting, food insecurity and undernutrition. The project will help to deal with two major problems at the same time.

First, unfavourable climatic conditions in the region, in particular heat, make it difficult to cultivate potato and get high yields. So making improved heat-tolerant and high-yielding potato varieties available to farmers can boost their income.

Second, according to the USAID, nearly 30 per cent of children under five exhibit stunted growth in Khatlon Region. It is reported that iron deficiency anaemia has harmful effects on early childhood development in the region. So, being an important staple food, improved potato varieties fortified with iron and zinc can serve as a vital source of micronutrients and calories for children and women.

In collaboration with the Institute of Horticulture and Vegetables, the Institute of Botany and Plant Physiology and Genetics under the Tajik Academy of Agricultural Sciences, CIP researchers have been working with smallholder farmers since 2013 to improve yields of potato, including early season varieties that may be sold for high profit. The team has also been studying how to increase the amount of iron and zinc in potato. This work is carried out at 10 demonstration plots in four districts.

Through training courses and field days, the project team has also improved the knowledge and skills of many farmers in the region. For example, 284 participants, including 140 women, attended 10 training courses and field days on late autumn and early spring potato cultivation under plastic mulching and on positive selection methods between 27 March and 11 May 2015.

These efforts have already produced positive results. To see progress made so far, on 13 May 2015 US Ambassador to UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Mr David Lane, visited one of the USAID-CIP potato demonstration plots in the Chorbogh village and met farmers. Ambassador Lane was in Tajikistan to observe how the United States and the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies collaborate to support rural households, farmers, businesses, and government officials to improve food security and nutrition and promote agricultural development in Tajikistan (see here).

A combination of early-maturing and stress-tolerant varieties along with appropriate crop management allows farmers to intercrop potatoes with wheat and cotton to intensify land use and earn a higher income. Through mapping and value chain creation, the project is supporting resource-poor farmers to exploit an additional high value crop and gain additional income of approximately 6,800 USD per ha as soon as the second growing season. Smallholder farmers can earn an additional 100 to 120 USD on 181 sq. m. over 90 days. Zaynura Karimova, a farmer from Qumsangir District, planted CIP potatoes in 2014 and is happy with the results. She said: "New potato varieties provided by CIP are four times more productive and much tastier in comparison with local varieties. My children eat this potato with pleasure. I already can provide my family with seed potato for the summer growing season from the first harvest. It was a big challenge in the past, because seed potatoes for the second growing season are not readily available."

It is hoped that these efforts will help to improve rural livelihoods in Khatlon Region and nutrition for families. And these results will be replicated in other regions of Tajikistan too.

See also