Gender, Enterprise & Markets (GEM) and women small-holder farmers in rural Tajikistan

Building a foundation for a new generation of women small-holder farmers in rural Tajikistan

With this aim, Oxfam’s Gender, Enterprise & Markets (GEM) project supported women farmers to take initiatives to expand their knowledge, empowered roles in decision making and activities that sought to reduce their poverty. The recent protracted decline in remittances, the depreciation of the exchange rate, and return of many men from abroad to their households in rural areas without jobs posed additional and significant challenges for this project.

Despite these and other challenges, GEM achieved results. About 130 Women Producer Groups (WPGs)/with 1,950 women members received field training on advanced farming, and developed technical know-how on the drying of fruit, selection of good quality seeds preparing compost at home. 110 Saving for Change (SfC) groups have 1642 active members who incurred about 545,312 Tajik somonies (61,517 USD) just within 2017 year. This initiative gave women access to finance (free from banking interest) in order to generate business at a larger scale.

The recent visit of Lilian Mercado, Regional Director for Asia Region, Oxfam International, on 20th February 2018 to Tajikistan, was marked as a "friendship" day where host women beneficiaries and Lilian planted tomato seedlings. Women farmers from PGs were happy to demonstrate their achievements, speaking with dignity, proud to display their contracts with external wholesale buyers, entrepreneurs from other regions and abroad. They were pleased to plant seedlings as a symbol of "friendship, development and women solidarity".  

Story from the field

Gulnamo is a 47-year-old women from the village of Rudaki in the Vose district of the Khatlon region. The wait for her husband seemed endless. For the past eight years, he was in Russia. This meant she was left to take care of her large family of nine: two children, a parent-in-law, 3 sister-in-laws and 3 brother-in-laws. Her husband would send some money from Russia, but irregularly, making it difficult to cover basic household expenses.

“My childhood was so happy. My parents and neighbours still remember me as a young girl full of energy. With years of hardship, facing vulnerability and a situation of a near absent husband, I was only left with deep despair. I wanted my two children to go to university for higher education but all that seemed a distant dream.”

She often found herself cutting back on her own food and clothing expenses to try to afford school fees for her children. Her life took a turn for the worse in 2013-14. Because of an economic recession in Russia, Gulnamo’s husband returned home, jobless, like thousands of other returning migrants.

“We were totally shattered. There was no hope, no one from my family or friends came to help us.”

She started working as an agriculture labourer in the field of a Dekhan farmer, earning a small amount of money that supported her family in such dire straits.

In 2014 Oxfam’s GEM programme started mobilizing poor women into women Producer Groups (PG).

“A women’s PG, ‘Mehnat’ (or labour) was initiated by Neksigol Mushovir in our village. I was among the first members to join the group" recalled Gulnamo, "to me it seemed a ray of hope to end my misery.”

Neksigol community mobilisers and trainers organized women farmers, provided training to start their own farming and set-up new agriculture enterprises. The training modules, spread over a year, introduced new farming and value addition techniques (like drying, sorting and packaging) for select agriculture and horticulture crops such as apples and apricots. Neksigol supported PG members in getting land certificates from the local authorities for collective farming. A range of extension services was started which included setting up a network of on-site demo plots, improving access to seed and other input supplies and facilitating regular flow of information on the weather and pest attacks.

“The learning was intense and I could see how this will help poor, aspiring farmers like us. I especially liked the training component on agronomy which can help increase productivity from our small farming plots.”

She participated in master trainings for agronomists, visited different parts of the Khatlon region to learn improved tomato farming techniques, disease management and ways to reduce post-harvest losses.

“After 6 months of training, I believed, I am ready to now offer my services to small farmers like me to help them increase yield and profits. It was a big change in my life. I had new-found independence and mobility. I go around village to village to train and advise my farmer clients on improving their farming technique. I personally trained more than 150 women on new ways to grow vegetables.”

Gulnamo did not stop at this as she now aspired to become a fully-fledged agro- entrepreneur, who offers a whole range of agriculture services. Oxfam organized a large business to business meeting of agriculture input suppliers in Khatlon to help improve supply chains in remote rural areas. Gulnamo quickly latched onto this opportunity, signed an agreement with a large private input supplier firm to become its local agent.

“Since then I have been among the leading suppliers of high yielding seeds, fertilizer, pesticides etc. for tomato, water-melon and carrots to farmers in my own and neighbouring villages.”

From a financially vulnerable situation, she now has a steady income stream that comes from fees for advisory services and supplies of agriculture inputs. After reaching a stable condition with her agronomist work, she also enrolled in the Kulyab Agrarian University to pursue courses on agronomist-technologies.

“Attending classes after many years was a deeply gratifying experience for me. It helped me learn more and increase my knowledge. My practical experience as an agronomist was a good contribution to the course as well.”

While making giant strides to achieve her own dream, Gulnamo was also aware that many women continue to face deep discrimination when it comes to legal access to land.

“Most of them do not know their legal rights over land, especially women who have been separated from their husbands. They don’t think it is possible to get their due share in land by seeking professional legal services.”

Here she came to know of Oxfam’s legal clinic in Vose’s Jamaot office that provides free legal aid to women and families on a range of issues including on land related matters. Over the past year, she motivated more than 45 women from neighbouring villages to come to legal clinics for support on claiming their rights over land. Thanks to her persistent efforts, the clinics have been able to help these women get nine hectares of land to carry out farming. Reflecting on her last three years, Gulnamo says proudly,

“From a small beginning I have come a long way. And now I think the energetic child in me is back.”

By Nazira Kurbonova, Media and Campaigns Coordinator for Oxfam GB Tajikistan

Read more in the GEM Learning Report. This is a preliminary version of the report. We welcome readers' feedback and comments to consider in the future, if any, to Nazira at nkurbonova@oxfam.org.uk.

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