High up in the mountains of Tajikistan’s Sughd region is the small village of Imbef. Located at an altitude of over 2,000 metres above sea level, the cold and dry climate and lack of arable land make growing crops an ongoing challenge for the local population, many of whom rely on agriculture as both an income stream as well as a source of food.
Local farmers mainly grow potatoes and breed cattle, though with limited access to land, it is vital that they plant good quality crops that allow substantial returns. Abdusamad, a local villager, spoke of the problem:
“Because our village has little land (only 11 hectares of arable land, of which 10 are for potatoes), we grow potatoes every year to meet our food needs, but a lack of good quality seed potatoes has resulted in a decline of the harvest in recent years.”
Potatoes are a labour-intensive crop and a large quantity is needed to provide food for the village residents, as well as a portion kept aside to replant for the following year’s harvest. Abdusamad needs 1.5 metric tonnes of potatoes each year just to feed his family, and more is needed for him to replant and sell. The last few years, however, have seen potato crops not only dwindle but also decline in quality, and now “farmers are abandoning potato growing due to the lack of quality seed potatoes”.
The Aga Khan Foundation has been working with its partners, the SAROB cooperative, ACTED, Camp Kuhiston and the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme, to implement a European Union-funded programme designed to help farmers improve their yields – thereby providing their families with greater food security and more nutritious diets – and protect their livelihoods. The programme “Improving livelihoods and food security through sustainable Natural Resource Management” has supported 15 farmers to establish a local Agriculture Producer Group, as well as an Agriculture Input Revolving Fund (AIRF). Some programme funds were used to provide a particular variety of potato seeds, “Big Rose”, to the AIRF, with the idea being that once members improved their yields they would be able to return seed potatoes to the AIRF after harvest, and in this way help other farmers. Funds were also used to conduct trainings in up-to-date methods of potato growing storage and disease prevention.
Big Rose potatoes have grown very well in the Sughd region. In the past, a good year would usually result in roughly 2.2 tonnes of potatoes per tenth of a hectare. Using the new variety, Abdusamad was able to harvest 5.3 tonnes in the first year of harvest – over double his best crop. With such a large yield, he was able to reimburse 800 kilogrammes of seed potatoes to the AIRF, which then distributed these to four other farmers.
Another Imbef resident, Halimova Jumagul, shared her experience of how the AIRF has helped her:
“In 2016, due to the low potato harvest, our family’s stock was depleted in the winter, and because of this my husband had to migrate to Russia for work. In the spring of 2018, I received 200 kilogrammes of the “Big Rose” variety potato seeds through the AIRF. My harvest from a twentieth of hectare was 3.2 tonnes, and so I was able to return 400 kilogrammes of seeds to the AIRF.”
It is believed that the potato crop will increase in future years as it becomes better adapted to the climatic conditions of the region, but the results so far are very promising. The revolving fund element of the AIRF means that from only a small initial input, more and more farmers will be able to grow better quality potatoes in the future, feeding their families, improving their livelihoods and, ultimately, their quality of life.
Since June 2016, the “Improving livelihoods and food security through sustainable Natural Resource Management” programme has worked directly with over 800 farmers planting fruit orchards, growing seed potatoes and vegetable crops, processing dairy products and growing rose hips, amongst other things. Activities have also extended to more than 10’000 beneficiaries who have improved their knowledge of agricultural land use technologies and become participants in the potato revolving fund.
This text was adapted from an article published on the AKF UK website.