Stunting (low height for age) rates are common indicators of chronic malnutrition. In Tajikistan, 18 percent of children under five years are stunted, 6 percent have a low weight-for-height (wasting) ratio, and 42 percent of children aged 6-59 months and 41 percent of women aged 15-49 years suffer from anemia, as reported by the National Demographic and Health Survey in Tajikistan. Facing high levels of undernutrition, Tajikistan is one of the focus countries for the Feed the Future Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative. The University of Central Asia’s (UCA) Mountain Societies Research Institute (MSRI) has contributed to this initiative through its “Potato Production Support and Research to Improve Food Security in Khatlon (Tajikistan)” project.
MSRI partnered with the International Potato Centre (CIP) to increase the production and consumption of new potato crops, address dietary deficiencies and increase agricultural production for resource-poor farmers. “Stunting and wasting results in long- and short-term deficiencies in macronutrients and micronutrients. These issues also are often exacerbated by infections of various kinds,” said Azamat Azarov, MSRI Research Fellow and Project Manager. “In the context of global warming and climate change adaptation, it is also increasingly important to improve food security in the region.”
Potato and sweet potato value chains were identified as potential high-value opportunities to contribute to a reduction in poverty and malnutrition in the country. Packed not only with vitamins C and E, but also considered nature's greatest sources of beta-carotene, sweet potato, especially orange-fleshed sweet potato, was completely new for Tajikistan.
The Tajik Institute of Botany, Plant Physiology and Genetics provided 13 genotypes of sweet potatoes from Peru to MSRI and CIP. Using a rapid multiplication method, high-quality sweet potato planting material was produced for farmers in water stress-prone areas of West Khatlon.
Twenty local farmers were first to receive more than 18,000 seedlings from the 13 sweet potato genotypes and achieved an average yield of 48.7 metric tonnes per hectare. Their success was replicated over the next three years in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
In addition to supplying resource-poor families with seedlings, this project introduced innovations such as the production of high-quality “farmer-based” seeds. Two varieties of potatoes were selected for this, based on the genotypes from Peru, and involved introducing technology to break dormancy in seeds. Breaking dormancy enabled farmers to benefit from two potato growing seasons.
To help smallholder farmers increase their income, UCA’s Mountain Societies Research Institute and CIP also organised workshops on the process of introducing low-cost farming technologies for over 150 villagers in five villages of Khatlon.
Concluding the project, an economic assessment revealed that sweet potato farming demonstrated cost-effectiveness, and the productivity and the heat- and drought-tolerance of the new sweet potatoes were higher, as they require less water and fertiliser inputs.
The University of Central Asia’s Mountain Societies Research Institute (MSRI) is part of the Graduate School of Development. MSRI conducts research for development with the goal to improve the well-being of mountain societies in Central Asia, and to help inform and contribute to the Sustainable Mountain Development agenda in Central Asia. MSRI research reports are available for free download from UCA’s website at: https://ucentralasia.org/Research/MSRI_Publications/EN