Every day after she wakes up, Saidrahmonova Makhfirat prays, drinks her tea, and goes to her farm.
“My land is like my child to me. I love it,” she says. “Every morning I talk to my land.”
In 2004, as laws around farming became more inclusive, Saidrahmonova became the first woman farmer from her village. She farms potatoes and other crops and is now a leader in her community.
Connecting Potato Farmers through Producer Groups
Potatoes are a staple of the diet in Tajikistan. The Khatlon region, where Saidrahmonova lives, is known for producing close to 50 percent of Tajikistan’s potato crop. Last year, Saidrahmonova harvested around 750 kilograms, or 1,650 pounds, of potatoes. Although she had a large yield, only a small percentage of her potatoes were high-quality enough to sell.
Thrive Tajikistan is working with Saidrahmonova and other potato farmers to improve their crops, share effective agricultural practices, and market their products.
Thrive Tajikistan: Partnership for Socio-Economic Development is a program supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF). The program helps people improve their quality of life by supporting farmers, building up small businesses, increasing access to financial services, and strengthening local governance.
The program has previously helped Saidrahmonova start a community-based health financing scheme in her village. Then in 2019, as Thrive Tajikistan worked with farmers to establish 19 producer groups across Khatlon, Saidrahmonova was voted the leader of the potato producer group in her village, which included 13 women and six men.
Later, the 19 producer groups came together to form four clusters in the Shahrituz, Quobodiyon, Panj, and Farkhor districts. The cluster approach allows producer groups to work with and learn from each other. Saidrahmonova became the sole woman to lead one of the potato clusters, which included 101 farmers.
“We help each other, and this helped us to become stronger,” Saidrahmonova said. “We go selling together, negotiate among us, and discuss with the buyer.”
Increasing the Potato Harvest While Adapting to a Pandemic
As the four potato clusters looked to improve their harvest, they identified a lack of high-quality potato seeds as their biggest challenge. AKF worked with the clusters to buy certified potato seeds and distribute them to the 378 potato farmers in all four clusters. AKF also established demonstration plots for the clusters to help the farmers become familiar with new technology, understand the proper use of fertilizers and pesticides, and test the adaptability of high-yielding varieties of potato seeds.
Although the farmers had planned to harvest the potatoes from the high-quality seeds in April 2020, the Khatlon region experienced extreme cold weather during the month for the first time in 26 years. The farmers also had to adapt to a changed environment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, the farmers did not give up. They came together, shared knowledge, and jointly decided to delay the harvest until early June. They were able to continue working while wearing masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
When the potatoes were harvested in June, the crop yielded approximately 1,431 metric tons of potatoes. This yield was about 15 to 20 percent higher than previous years and has resulted in increased income for the farmers and improved food security for the region.
Saidrahmonova exceeded her expectations for the potato harvest.
“Out of the harvest last year, a very small amount was high quality,” she said. “This year, all of our potatoes were high quality, and people liked them a lot.”
Saidrahmonova is already looking forward to the next crop of potatoes. The farmers want to buy double the amount of seeds this year and buy trucks and a storage facility to help them produce, process, and sell more potatoes.
The cluster approach is also gaining attention in the region.
“People notice our cluster work and come to us for suggestions and ask about how to join the cluster,” Saidrahmonova says. “People are very thankful to AKF and the work it is doing.”
Thrive Tajikistan’s work to support farmers and increase food production is needed more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic caused border closures impacting food access and the prices of goods. Additionally, many people in Tajikistan are dependent on remittances sent by their relatives from other countries, which have also been affected by COVID-19. By supporting farming groups, Thrive Tajikistan is helping build a more resilient food system and improving the lives of community members.