Firuz Khudoberdiev, from Chagev village, says his whole family is involved in the beekeeping business, in one way or another.
“My father and I are mostly responsible for caring for the bees, feeding them, and collecting the honey,” he said.
“Packaging and selling the honey is mostly my mother’s business,” he continued.
They have more than doubled their number of bee colonies since they started. This is a golden time for honey producers in Tajikistan.
In early September 2021, Firuz’s mother, Surayo Bekdavlatova, took their product to a big fair organized by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in Khorog. There, she sold 40 kg of honey in just a few hours. She and another member of their group, Gulazor Oshurbekova, presented their honey in an exhibition organized for the visit of President Emomali Rakhmon on September 27, 2021.
There was a lot at stake. Firuz says the honey sales make up half of their household income. In 2021, that has amounted to $3,097 (TJS 35,000).
“This money is crucial for improving the quality of life of our family. All our hopes and plans for the future are tightly intertwined with beekeeping,” said Firuz.
Investing in Potential
Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) has enormous potential for honey production, yet beekeeping remains one of the region’s less-developed sectors. The region doesn’t produce enough honey to meet local demand. To grow livelihoods and expand the supply of locally-produced honey, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) launched initiatives to support beekeepers and beekeeping groups with their businesses. One such group supported is the Common Interest Group (CIG) Madad. Established in 2010, CIG Madad brings together beekeepers, primarily from Roshtqala district, including Firuz’s family business.
The work is supported by Thrive Tajikistan: Partnership for Socio-Economic Development program, a partnership between AKF and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve the quality of life for people living in Khatlon Oblast and GBAO.
Firuz and Surayo’s honey is highly-prized across Tajikistan and even beyond. Sharifa Nurova’s family in Dushanbe has been buying it for more than five years. She used to buy honey from other producers, but, once they tried honey from Firuz, her family was struck by its purity and delicious sweetness. This year, Sharifa bought more than 100 kg of Firuz’s product.
Over the past decade, CIG Madad has improved and multiplied the region’s honey production despite facing big hurdles. Due to bad weather conditions in 2020, the group’s honey production dropped by more than 15 percent from the previous year.
In 2021, though, group members have harvested nearly twice as much honey as in 2020: 1,905 kg compared to 1,000 kg. The group has expanded its activities beyond Roshtqala district to include a beekeeper farmer from Shugnan district.
Gulazor Oshurbekova from Khidorjev village also belongs to CIG Madad. She and her family got into the beekeeping business in the early 1990s, but their interest really soared after they joined CIG Madad. With AKF’s support, they increased their honey production and started making a profit.
“The beekeeping business contributes a lot to our family budget," Gulazor said. "My husband and I both work in public institutions, so our salaries are barely enough to make ends meet.”
Gulazor’s younger daughter has shown an interest in beekeeping, and even chose it as a topic of her studies in Khorog.
“When she was admitted to the Medical University of Tajikistan earlier this year, it was thanks to our beekeeping business that we were able to cover her travel and lodging costs in Dushanbe.”
The income from beekeeping has improved the family’s quality of life. They plan to increase their number of bee colonies.
Firuz, besides running his own farm, also manages the CIG Madad accounting. When the group started, he says the members established a common fund and deposited a percentage of the financial support received from AKF to this fund to make the group sustainable. CIG members use the fund to improve their beekeeping business, for example taking out low-interest loans, which they use to buy new bee colonies, boxes, and honey extractors. Currently, CIG Madad’s common fund amounts to $1,327 (TJS 15,000).
Group members have ambitious plans. They intend to establish a dedicated sale point, which would resolve the problem of limited access to beekeeping supplies. With practical solutions like that, the group will continue to grow the beekeeping sector and improve people’s access to the sweet fruits of their labor: locally-produced honey.
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