An image of the country's flag.

Tajikistan‘s economy is largely based on its substantial water resources, which are used for the irrigation of cotton, the country‘s primary agricultural crop, and the production of aluminum, its principal industrial export. Two great river systems (the Amu/Panj and Syr Darya) dominate Tajikistan‘s mountainous topography, giving it the world‘s eighth-largest hydropower capacity. Both river systems are fed by snow and glaciers and end in the basin of the Aral Sea in neighboring Uzbekistan. The relatively limited amounts of flat land in Tajikistan are in the valleys associated with these river systems. This agricultural land is intensively cultivated, with 70% or more irrigated, and cotton production is mandated for all but the smallest farms, even for privately owned commercial farms (dekhan) that were established after 1997 as a result of the reforms of the Soviet-era state and collective farms. Despite its abundant water resources, Tajikistan has the lowest ratio of irrigated land to population in Central Asia, and is considered food-insecure.

Tajikistan‘s transition from a Soviet Republic to an independent nation was delayed by a violent civil war that raged from 1992 to 1997, with significant loss of life and property as well as internal displacement of populations. Since peace was negotiated in 1997, the country has experienced greater economic growth and, with the exception of cotton, the agricultural sector has regained pre-war levels of production. Tajikistan is still a poor country, with three-quarters of the population living on less than US $2.15 per day.

Tajikistan has made some progress in privatization of rural land, especially in increasing the size of plots made available to households for food production. The agricultural productivity on these smallholder farms has driven the substantial rates of growth, with a lesser contribution from the privatized mid-size commercial farms (the dekhan, or ―peasant farms‖). The contribution of the still-extant state and collective farms has declined. Indebtedness of the dekhan has emerged as a major issue, though a 2010 government decree forgave most farmers‘ cotton debt acquired prior to 2008. Recent moves to allow dekhan land certificates to be used as collateral for credit issued by state banks are introducing new uncertainties into the sector.

Limited non-agricultural employment opportunities and low incomes in the agricultural sector in Tajikistan have contributed to a steady outflow of men to other countries (principally Russia) for work. Remittances are estimated to account for as much as 30% of Tajikistan‘s GDP since 2000, although the economic downturn in 2008 saw this number increase sharply to 50% before dropping to 34% in 2009. Women in Tajikistan have assumed a greater role in the agricultural workforce but have, as a result of legal and political changes, lost property rights and protections that they had during the Soviet era. The civil war disrupted the education system in Tajikistan and it is now believed that the country‘s youth are bringing fewer skills to the workplace.

External interventions were critical to the negotiations that led to peace in Tajikistan, and external support has been important to the economic reform efforts that have been pursued since 1997. However, Tajikistan continues to have a record of high levels of corruption and illegal trade, involvement in trafficking of narcotics, and the persistence of rules appropriate to a state-led economy. Poor economic governance has slowed progress toward the development of an economy that is robust, diversified, and uses Tajikistan‘s unique natural resources profitably and sustainably.


Donors should consider offering support in the following areas:

  • Address Barriers to Growth of Private-sector Agriculture. With 70% of the country‘s population living in the rural areas, and the demonstrated success of smallholder private farmers in increasing production, outstanding issues on the privatized mid-size farms (dekhan) need to be addressed. These include technical issues regarding land and water management as well as policy issues regarding debt, production financing, choice of crop, and marketing. They also include the fact that many dekhan farms were formed from state/collective farms to meet a deadline for privatization in 2005, without really engaging the members in the process; operations continue as they were conducted in the Soviet era. Donor experiences with building Water Users‘ Associations (WUA) and other interventions intended to increase water productivity should provide information useful for further action, as extensive training and organization will be needed. Donor proposals that Tajikistan develop agricultural alternatives to cotton are likely to be politically sensitive, but recent crises and lack of profitability in the sector may encourage the government to explore new options with donor support.
  • Support the Revision of the Legal Framework and Institutional Capacity for Sustainable Natural Resource Management. Current laws and regulations are inadequate for ensuring that Tajikistan‘s land, water, pastureland, and forests are used efficiently and sustainably. Public-sector capacity to implement these laws and regulations also needs to be enhanced if compliance is to be monitored and enforced. Donors have provided considerable support to institutional development, including the operations of the khukumat and jamoat (district- and local-level executive authorities) and the Land Committees, but more needs to be done to increase effectiveness and accountability. Donors could also consider funding additional research on tenure security, resource management, and the impact that current provisions have had on investment, environmental sustainability, and market development.
  • Encourage Women’s Access to Land. Some projects have helped agricultural workers to become aware of their rights and to claim access to land. Women‘s rights, however, have not been fully recognized; this has become more of an issue as male out-migration for work has continued. Donors could expand assistance that enables potential smallholders or those interested in establishing larger farms to exercise their rights to land. Support could include a livelihoods component that would enable new landowners, especially in female-headed households, to make best use of their land, including provision of agricultural extension advice and marketing support.


Tajikistan is a mountainous country with a primarily rural population dependent on livestock and small-scale agriculture. The snow and glaciers of the high mountains feed the country‘s many rivers and streams and permit intensive, irrigated cultivation of farms established in the valleys. Two great river systems – the Amu/Panj and Syr Darya – dominate. Both are shared with neighboring countries and end in the Aral Sea basin in Uzbekistan. The rivers also provide significant hydropower for the operation of Tajikistan‘s aluminum industry. High-altitude plateaus provide seasonal grazing for herds of large and small animals.

Tajikistan‘s critical water resources are not, however, well used. While nearly 70% of the farmed land is irrigated, for example, the productivity of the water is relatively low. State mandates to produce cotton for export have not resulted in a globally competitive, diversified agricultural sector capable of paying good wages to agricultural workers. Water has been treated as a free input, and investments were not made to ensure its efficient, sustainable use. The irrigation infrastructure is now badly in need of rehabilitation and development if problems of salinity are to be managed. In general, land degradation, including deforestation, is a major environmental challenge facing the country.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was followed by a devastating civil war (1992–1997). The war claimed over 50,000 lives, displaced approximately 1.2 million people, and led to economic collapse and food and fuel shortages. It effectively delayed legal and institutional reform in Tajikistan. Since the end of the war, the state has passed a series of laws, presidential decrees and regulations promoting private property and land reform, but land use and ownership continue to be restrictive. For example, until very recently the government has continued to mandate production of cotton on irrigated farmland, restricting the freedom of even the privately owned dekhans.

The 1996 Land Code, as amended through 2008, provides every household with a right to enjoy a small household plot of land. Workers on large farms that were formerly state or collective farms generally exercised this right to produce food for their families and have, in the reform process, expanded these plots through applications for privatized land or through leasing. Workers on collective and state farms were also given the right to withdraw their ―share‖ of the collective/state farmland and establish their own independent farms. Relatively few households have realized this right, however; a combination of lack of knowledge within the population, high costs assessed for share withdrawal, and broad local government discretion over land rights has left many rural people working on large dekhan farms that continue to operate on state/collective farm principles. These workers generally receive very low wages.

Published / Updated: August 2011

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