Throughout Tajikistan, land, and access to it, is paramount to continued resilience and improved livelihoods of rural citizens. Agricultural output, especially from small to medium sized farms, constitutes a disproportionately high percentage of Tajikistan’s overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and represents an opportunity for continued economic growth for both the farmers and the country. Since the end of Tajikistan’s civil war, and more recently over the last decade, Tajikistan has made continued progress in its efforts to reform land use through the restructuring of Soviet-style collective farms, improving legislation to provide better access to land, and supporting initiatives to develop the foundation of a market in land use – an effort to allow farmers to put land to its most productive use.
Despite progress, challenges remain, including a lack of awareness by rural populations of their rights to land, unequal distribution and documented land rights between men and women, and corruption at the national and local level attempting to prevent farmers from exercising their land-use rights. However, steadfast support to the land reform effort from USAID and other donors has allowed Tajikistan to make significant progress in overcoming these constraints. As a result, rural Tajik farmers remain motivated, and as land reform progresses, they continue to find ways to capitalize on new opportunities and thrive.
In October 2013, USAID launched the Feed the Future-funded Land Reform and Farm Restructuring Project (LRFRP), a $5.5 million, three-year project that supported the continuing process of dehkan farm restructuring and recognition of property rights leading to a market in land-use rights through four key tasks: 1) legislative reform, 2) building the capacity of Tajik officials, farmers, rural stakeholders, and civil society, 3) increased public information and awareness, and 4) provision of legal advice and assistance to rural farmers. LRFRP’s broad range of activities covered 12 districts in the Khatlon region, which comprises 67 jamoats (see Exhibit 1). To achieve its results, LRFRP worked through the four mutually reinforcing project tasks, generating significant reforms and improved awareness among Tajik citizens that will have lasting effects for generations to come.
- Through improved legislation and support to legislative drafting, LRFRP supported the creation of, and amendments to, legislation that dramatically improves the lives of Tajik farmers in the near and long term. Throughout implementation, LRFRP staff supported the analysis and development of 14 pieces of legislation to advance the land reform process. Most significantly, with LRFRP assistance, the new Law on Dehkan Farms was signed into effect by President Rahmon on March 3, 2016. As a result of this law, and other legislative successes, farmers and their dehkan farms can legally be registered ensuring better protection under the law.
- Another critical milestone was the submission of the draft regulation on granting land users paid and unpaid land-use rights and the right of alienation (ROA) of land-use rights, (i.e., the right to buy, sell, mortgage, lease, donate, or transfer the rights to use specific land plots). ROA, when passed, will mark a significant step forward in the land reform process as it sets the foundation for the creation of a market for land-use rights.
- Capacity building efforts took shape in many ways throughout the Khatlon region. As implementation occurred, it became clear to the project that the State Unitary Enterprise for the Registration of Immovable Property (SUERIP) at the national and local level needed significant support to provide documented property rights to rural citizens. At SUERIP’s request, LRFRP staff initiated a significant capacity building program focused on improving the agency’s focus on client services, introducing streamlined registration procedures through the implementation of one-stop-shop principles, and facilitating the creation of three pilot registration offices, including the implementation of reformed registration processes and provision of information technology upgrades to improve the efficiency of farm registration.
- Complementing legislative reform and capacity building efforts, LRFRP designed and implemented a robust public information awareness campaign through multiple channels, including print, TV, radio, public-private dialogues, and improved access of information to high-school and college students. In particular, LRFRP was able to introduce land reform coursework into 629 high schools throughout the Khatlon region, reaching more than 31,000 students and 1,200 teachers. Coursework will have a ripple effect throughout the region, as our interviews with students show that they share the lessons they learn with their families, many of whom are farm workers.
- Without legal advice and assistance, reforms would not have the impact that they do. Throughout implementation, LRFRP supported 12 Legal Aid Centers (LACs), one in each of the 12 project districts, to ensure that Tajik farmers have access to critical legal support if/when needed. LACs also supported a network of 67 tashabuskors (rural land activists) to serve as field-based information providers and act as a formal referral system for farmers in need of LAC support. Through project-supported LACs, farmers won 93 percent of cases, either through mediation or in court, resulting in the return of 750 hectares of land to 830 farmers.
The broad-based impact of LRFRP’s innovative approaches to land reform and farm restructuring surpassed nearly every indicator measured and had a tangible effect on Tajik citizens. In total, the project has helped more than 56,000 people acquire documented property rights, provided training that reached more than 88,000 citizens, and almost 29,000 farmers have received legal services through projectsponsored LACs. As a result, 82 percent of citizens are now aware of their freedom to farm, a critical indicator in their awareness of the land reform process.
Project Activities and Key Outcomes
Project activities were developed to achieve the project’s ultimate goal — agricultural productivity through strengthened property rights and more efficient use of land. Through USAID support, LRFRP supported the institutions necessary to develop a land market. Our experience in Tajikistan and our broader regional experience supporting land reform and market development in Central Asia underscore the importance of identifying local champions and establishing political buy-in from government institutions to support the land reform agenda. USAID’s investments have supported Tajikistan’s progress in land reform for nearly a decade, and Chemonics is proud to have helped almost every step of the way.