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The USAID funded Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) project conducted a scoping mission to examine the pluralistic extension system in Tajikistan and to develop recommendations for strengthening this pluralistic extension system. The assessment work occurred in the field from October 3-19, 2011 and included in-depth interviews with the directors, leaders or representatives of international and public non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector firms/organizations, donor agencies, as well as Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) officials at the national and Rayon (district) levels. The MEAS team also visited farms, Rayon and Jamoat (sub-district) extension offices, as well as national research and agricultural training centers.
The mission aimed to identify key issues within the pluralistic extension system in Tajikistan that need to be addressed in order to develop a more sustainable, farmer-led and market driven system of extension and advisory services. In addition, the mission team will recommend specific actions for consideration and possible funding by the USAID Mission.
Extension services in Tajikistan are being provided by a range of service providers, including the public sector, private-sector firms, as well as both international and domestic non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The main trend by donor funded projects is a “pay-for-service” approach of providing advisory services. However, within this approach there are different strategies, ranging from being crop or livestock specific (i.e. focusing solely on key crops, such as cotton), expecting farmers to pay part or the full cost of these advisory services, or attempting to recover these costs in-directly through input supply or micro-credit firms. Also, most private sector firms and some NGOs are focused on more progressive farmers that have more land resources and/or are looking for more innovative ways to increase farm household (FH) income (e.g. early horticultural or tree crops for both local and/or export markets). In collecting information on the number of FHs currently being served by the different service providers in Tajikistan, it is estimated that between 5-10% of total FHs are being served and most of these are progressive farmers with domestic and/or export market access. In short, the vast majority of poor FHs, especially those headed by women farmers without market access, are not being served.
In assessing the trained and experienced agricultural officers at the Rayon (district) and Jamoat (sub-district) levels, it seemed clear that they are interested in providing advisory services to farmers in their respective areas. The key questions are what resources are needed and what kinds of training in extension and advisory services could enhance their capacity to serve small-scale men and women farmers, especially in relation to the Feed the Future (FTF) agenda. As outlined in the report, the agricultural offices at both the Rayon and Jamoats have little or no physical resources. For example, they have no government cars (but some have their own cars) or communication resources, such as Internet access, which could provide access to both technical and market information. In addition, all of them were trained in specific technical skills (e.g. agronomy, animal science, agricultural economics or veterinary medicine). Most of these agricultural officers are thinking “top-down” in terms of how they would expect to provide advisory services to farmers. While this issue is surmountable, it must be addressed when working through the public sector.
In addition, none of these officers have been trained in how to organize producer groups (i.e. how to build social capital) and to get these farmers linked to available markets. It should be noted that getting farmers’ rapid access to market information is critically important, so if these small-scale farmers had better access to market information, it would provide them with greater parity in selling these products to traders and processors. Also, the Tajik Agrarian University (and other universities) nor the National Agricultural Training Center do not have any courses in extension methods, especially the needed “process” extension skills. Therefore, a critical issue is how to incorporate these process skills into these front-line extension workers. This is a specific area where the MEAS project could help.
Another major issue was the creation of small (less than 1 hectare), medium (2-4 ha involving several FHs) and larger Dehkan Farms (>30 ha that generally have more than 20 FHs). With the exception of very small Dehkan Farms, where they have “use rights” over their land, most Dehkan Farms are controlled by an appointed director of each farm. Therefore, these individual FHs are frequently assigned to a different portion of this farmland annually; therefore, they do not have “land-use” rights. However, this is a very serious problem that is being addressed under the forthcoming Land Reform legislation and that may give more small-scale farmers more permanent land access.
An important legacy of the former Soviet based agricultural economy is “compartmentalized knowledge,” whereby individuals had specific and discreet tasks. As a result, most farmers within these small and medium-scale Dehkan Farms have very limited knowledge about farm management practices. For example, which crops should they plant and when, which varieties should they use and where to get the seed, what fertilizers they should use, and then how to handle disease and insect problems, such as white flies, when these pest problems start downgrading or destroying their crops. In short, most FHs are neither trained nor experienced in knowing how to intensify and diversify their farming systems, and in getting linked to markets, so they can increase their FH income. Another important issue is that many men from rural areas have migrated to Russia to increase household incomes; therefore, much of the farming is handled by rural women (estimated at 70%) who have very limited knowledge about improved crop and livestock technologies, as well as how they can intensify and diversify their farming systems.
On an upbeat note, since Soviet times, families on these Dehkan Farms each have backyard gardens. These gardens have provided fruits and vegetables for household and local consumption. During post-Soviet times these gardens accounted for 64% of total agriculture production in Tajikistan. However, only 10% of these current commercialized agriculture products originate from these backyard gardens. Therefore, there is ample room for improvement, both in terms of better linking this segment to markets as well as in introducing improved seed varieties and fertilizer use to increase production, as well as how to intensify and diversify these backyard gardens into more high-value and nutritionally important crop and livestock systems. Also, increased integration of these backyard gardens into local and even export markets could substantially help increase agricultural productivity and yields and, thereby, increase farm household income.
While most current, donor funded extension initiatives are designed to help develop a sustainable extension mechanism for progressive commercial farmers, there is very little focus on small-scale, non-commercial farmers. The Feed-the-Future in Tajikistan seeks to improve farm household incomes, livelihoods and nutrition for about 44,000 FHs in the Khatlon Oblast; therefore, the pluralistic extension system in that province needs to be scaled up as quickly as possible. This initiative seeks to help increase the household income and nutrition among lower-income women and their children, which are presently not being addressed by these existing pay-for-service initiatives.
A key factor in reaching 44,000 FHs in Khatlon Oblast is how to get them organized into Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and then in determining the most efficient and effective way of getting these new farmer groups linked to markets for specific crop and/or livestock products that they can successfully produce and sell, as well as in improving household nutrition for these women and their children. Clearly, the personnel being hired as agronomists at the Jamoat level have not been trained to organize SHGs. However, there are a variety of successful initiatives that do demonstrate promise, if they can be scaled up. Initiatives, such as the Family Farm Program (FFP), could work to consolidate successes from existing programs into a single unified methodology. FFP could then work with both NGO service providers and public extension workers in selected pilot districts to build public-private partnerships. In addition, the currently successful NGOs would need to scale-up and train additional workers, who could then organize new SHGs in most villages within the selected Jamoats and Rayons (i.e. the proposed pilot project). One key issue that should be addressed is that these NGOs shouldn’t just work with SHGs in key villages that are adjacent to key markets (e.g. as the team saw in Kurgan-Tyube), but they should connect with and serve most of the villages within the targeted Rayons and Jamoats of the Khatlon Oblast.
Specifically, if these NGOs can help organize one or two SHGs within many of these villages, then it would be possible to begin scaling up these SHGs as other FHs begin to realize that they too could start producing and marketing these products to increase their farm incomes. Another key issue, in determining which crop and/or livestock products should be produced, is their access to specific markets (i.e. distance, roads, etc.) and their respective soil and water conditions, especially for their backyard gardens and available presidential land. These key factors will help determine what products SHGs in different villages and Jamoats could successfully produce and market. In addition, if the Jamoat public extension workers could be trained in how to organize producer groups and then in getting these groups linked to markets, then they could take more responsibility for scaling up these SHGs, once these initial groups are successfully established by the NGO working in each of the selected Rayons.
It is recommended that a new public-private partnership (PPP) be built through the current Family Farming Program (FFP) by scaling up and transforming the current public extension system to start becoming more farmer and market-driven. The reason is clear—sustainability after donor projects end. It is recommended that this transformation be done through a pilot project which could be launched in specific Rayons/Jamoats in the Khatlon Oblast. This approach would start building PPPs that would enhance the incomes, livelihoods and nutrition of small-scale FHs, especially women farmers. The details about how this PPP might be implemented are summarized below and included in the recommendations section of this report.
It is recommended that selected Rayons (districts) in the Khatlon Oblast be selected for possible participation in a “pilot project” to determine if the Rayon level advisors (e.g. subject matter specialists or SMSs) and the newly hired Jamoat agricultural advisors could start partnering with successful NGOs in getting new SHGs of small-scale farmers established in most of the villages and then in providing them with needed technical and market information on a continuing basis to help increase the incomes of these small-farm households, especially farm women, and improving the nutrition of their children.
It should be noted that most Jamoats in these districts have or will soon have qualified agronomists who could start becoming the front-line extension workers who could serve the vast majority of small-scale farm households within their assigned 6-7 villages. On a pilot basis, and in conjunction with NGOs, they could serve as facilitators in helping small-scale men and women farmers learn how to intensify and diversify their farming systems, especially on their backyard gardens and available presidential land, both to increase their farm income and improve family nutrition. The advantage of integrating public extension advisors, at both the Rayon and Jamoat levels, into this project is that they could continue working with these small farm households after the FFP ends. In short, this approach could be a way of developing a more sustainable agricultural extension and advisory system within Tajikistan.
Working with public extension in Tajikistan offers both challenges and opportunities. Agricultural officers at both the Rayon and Jamoat levels do seem interested in providing advisory services to farmers. One of the main challenges to be addressed, in working with government extension, is to ensure that they promote an innovative, farmer-led and market-driven extension approach. In addition, work still remains in getting the different government agencies in Tajikistan, with whom these different agriculture extension agents will work (i.e. district and sub-district levels), better coordinated. Also, since these local government institutions currently have very few resources, USAID could include funds to pilot-test a new initiative for public extension workers to assist these small-scale farmers, especially at the Jamoat level. This proposed pilot project should build into the process of creating a more farmer-led extension system, involving the small-scale farmers who make up these groups, to help guide and oversee the extension planning and delivery process. In addition, clear terms of reference for specific government participation would help ensure that this approach promotes farmer decision-making and empowerment regarding these extension and advisory services. The details on building this proposed Public-Private-Partnership is outlined in the recommendations section of this report, including how these public extension workers, especially at the Jamoat level, should be trained for this new role.
Small-farmer access to market information is extremely important, given that both traders and processors want to purchase agricultural products as cheaply as possible to maximize their incomes. Therefore, if small farmers can access current market price information, from both different firms and locations where they might sell their products, then these farmers can start securing better prices for their products. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that a market information center(s) be established, so that farmers in different Oblasts and Rayons within Tajikistan can begin accessing market information on different crop, livestock and other products on a daily basis when they are ready to sell their products.
It is important to develop appropriate interactive tools for accessing and sharing market information. Tajikistan should aspire to create an effective market information system (e.g. Esoko, in many Sub-Saharan African countries, and AMIS in several South and Southeast Asian countries). The key factor, in helping small-scale farmers gain access to current market information, is for this information to be available through widely used channels. At the present, television and radio fit these criteria. However, there are initial pilots that use SMS via mobile phones. For example, as reported in this report, Sugd AgroServe (SAS) is currently providing limited market information to 98 or its 1,000+ members, but this small usage is due to the fees being charged.
The Agricultural Information Service of Tajikistan (AIST) and SAS in northern Tajikistan are both interested in establishing an expanded market network, but they lack the needed financial resources to first design and then develop the most efficient and reliable way of making this market information easily available to small-scale men and women farmers across Tajikistan. A serious problem is that it is difficult to access accurate, daily market information from the major markets, exporters and processors across Tajikistan. Further support for initiatives being proposed by AIST and/or SAS in the north should be considered in making access to market information, possibly using mobile phone technologies and/or mass media, easily available to small-scale farm households, especially in Khatlon Oblast.
Other information that is urgently needed is to make more location-specific information available about how to improve specific crop and livestock systems. For example, what seed, fertilizer and pesticides should be used for specific crops in different parts of Tajikistan, depending on soil type, access to markets and other factors? As noted in this report, most small-scale farmers, especially those working on small and medium size Dehkan Farms have very limited farm management knowledge and skills about how they can increase their productivity and incomes. Some of this technical information is already available on the AIST (see: http://www.aist.tj/) and the Sugd AgroServe websites (see: http://agroinform.tj/). The problem is that virtually no farmers have internet access to find and read this information; however most input supply stores can access this information, but they primarily serve the more progressive farmers in their service area. Therefore, a more diversified approach is needed to make important technical information available to small scale farm households, including:
In order to transform current, front-line extension workers, so they become more farmer-led and market driven, they will need a range of both technical and process skills, as identified under the Education and Training section. First, they will need more technical training and information about how small-scale farmers can intensify and diversify their farming systems. Second, they will need to learn how to organize and work with self-help and producer groups and getting them linked to markets. Third, they will need to learn new ICT skills and knowledge, so they can better connect farmers with a range of needed technical, marketing and micro-credit skills and knowledge. It should be noted that the MEAS project is currently developing a range of these different process skills and could help incorporate these skills and knowledge into institutions such as NATC and the Tajik Agrarian University.
The full report has been approved by USAID/TAJIKISTAN and has been submitted to the USAID Development Experience Clearing House, https://dec.usaid.gov/dec/home/Default.aspx