USAID Land Champion: Daler Asrorov

Tell us about yourself.

I am an Economic Growth Project Management Specialist in USAID/Central Asia’s Tajikistan Country Office. I provide program management within our economic portfolio in different sectors, including: land policy, regional energy, and regional trans-boundary water resource management.

I manage the Feed the Future Land Market Development Activity (LMDA), a 4-year, $10 million program that aims to promote the creation of a land market where farmers are able to buy, sell, and lease their agricultural land to those interested in acquiring access to new land. The activity is also promoting a simple and transparent land registration process with equal access and rights for men and women. I work closely with the implementing partner, high level government authorities, other donors, NGOs, and the business community to ensure the success of this program.

Why is land tenure/property rights important to Tajikistan? Why is it important to USAID?

USAID supports the Government of Tajikistan’s agrarian reform efforts to increase agricultural productivity through the Feed the Future Initiative, which works to: strengthen land rights, expand the availability of quality agricultural inputs, improve crop diversification, and facilitate market development. The Feed the Future LMDA program supports these objectives and continues USAID’s support for land reform and farm restructuring in Tajikistan, which began in 2004. To date, land reform and farm restructuring have significantly increased investment in the Tajik agricultural sector. Evidence shows this work has increased crop diversity and contributed substantially to increasing dietary diversity and incomes in rural Tajikistan, directly addressing the goals of Feed the Future in Tajikistan.

Through LMDA, USAID assists the Government of Tajikistan to achieve the next stage of the reform process, which is to establish a land market system that can ensure the orderly transfer of land rights in Tajikistan. The lack of a functioning land market puts all previous gains at risk. Efficient agricultural producers cannot expand their operations without the right to buy and sell agricultural land. Farmers who may want to start other enterprises or relocate cannot effectively liquidate their equity in land. They may not use land for collateral to obtain loans to improve agricultural profitability. Without the right to buy, sell, and mortgage a plot of land, farmers lack the means and incentive to invest funds to improve and diversify production.

What are some of the biggest challenges you see in addressing land tenure/property rights issues? And how are we tackling these challenges?

The cultural roles of women in Tajikistan vary widely by region but it is generally difficult for women to meet with officials to gather information about agricultural opportunities. At the same time, women carry out most of the agricultural labor in the country, but few women are farm heads. As the manager for USAID’s previous Land Reform and Farm Restructuring Project (2013 – 2016), I worked to ensure that land reform activities were gender balanced and our implementing partner considered Tajikistan’s social norms and behavior for various project activities and approaches. As the manager for LMDA, I continue to work to ensure that the implementing partner integrates the different roles women and men play in communities and societies, as well as the different levels of power they hold, their differing needs, constraints, opportunities, and the impact of these differences on their lives.

What are the some successes you have achieved (or USAID has achieved) in the land sector?

At Tajikistan’s independence in 1991, large-scale collective Soviet farms (1,000-2,000 hectares of irrigated land with around 2,000 workers) managed all of Tajikistan’s land. Land reform and farm restructuring began in the early 1990s with the reorganization of 562 collective farms into approximately 5,000 independent, commercial dehkan (peasant) farms that were each between 50-100 hectares. USAID has supported the Government of Tajikistan’s efforts since 2004 through a series of programs which focused on: restructuring and breaking up these large commercial dehkan farms into individual and family dehkan farms; registering land use rights and issuing land use rights certificates of people’s land plots; and granting “freedom to farm,” e.g. allowing farmers to choose what crops to grow.

These actions produced tangible results. Land reform and farm restructuring has reorganized most of the 5,000 commercial dehkan farms into a current total of 140,000 family and individual dehkan farms. Individual and family dehkan farms now cover 81 percent of Tajikistan’s irrigated agricultural land (500,000 hectares) and 100,000 hectares of orchards. Within the Feed the Future Zone of Influence, women own land use rights on 42.6 percent of land, which is double the rate of ownership outside of the zone.

Additionally, the Freedom to Farm policy has significantly reduced government influence over what farmers grow. A World Bank survey on the impact of land registration found that the percentage of farmers growing cotton dropped from 51 percent in 2007 to only 12 percent in 2015, with a corresponding increase in the percentage growing high value vegetable and orchard crops (41 percent increase in farmers growing onions, 42 percent increase for potatoes, and 36 percent increase in orchards).

During the implementation of USAID’s previous Land Reform and Farm Restructuring Program, the updated Land Code amendments were adopted and, in concert with the Inter-Ministerial Working Group, the Government and Parliament successfully approved a number of critical regulations, including the adoption of a completely new Law on Dehkan (Peasant) Farms that was approved in March 2016. This new law should provide an increased sense of security to citizens. This security is critical if we expect people to sustainably care for their land and make key investments to increase the productivity of their land for agriculture or other purposes.

Final thoughts?

Drafting and adopting the implementing regulations for land reform in Tajikistan is only the beginning. More effort is needed to create an active and transparent land use rights market. USAID in Tajikistan continuously works with government counterparts to ensure understanding and buy-in in regards to strengthening land rights and reforming land policy in the country. USAID encourages the government to develop additional institutions, like registration, valuation, and mortgages to enable the development of a functioning land market. This is an important step to increase food security in Tajikistan.