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Filed under: Central Asia Environment Poverty Social inclusion

Bags of seeds

New varieties of seeds are expected to increase yields while reducing environmental impacts

Cotton farming in Tajikistan uses one quarter of the country’s arable land and provides employment or income to three quarters of the rural population.

Given the country’s economic dependence on cotton, and the fact that the cotton industry is one of the largest water consumers in Central Asia, any increase in cultivation efficiency will greatly benefit the country – and the region.

In 2012, cotton production covered 199,300 hectares (ha) of irrigated land, producing 417,977 metric tons of cotton. However, the average yield of 2.13 metric ton per hectare pales in comparison to the land and resources needed for production.

The cotton industry’s use of water, land, fertilizers, fuel and machinery has a colossal impact on the environment of Tajikistan. In 2010, one hectare of cotton output (2.8 metric tons) required 3, 000 m3 of water, 1.75 kilograms of pesticides and 500 kilograms of fertilizers.

Pile of cotton processed by a green machine in a storage facility

Cotton processing machine in a storage facility

Proposals to reduce the burden on the environment include:

  • Better crop management
  • Adequate crop rotation
  • Smarter water usage
  • Improved irrigation

Sometimes it helps to think smaller, though. High-yield seeds can lessen environmental impact in multiple ways: They vegetate for less time and use less water, while increasing the cotton yield to more than three metric tons per hectare.

In jamoat Ortiqov in northern Tajikistan, UNDP is supporting a project to breed high quality cotton seeds through a new trust fund mechanism.

Regional funding challenges

Over the last few years, UNDP and the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade have been supporting community participation in local development in the Sughd oblast, where this project is located.

Under the Rural Growth Programme, representatives of local authorities, the private sector and civil society in 65 jamoats across 14 rural districts were encouraged to work together to identify priorities for local economic development.

Unfortunately, budget limitations made it hard for local authorities to act on the priorities they identified – there are restrictions on raising local tax revenue, and the current centralized budget system leaves little room for local authorities to decide what needs funding most.

A new way to fund local development

The trust fund provides opportunities for financing local economic development programmes while encouraging transparent and participatory management of local funds.

It allowed the Rural Growth Programme to send funds directly to local budgets, as long as those funds are used only for the priorities identified in district – or jamoat – level development plans.

The Sughd oblast administration co-funds the trust fund, pledging to match at least 10 percent of the funding provided. District budgets and communities also contributed although they were not obligated to. Other contributions from local and international NGOs were also welcomed.

A trust fund evaluation committee at the oblast level, with representatives from local authorities, the UNDP Rural Growth Programme, civil society and the private sector evaluates applications based on clear criteria like environmental sustainability and the availability of community contributions.

Since establishing the trust fund, 128 projects have been implemented with a total budget of $4.72 million, 44.5 percent of which came from the UNDP Rural Growth Programme and the UNDP-UNEP Poverty Environment Initiative, 47 percent from communities, five percent from the oblast administration, and 3.5 percent from district budgets.

Laboratory chief reviewing his greenhouses for cotton farming

Greenhouses field laboratory for breeding high quality cotton seeds

The Ortiqov Laboratory

The two-hectare field laboratory for testing and breeding new varieties of cotton seeds was established by the Poverty-Environment Initiative, with financial support from the trust fund.

Along with its other achievements, the lab has created four jobs: Two men and two women have been hired as assistants to help with sorting, cleaning, carrying and warehousing the seeds.

The lab is led by enthusiastic breeder Atojon Mahmudjonov, an agricultural scientist with over 42 years of experience in seed production and creator of ten varieties of cotton adapted to the climatic conditions in Tajikistan.

The lab has set specific goals:

  1. Increase the production of high quality cotton seed to 180 metric tons per year
  2. Breed a variety that reduces production cost, increases productivity to 3.5 metric tons per hectare, ripens as early as October 15 and reduces the use of fertilizers, labour, water and fuel by 25 to 30 percent.
Lab chief - copie

Atojon Mahmudjonov, chief of the laboratory

It also serves as experimental premises for the Ministry of Agriculture in the production of new varieties of cotton adapted to suit the country’s varied weather conditions.

Specialists from the laboratory provide technical and advisory services to farms in five different areas of Tajikistan, including consultations and seminars for farmers on the technological aspects of growing new varieties of cotton.

Frequent monitoring visits are conducted at the experimental sites to check on the plants’ progress and provide recommendations where needed. The findings of these visits and the lab’s other research are publicly available for the benefit of all farmers.

Hopefully, this will end with a new high-yield variety of cotton seed, with a vegetation period of only 90 days (compared to 110 days or more with conventional seeds).

A shorter production cycle means more time for adequate crop rotation and less water, fertilizer, labour and fuel consumed.

Farmers in Tajikistan will benefit not only from the extra income but also from the additional crops produced during the season.

Do you know of any similar support for applied, environmentally friendly practices?

Are you aware of ways to enhance similar efforts in Tajikistan and Central Asia?

  • Great blog post!

    I have a question:

    Are those seeds hybrid? I know that the technique of hybridization allows to combine specific characteristics (yield, disease-resistance… ) of two different varieties. But I also know that hybrid plants produce sterile or degenerated seeds which force farmers to repurchase hybrid seeds season after season.

    How is this issue taken in account in the realisation of the project? Is the laboratory managed as some kind of farmer cooperative?

    Thank you!

    • Alisher Nazirov

      Dear Nicolas,

      Thank you for your interest and the question.
      Once proposals are submitted to the Trust Fund approval committee, they undergo thorough analysis, including potential impact on the environment and economic gain. So, the outcome we have is that seeds produced are not hybrid and can be used over and over.

      With regards to the second part of your question, the lab belongs to the dehkan farm “Rukhshon”. Dehkan farm in Tajikistan is a form of a peasant farm that is distinct from household plots, both legally and physically. Members of a dehkan farm can be able-bodied members of the family and other citizens. So, the answer is yes, it is managed by a kind of farmer cooperative.

      Thank you!