Tajikistan: Putting environmental resources in local hands
Land degradation led to the collapse of this road. Photo: UNDP in Tajikistan
"Protecting the forests is a noble cause that should always be supported," says Bekmurodov Kurbonmahmad, a member of the Community Forestry Management Committee.
In 2007, UNDP, in partnership with the Global Environment Facility, reached out to local officials and farmers in Tajikistan’s Vakhsh River valley to identify and address environmental threats, and encourage local management of natural resources.
Communities have been instrumental in protecting the tugai forests, a priceless and highly endangered natural resource. Reservoirs of biodiversity, the forests also provide wood for fuel and land for grazing animals, and food through hunting and beekeeping.
Women help to manage natural resources in Tajikistan's Tugai forests. Photo: UNDP/Safarbek Soliev
Over the past 100 years, the forests suffered massive losses. At first, they were largely cleared for agriculture. After the Soviet Union dissolved and public services declined, widespread felling of trees took place as rural people had no other sources of energy for cooking and heating their homes. (See: Hydro power: The solution to Tajikistan’s energy crisis)
A lack of regulation allowed timber dealers to move in from larger towns, stripping the forests of trees at an ever-escalating rate.
In the sub-district of Nuri Vakhsh, an area of 126 hectares of forest survives. In 2008, UNDP began working with community members to develop a system for protecting and regulating it.
Local authorities let villagers lease land at nominal rates for grazing. At the same time, they became responsible for regulating the number of livestock and the cutting of trees. Dead wood was cleared and distributed for firewood.
"Restrictions are never welcomed by people, but now those involved in the protection of the forests can see the results," says community member Salima Bekmurodova.
After four years, grazing is carefully managed. Tree-cutting declined by 90 percent since 2008, allowing the forest to regenerate.
Populations of birds and animals have increased by 50 percent.
"The project comes with the input of the people," said local leader Gulshan Kulolova. "They learned that they themselves can do something."
The Vaksh River Valley
Tajikistan’s Vakhsh River valley is crucial to the livelihoods and food security of millions of people, but the degradation of natural resources has been persistent and extensive.
Poverty, civil war and population pressures followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. An extensive network of irrigation systems fell into disrepair, leaving the earth waterlogged and choked with salt. Landslides and floods occurred more often.
The consequences are apparent in areas like the sub-district of Jura Nazarov. Almost all of its over 14,000 inhabitants depend on farming - but more than 70 percent of the land is no longer arable.
Land degradation in the Vaksh River Valley. Photo: UNDP/Safarbek Soliev
Elsewhere in the Vakhsh valley, UNDP has assisted communities establish user associations to manage water resources and repair irrigation systems and farmer field schools have helped introduce appropriate agricultural techniques.
Locally managed microcredit facilities assisted farmers to access low-cost loans to invest in new practices.
Farmer field schools introduced new, more productive crops and methods of cultivation Photo: Committe for Nature Protection, Uzbekistan
A survey of participants in the schools found that two-thirds had introduced new crops and growing methods that have proven more productive and better suited to local conditions.
Farmers who once used up to 1,800 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare for fertilizer now use only around 200 kilograms; and 75 percent of respondents reported that they were able to sell additional crops, for a 25 percent increase in income, on average.
Extra income has gone into renovating family homes, hiring farm labour to expand production, de-silting drainage networks, repairing irrigation systems and sending children to school.
UNDP's work with communities in Tajikistan is also featured in volume II of Development Stories from Europe and Central Asia.
The stories capture development work that demonstrates long term, transformational change. Foremost among these are: national ownership, capacity development, knowledge and innovation and partnerships.
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