Poverty in Tajikistan is significant with approximately 2.9 million of its 9.5 million inhabitants living below the national poverty line. Tajikistan’s low GDP capita further underscores the country’s dismal socioeconomic situation. In 2019, it did not exceed $871, making it the lowest in Central Asia.
Limited employment opportunities have forced the local population either to solicit work in Russia, with remittance payments accounting for up to 50% of the GDP and reaching close to $2 billion in 2016, or turn to agriculture. Farming employs as many as 50% of the workforce, but seeing as almost one in four Tajik households does not possess secure access to food, it has failed to mitigate poverty. Although Tajikistan is an agrarian economy, its mountainous terrain, degraded pastures and such problems as exiguous agricultural knowledge and subpar infrastructure militate against the farmers’ yields and perpetuate food shortages.
However, this has not escaped worldwide attention, and many international nonprofits are currently present in Tajikistan. Their actions are helping people climb out of poverty. These organizations include the following.
Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)
The Aga Khan Foundation is an international nonprofit that has regional projects covering agricultural assistance, educational opportunities and investment in the Tajik energy sector. One of its pilot initiatives was the First Microfinance Bank Tajikistan. Since its creation in 2003, it has generated 3,500 jobs across the country and financed more than 20,000 clients.
Equally worth mentioning is its Mountain Societies Development Support Program, working with 300,000 farmers to maximize crop yields by managing resources better and to adapt to floods and landslides, which otherwise displace 100,000 villagers each year.
Recipients could obtain seeds from one of the AKF’s 67 agricultural input revolving funds. To support these positive developments, this NGO has financed 1,600 rural infrastructure projects, expanding farmers’ access to markets away from their remote communities and helping 108,000 rural Tajiks gain confidence in their ability to feed themselves both sufficiently and regularly.
Since combatting poverty in Tajikistan cannot occur without education, it undertook steps toward broadening the local children’s learning opportunities. Besides teaching students English through its Learning Support Program and enhancing their leadership skills at summer camps, the AKF manages its own school. The Aga Khan Lycée, based in Khorog, a town populated by no more than 30,000 people, serves 1,000 pupils. With 180 of them enrolled in scholarships, many of those who attend this school and receive a good education, come from poor or disadvantaged families.
Operation Mercy has headquarters in Sweden and collaborates with Tajik farmers to improve their yields. More specifically, it targets the nation’s apple growers and trains them in orchard management and soil development, while also providing infrastructural support by procuring equipment and building greenhouses. Thanks to its aid, one farmer from the Pamir mountains, where cultivating anything but root vegetables was previously an unattainable dream, collected more than 700 kilograms of vegetables in a single year.
Operating in Tajikistan since 2003, DVV International belongs to the German Adult Education Association and focuses on providing disadvantaged groups, such as former prisoners, people with special needs or impoverished youths with high-quality vocational training. These are among the most vulnerable to poverty in Tajikistan, seeing that many lack the skills to find permanent jobs and some of them may not even partake in agricultural activities. In the country’s capital, Dushanbe, this international nonprofit offers training courses as well as career guidance.
Furthermore, it has partnered with the Tajik Adult Education Association and numerous local NGOs to staff schools and training centers and equip them with the required materials. Its Promotion of Social Change and Inclusive Education scheme saw the group organize 18 peer-to-peer vocational training activities for disabled youths. It also conducted small business development courses and gave business start-up grants to aspiring young entrepreneurs in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region as part of its YES to Change project, which was realized between 2015 and 2018 with an estimated budget of $727,500.
Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED)
ACTED is a French-based international nonprofit that boasts four offices in different towns across Tajikistan and works primarily on disaster aversion and preparation. Its activists assist farmers by teaching them watershed management techniques and advising them on how to protect their crops from floods.
In the country’s Sughd region, containing more than 3 million hectares of pasture lands, ACTED continues to support measures to prevent pasture degradation, whereas in other herding-reliant provinces, it has organized a Policy Forum for herders and authorities to discuss this issue and decide upon collective action. Albeit not necessarily quantifiable, the organization’s contribution is tangible, as it helps forestall the impoverishment of even more Tajiks from climatic disasters and land mismanagement.
Many Tajiks witness extreme poverty, but the international community and international nonprofits, in particular, are striving to improve the situation. Whether through promoting better farming techniques, broadening vocational training opportunities or helping eschew natural disasters and their dire consequences, NGOs are making a valuable contribution to eradicating poverty in Tajikistan.
– Dan Mikhaylov