By Rosalind Piggot, KF10, Tajikistan
I always assumed that farmers requesting loans on Kiva were carrying on a traditional, family activity. Farming was a profession passed from father to son, from mother to daughter. The same practices were maintained for generations. I didn’t ask any more questions.
I recently discovered that things are a little different in Tajikistan.
During a visit to a branch office of Kiva’s Field Partner IMON, I met Agamnazar. Agamnazar is an agro-consultant. He was engaged by IMON to give advice to micro-finance clients in agriculture. When entrepreneurs take out micro-loans, they can discuss problems and issues with him, including how best to use their loans.
Big changes for farming
Agamnazar told me about something that I had never given much thought to. Collective farms. When Tajikistan was part of the USSR, he explained, farmers worked on large collective or state farms. On these farms, farmers generally did not decide what crops to plant. Families did have small household plots, but these were to grow food for family consumption.
Then, collective farming was phased out. Suddenly, farmers could have their own small farms. Farmers had more freedom in choosing what to plant (although land use requirements can still affect available choices). A report prepared for the European Commission/FAO* noted that by 2006, individual/family farming accounted for approximately 45% of Tajikistan’s agricultural land, compared to 1% in Soviet times. (The other 55% of agricultural land remains within the corporate sector of cooperative and ‘enterprise’ farms.)
This transformation raised a whole new set of questions on land use. Individual farmers may have just a few hectares of land, which they must use efficiently to be able to earn a living. Planting grape vines on a 1,000 hectare collective farm might work even if some spots aren’t suited for vines. But, if you spent 20 years farming grapes on a collective farm and suddenly have to make profits from the 2 hectares where grapes don’t grow well, things might get complicated.
How can I improve my farm?
That’s where agro-consulting comes in. As well as advising farmers on how to use their loans, Agamnazar can discuss techniques to improve a business’ bottom line.
As we talked, Agamnazar pulled out a chart of optimal fertilizer use for different crops. He explained that farmers often dump too much fertilizer on crops, which can harm the land and affect future harvests.
One farming technique he explained is pictured to the left. Using this technique, crops ripen a few weeks earlier than usual. So what? Well, early produce can fetch up to twice the normal price in the market. The materials required for this technique are relatively inexpensive, so the additional revenue is well worth the upfront cost.
Children of the Revolution
Flipping through entrepreneurs’ profiles on Kiva.org, I now think more about the changes that Tajik farmers have had to adapt to in order to earn a living.
*FAO stands for The Food and Agriculture Organization. You can access a PDF version of the report cited above at: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/011/aj285e/aj285e00.pdf