The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) launched a new pilot project today to make substantial improvements in potato seed replenishment in Tajikistan.

The COVID-19 crisis has weakened the global economy and led to widespread economic distress globally, including in Tajikistan. It has profoundly impacted food systems, including food security and nutrition, food supply chains, and trade.

The project aims to give smallholder farmers access to critical agricultural inputs, namely good quality potato seeds and fertilizers, to improve livelihoods by advancing yields and improving production practices. The pilot project to enhance agribusinesses in Tajikistan is in line with FAO’s overarching objectives and mandate on eliminating hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.

The Farmer Field Schools (FFS) modality will be used to enhance the knowledge and skills of seed producers and farmers through training and workshops. The FFS will be based on established demonstration plots, and large numbers of farmers can visit these plots and participate in the training. Also, agronomists will visit the seed producers to provide technical guidance on production, harvesting, post-harvest handling and pest monitoring. The project will also use the Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment and Promotion (SHEP) methodology, developed by JICA, to consolidate farmers’ efforts to increase income and improve the access to markets for their produce.

Muneo Takasaka, Chief Representative of JICA Tajikistan office stated that “Agribusiness development plays a key role in improvement of Food Security status in Tajikistan. In this regard, access to quality seeds, advanced and innovative agro-consulting services are very important. JICA decided to introduce SHEP approach in Tajikistan as the first experience in Central Asia. SHEP is a model, which promotes market-oriented agriculture among small scale farmers . We believe that our fruitful collaboration with FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Tajikistan in this project will support the Government of Tajikistan to put a strong step forward in achieving its strategic goals “Ensuring Food Security”

“The project will cover few districts in the Rasht Valley and Sughd region to further enhance the potato seed production system in the country. The project will also help to improve livelihood and strengthen food security among vulnerable households of Khuroson district,” said Oleg Guchgeldiyev, FAO Representative in Tajikistan. “It intends to develop the system of seed replenishment at the grass-roots level by connecting smallholder producers to cooperatives and other seed distributors. The elite variety potato seed, that already showed good results in 2020, will be supplied to farmers under legally-binding conditions to return the seeds to the seed bank from the harvest as the first reproduction to ensure replenishment of seed stock in the country.”

Today, potato is both a staple food and the primary source of household income in Tajikistan. It is considered as “the second bread,” however, the seed is the most costly component of potato production. In most cases, high yields and profitability of production depend on access to quality seeds. Advancing the potato production system can be a pathway to ensuring food security and improving the population’s livelihoods in the rural areas of the country.

Among the prerequisites for establishing an organized seed potato system are the availability of improved seed, farmers trained on multiplication, and, most importantly, defined private and public partnerships that deliver the seed to the farmers.