Women and Earth (Zan va Zamin) – Tajikistan
8 March2014, Dushanbe.
The organization Zan va Zamin (Women and Earth) was established in 1999 by an all female group of teachers, scientists and doctors to tackle issues including poor healthcare standards, ecological degradation and women’s rights. The spearhead of the organization is Muhabbat Mamadalieva, one of Tajikistan’s few female biologists.
With a staff that includes women farmers, orchard and grafting trainers, and Tajikistan’s first woman PhD holder (in plant genetics), Women and Earth has become a highly respected organization, known for its accomplishments in providing access to land, women’s rights, sustainable farming and biodiversity preservation. The organization defends the interests of rural communities in issues related to natural resources management before the local authorities and the Tajik government, and now advises the government on a number of issues. Working with a number of other local organizations, Women and Earth’s approach has become a model for other groups in the region.
Tajikistan gained independence in 1991, but faced severe socioeconomic challenges due to the Soviet Union’s collapse. Between 1992 and 1997, a civil war killed over 60,000 people (mainly men) and displaced over 700,000 more. The physical infrastructure of the country was to a large extent destroyed and standards of healthcare, education and employment deteriorated. As a consequence, Tajikistan (which was already the poorest of the Soviet Republics) became the poorest non-African country in the world with almost the entire population living below the poverty line.
Tajikistan remains a poor country – 35, 6 per cent of its people live in poverty. Seventy-three per cent of the 8, 16 million people live in rural areas and agriculture is an important contributor to the country’s economy and people’s livelihoods. Although Zan va Zamin is based in the capital city, Dushanbe, it carries out its work in rural and particularly border-zone regions. Much of the organization’s work takes place in the southern part of Khatlon Province, in the districts of Hamadoni, Vose and Shurobod. Hamadoni borders Afghanistan and because of the risks of operating there, few international NGOs and almost no national NGOs work there.
Women and Earth aims to reduce poverty and preserve native agrobiodiversity by carrying out activities in the following categories:
• Providing legal support to ensure access to land for rural women who are landless farmers, thereby increasing their income and their families’ food security;
• Supporting local initiatives aimed at preserving agrobiodiversity and related traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of local communities;
• Supporting farmers’ self-governance through the creation of associations and rural cooperatives.
As a women’s organization, Women and Earth undertakes all its activities through the lens of developing women’s rights and opportunities. To date, Women and Earth’s support has helped over 1,200 women receive their share of land, and over 50 women leaders have been trained to manage farms. By supporting women farmers to stay on the land, often in the absence of their husbands who have emigrated, Women and Earth is bolstering local food security and reviving Tajikistan’s traditional eco-agricultural practices. In addition, Women and Earth organized a collection of community resources to clean the collector and drainage systems. Ten thousand metres of the drainage system have been cleaned to date, bringing land back into agricultural use, increasing local food security and nutrition, and reducing the incidence of contagious diseases, including malaria, that were related to the increased humidity of the swampy land.
To improve social and economic conditions in rural communities, Women and Earth have established 30 seed funds and 20 revolving loan funds through farmer’s groups in the Khamadoni, Vose, Parkhar and Muminobod areas. These funds are used by community members and any profit generated is shared with 20 per cent returned to the community and 80 per cent used to cover household needs. These funds improve food security and resilience, and are particularly vital to women who are not the legal title holders of the land they farm and therefore cannot use land as collateral to apply for loans through regular banks.
Additional activities that have increased communities’ capacities to adapt to climate change include training for communities on energy efficiency measures, the construction of greenhouses for production of early spring vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, and the establishment of information centres on climate change where farmers can access information on mitigation and adaptation measures. Food producers have also benefitted from Women and Earth’s distribution of solar vegetable dryers and energy efficient ovens for production of food for local and regional markets. The organization has distributed ten communal greenhouses, 12 sun drying devices and 12 energy saving ovens.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): In early 2011, Women and Earth received a grant of USD 32,320 from the UNDP-LED Tajik-Afghan Poverty Reduction Initiative Project (UNDP-TAPRI) funded by the Government of Japan. This funding was used to implement cross-border and capacity building activities among 1,770 peasant farmers of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The key focus of the cross-border initiative was to enhance the capacity of farmers on both sides of Pyanj River to help them overcome the challenges of poverty, unemployment and a poor economy.
International NGOs: Since 2003, Women and Earth has been a partner of Christian Aid, with Christian Aid providing organizational and programme capacity development. After an initial two year partnership period, Women and Earth and Christian Aid signed a long term partnership contract. Christian Aid supports a number of Women and Earth activities, including securing women’s access to land, educating rural people of their land rights, women’s self-help groups, and eco-agriculture training. The Christensen Fund is another major partner and funder of Women and Earth