Qutbidin Rajabov and his assistants feed trout alevins in Darai Hakimi. The touristic base camp employs 14 people from nearby villages. Photo: Parvin Muminov

Up in the picturesque mountains of Shahrinav, where nature’s conditions are so harsh they make it uninhabitable for people, there is a solar-powered fish farm. The owner Qutbidin Rajabov has had his share of doubts about the benefits, when his farm, serving also as a touristic base, was selected as a pilot project to switch to solar power. Yet, it cost him nothing to try, while there was at least one clear win: Solar energy would spare him at least some of his ten-hour roundtrips to transport diesel to the mountains. The benefits he has received have by far exceeded his expectations and helped him increase the survival rate of the fish.

Keeping the farm in high lands, where water streams straight from glaciers, is a necessity. Trout is a cold-water fish and cannot survive the temperatures in the valley, where air can heat up to 45 degrees Celsius in the summer. The crystal-clear glacial water in Darai Hakimi reservoirs, just 80 km North-West of Dushanbe, is a perfect habitat for trout, but the survival rate of young trout through the first year of their life in the wild is not more than five percent.

With much effort, Rajabov has proudly managed to keep the survival rate in his farms as high as 70 percent for a while. It never came easy: To increase the alevins’ chance of survival during the first forty days, they need to be fed every three hours with a source of light at the water surface. Later, as winter hits, the young parrs need to be kept in special pools inside heated premises. The entrepreneur and his team have to spend weeks at the base, away from family and home, to keep the business running.

After a detailed analysis of the terrain and climatic conditions by field experts at the start of his business, Rajabov has decided to opt for mixed hydro- and diesel- power supply system. Hydroelectric power, while cheaper and eco-friendlier, can be used during high-water season only. For the rest of the year, the demand for electric power in his off-grid farm needs to be covered with diesel fueled electricity generator.

Rajabov would make 45 round trips a year to Dushanbe and back to transport diesel to the farm. The ecological footprint has been significant too: The fuel count averaged nearly 2300 liters a year to sustain the farm.

“Of course, it is very difficult and costly. We spend both the time - 4-5 hours one way on the road - and the money we could otherwise use for other needs,” Rajabov says. “Having to be far away from our homes and families for weeks is another challenge, but since we need to earn for a living, we cannot and probably do not want to leave our dream, our camp site and water facilities,” he adds.

When the grant opportunity emerged to switch to solar power, Rajabov was not fully convinced of all the benefits, but he knew he had to try it if there was the slight chance to cut at least on one third of his trips and fuel costs.

Switching to solar power has helped the off-grid eco-tourism base camp with a fish farm be more eco-friendly and save on 2300 liters of fuel a year.

With an average of 300 solar days a year, Tajikistan has a large potential to capitalize on solar energy. Currently, UNDP offers a comprehensive strategy to scale-up private sector engagement in energy access by improving the risk-return profile of private investment in energy access products and services. The goal is to expand energy access and provide reliable, affordable and sustainable energy products and services for the rural population of the country, especially in off-grid areas facing energy poverty.

The initiative to promote scalable, private-sector-led business models to introduce green energy services in selected villages is currently underway, addressing three interlinked components: 1) Enabling policy framework and capacity development for green energy SMEs, 2) Improved access to finance and piloted business models for green energy SMEs and energy service users, and 3) Improved access to sustainable energy services in remote rural areas – on a household, public buildings and village level.

Darai Hakimi touristic base was selected as one of the pilot projects to test the efficiency of the use of solar power in off grid areas. The surprising results have made Rajabov reconsider his opinion and never want to go back to the old way. Not only has the new power supply system rid him of the need to use the diesel fueled power generator at all, it has also helped eliminate the need for 12 cubes of wood used for heating and cooking purposes and increase the profit from selling more fish.

Uninterrupted electricity keeps the temperature rate of the reservoirs constant after fertilization and most importantly keeps compressors on, for oxygenation of water and the control of oxygen levels and water temperature, creating optimal conditions for growing trout caviar. The survival rate of fish in the farm has gone up to nearly 97 percent, beating all their previous records. Currently up to four tons of trout are growing in Darai Hakimi reservoirs with the oldest ones weighting up to five kilograms each.

The power supply suffices also for tourists to charge their electronic devices, increasing the attractiveness of overnight stays in the base camp facilities.

“Despite the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are doing our best to keep the business going and now that there are no eco-tourists, we are providing fresh fish for people living in Shahrinav. We believe and hope that soon everything will be fine, and the flow of tourists will resume,” Qutbidin Rajabov says.

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