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Lessons learned



Improved Food Security and Enhanced Livelihoods through Institutional and Gender-sensitive Land Reform: lessons from Tajikistan.


Tea Dabrundashvili, FAO, Rome (Italy)

Vladimir Evtimov, FAO, Rome (Italy)

Ilaria Sisto, FAO, Rome (Italy)


Background document:

Vladimir V. Evtimov, Project “Improved Food Security and Enhanced Livelihoods through Institutional and Gender-sensitive Land Reform in Tajikistan”(OSRO/TAJ/602/CAN), Project technical review report, 2008.

FAO, UNIFEM, Project “Improved Food Security and Enhanced Livelihoods through Institutional and Gender-sensitive Land Reform in Tajikistan”(OSRO/TAJ/602/CAN), Project programme performance and final till, 2008.


Applied Participatory Approaches:

  • Participatory national land strategy development
  • Participatory progress monitoring
  • Awareness campaigns



The Government of Tajikistan, through its Agency for Land Management, Geodesy and Cartography (“the Agency”), is implementing a complex and lengthy land reform to denationalize the collective farms (kolkhoz / goskhoz) and reorganize farming into dekhan (peasant) farms on individual, family and group or cooperative basis. In support of the reform efforts of the Government and the Agency, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded the 3 year project “Improved food security and enhanced livelihoods through institutional and gender-sensitive land reform in Tajikistan(OSRO/TAJ/602/CAN) which was implemented through a partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). At the end of project implementation, in December 2008, a technical review was accomplished. This article highlights the most relevant lessons learnt on what worked and the obstacles met in promoting land reform and gender equitable access to land: such lessons can be easily translated into recommendations for successful gender-equitable land reform and land administration in Tajikistan.


1. Introduction

Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). After a civil conflict (1992-1997), it is in the process of strengthening its democracy and making the transition to a free market economy.

The country suffers from high unemployment and widespread poverty, with more than 50% of the population living below the poverty line. The social system has collapsed and there are major food security problems. Two-thirds of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihood, yet they have little choice of what to grow, and most dekhan farms are compelled to grow cotton due to monopoly controls. In rural Tajikistan women are the major workforce – forming more than 70% of the total agricultural workforce.

The national development and poverty reduction strategies - NDS (2007-2015), and PRS (2007-2009) - of the Government endeavour to secure sustainable economic development and improve the living standards in Tajikistan. The land distribution and land registration reforms aim at strengthening the private sector in agriculture, developing entrepreneurial activity and ensuring equal rights and security for land tenure: these are among the key priorities for driving economic growth, improving food security and enhancing livelihoods. The land reform is as yet incomplete: modern land registration is still nascent, and land markets are blocked due to unresolved issues with sales of land rights and land tenure security, revealing some internal opposition to reforms and insufficient political will.

The CIDA funded project Improved Food Security and Enhanced Livelihoods through Institutional and Gender-sensitive Land Reform in Tajikistan, jointly carried out by FAO and UNIFEM, is complementary to the support on land reform provided by other donors.


2. The Project

The overall project goal is to improve the land reform management and monitoring system with special focus on gender mainstreaming and consultative processes. It aims at ensuring equal access to arable land and removing structural barriers affecting Tajikistan's agricultural market. The project addresses critical impediments to land reform, at the same time mainstreaming gender issues, advancing women’s land rights, and empowering the rural poor to improve their land tenure security.

The project work can be grouped into 4 clusters:

  • Gender mainstreaming, a cross-cutting theme that entailed the analysis of legislation, policy and outreach materials for gender equity; and the establishment of a Gender Network;
  • Participatory national land strategy development, including study tours, training and capacity building activities;
  • Participatory progress monitoring system for the land reform, including capacity building and institutional strengthening;
  • Public awareness campaigns on land reform, including puppet show, radio broadcasts and community mobilization of dekhan farmers’ groups, trainings and agro-services.


3. Gender mainstreaming

Gender is a cross-cutting theme in the project, combining FAO’s and UNIFEM’s expertise and experience on the land reform. The gender focus of the project was on mainstreaming gender issues in the land reform process, protecting rights of women and improving their access to land. This was made possible by implementing inclusive participatory approaches that had capacity building and knowledge access as pre-requisites for genuine and effective participation.

Within this cluster of activities, gender and participation expertise was integrated into virtually all project activities at policy, administration, and community levels:

  • At the policy level, the legal support to the Agency included providing gender expertise for the preparation of the draft land strategy and existing legislation, notably the Land Code. A set of recommendations was formally submitted and fully incorporated in the Land Strategy and the legislative process.
  • At the administration level, the capacity building programme, comprising gender training, gender action plans, and gender-oriented services, contributed to the partner agencies and the Women’s Committee gaining improved knowledge on gender mainstreaming. All Agency staff, at headquarters, regional and district level have been trained and sensitized to gender balance and equality issues, including land use rights and dekhan farm start-up.
  • At the community level, gender and participation experts reviewed the outreach materials and publications and integrated gender aspects in public awareness campaigns, radio and media broadcasts, puppet shows, community mobilization, advocacy / information campaigns, gender-sensitive participatory land reform monitoring, and others. Special attention was given to rural women and female-headed dekhan farms: booklets on women’s human rights and gender responsive local governance, e.g.Access to land of rural women’, ‘Gender indicators in the dekhan farm activities’, etc. were disseminated.


4. Actual outputs of gender mainstreaming

Overall, the project developed rich gender expertise in the country. The gender expert groups were established under the jurisdiction of Committee on Women and Family Affairs.
A trend of growing numbers of female-headed farms being formed can be observed, as well as a process of transfer of farms from male to the female members of the household. This trend confirms the need to sustain gender work developed under the project.
Specific outputs can be summarizing as follows:

  • A network of gender specialists working in the agricultural sphere was established and trained. The work plan for 2008-2009 was approved by the head of the National Women’s Committee, under which this network will continue operating. The network of gender specialists was formed as one of the follow up responses to the gender expertise of land management institutional mechanism. This network consisted of representatives from the Agency, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Water resources, the Association of Dekhkan Farmers, Agroinvestbanck and the Statistical Agency. The network raised discussions on gender issues and disseminated relevant information, and members took the role of leading and facilitating gender mainstreaming of policies, strategies and actions planned/implemented within their respective agencies/ministries. The Women’s Committee, as a leading agency for gender equality in the country, officially endorsed the network by all participating agencies/ministries and formalized it through a Memorandum of Understanding which specifies special roles, responsibilities and functions of the members of the network. Special gender training and capacity building interventions have been conducted jointly by UNIFEM and FAO according to a work plan approved by the Women’s Committee.
  • The project supported the Agency’s awareness campaigns in 10 state farms: more than 60 seminars with participation of 3784 members (55% women) were conducted. In 2008, 3687 farmers, women and men, increased knowledge on the issues of  farms formation process, procedures for receiving the certificates, process of registration of land plots, farm debts, and access to agricultural extension services through legal advisory support. A resource pack for the women’s committees was prepared. Gender mainstreaming recommendations aimed at increasing gender responsiveness of reviewed documents and processes - with a specific focus on women’s rights to land - were prepared by a gender expert and a lawyer. The recommendations were discussed with the Agency, and sent to the Government as well as to the Parliament for consideration. They included an action plan for their implementation.
  • Gender mainstreaming of the land strategy has been successfully finalized by a Gender Task Force.
  • Regularly updated materials prepared by UNIFEM and FAO for public awareness, training and advocacy were continually distributed during the public awareness campaigns and through legal centres and district task forces.  The project also developed the gender kit which will be available for NGOs through the International Public Organization “Rights and Prosperity” as well as to the government structures through the National Women’s Committee.



5. Lessons learned on the effectiveness of the projectís participatory measures towards the promotion of gender-equitable access to land


What worked:
A draft land strategy was developed by Agency with the project assistance and submitted for approval. The project activated draft land strategy discussions on local level through regional seminars, to promote draft’s familiarization and participatory approach for strategy development.

The 12 meetings of the Working Groups on Land Reform (WGLR), with more than 300 total participants, and one international workshop on land policy conducted in Dushanbe demonstrate that the leading role of the State Agency has steadily progressed toward fulfilling its designed mission in land reform. Moreover, 12 seminars conducted by the Agency on land reform issues provided ground for a participatory approach while key draft laws, such as “State registration of immovable property and rights to it”, “Amendments and additions in the Code of the Republic of Tajikistan”, and the land strategy were actively discussed by a total of 420 participants and suggestions were provided at the regional and district levels. Thus the Agency is also making an effort to support a participatory approach to strengthen policy mechanisms at the district level; however, the Agency understands that it lacks the technical capacity to do so and is therefore eager to improve coordination with relevant stakeholders.

The project built on existing FAO skills and initiatives in Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis (SEAGA) and Gender-Disaggregated Data (GDD) to develop new gender equality measures. Gender balance has been part of any agreement signed with national counterparts concerning implementation arrangements and training activities on different levels. 59 persent of the participants in all implemented activities were women. All of them had access to agricultural inputs and training provided by FAO. The project beneficiaries established a Cooperative led by a woman in Vakhdat district. The groups approved Farmers’ Group Codes, reflecting rights’ based rules and approaches suggested by people themselves, which was later on endorsed and used by all members.

A feedback mechanism report was developed and became available for the Agency while a Gender network at the central level became functional. However, as mentioned above, strengthening of capacity should be continued.

In fact, from the very start of the project special attention and support was paid to building capacity of members of the monitoring and awareness groups, as well as to the number of women to be trained and informed on gender issues of land reform. As planned, the Agency was trained in gender-sensitive participatory land reform monitoring. Local administrations also benefited from the information provided and training that included gender aspects of land reform and human rights. The training and informational support provided will assist them in implementing gender-mainstreaming legislative changes.

The ultimate target beneficiaries of the project are the Tajik people. At community level the process of community mobilization contributed to strengthening women and men farmers’ groups for effective use of land with the support of agro-service agencies. The establishment of District Task Forces (DTFs) and legal centres contributed to improvement of farmers’ access to legal services and equal treatment of participants in the land reform. Of the new heads of Dekhan Farms trained, 56 were female heads and operators, which is approximately 40 % of the total participants. By the end of the project a substantial number of people had increased their knowledge of women’s rights land reform. This of course affected a number of indicators in 2008: increased number of Agency staff trained (202 persons), 56 female were trained by the NGO “Istochnik Zhizni” out of total 139 female staff  More than 20 staff members of the Agency were trained in gender equality issues at the central level and more then 200 at district levels through sub-regional workshops.

The project established enhanced communication mechanisms between the relevant stakeholders (through a series of presentations, seminars, study tours, international and national workshops and meetings on relevant land policy issues) throughout project implementation.  It also carried out a continuous country-wide public awareness campaign on land reform issues throughout project implementation.

The key assets of this project were the combined knowledge base of both FAO and UNIFEM in gender and land reform: the project was implemented according to FAO skills and initiatives in SEAGA and UNIFEM’s gender mainstreaming policy and strategy. The Gender Equality measures undertaken within the frame of the joint project increased the number of government officials who are aware of gender issues of land reform through intensive training, involvement in discussions of gender and the draft land strategy and of the gender review of land legislation, creation of the gender network, participation of the National Project Coordinator or UNIFEM project experts in the Sub-regional workshops, etc. During the project a total number of 928 people from partner organizations (the Agency and the National Women’s Committee with their branches, civil society and international community representatives) increased their knowledge and skills on gender issues of land reform, including through the Sub-regional workshops (245 people), gender network (30 members, per 3-4 persons in each concerned ministry, committee or NGO).


The Government’s low capacity to plan and implement the farm restructuring process emerged as a major constraint during the project implementation: delays in farm restructuring processes at the local level indicate that local authorities are hesitant to make required changes. These delays affected timely start-up of various activities such as farm management training for new farmers. Since land issues are relatively new for the country, there is lack of appropriate understanding of overall land policy issues, including land management and land administration approaches by high-ranking government officials. There is typically low participation in decision making and policy formulation.

Another important constraint is weak financial capacity to attract highly qualified specialists or to provide sound training for existing staff that would be able to carry out quality work in future.

Furthermore, frequent changes in Government further weaken decision-making, planning and implementation. Both main partner organizations (the Agency and the Women’s Committee) experienced changes in senior management which impeded the project implementation.

In addition, there was limited communication and cooperation between local level authorities and the Agency on the farm restructuring process. The Agency was not adequately and timely informed on restructuring plan, which caused difficulties in monitoring of the restructuring process.

The legal framework was quite unclear and rich in contradictions. Revisions to legislation were often not fully transparent or well coordinated. For example, parliament started the approval process of land legislation without the active involvement of the Agency and without consideration of the prior wide-ranging discussions by various stakeholders. Furthermore delays in the farm restructuring process at the local level indicate that local authorities are hesitant to change: the willingness to adopt change and reforms by local authorities, courts, public institutions and civil society is still very low. Courts, and the justice system in general, are not independent in their decision-making abilities. Moreover, corruption is still common practice in local authorities and courts, thereby limiting equal treatment and the impartiality of institutions and society.

Reasons for land disputes include: absence of the documents on land use rights or its improper registration, illegal decisions taken by local governments, lack of legislation knowledge by citizens, absence of distinguished boundaries and land marks. At the same time the district land committees have also denounced a lack of high professional staff, low level of logistical support (labour conditions, equipment, etc.), low level of salaries and absence of stimulating remuneration for the staff who work bona fide and skilfully, as well as gender imbalance among the professional staff.


6. Recommendations

The project has been successful in introducing a participatory discussion within the government and the international community involved in the land reform process especially in terms of the development of the draft land strategy. The project was a valuable tool for harmonization of joint activities and providing an understanding between the Government and non-Governmental and civil society sectors in the country.   

The decision through Governmental Resolution 456 on the establishment of a unified land registry is a step forward in improving the land administration system. However, scarce financial and human resources of the Government, and a limited number of donors interested in supporting further necessary land reform activities, jeopardizes the establishment of such a land registration system. Introducing good governance principles in land administration and boosting security of land use rights should be actively supported not only by government at the initial stage when their capacity is still weak, but by the donor community as well.

The elaborated awareness and training modules are recognized as useful and necessary tools for land reform implementation by the Agency. However, support is needed for country-wide implementation as governmental bodies are still weak in terms of human resources and finances, and therefore unable to undertake overall fulfilment of the task. Strengthening capacities is still a key pre-requisite for the successful functioning of strategic institutions such as of the Agency and the Gender network.

The importance of delivery of information to the local authorities on land reform advantages should be stressed. The WGLRs should continue sharing information among stakeholders and support the Agency in broader public awareness among farmers and local authorities.

Transparency and cooperation between governmental institutions, NGOs, INGOs and donor partners involved in the land reform process should continue to be enhanced; this is feasible. However, strong coordination of the overall activities by the Agency can be expected only in cases where the Government has clearly defined an appropriate development-oriented land policy and strategy for its implementation. This would provide them a mechanism to involve all stakeholders and distribute necessary activities to the donor communities and NGOs in a well coordinated manner, and not on an ad hoc decision-making basis.

Gender mainstreaming in the land reform process can be significantly improved through sound public awareness, farming training, legal advising and backstopping; The improvement can be achieved through the Network of Gender Specialists that was established by the project and the National Women’s Committee in case capacity building activities will be continued among network members, relevant line ministries and committees.

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