Matching grants help migrants’ businesses take off in Tajikistan

How supporting local agri-entrepreneurs has enhanced migrants’ resilience to the COVID-19 crisis

After working abroad for several years, Obidjon finally became the proud owner of an agribusiness in his home country, Tajikistan. ©FAO/Oleg Guchgeldiyev


Obidjon Rahmonov had one ambition: to become an agricultural entrepreneur and run his own vegetable production business. Although it seemed a far-off dream, Obidjon worked abroad in Moscow for over two years to earn enough money to support his family and put aside some savings to start his enterprise.

When Obidjon returned from Moscow in late 2018, FAO had just started piloting a new initiative in his area. The pilot focuses on leveraging the remittances earned abroad by migrants. It gives beneficiaries who invest 50 percent of the money to launch a small-scale agri-business, the chance to receive a matching investment from FAO for the other 50 percent. The project, focused on helping turn remittances into agricultural investments, also provides training in entrepreneurial skills.

Obidjon realized that these matching grants could speed up his efforts to start his own vegetable business.

“Access to credit with low interest rates is currently very poor. Available investment support options are not enough to increase agriculture production of small producers,” says Obidjon. “The matching grants pilot was more than a fair support: I received as much as I invested. I was also provided with business coaching,” he says.

Left/Top: Obidjon’s cucumbers are growing nicely, thanks to his state-of-the-art greenhouse. ©FAO/Oleg Guchgeldiyev Right/Bottom: Obidjon with FAO Representative in Tajikistan, Oleg Guchgeldiyev. ©FAO/Ibrohim Ahmadov

Pitch perfect

Instead of returning to Moscow to work, Obidjon applied to the FAO matching grant initiative. His business pitch was a state-of-the-art greenhouse. Growing up in a rural area, he knew from experience that growing vegetables in an open field was tough. The harvest depends heavily on an unpredictable climate. However, a greenhouse with a heating system would mean that he could produce fresh vegetables and greens all year round – and as a result, receive a steady income.

The FAO pilot accepted Obidjon’s proposal. He invested the money he had earned in Moscow and, combined with the grant, this allowed him to become the owner of a 340 m2 greenhouse, constructed and equipped with modern technologies, including cost-efficient heating, drip irrigation and ventilation systems. The greenhouse’s daily production capacity is up to 60 kilograms of cucumbers. The sale of fresh vegetables guarantees a regular income for his family and provides agricultural produce to the local market, boosting the local economy. It also allowed him to work from his home country instead of abroad to provide for his family.

Alongside Obidjon, 39 migrant workers have brought their business ideas to life through FAO’s matching grants and business training. These businesses have included agricultural mechanisation, dry fruit production, horticulture, greenhouse crop production and livestock farming.

Obidjon is now helping other economic migrants in his community to take advantage of the FAO initiative and invest in their own agri-businesses. ©FAO/Ibrohim Ahmadov

The effects of COVID-19

Obidjon was one of many migrant workers in his country who cross the border into Russia to seek employment and send money back to their families. In fact, Tajikistan is one of the largest sources of labour migration in the region. However, since COVID-19 began to sweep the world, many countries have closed their borders and the consequences for migrant workers have been dire.

Many members of Obidjon’s community are labour migrants or work in seasonal agricultural production – both types of work were some of the first to be affected by the global pandemic. Having had the experience of successfully starting his own agri-business, Obidjon is now advising other migrants who might want to do the same.

“My neighbors are also labour migrants. They cannot go to Russia for work at the moment due to travel restrictions; neither can they start their own business because they lack the money. The matching grants would be very important to support migrants and their families for start-ups and sustainable agricultural investments. The money we send back from our work abroad can be used more wisely if we keep investing in local food production, strengthening our households’ food security and supporting our local economy,” Obidjon states.

The matching grants pilot is a part of the FAO project, “Developing capacity for strengthening food security and nutrition in selected countries of Caucasus and Central Asia,” funded by the Russian Federation. It has supported vulnerable families in Tajikistan in becoming more resilient to the consequences of global crises, be it pandemics, natural disasters or other crises. By leveraging innovative in-country solutions, these projects are helping ensure continued food security and boosting rural economies, both key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

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2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 10. Reduced inequalities