Despite being a biodiversity hotspot, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Tajikistan has remained a poor country. Around 45 percent of people are living in poverty, with the majority in rural areas, making native varieties of food extremely important for survival. The Zan va Zamin (Women and Earth) project’s work in Tajikistan aims to address these issues and they have embarked on a project to change the way people in the country think of their role in restoring endangered local varieties of fruits and crops within the region.
Zan va Zamin was established in 1999 by a group of women striving to defend the interests of rural communities. The groups lead campaigner, Muhabbat Manadalieva, is one of Tajikistan’s few female biologists, with other notable members of Women and Earth including Tajikistan’s first woman PhD, teachers, scientists, and doctors.
Their work has been praised by numerous organizations and according to the U.N. Development Programme, “By supporting women farmers stay on the land […] Women and Earth is bolstering local food security and reviving Tajikistan’s traditional eco-agricultural practices”.
According to Conservation International, the Central Asian mountains are designated as a biodiversity hotspot, essentially a region containing an exceptional number of native plant diversity. Almost the whole of Tajikistan is included in this so-called hotspot area, containing more than 5,000 plant species. Women and Earth are trying to protect and reinvigorate as much of this diversity as possible.
As part of Women and Earth’s broader scheme, 1,200 women are learning about their land rights and over 50 women leaders have been trained to manage farms.
With a grant of US$180,000 given to Women and Earth by The Christensen Fund, the successful project is now reaching more women and communities throughout Tajikistan. As part of the project, 30 seed banks and 20 loan funds are providing funds to help farmers access a greater variety of seed varieties.
Their work has meant that twelve field schools now produce as much as 1,000 tons of vegetables annually, with community orchards supplying saplings and maintaining more than 10,000 fruit trees including apples, pears, apricots and peaches of local varieties. As a result of Women and Earth’s efforts, this biodiversity hotspot has maintained and improved a resilient ecosystem resulting in improved food security and local incomes, with women leading the process.