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Small Farms Losing Out From Land Reform

By News Briefing Central Asia
Land reforms in Tajikistan appear to have increased social stratification among farming communities, and agriculture experts say the progress made so far needs to be carefully assessed.

A conference on land reform was held in Khojent on February 20-21 as a response to the numerous cases that villagers have taken to court seeking arbitration on land disputes brought on by the drive to turn former Soviet collectives into private farms. The event was sponsored by Britain’s Department for International Development and Chemonics International, a non-government group.

Tajikistan’s mountainous terrain means arable land, some 718,500 hectares accounts for just five per cent of its territory, making it one of the world’s most land-starved countries.

Land reform got under way in 1995, when the first 75,000 hectares belonging to collective farms was distributed among villagers who set up private farms.

This reform was largely completed last year, but experts believe the process was seriously flawed.

Farms are leased for up to 99 years, in theory to anyone who plans to start a private farm, but corruption is common, and individuals with power and connection have acquired more land than others.

“In countries that are short of land, every farm should have clear boundaries so as to not to allow massive land holdings to emerge. This didn’t happen in Tajikistan,” said Murod Aminjanov, an expert on farm support with the European Union’s TAСIS programme, said distribute collective farm land fairly.

As a result, landless peasants have ended up working for others who own thousands of hectares of land, Aminjanov explained.

Economist Hojimuhammad Umarov said the whole reform programme needs to be reviewed, since most of the people who have ended up owning land holdings are not farmers by background.

“They [landowners] employ rural people as labour, and take a proportion of the harvest. The owners themselves are not interested in developing agriculture,” said Umarov.

Latif Ismoilov, an advisor with the government agency in charge of land management, is more optimistic and points out that while the reform has not been entirely successful, mistakes are being rectified along the way.

“Land reform is a new experience for us and it can’t be implemented without making mistakes,” he said, adding that his agency was offering training to landowners who lacked farming skills.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)