DUSHANBE — Like most of its neighbors, Tajikistan is a former Soviet state located in Central Asia. The relatively small nation has fewer than 9 million people, and is slightly smaller than the state of Wisconsin in land area. Tajikistan boasts a literacy rate of 99.8 percent, improved sanitation access to 95 percent of the population and electricity access to a full 100 percent of the nation’s people.
However, despite all this, there is still suffering from a basic issue found in many developing nations: hunger in Tajikistan is one of the country’s most pressing issues of the 21st Century.
Tajikistan currently has the highest malnutrition rate of any former Soviet republics. The most pressing reason for this is perhaps the most simple: people are simply struggling to afford to eat. More than one in three Tajiks are undernourished, with 70 to 80 percent of the average income (roughly equal to approximately one dollar per day) being spent on food. This leaves very little money to be saved, invested, or put toward other necessities such as health or education.
The next major factor attributed to hunger in Tajikistan is that of food production. In 2014, the World Bank reported that less than 6 percent of Tajikistan’s land was capable of supporting agriculture — a dangerously low figure. With so little of Tajikistan’s land able to grow food, the nation’s issues surrounding hunger not only have their roots in economics, but they are also based in the environment. With climate change and the increasing spread of desertification, the food situation will only become more difficult.
However, all is not lost for Tajikistan; solutions lay on the horizon, with help from the international community.
Alongside Ethiopia, Honduras, Maldives and other nations, Tajikistan receives aid from the UNDP (led by the Russian Federation) to ensure sustainable growth and development in the country.
While programs such as this focus mainly on women’s empowerment, this can still help the country combat its issues surrounding undernutrition by enabling women and girls to attain more valuable skills and thus acquire a higher average income with a smaller proportion of which will need to be spent on food.
In terms of protecting the local environment and slowing, or even halting, the spread of desertification, Tajikistan’s solution is not a difficult one. Much of the country’s water that’s spent on irrigation goes toward cotton production, much of which is sewn into clothing, or exported. By improving education — a step already occurring thanks to the aforementioned sustainable development programs — Tajik citizens can cut down on cotton production and focus more on better paying industries, such as services or manufacturing.
Such changes will also allow for a wider availability of water, more arable land and a higher, more efficient food production system. Through these methods, local citizens, with help from the global community, are already taking the first steps toward combatting hunger in Tajikistan.
– Brad Tait