“70% of young people in Tajikistan are choosing to enter the legal profession, or want to become doctors, economists, bankers or programmers… And who will feed our people?”- said Dr. Amonullo Salimov, the rector of Shirinsho Shotemur, the Tajik Agrarian University.
During the coffee break at the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Central Asia and the Caucasus, I suddenly hear this comment in Tajik, my native language. It’s the fourth day that I’m mainly speaking in English, and hearing a voice speaking in Tajik was like the sound of a nightingale.
I mingled with the group, a Tajik delegation: the rector of an agricultural university, academics, two professors of agricultural sciences and representatives from agro-industries and the Tajik ministry. They discussed the first part of the forum over a cup of coffee. “Such conferences are very important. They open new doors to our youth. I can envision opportunities for our young people to get a career in agriculture” states Dr. Salimov.
“So, what is wrong? Why don’t our youth want to become agriculturalists? “, I asked. “Daughter, young people are interested in sitting in cool offices in spring, while this is the time for farmers to begin sowing and irrigating their fields. A comfortable chair next to a computer is a lot more interesting than hoes, dirty field work while standing with the blazing sun over your head”, said academician Khikmatullo Akhmadov, “But none of them miss out on lunch. They don’t realize that at some stage there may be nothing to buy for dinner. What will we do then? Bread does not grow in offices and does not ‘just appear’. For this, we need farmers”, he continued.
“Do you know when the first agricultural university in Tajikistan was founded?” asked the rector of the university with a sneer. “We were the first agricultural university in Central Asia, established at the beginning of the 20th century – March 14, 1931 to be exact. At that time it was known as the ‘Central Asian Fruit & Vegetable Institute’. In 1944 it was transferred to Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital. Now the university has 9 faculties and trains specialists in 49 professions including agro-engineering, biotechnology, veterinaries, land, forestry and water management, food technology, agribusiness, management, economics, and more. This year, the university celebrates its 85th anniversary.”
About 10,000 students are taught by 520 specialists in the various agricultural sectors. 6 academicians, 66 doctors and 150 assistant professors are the pride of the university. Annually, about 1,500 professionals graduate. Yet in recent years, the university has lost students. Over the past year, the rector himself went to schools in villages across the country to promote the university.
It could seem that for Tajikistan, with its 8 million people, an annual output of 1,500 new agrarian specialists would be enough to solve all the problems of the sector. But in my experience as editor-in-chief of the Agroinform TJ newspaper, part of the issue is that most experts are men over the age of 50.
The problem is not that the university does not prepare good specialists or that the academic level is low. The problem is with disinterested youth. Choosing an agricultural profession means taking up quite a responsibility. Agriculture is not only work in the fields, or just picking up hoe, or even taking a sapling and planting it in the garden. It is a commitment to poverty reduction, food security, the fight against hunger and the conservation of water and soil resources.
In two decades there have been two agricultural reforms in Tajikistan. As a result of restructuring of post-Soviet collective farms, we had 150,000 smallholder farmers and each were given about 2 hectares of land. 50% of these tenants have no real farming experience and need professional expertise from high-quality agronomists. This goes to show that if youth do not attend agricultural university in Tajikistan, this will be a threat to our food security. We need to immediately change the approach of agricultural education and make agriculture attractive again.
As one of our #GCARD3 social reporters mentioned on Twitter today:
Blogpost by Khosiyat Komilova, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – Khosiyatkhon.komilova(a)gmail.com
Lead picture courtesy of OXFAM; Second picture courtesy of Foteh Rahimov (Wikipedia)
This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Central Asia and the Caucasus. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only