On a sunny day in June at the Financial and Economic Institute in Tajikistan’s capital city of Dushanbe, a class full of energetic young law students discusses the day’s lesson. To the southwest of the capital, in a small rural village in Khatlon Province, high school seniors tell personal stories about helping their community. Sixty-five miles apart, the students are discussing the same subject: land rights. The enthusiasm in both classrooms is impossible to ignore.
The subject of land rights is a new addition to the students’ curriculum. As part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, USAID’s Land Reform and Farm Restructuring project has helped support this effort by establishing the course materials, which include a textbook and a fact-sheet on ways to resolve common land disputes.
Adults may not always recognize how influential youth can be. But in Tajikistan, USAID knows that youth often serve as a bridge of information, helping their families understand and adopt new practices.
In Tajikistan, where 75 percent of the population works in agriculture, many families depend on land for their livelihoods and food security. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union and a civil war in the 1990s, Tajikistan began undertaking major land reforms: splitting up Soviet-era collective cotton farms, some as large as 2,000 hectares, dividing them into small family farms of less than five hectares, and empowering families with greater decision-making power about what crops they could grow. However, in many cases, the information about these reforms did not trickle down to the would-be beneficiaries, and farmers remained unaware or confused about how the new reforms impacted their rights and responsibilities.
Recognizing this problem, USAID, the Government of Tajikistan, and local NGOs have partnered to educate youth about land rights, and teach them how to navigate the new land reforms, hoping that this knowledge would then be imparted to their parents, grandparents, and others in the communities.
Thus far, it seems the education program is working. Armed with the knowledge of land laws and how to settle common territorial disputes, students are helping farmers in communities across the country understand the intricacies of the legal system around land — from women’s rights to land certification — and how to access critical resources like legal aid centers.
For two and a half years now, USAID has partnered with two universities to offer course curriculum for 245 second-year law students. The project also worked with the provincial department of education to develop a curriculum and provide trainings for 15,465 high-school seniors and 1,186 teachers in Khatlon province. These young students are now changing how their communities understand and exercise land rights. Here is how some of the students are making a difference:
Aliakbar Mamadov studies law, and has his own small farm. Growing up, his hometown lacked a road to transport crops to market, forcing trucks to drive over family farmlands during each harvest. Aliakbar watched first-hand as formerly friendly neighbors turned hostile over land issues. Despite the clear need for a public road, no one was willing to surrender their land to build it. So the community was at a stalemate.
Aliakbar used his knowledge of the land laws on servitude — where small amounts of land can be repurposed to meet a community need — to explain how everyone could benefit. He met with the farmers explaining that,
“If everyone gave a small plot of their land, we could have a road that all of the farms could use. They agreed with me and now we have a road.”
Omina Solehova learned about a house in her village that didn’t have access to water. The house needed to acquire an easement through their neighbor’s land to reach the closest water source. Other neighbors were facing similar problems.
Omina explained to her community and local authorities that Tajikistan’s land reform laws allowed for small amounts of land to be re-allocated for the benefit of the entire community. She recommended that they use this law to help bring water to homes. The community agreed and, using their new knowledge of land laws, were able to come to a solution together.
When a farmer denied members of the community passage through his farm — the only way to reach the village’s cemetery — Dilshod Homidov went to the local government on behalf of the village and drew on his knowledge of the land law to provide the community with a path to the cemetery.
Thanks to a targeted educational effort focused on the importance of secure land rights, these students, and others like them, have made a tangible, positive difference in their communities.
To learn more about USAID’s Land Reform and Farm Restructuring project visit: usaidlandtenure.net/tajikistan-lrfrp
To learn about USAID’s work with land rights across the globe visit: usaidlandtenure.net
To learn more about USAID’s work with youth visit: youthpower.org