In a brightly-lit room in southwest Tajikistan in late September, 30 men and women gathered to bid on land use rights in the country’s first-ever public land auction.
Transferring land use rights from the state to private individuals, in a transparent and fair process, marks a major milestone on Tajikistan’s journey to self-reliance.
When Tajikistan declared independence in 1991, all of its agricultural lands were part of large-scale Soviet-era collective farms. Since then, the Government of Tajikistan’s land reform efforts have made tangible progress, but up to 35 percent of the country’s agricultural lands remain under state control.
Land reform is essential for the development of the agricultural sector, and critical to this is securing land rights for farmers to empower them to feel ownership over the land they cultivate.
Although there is still no legal mechanism for buying land in Tajikistan, public and transparent land auctions give any interested Tajik citizen the ability to purchase a three-year lease on a land plot and the autonomy to decide what they will do with the land and what crops to grow.
With the confidence that the land they work on belongs to them for a certain time period, farmers are more willing to make long-term investments that ultimately increase land productivity and profitability.
USAID is an ardent supporter of land reform, helping to strengthen land-related laws and policies so farmers can become more productive. In Tajikistan, the Feed the Future Land Market Development Activity works to strengthen land use rights for farmers and establish a land market where farmers can buy leases on agricultural land in a transparent and fair process.
Increased agricultural productivity will, in turn, lay the groundwork for improved food security and economic development.
“I live in Jomi district and learned of the auction from our tashabbuskor [local land rights activist]. I got so excited,” says Izatullo Boboev, one of the bidders.
One month before the auction, information advertising the auction was published and posted on public sites to raise awareness. Notices included details of the lots up for auction (size, location, starting price) and auction procedures.
Five land plots totaling almost 16 hectares were up for auction, with seven active bidders. Government representatives of Yovon district, the U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan, and USAID staff also attended the auction.
All participants in attendance had open and equal access to bid in the auction and the opportunity to lease agricultural land plots from the Land Reserve Fund, the government entity that holds state-owned land.
Winning bidders signed lease agreements with the local government and secured land use rights for the next three years.
“The auction gave farmers a chance to lease agricultural land. If you plan to work on the land correctly and work constantly, you will surely cover all expenses and receive a good profit,” says Boboev, one of the successful bidders.
“This auction gave me a chance to receive a land plot legally, and I can confidently make plans to use the land for the next three years.”
The successful auction will soon be replicated in 10 additional districts of Khatlon province, a large region of southwestern Tajikistan where 83 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, and is the Feed the Future focus region in the country.
Property rights are fundamental to the development of a sustainable market economy; they determine both who uses and benefits from a society’s land resources. The land auctions marked a historic step forward toward a fully open land market in Tajikistan, giving Tajik farmers the opportunity to invest in their future.
About the Author
Krystyna Solarana is a Communications Specialist at USAID’s Tajikistan Country Office.