Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Note from the Field: Securing Land Tenure for Female-headed Households in Tajikistan

This summary has been cross-posted from FRAMEWeb.

Zan va Zamin (Women and Earth) is a grassroots organization that works to attain land tenure security and property rights for landless farmers, introduce diversified farming methods, and promote the conservation of eco-agriculture landscapes. The organization maintains a particular focus on advancing the rights of women. It was founded in 1999 by a small group of women activists in response to the challenges facing women in Tajikistan during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the civil war that would follow.

Tajikistan gained independence in 1991 but faced complex socioeconomic challenges due to the Soviet Union's collapse. Thereafter, the country was also engulfed by political division and violence between 1992 and 1997 in a civil war that killed over 60,000 people and displaced over 700,000 more. The physical infrastructure of the country was largely destroyed. Healthcare, education and employment services deteriorated became anemic, or altogether vanished. As a consequence, Tajikistan, which was already the poorest of the Soviet Republics, became the poorest country in the world outside of Africa, with nearly the entire population living below the poverty line.

Technically, women and men are treated equally under the law. However, the two most substantial hurdles to land tenure security for women are awareness and cultural norms. The majority of women in the country earn their livelihoods from the agricultural sector. As a result of the civil war and high emigration rates among men who travel to Russia in search of gainful employment, an unusually high proportion of households in Tajikistan are headed by women.  A 2009 World Bank report found that female-headed households in Tajikistan were 28.6 percent more likely to be poor than male-headed households -- in large part because of the hurdles women face to securing land tenure, or having land held officially in their name. This also has implications for the ability of women to access financial services, which often use land as collateral for loans or credit.

To date, the group has helped more than 2,000 landless farmers secure formal title to the land they work, 1,200 of whom are women.  This rather remarkable achievement has been achieved through a combination of advocacy and awareness-raising. In addition, the organization has trained 50 women in farm management, the conservation of agro-biodiversity, and livelihoods diversification. By supporting women farmers to stay on their land, and helping them secure legal title in the absence of husbands who have emigrated, Zan va Zamin has empowered women to manage their own farms, earn higher incomes, created a platform to revive traditional eco-agriculture practices, and resulted in an improvement in overall food security in communities.

View the entire case study from the Equator Initiative.