Jointly with the Ministry of Labor, Migration and Employment of Tajikistan, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations unveiled a program that seeks to promote inclusive economic growth through matching grants by involving migrants remittances to invest into agriculture and agribusiness.

According to the FAO Country Office in Tajikistan, the program conducted its first Oversight Committee, the role of which is to evaluate the business applications and assign the grants, which are delivered in cash through an ATM card.  The Oversight Committee is formed of members from various government and international organizations in Tajikistan, such as: the Ministry of Labor, Migration and Employment of Population, the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Migration Service, the Association of Dehkan Farms of Tajikistan, the International Organization for Migration, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of UN.

Matching grant programs are a popular instrument for private sector development interventions in the world.  They focus on fostering small and medium enterprises’ competitiveness, primarily, through using business development services.  Since Tajikistan is one of the largest sources of labor migration in the region, as well as one of the largest recipients of remittances, such programs could also play a vital role in development and improvement of local economies and communities in the country.  Channeling remittances into agriculture would have catalytic effects on rural development by promoting food security and nutrition, employment creation, and inclusive growth.

“This is a crucial step to reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth in poor rural communities.  The matching grants aim at boosting local investments by attracting migrants’ remittances and by supporting agricultural development in rural areas.  They are also directed at improving the employment situation for returning migrants,” emphasized Oleg Guchgeldiyev, the FAO Representative in Tajikistan.

“Better and improved access of communities to productive infrastructure and services will ensure sustainable agricultural production and equitable returns.  Therefore, we are particularly interested in involving village organizations, farmers groups and private services agencies in contributing to the success of this initiative,” said Nurullo Mahmadullozoda, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Labor, Migration and Employment of Population of Tajikistan.

With the technical support from FAO and the financial support from the Russian Federation, the Government of Tajikistan started implementing a pilot, entitled, “Promoting inclusive economic growth through Matching Grants” in Hisor city and Jaloliddini Balkhi district.  This pilot is part of the FAO project “Developing Capacity for Strengthening Food Security and Nutrition in Selected Countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia that aims operationalize the linkages between agriculture, nutrition and social protection in national food systems.  The pilot was inspired by the similar model “National Program for Attracting Remittances into the Economy in Moldova”, which has been successfully implemented by the Government of the Republic of Moldova since 2010.

The pilot aims to mobilize remittances and human resources of migrant workers, their families, returnees and communities to improve their livelihood, and thus allowing beneficiaries to invest 50 percent of funds for small-scale business-oriented activity in agriculture or agribusiness and attract addition 50 percent from the FAO project’s funds.  In addition to financial support, the pilot includes capacity development programs, which allow beneficiaries to build skills in small- and medium business development in the agricultural sector.  FAO supports beneficiaries both during the preparation of investment proposals, and also by advising and raising their capacity in agricultural production, storage, processing and marketing to ensure the sustainability of the investments.

To be eligible for participation in the pilot program, applicants should be migrants or returnees, women with household responsibilities receiving remittances from a first-degree relative, or forced returnees for nonthreatening administrative issues with proven ineligibility to migrate abroad.  The inclusion of returnees and forced returnees is vital, as migrants are increasingly returning to their home country, and their sustainable reintegration into society requires creation and broadening of employment opportunities as well as return migrants can foster the transfer of skills, know-how and technology.

The first stage of the pilot was very successful.  Almost 250 business-applications have been collected and pre-screened by the FAO experts in close collaboration with the Government and district community representatives.  In total, around 170 investment proposals have been selected for the first Oversight Committee meeting discussion that recommended to conduct further analysis and assessment of applications according to the approved criteria and to select the best 50-60 proposals for the detailed business plans development.  This will also include the technical and business training of selected beneficiaries.  At a later stage, the Oversight Committee meeting will award grants to the best business plans.  FAO together with the government and communities representatives will monitor the grants performance and compiles a final technical report highlighting achievements, challenges, and recommendations to be considered by the Government in scaling up the matching grants program.