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DUSHANBE (TCA) — The European Commission has announced a €59 million support program to boost rural development in Tajikistan.

Agriculture contributes to about one quarter of the country’s GDP and close to three quarters of the population live in rural areas. Yet the rural economy suffers from structural challenges, notably in the areas of natural resource management and business activity, the Delegation of the European Union to Tajikistan said on August 16.

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica said: “With this new €59 million investment we will help Tajikistan’s rural communities to use natural resources in a sustainable way and improve their resilience to extreme climatic conditions. This will benefit the communities themselves and all of us”.

In addition, the EU will help to enhance business competitiveness, strengthen the management of natural resources, and promote sustainable and efficient use of water.

The newly approved program, Rural Development Programme II, builds on past EU efforts in the sector and merges the ongoing EU programs Rural Development Programme I and Enhancing Competitiveness of Tajik Agribusiness Programme.

The former program has demonstrated important reforms in natural resource management, livelihoods and job creation. For instance, in the area of irrigation rehabilitation and river basin management, social mobilization activities resulted in temporary job opportunities for 1,992 beneficiaries, of which 618 are women.

The latter program has resulted in increased rural investment. Through the project and in collaboration with local banks, 74 loans were disbursed in the farming sector, accompanied by a supply of equipment for food safety and quality certification, now being operated in six laboratories in Tajikistan.

The newly approved program will:

- enhance business competitiveness by supporting an equal number of female and male farmers and agro-processors in business management/planning, marketing strategies and credit applications.
- strengthen the management of natural resources by identifying and implementing Disaster Risk Reduction measures in coordination with the local communities and authorities.
- promote sustainable and efficient use of water through the supply and instalment of measurement equipment and software, that will enable modelling and management of water flows in basins in the targeted provinces.

The measures will be realized in cooperation with the German development agency Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the World Bank, and other organizations.

EU-Tajikistan relations date back to 1991, when the European Commission launched the Technical Aid to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) programme. Tajikistan is the biggest recipient of bilateral assistance in Central Asia. EU bilateral development assistance has increased from around €20 million annually in the early 2000s to around €33 million annually today. The current cycle’s funds for Tajikistan focus on improving education, health and rural development, as well as boosting investment.

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