Professor Hojimuhammad Umarov, a Dushanbe-based expert on the Tajik economy, considers that the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) needs significant assistance from the national authorities and the international community.  In his opinion, in the harsh conditions of GBAO, the real results of development can be obtained with a stringent system of public administration.

An article by him, in particular, notes that because of the highlands in the area, there is little land in the region.  The land surface reaches about 18 thousand hectares.  The province consists of 7 administrative districts and the city of Khorog.

The region’s economy lags behind other parts of the country.

Among all regions of Tajikistan, GBAO is the most ruralized.  Here, 86.7% of the population lives in rural areas and only 13.3% in urban settlements.

Umarov notes that the process of deurbanization of society, which has been going on for the last 10 years, is considered as a negative phenomenon, since deurbanization leads to an increase in the agrarian overpopulation of society.  The latter means a decrease in employment and a corresponding increase in unemployment.  Over the past 5 years, the number of wage-earners in GBAO has decreased.

According to Umarov, in the country as a whole, there is an increase in employment.  Unemployment in GBAO is becoming a very sensitive issue. According to official statistics, the unemployment rate as a percentage of those employed nationwide is 4.1%.  This indicator reaches 2.1% in Dushanbe city, 2.1% in Sughd province, 3.1% in Khatlon province and 19.3% in GBAO.

Unemployment in GBAO reaches 19.3%; table / CABAR

The region’s manufacturing industry is facing numerous problems.  GBAO reportedly produces only 0.9% of the total volume of gross industrial output nationwide, although the region’s population is 2.5% of the total population of Tajikistan.

Rural areas of GBAO are characterized by predominant development of crop and livestock industries. Dependence of rural population on agricultural industry due to unfavorable transport-geographical conditions remains high.

The statistics of this industry shows a sharp deterioration in the production of agricultural products.  In 2010-2019, the production of grains in GBAO decreased by 61.0%, while in districts subordinate to the center (DSC) there was an increase of grains production by 4.2%, in Khatlon province by 11.6%, in Sughd province by 24.2% and in scale of Tajikistan by 19.2%.

The same applies to potatoes, which is recognized as “second bread” in this province.  Over the reporting period, the volume of potato production in GBAO decreased by 54.0%.  However, during the same ten-year period, the gross production of potato in Sughd province increased by 57.3%, in Khatlon province by 6.2%, in DSC by 38.5% and in the whole country by 30.8%.

Production of gourds in GBAO decreased even more by 7.8 times. At the same time, both on the national scale and in the context of other regions, there were very high growth rates of melon products (from 36.4% to 198.0%).

Sharp decline in the level of vegetable crops production in this region is also a cause for concern. This indicator decreased by 41.9% throughout GBAO.  For comparison, on the scale of the country the total volume of vegetable production increased by 99.9%.  

These negative trends are explained by the low level of yield of cereals, legumes, potatoes and other agricultural crops in GBAO.  In 2019, grain yield in GBAO was 14.3 cwt/ha, while the national yield of these crops was 30.9 cwt/ha.

Potato yield in the same year in GBAO was 131.9 cwt/ha, while in Sughd province the figure was 200.5 cwt, and in DSC – 198.2 cwt/ha. Studies by the Pamir Biological Institute show that some brigades in Rushan district in Soviet times yielded 550-600 cwt of potatoes per hectare.

However, these opportunities are not fully exploited due to problems with specialists, fertilizers and plant protection from insects and diseases.  Therefore, the central government of the country should develop a program to dramatically change the situation with yield, both for cereals and legumes, and potatoes, and vegetable crops.

At the same time, it is necessary to take into account the fact that transportation of potatoes, vegetables and gourds, as well as flour from the central regions of the country and from Kyrgyzstan is a very cargo-intensive process, which leads to higher prices in the local markets.

Many believe that the decline in crop production is due to excessive labor migration of the population. However, besides this, there are other reasons (a sharp decrease in the volume of organic fertilizers and a decrease in the proportion of humus in the soil, higher prices for mineral fertilizers, the practical elimination of the system of combating crop pests and diseases).

It should also be noted that from year to year the prices for mineral fertilizers and means of protection against pests and diseases of crops are increasing.  

All of this combined has led to a deterioration in soil fertility. The percentage of humus concentration in the soil structure in GBAO is close to the critical level.

Umarov notes that the situation described above for GBAO is potentially dangerous for food security “if we take into account that cultivated areas per capita here are noticeably less compared to all other regions of Tajikistan.”

In GBAO there is 0.05 hectares of land per person. This indicator is 0.10 hectares in Sughd, 0.13 hectares in Khatlon province, and 0.9 hectares nationally. In addition, it should be taken into account that sown areas of GBAO are characterized by high stoniness and low level of natural fertility.

There were times when the Rushan district received 450 or more quintals of potatoes and fodder beets. In many fine contour areas of the Bartang River valley, 8-9 tons of wheat per hectare were obtained.  The high yields were due to the high level of farming culture.

Unfortunately, over the past 30 years, many of the valuable skills of the local population to achieve high yields have been lost. The influence of the region’s agricultural science on the development of field farming has also declined sharply.

The expert says the belt of thermal waters along the Ghund River, which is 12 kilometers long, could become a producer of greenhouse crops

“Unfortunately, due to the low revenues of local budgets and their deficit, there is a widespread opinion that local budgets in GBAO cannot become self-sufficient.  This position is supported by the managers who are in the republican offices, “ Umarov said, noting that this is the reason why the social sphere in GBAO is developing very slowly and is extremely far from meeting the needs of developing modern “human capital.”

Suffice it to say that between 2016 and 2020, no outpatient and polyclinic facilities were introduced in GBAO, while in the Sughd and Khatlon regions, as well as in Dushanbe, a large number of such facilities were put into operation.

During this time, in GBAO not a single hospital was built and commissioned, while in Khatlon province hospitals with 655 beds were commissioned.  It is also completely unjustified that no pre-school institutions have been commissioned in GBAO for the last 5 years.  During this time, 1301 pre-school institutions for children were commissioned in Khatlon province and 2049 beds in Dushanbe.

The expert notes that all of the above data indicate that GBAO needs significant assistance from the national authorities and the international community. In our opinion, the following measures seem to be very relevant:

a) A closer study of the experience of socio-economic development of mountain regions of the world and measures to boost the economy of these regions.  

b) World experience shows that in the harsh conditions of mountain territories real results on socio-economic development of certain administrative territories can be obtained with a rigid system of public administration.  

c) It is necessary to make an operational assessment of those resources of GBAO, the use of which can lead not only to the elimination of subsidization of regional and district budgets, but also to a drastic increase in development resources.