Opening a Gateway for Tajik Watermelons

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Happy farmers with their watermelon harvest

Izatulo Saduloev is a fruit producer and exporter from the Khatlon region of Tajikistan. With USAID’s assistance, Izatulo built the first cold storage facility in Khatlon and is now a pioneer watermelon exporter to the Baltics. Within just two growing seasons, USAID helped with the formation of a cooperative and eight smallholder farmers are now exporting watermelons from Tajikistan to Lithuania.

Khatlon, in southern Tajikistan, has a favorable climate for early-season harvests. Unfortunately, nearly ninety percent of Khatlon farms are small-scale, producing only for domestic consumption, unable to take advantage of higher export prices.

Three years ago, the USAID Competitiveness, Trade, and Jobs activity began a novel approach linking small family farms to foreign markets. The first stage was to build the capacity of larger farmers, such as Izatulo, to collect and consolidate fruit from small farms. The second stage was to connect Izatulo to foreign buyers willing to advise on production, packaging and shipping. The third stage has been to establish a cooperative of small farmers to meet the volume and quality requirements of foreign buyers. This approach enables the sharing of revenue gains among small rural households.

Izatullo and his partner Najib Khamraev, Deputy Director of NatFood, met their new import partner while on a trade mission of fifty growers from Central Asia to the Baltics in April 2018 organized by the USAID Competitiveness, Trade, and Jobs activity. Audrius Jokubynas, Director of Jotagris LLC, an established European fruit and vegetable importer based in Lithuania, was interested in exploring new sources of fruit from Central Asia.

The first shipment of watermelons from Tajikistan to Lithuania was delivered in May 2019, taking advantage of early-season price premiums. Jotagris LLC ensured quality and market requirements were met during harvest, while the USAID Competitiveness, Trade, and Jobs activity funded the trial shipment to cover some of the financial risk on both parties from testing a new market and a delivery route. Consumer reaction was so positive that Audrius promptly ordered more watermelons for the 2020 season.  

Despite COVID-19, the Khatlon Watermelon Cooperative successfully exported twenty tons of hand-picked watermelons in June 2020.

Audrius Jokubynas, Director of Jotagris LLC notes, “The two-year-long collaboration with Tajik colleagues was more of a “down payment”, as we helped them meet EU requirements. Through trial and error, we have tailored the best possible option for supplying sweet watermelons to Lithuania.”

“The trial shipment of watermelons from Tajikistan to Europe showcased particular gaps along the route that needed to be addressed. By working with the buyer and growers, we offered a win-win solution to help small farmers in Khatlon,” noted Parviz Kamoliddinov, Tajikistan Country Director of the USAID Competitiveness, Trade, and Jobs activity.

To prepare for the 2020 production, USAID partnered with eight Khatlon watermelon growers to form an informal cooperative and contracted an Uzbek agronomist to provide in-field and remote training on drip irrigation, seedling production, fertilizer use, and pest control. The new production techniques enabled the watermelons to survive an unseasonably cold April. The new watermelon market has opened a path for small growers from the area to increase their yield and incomes.

Izatulo Saduloev concluded, “The strategic mindset offered by USAID shifted thinking towards a market-oriented export approach. The trainings and new variety helped farmers save 30% of our crop from the cold weather. Our European counterpart ordered a larger volume of watermelons for the new season and now wants onions and plums as part of our agreement.”

USAID is helping 550 Tajik farmers from across the country scale operations by offering tailored solutions and co-financing options to reach export markets. By incentivizing firms to become more regionally competitive and by addressing cross-border impediments to trade, USAID is supporting the development of a more diverse and competitive private sector and generating export-driven growth.

USAID plans to continue building the capacity of the Khatlon Watermelon Cooperative while identifying new groups of farmers to support and grow their export to new markets.

Last updated: September 21, 2021

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