Tajikistan - Identifying Opportunities for Green Entrepreneurs in the GBAO Region
Aga Khan Development Network
Along with the development work the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) does in Tajikistan, they also work with rural communities, the government, and the private sector, to strengthen climate resilience through local business enterprises. Their approach involves both addressing the impacts of climate change through adaptation and addressing the causes of climate change through mitigation. Accelerate Prosperity (AP) is a global initiative of AKDN, and provides technical expertise, creative financing solutions and market connections for small and growing businesses. AP is a leading business accelerator in Central and South Asia and works to promote green business growth through innovation and commercially viable products and services within several business sectors.
We were faced with the following problem: how can AP help local entrepreneurs target and catalyze promising green enterprises in rural communities of Tajikistan? In early partner meetings, our team was asking about what would signify a successful outcome. We heard job creation and food security were leading concerns and opportunities. Therefore, agriculture was identified as the leading business sector to direct our efforts towards. Our goal was to identify ways in which food could be made more accessible for residents of rural Tajikistan, mostly targeting the eastern region of Tajikistan, GBAO.
What did we do?
We started by learning about the agriculture value chain to understand which areas of the value chain were least efficient. Through research, we identified production, storage, and processing as three major areas of opportunity within the agriculture value chain. Within food security, we thought about food security as it related to both nourishment (number of calories) and nutrition (variety of nutrients provided). We brainstormed specific methods of solving for nourishment and nutrition across the agriculture value chain, while also addressing AP’s green growth framework by suggesting ways in which these solutions could be environmentally responsible. We also identified more robust tourism as a method to subsidize the cost of agricultural goods, giving more purchasing power to consumers.
Therefore, as we departed for Tajikistan in late February having done initial research on both the agricultural and tourism sectors, we were eager to add context to our research and meet local entrepreneurs.
What was the turning point?
We thought transportation was going to be one of the greatest issues for both agriculture and tourism due to the rural nature of many communities in Tajikistan. While researching tourism we saw a lot of travel blogs that commented that getting around was the greatest challenge of visiting. Within agriculture, we deduced that logistical challenges both caused higher prices and difficulty in accessing larger markets such as in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital.
We were surprised to learn that there is an existing agricultural transportation network. In interviews, people did not seem concerned with transportation and thought it was sufficient as it was. They were astounded that we believed transportation was a problem. Besides a twelve-hour ride to eastern Tajikistan through the mountains on dirt roads, the country is accessible, and roads are being improved.
These findings allowed us to refocus and converge on what the true issues were. Within agriculture, the greatest area of opportunity was in addressing seasonality through business ideas that could solve for nourishment and nutrition challenges. For tourism, developing a Tajikistan experience that was differentiated from the experience you could have in neighboring countries was essential via business ideas that enabled attracting more tourists and capturing additional revenue from each tourist.
What was the recommendation?
Our recommendations in agriculture included building greenhouses, piloting dehydration as a processing method, and developing a cooperative model cold storage facility.
AP is in the process of building several greenhouses and our research affirmed this method would greatly impact the food security of the local people by providing nutrition in the form of vegetables. As such, we recommended five additional 5,000 sqm greenhouses, spreading these throughout various districts in the GBAO region. We were sensitive to the possibility that dehydrated food might not be the most culturally accepted, as local people emphasize fresh produce versus processed food. However, dehydrated products pose an opportunity to provide additional calories for nourishment, capturing produce that is grown in excess and may go to waste as supply currently exceeds demand. Therefore, we suggested starting five 200-kg daily capacity dehydration businesses that would dehydrate carrots, onions, and potatoes to pilot the concept on a smaller scale, with the ability to grow if the concept was successful. Finally, cold storage helps address both nourishment and nutrition by extending the shelf life of food and keeping more food in rural areas where it is grown, rather than selling at lower value to traders from the urban areas of the country. Further, cold storage gives the ability to buy imported produce when it is cheapest in the summer and store it until the months when it is needed most during the winter. We recommended building one cold storage unit in the city of Khorog.
Our tourism recommendations proposed three business ideas: destination dining, wellness retreats, and Airbnb marketing.
First, we recommended starting two destination dining tour operators in Rushon and Panjakent. We proposed this as a way to attract more tourists through packaging experiences that could only be found in Tajikistan. We suggested three destination dining ideas: Tea at the Twin Peaks, U-pick at Lake Sarez, and 7 Stans at the 7 Lakes. Second, we recommended upgrading three hot springs facilities to wellness retreats in Jelondy, Garam-Chasma, and Bibi Fatima as a means to capture additional revenue per tourist. To implement this, we proposed offering spa-like services, addressing common tourist complaints by regulating water temperature and hygiene, as well as offering English interactions. Third, we recommended investing in an Airbnb marketing business based in Dushanbe that would aggregate all lodging and experiences into a single platform. We saw this as a way to both attract additional tourists and generate more revenue per tourist by making it easy for tourists to book lodging and experiences in Tajikistan’s most remote regions. This business would serve as an aggregator for Tajikistan’s homestays, enable charging of higher prices for homestays, as well as help drive Airbnb best practices such as quality photos and preferred amenities.
We also took time to consider how these recommendations could be made green. To do so, we looked to several other NGOs that could serve as examples of best practices. In general within our agriculture recommendations, by growing more food in GBAO the need to import is decreased, which reduces emissions from transportation. With respect to operating a cold storage facility, we suggested ways in which its environmental impact could be mitigated, such as incorporating solar panels to meet their energy demand. There is another method called thermal energy storage in which blocks of ice are frozen at night to help reduce demand during the day, when energy grids are most taxed with load. In the tourism sector, there is opportunity to explore non-traditional trekking ideas that can be combined with environmental action. For example, TrekMunk has implemented such offerings in India, where tourists to the Himalayas pick up trash other tourists have left behind as part of their trekking experience.