Tajikistan overhauls its whole planning process with the‘triple bottom line'

In the Gonchi district in the Sughd region of northern Tajikistan a group of women tend to batches of crops in a solar greenhouse. In spite of the cold weather, the crops are doing well and will continue to flourish throughout the winter months. The produce, which includes tomatoes and cucumbers, not only provides a vital source of food for the women’s families but the surplus can be sold to other villages in the district. Over a six month period, each greenhouse can generate up to US$3600, an essential income source for them and their families. Over the last year the new women cooperatives have learnt how to tend crops, make organic compost and run the greenhouses as successful microenterprises.

The solar greenhouses are just a tiny glimpse of the change that is happening across Tajikistan as the government has started to rewire its planning processes from top to bottom. Revised development plans, new indicators and practical guidelines are helping to drive investment towards new green enterprises in some of the poorest communities, proving that the triple bottom line approach of ‘people, planet, profit’ can jumpstart progress.

In Tajikistan, known to some as the ‘land of rugged mountains’, productive soil is a precious asset. Agriculture provides the backbone of the economy and supports the livelihoods of two thirds of rural communities. Yet the steep terrain that characterizes the country means that only 7 per cent of land in Tajikistan is suitable for farming. As pressure on available land has mounted so too have unsustainable agricultural practices, leading to depleted soils, deforestation and waning productivity. The challenges have been further exacerbated by climate change.

While Tajikistan’s national development plans (National Development Strategy and Poverty Reduction Strategies) describe the need for environmental sustainability, the country has struggled to convert their objectives into meaningful progress on the ground. Manuchehr Rakhmonov, an economic advisor to the government working for UNDP, explains how ‘national budgets as well as local budgets suffer a lack of resources and are mainly oriented to satisfy social needs, so it is a challenge for planners to allocate funds for introducing and supporting good environmental initiatives’.

Since 2010 the government of Tajikistan has been working with the Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) to tackle the duel challenge of environmental protection and poverty alleviation. In view of limited budgets, the government was keen to demonstrate to communities and fellow policy-makers that investing in the environment could support their longer-term objectives to help the poorest communities. By working in partnership with the Ministry of Trade and Economy (MEDT) as part of the UNDP cross-thematic Communities Programme, the initiative has been working at all levels of government to show that a poverty environment approach is one that can spur enterprise and support new livelihoods as well as restore ecosystems.

Building on existing machinery

Having assessed the entire planning process, from the national down to the local or ‘jamoat’ level to find the pressure points for transforming the policy cycle, the government discovered that one of the key bottlenecks was at the sub-national level. In some cases, the plans barely acknowledged environmental issues, while district and regional authorities lacked the training or the capacity to assess the state of their natural resources. The Sughd region in the north of Tajikistan generates 40 per cent of the industrial and 30 per cent of the agricultural production of the entire country. As an engine of growth for the country, it has been the focus of much investment both from the government and from international donors.

In line with PEI’s strategy of working with existing institutional arrangements, the initiative partnered with the multi-donor Regional Growth Programme (RGP), implemented in 14 districts and 65 jamoats of the Sughd Region, to rework its development plans. Henrieta Martonakova, regional programme focal point for PEI, describes the importance of building on a programme that was already underway, ‘By working with established mechanisms, rather than designing new machinery, we were able to build on the work already underway and the relationships with key stakeholders’.

On the back of PEI’s interventions, for the first time, representatives from the country’s environmental department (Committee for Environmental Protection) were given a place at the table to develop the regional development plans. Working closely with community leaders and government representatives, the initiative developed guidelines to help district planning officers integrate poverty-environment issues into their development planning process.

As a result of the work, the Sughd regional development plan and all fourteen district plans describe poverty-environment issues. Planners around the country can now learn from the experiences in the Sughd region via a handbook that details in practical terms how to bring poverty-environment into the planning process. The national statistics agency has also now incorporated the indicators developed at the regional level into its database in order to track and monitor the new objectives.

Redirecting investment flows

Zufira Pulatova, the former National Project Manager for PEI, describes how overhauling the planning process at the subnational and district level required proof of how the approach could bring benefits; ‘Initially, local government representatives and communities saw us as environmentalists. They were not convinced that the approach would bring economic benefits.

We needed to have evidence and to show in practical examples that the approach could work’. The PEI discovered that key financial flows into the Sughd region were not informed by environmental or social criteria. The international donor led Trust Fund mechanism was aimed at job creation and income generation; while local micro-finance lenders, who provide an important source of investment for communities, were offering loans on the basis of a single criterion; return on investment.

Dilafruz Mavlyanova, an economic advisor with UNDP working with the RGP, describes how on the one occasion when one local micro-finance institution had offered a ‘green’ loan in 2009, there had been no interest from local communities because they too were unconvinced that such enterprises could make a profit.

Working with PEI, local authorities set out to explore the kinds of business initiatives could bring profits as well as improve lives and ecosystems over a long term period. Local communities were supported in identifying ‘green’ products and services, which were then evaluated by representatives from the environmental department. The process of working alongside communities proved an important means of engaging and building the capacity of local people to understand the environmental impact of different business ideas.

Today over 65 enterprises are supported by the regional trust fund mechanism that answer both environmental and poverty reduction criteria. There are also numerous other projects ranging from irrigation wells and organic composting systems to waste disposal units encouraging recycling. Similar to those in the Gonchi district, there are now 10 cooperatives in action supporting jobs for 30 women as well as an alternative - and in some cases only- family income throughout the cold winters. For the first time, women are taking an active role in local economic activity rather than having to rely on unreliable remittances from abroad.

Transforming the national approach

The success of the new approach at the sub-national level has proved an important evidence base for national policy makers.

Zufira Pulatova describes how ‘Now that we have shown in practical terms the impact at the regional level, the Ministry of Finance has been convinced by the approach’.

Working closely with the government, PEI has helped to develop the next national mid-term strategy for the country. Martin Smutny, a technical advisor for PEI, emphasised how the process brought together a team of government departments, NGOs and business partners to review the plan in detail.

The national strategy has yet to be finalised but it is likely that some of the key areas, such as energy and water resources, will be revised with a new poverty-environment focus, which ultimately will help to reallocate budgets towards more sustainable development.

Smutny comments that the progress at the national level is very encouraging but that to ensure the biggest impact, the intervention needs to start at the beginning of the review process, and that ‘Impact doesn’t hinge on analysis. Government agencies ranging from energy, transport, and agriculture all have different priorities, so it is important to allow them as much time as possible to understand the implications of the nexus to their priority’.

Many stakeholders also stress that the lack of cooperation between ministries in Tajikistan continues to prove a considerable obstacle. Prior to the PEI’s work in Tajikistan the Environmental Protection Authority and the Ministry for Economic Planning had rarely met. Now that relationships have been forged between the different Ministries, it is critical that the work continues into implementation and the development of sector plans.

Conclusions

The government of Tajikistan is overhauling all aspects of the development process, from the plans on the table, through to the investment flows and the monitoring arrangements. While there is still a long way to go, the method is already proving that a triple bottom line can deliver tangible results. For the women’s groups in Gonchi and communities around the country the new approach is providing them with a more stable and independent future.