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International Women's Day 2007 - Sweet success: How Tajik women are turning honey into economic development

If honey can cure disease, reduce fever, improve the intellect and make cows give more milk, why not promote local development and female empowerment? That's just what is happening in remote Tajikistan, where honey has become a powerful new development tool. Olga Bogdanova of the ILO's Moscow office reports how honey has sweetened the prospects for local development, and in the process, empowered many of the local women and migrants.

Article | 02 March 2007

TAVILDARA, Tajikistan (ILO Online) - Bozorgul, a 43-year-old widow with five children, lives in the Tavildara district of Tajikistan at the foot of the Pamirs, a fascinating and beautiful mountain range also known as the "roof of the world".

But this place is not always paradise for its people. Since her husband was killed in the civil war, Bozorgul and her children live with her brother's family. Five years ago, her brother, the only bread-winner in the family, went to work in Russia. "At first, he sent home some money, but we have not heard from him for a long time and do not even know if he is still alive", Bozorgul says.

Her story is quite typical for today's Tajikistan where approximately 1 million, mostly men, out of its 7 million population work permanently or temporarily outside the country.

In regions like Tavildara with mass labour migration the need to work and earn a livelihood puts enormous pressure on women, particularly when their husbands or other male relatives working abroad are not able to send money home.

As traditional Tajik society is not yet ready to acknowledge women as property owners in the Pamirs, women face an uphill struggle even though the number of unemployed men is increasing and many of them are becoming labour migrants. They face enormous difficulties when they want to buy land, agricultural equipment, and means of transportation as they usually lack cash and have little or no access to credit.

But there are already many encouraging examples of Tajik women who overcame these difficulties and developed effective strategies for survival. In rural areas, women more and more often try to acquire land and set up farms.

"In Tavildara, everyone knew about the first two women who had received training at the local employment service and became successful farmers", explains Bozorgul.

The 'honey project'

Bozorgul, who had to do something to feed her children, promised herself that next time she would not miss her chance. So when an apiculture support center was established in Tavildara district, she was the first to apply for training.

The center was created with the full support of the local khukumat (administration) under an ILO Finland-funded project aimed at minimizing the social implications of labour migration for migrants' families through local economic development and job creation. The center provides basic and advanced training for beekeepers using the ILO's Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) and Work Improvement for Neighbourhood Development (WIND) programmes. It has a store that sells all the necessary equipment to beekeepers at reasonable prices; a carpenter's shop for the production and repair of bee-hives; and a sanitary service to protect the health of the bees.

When asked why Tavildara district and apiculture were chosen for the program, the project coordinator, Jamshed Kuddusov, says that it was a well-considered decision of the Tajik government as well as the trade unions and employers in the country.

"The decision was based on the results of a preliminary assessment of how labor migration affects migrants' families", he says. "Following a proposal of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Tavildara has been chosen by the partners as a pilot district because almost every household here has at least one migrant family member. And there is no industry in the region...".

According to Kuddusov, apiculture is a traditional and profitable type of activity: "Tavildara honey, delicious and pure, is famous throughout Tajikistan. It was also taken into account that apiculture was a type of economic activity easily accessible to women and men. What's more, natural and climatic conditions of the district are favorable to apiculture", he says.

The main target group of the ILO project are women - women-headed migrant households and women who lost contact with their husbands working as migrants abroad. It is also foreseen to find project partners to provide microcredit to women entrepreneurs.

"The 'honey project', as we informally call it, is unique in a sense. It combines good practices of local economic development, SIYB, WIND and other ILO programmes in an innovative process of promoting decent work and economic development for migrant families", says Werner Konrad Blenk, ILO Subregional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. "It also serves as a showcase for developing relevant strategies for social inclusion of women and migrant families."

For Bozorgul, the bee-keeping training was the decisive first step in fulfilling her dream - to start a family bee-garden. She has already asked her 15-year-old son to join the next training session at the apiculture support center.