Published on Eurasian Perspectives

Why Tajikistan must strengthen the resilience of its forests and restore its landscapes

Mountainous landscape in Tajikistan. Mountainous landscape in Tajikistan.

On my first visit to Tajikistan what struck me most were stories from local people about forests that covered their lands before the 1990s.  Their voices conveyed a mix of both pride and loss.

These days, trees and agricultural land in Tajikistan remain scarce. Once with 25% forest cover, Tajikistan now has just 3% due to overexploitation and uncontrolled grazing. Uplands and mountains occupy almost 90% of the country. And while two thirds of the population is rural, only 6% of the land is arable–much of which is affected by erosion.

The Costs of Inaction

Most people I met in Tajikistan were the beneficiaries of the Word Bank-supported Environmental Land Management and Rural Livelihoods Project (ELMARL), which was successfully completed in 2018. It helped restore 44,235 hectares of land and provided support to 323,393 farmers in adopting sustainable land, pasture, and water management practices.

Despite the success of projects like ELMARL, land degradation continues to be a pressing problem in Tajikistan and the rest of the region. And it has serious costs: up to 10% of Tajikistan’s GDP and 6% of Central Asian GDP overall. Healthy forests are critical for biodiversity conservation, rural livelihoods, and ecosystem services. They provide rural people with wood fuel for cooking and heating, livestock grazing, and non-timber forest products such as fruits, nuts, and medicinal plants. They also play a critical role in combating land degradation and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Moreover, disasters related to land degradation have affected the lives of more than 10 million people across Central Asia and caused damages worth roughly $2.5 billion over the past three decades. In fact, just one month after my visit in 2016, the only bridge in Jirgatol district that connected the village to the main road and neighboring communities was washed away by a mudflow.

Inaction is simply not an option. Doing nothing is estimated to cost six times more than the cost of landscape restoration interventions.

Progress through Partnerships

Tajikistan has taken important steps in the right direction. The country made ambitious commitments in 2018 under the Bonn Challenge to restore 66,000 hectares of degraded forests by 2030 and under the Astana Resolution on Forest Landscape Restoration in the Caucasus and Central Asia to strengthen cooperation in landscape restoration across the entire region. Inspired by ELMARL, and to meet these commitments, the Government of Tajikistan also requested further support from the World Bank and other partners to replicate and scale up landscape restoration efforts to other parts of the country.

The ambitious goals in landscape restoration declared by Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries in 2018 and Tajikistan’s progress created the impetus for the World Bank to launch Regional Resilient Landscape Program for Central Asia (RESILAND CA+). With financial support from the International Development Association (IDA), Regional IDA, Global Environment Facility (GEF), PROGREEN, Central Asia Water and Energy Program (CAWEP), and other trust funds, RESILAND CA+ is now becoming a reality.

RESILAND CA+ is an umbrella program that will include national projects in Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to help these Central Asian countries restore landscapes through investments and technical knowledge and expertise. In addition to supporting national projects, it will also enhance regional dialogue and collaboration on landscape management regionwide. Supporting communities, youth, and women along border areas to build a vibrant economy based on forest and natural resources, RESILAND CA+ also aims to contribute to increased climate resilience of people, ecosystems, and infrastructure.

This February, the World Bank approved the first project under RESILAND CA+ and $45 million in grant financing for the Tajikistan Resilient Landscape Restoration Project (RESILAND Tajikistan).

Landscapes and people’s livelihoods are closely interlinked, so attempting to improve one while ignoring the other does not produce optimal results. That is why RESILAND Tajikistan takes an integrated approach to sustainable land management to address common challenges across multiple land uses. The project will help restore degraded forests, pastures, and cropland, and improve their management through planning and investments in government institutions and communities.

The project will support the planting of trees and orchards and will help establish plantations for fuel wood and nurseries for seedlings. It will also rehabilitate degraded natural habitats in protected areas as well as pastures, providing access to remote pastures and new crop varieties and technologies.

Forests, landscapes, and ecosystems span across international borders and, therefore, their restoration and conservation require regional collaboration. With this aim, RESILAND Tajikistan supports collaboration of Tajikistan with Central Asian countries for improved transboundary landscape management. This will contribute to establishing protected areas to preserve biodiversity across Central Asia transboundary corridors and to strengthen resilience of critical regional infrastructure.

Forests are not only key to prosperity but also play a vital role in combating climate change. Making landscapes resilient to climate change requires long-term commitment and sustained efforts on the part of the government and other stakeholders. The project has therefore sought to bolster policy frameworks and institutional capacity for sustainable landscape restoration outcomes. The project will further strengthen the government’s strategies by engaging local communities in pasture management through pasture user unions and in forest management through forest user groups.

On the International Day of Forests, I want to recognize the efforts of Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries to restore forests and enhance regional cooperation on forest landscape restoration. We must continue to work together to make further progress for the people of Tajikistan, the region, and the planet.


Drita Dade

Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist

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