In a large room decorated with maps of Tajikistan, nearly 15 people gather for a day of training. These are Tajiks. They are agronomists. They speak Russian, and they are all men, except for two. This is their story.

In this part of the world, a government is built on secular principles, yet the influence of the Muslim world is everywhere. There are grand Mosques, and some that are not so grand in terms of ornateness and size. Tajiks endure Ramadan and then celebrate with Eide. In fact, I was here during these religious periods.

Yet women here are, to a small degree, becoming something we might recognize as “Western.” In fact, the women working here in the European Commission (EC) non-government organization (NGO) dress like women in any American city. And in my visits to villages and small towns, women, especially the young women, dress this way, too. Let me be clear, though, that the large majority of women here cover their hair, wear shawls and long dresses and submit a sublime persona. Let me introduce two female agronomists I met in Tajikistan.

Nabieva Matluba is my age; in fact, we turn 55 this month. She is a graduate of the Cuban Agricultural Institute in Krasnodar, Russia. She attended the four-year program from 1970 to 1975. After graduation, she was employed as a chairman of Cooperative in the Kanibadam District in NE Tajikistan. Concurrently she became the agronomist for the Ravot State Farm (large collective farm in the USSR days) and then later chief agronomist for that farm. She furthered her education by obtaining training as an economist and then left the farm to work for the Agricultural Government in the Kanibadam District. Just one year ago, the European Commission directed the NGO Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) to hire her as an agro-consultant for the Advisory Information Network (AIN) in the Puloton Jamoat (city) of the Kanibadam District.

She has remained in this district for her entire career. As an extension-like employee for the EC, she serves the traditional role of technology transfer and, to some degree, researcher. I visited her test plots (vegetable and fruit production) on alluvial flood plain soils, relatively high in soil organic matter (4 to 6 percent). She had just completed another farm demonstration field day with neighboring farmers visiting her two-hectare farm (five acres).


The second woman is 30 years younger. At 25 years old, Akhmedova Muzayyama has just graduated from the Tajikistan Agricultural Institute in the capital city of Dushanbe. I visited this university-like campus, but school was not in session because cotton harvest was underway and students are working in the fields. Akhmedova spent five years at this institute, graduating with a degree in agronomy.

Within months of graduation, Akhmedova was hired as an agronomist with ACTED. Thus, she carries the title of agro-consultant of AIN for the Khonobod Jamoat of the Isfara District. However, she has applied and was accepted into a program in Germany. She will be completing her Agronomy Master’s Degree in Berlin. She will receive a full-ride sponsored by the university and to some extent the federal government of Tajikistan. She told me (through a translator) that her only requirement is learning conversational German. She has six months to obtain this skill, so she will take a leave of absence from ACTED, go to Dushanbe and immerse herself in the German language. She expects to complete her degree in just over two years. Her agronomist position with ACTED will be here for her when she returns.

What wonderful stories I found here ... a woman who has lived her entire life in Tajikistan and worked largely in the country’s male-driven technical field of agronomy and a young woman with a ticket to Europe for studying. Nabieva told me how happy she was for her younger colleague … that Akhmedova will see, experience and be shaped by another culture, another set of rules, another way of life. Nabieva says this is the way of the future.

I am writing a letter of recommendation for Akhmedova. The letter supports her entry into a Berlin university. The letter does more. It helps her understand that once written, she must follow though with her plan. She must learn German. And she must study hard in Berlin.

She will be coming back to the Khonobod Jamoat of the Isfara District. She will help her farmers move into a better way of life. She will bring new ideas. She will challenge those who have never been far from home, and she will become a valuable agronomist.

So we have two women: One at the last stages of a career (Nabieva will retire in five years.) and one at the beginning (Akhmedova will have 30 years of work ahead of her.).

Yet on this day they sat in my class, with another dozen men, and we held school. I noted to myself that Nabieva spoke a dozen words for every one spoken by Akhmedova.

But in the not-too-distant future, this young woman’s time will come. She will contribute to Tajikistan’s movement of agricultural reform. Perhaps someday I will meet with her again, and we can talk about crops and soils. Or we may fondly remember a day in Khujand when we drank tea during a break and spoke of dreams through an interpreter.

Her dream will soon be real. PD