Alan Duncan became the first UK Government Minister to visit Tajikistan this week - a country that he believes could be a development success story for the region.
The Minister of State went on a field visit to the Central Asian republic to see trade and development projects in action during the country’s 20th anniversary.
The field trip, which concluded today, started with a visit to the food import distributor and manufacturer company Tajero to get the views of the private sector on the prospects for doing business in Tajikistan. He also saw Britain’s support in improving corporate governance and management at the company.
In the southern Khatlon region of the country, Mr Duncan went to see projects on the Afghanistan border, meeting women entrepreneurs engaged in cross-border trade and a UK-supported cotton production centre.
During the visit Mr Duncan also met the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon with whom he raised concerns about the recent conviction of a local BBC journalist, although he welcomed his release under amnesty.
Tajikistan is a developing country. Less than half the population, 47%, now live below the poverty line compared to 83% in 1999. The country also has the worst child malnutrition rates in Central Asia. DFID has confirmed that following the reviews in 2010, it will maintain an aid programme in the region.
The programme will focus on promoting agriculture-led growth and trade, especially in poor, rural areas and boosting the agri-business sector.
Minister for International Development Alan Duncan said:
Tajikistan is rightly enjoying its 20th anniversary celebrations. The legacy of the Soviet era has left many problems, however. Child malnutrition rates are still high; it is a drug trafficking route from Afghanistan; and many men still leave the country in search of jobs, leaving women to work the land in harsh, often exploitative, conditions.
I was concerned to hear that the BBC’s Urunboy Usmonov was convicted for connections with the proscribed group Hizb ut-Tahir. I’m glad that amnesty was offered and he walked free. The BBC and Mr Usmonov still protest his innocence, however, and I have raised issues about the trial. A free media is the cornerstone of a modern democratic state. There are a worrying number of cases being brought against journalists in Tajikistan.
The future could be bright for Tajikistan. There are decision makers here we can work with. If they can attract international investors to their agricultural businesses, and encourage a better environment for entrepreneurs, Tajikistan could be a Central Asian success story.
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- Tajikistan became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991
- Annual Gross National Income is £500 per capita
- The population has increased 40% to 7.6m since independence, with half now under 21 years old
- The country is slightly larger than England, although 93% is mountainous