Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has urged farmers in the predominately Muslim country not to fast during the holy month of Ramadan so they can stay healthy and work the fields.
The Central Asian nation claims not to have any coronavirus infections, but Rahmon said on April 23 that fasting makes people "vulnerable to infection from infectious diseases."
"Although this disease is not registered in our country, this does not mean that we should be careless and sit idle," Rahmon wrote on the eve of the Islamic holy month.
Despite claiming to have no COVID-19 cases, Tajikistan has closed its borders and taken other steps including closing mosques to keep the virus from spreading.
Citing Tajikistan's pro-government religious authorities, Rahmon asserted fasting harms "farmers, livestock breeders, and those who work hard.”
"I urge everyone working in the fields...in the name of their health and that of their families, ensuring their households' welfare, to use this dispensation and delay the fast until a more favorable time," Rahmon said.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom identifies Tajikistan as a "country of particular concern" for restrictions and crackdowns on religion.
“The government of Tajikistan seeks to meticulously control Muslim religious practice, regulating even small details of who may express religious belief, at what age, when, where, and how,” it said in its 2019 report on religious freedom.
The Ramadan message focusing on food security comes as the former Soviet republic has asked international donors for emergency aid to help the country deal with the economic impact of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Tajikistan is likely to suffer foreign currency problems to pay for imports -- including some food items -- as remittances from migrant laborers in Russia slump due to the pandemic. Kazakhstan has also enforced quotas on wheat exports.
Around 65 percent of the Tajik workforce is involved in agriculture.