Originally published on the World Bank website.
“Gardening is our pride,” says Gulzat Saibiddinova, a mother of three in the small Kyrgyz village of Alga. After her husband Altynbek lost his seasonal job in Moscow—one of the many casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic—their 0.05-hectare plot of land has become the only source of income for the family.
Gulzat is a farmer and one of 9,937 women participating in self-help groups across 60 aiyl aimaks (rural municipalities) who are enjoying higher yields on their crops, a more diverse diet for their families, and some extra income from selling surplus vegetables at the local market—all possible thanks to the Agricultural Productivity and Nutrition Improvement Project.
Financed by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) and administered by the World Bank, the $38 million project aims to increase the agricultural productivity and food and nutrition security of rural households in areas around the country that were selected based on the poverty, health, and nutrition status of the people living there.
The project is being implemented by the State Water Resources Agency, under the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Regional Development of the Kyrgyz Republic.
Helping People Put More—and Better—Food on the Table
To improve the quality of year-round nutrition and local diets through increased home garden yields, the project provides farmers with the necessary training and advice. The latter includes assessing the status of seeds, crops, and soil fertility, as well as current agronomic practices, to customize the training.
A crucial element is the formation of self-help groups, consisting of up to 10 members who then work together for better results.
“Our vegetables taste differently: they are richer and more delicious,” says Raya Kasymalieva, self-help group leader in Almaluu Village, Chui region. “We harvest 1.5–2 times more than before. Our neighbors seek advice from us on organic fertilizers, seeds, and seedlings.”
Self-help groups typically harvest 1.5–4 times the yields achieved by their non-participating neighbors, generating around 30 percent in surplus that is then sold at the local markets. Raya has managed to increase her income by nearly three times.
Self-help groups receive high-quality certified seeds, coupled with a season-long training program and support from a contracted local nongovernmental organization. The State Water Resources Agency also ensures that the State Seed Inspectorate tests sample seeds for quality and germination before delivery.
Successful self-help groups in their second year of operation are eligible to receive basic tools and materials to improve household crop production, such as food drying equipment, moto-cultivators, sprayers, and small greenhouses.
In 2019, the project provided a greenhouse to Raya’s self-help group, thus extending the growing season. This enabled Raya and her group to enjoy fresh greens almost year-round and tomatoes and cucumbers until late autumn. They also exchanged the fresh greens for a dehydrator owned by another self-help group to dry fruits and vegetables for the winter.
Improving People’s Lives One Drop At a Time
In the Djalal-Abad region, Rabykan Syunova and her self-help group introduced a new way to water gardens in their mountainous village of Turpak Korgon, where all irrigation used to go to rice crops. After the project training, Rabykan’s group realized that drip irrigation could be a good solution. The project provided a small reservoir and a drip irrigation system.
“Water is precious for us and we value every drop. With every drop, the quality of life in our families is improving,” says Rabykan-ezhe.
A Special Meaning in the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a hard blow to Kyrgyz families across the country, as some 40,000 people lost their jobs, including many migrant workers. And many people have slipped into poverty.
Home gardening has been crucial to enhancing household food security during the pandemic, either through direct consumption or increased household income. The project has thus become particularly important as it empowers rural communities to improve nutrition at home and make their food systems more resilient.
In the autumn, the project organizes Field Days to showcase the results of training and allow participants to share their experiences. This has been adjusted to the new COVID-19 reality, with video tutorials, the use of messengers and social media channels, and online consultations for self-help groups.
“Knowledge is the most important benefit from the project,” says Fatima Akunova, a mother of four in Tash Bashat village in the Talas region. “We learned that together, we can save funds from the sale of the first harvest and use these funds to buy quality seeds in the following year. We learned how to improve soil fertility, which fertilizers to apply, and which organic fertilizers we can prepare ourselves.”
Although dried fruit can provide essential vitamins during winter, I used to fear that drying food would attract bugs and worms. Now I learned the rules and share my knowledge with all my relatives, neighbors, and friends.
Improving Nutrition in a Holistic Way
The project also supports nutrition campaigns, including on exclusive breastfeeding and adequate complementary feeding. Information is provided on food preparation and preservation to increase the nutritional value of food consumed and ensure food safety. To date, this nutrition education program has reached more than 322,000 people.
“The impact of this cross-sectoral project on the ground has been substantial. Project interventions, ranging from irrigation rehabilitation and agriculture extension services to the provision of seeds and promotion of nutritious diets, ultimately lead to increased yields, higher income, and richer nutrition, especially for vulnerable families and for women whom the project actively targets,” says Talaibek Koshmatov, World Bank Senior Agriculture Specialist and Task Team Leader of the Agricultural Productivity and Nutrition Improvement Project.
The project supports three other components that are inter-connected and contribute to enhanced food security in the Kyrgyz Republic: the modernization of irrigation infrastructure to improve and sustain access to irrigation water, agricultural advisory services to 30 participating water user associations to upgrade farm practices and technologies, and project management.