Women in Kyrgyzstan are sowing the seeds of change thanks to a UN World Food Program (WFP) food-for-assets initiative. Since 2010, this program has provided food assistance, supplemental income, high yield seeds, and agricultural and marketing training to over 7,000 women in an effort to foster financial and nutritional security amongst Kyrgyzstan’s rural poor. Until now, the program focused on providing women-headed households with an income and the local community with food. Now, these women are cultivating high value organic herbs for Europe’s voracious market.
This program fulfills a vital need for a robust agricultural industry in Kyrgyzstan where more than 65 percent of the workforce in Kyrgyzstan is employed in agriculture and three-quarters of the country’s poor live in rural areas. Many of these farmers have struggled to grow their operations beyond subsistence farming due to poor access to markets; poor land management practices that have led to the deterioration of land and other natural resources; and insufficient training in successful agricultural practices.
WFP’s initiative has addressed many of these issues so that its participants are now able to look beyond their local markets for income. Many of these women have organized into regional self-help groups in which they support each other as they expand their businesses to include international sales. This expansion will provide participants with an opportunity to increase their income and put their marketing and management skills to the test. They are growing a variety of high value and high quality herbs; notably, they are promoting valerian, a “no waste” herb that can be used in its totality.
Additionally, with support from WFP, the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), and the Agency of Development Initiatives (ADI), these women will be able to receive organic farming certification and expand their product lines to include, for example, organic herbal teas. The ADI believes that organic certification will help Kyrgyzstan’s “green” industry grow, thus creating jobs, reaching new markets, and alleviating the effects of poverty in rural regions.