AKIPRESS.COM - The World Bank-supported Agricultural Productivity Assistance Project in the Kyrgyz Republic assisted in establishing agricultural self-help groups of women, the Bank said in a press release.
Hoeing and raking in the fields, the dozen or so women of the Bay-El self-help group are working for their families and for each other. They’ve banded together to rent a couple of hectares of land in the small village of Choko-Dobo. They’re working together to get things done, but their proceeds will go home to their families. Every pepper or tomato they sell this autumn, after cost, is pure profit. And that feels good.
“Rather than sitting at home with no job, we’re part of a bigger activity, we’re together, we’re producing for our kids,” says Kunduz Sherova, a farmer. “This feeling is great, we grow vegetables, we make money, we’ve learned a lot!”
“We could see that people who joined groups earlier, their lives had changed, we saw that and we wanted to follow them,” agrees Davliat Chirakova, another group member.
There are 79 self-help groups like Kunduz Sherova’s in Jalalabad province. Self-help groups start with about US$20-25 worth of high quality seeds seeds and fertilizer per member, and then members take classes in basic agriculture. In the spring, the farmers ready to plant. The value of seeds and fertilizers that farmers receive through the World Bank-supported Agricultural Productivity and Assistance Project is repaid by self-help group members in the fall to allow further on-lending to new group members.
“The farmers now know the science behind crop production, people are confident, and the more investment we make, the better the results, and our vegetables are a high-value crop,” says Guljamal Orozalieva, who helps run the Bay-Ell village seed farm.
It costs each woman about 50 Kyrgyz som a month to be a member of a group; that amounts to less than a dollar. The collected membership fees are used to buy more seeds and fertilizers, or to help women in need of cash.
Kitchen Gardens and Cash Crops
Shaarkan Karagulova used her seeds to start a kitchen garden. Last year, her first year, Shaarkan’s family ate what they wanted and sold the rest for a total of about US$300. She’s annoyed, she says, because she didn’t really know what she was doing that first year; she thinks she sold too low, and this year she plans to make more money.
The women’s pride in their work, and their produce, is clear. “We grow high-value crops like tomatoes,” says farmer Farida Mamytova. “And now I can pay for my daughter’s education—before I wasn’t able to. And another good thing, we have this healthy food on the table.”
With support from the World Bank, the self-help farmers now have access to money for investment in their fields, access to accurate weather information, and basic training on planting techniques and pest management. And local organizers are quick to point out that the system seems to be working.
"All the members of the group needed was the help to get started. It was important for us having donors help with the seeds and training. And we know we can’t rely on donors forever, but now we can do this alone, we can sustain this," Kanymbubu Orumbaeva, seed fund coordinator, said.
In the winter, when the fields lie fallow, the women of this self-group maintain their entrepreneurial spirit, getting together to catch up socially while at the same time sewing pillow covers and bedspreads to sell at market. The work, and the success and money it brings are clearly important, but so are the shared sense of mission and camaraderie of hard work with colleagues.
To watch a video of Kyrgyz women working together to grow vegetables and profits, click here.