By Asker Sultanov
OSH AND NARYN PROVINCES -- The US Agency for International Development (USAID) Agro Horizon Project is helping women in remote areas in Kyrgyzstan grow vegetables to help diversify their diets, produce nutritious food and increase family income.
The four-year programme began in October 2014 and has leveraged more than $22.4 million (1.5 billion KGS) in private sector investment capital to increase the production and sales of fresh and processed agricultural products.
The project is being implemented in Osh, Jalalabad, Batken, Naryn provinces.
"Since project inception, with the objective of improving productivity of smallholder farmers of maize, potatoes, apricots, onions and berries, nearly 44,000 rural households benefited directly from training and technical assistance," USAID reported in March.
More than 42,000 households are expected to benefit from these partnerships and 792 full-time jobs are expected to be created, according to USAID.
In Naryn and Osh provinces, the programme has focused on helping female farmers build greenhouses, USAID's Director of Economic Growth Programmes for Kyrgyzstan Luis Hernandez told Caravanserai.
Sixteen farmers from Naryn and Osh provinces, eight women from each province, signed memorandums of understanding with the project in March to jointly build the greenhouses, as part of an effort to increase female entrepreneurship, he said.
The cost of each greenhouse amounted to $7,000 (487,195 KGS), according to Hernandez.
USAID allocated a grant to the women farmers to cover 78% of the cost of building the greenhouses, including construction materials, technical assistance and marketing support, he said. The farmers paid the remainder of the expenses to finance the production of vegetables in the finished greenhouses.
According to Hernandez, the project focuses specifically on building greenhouses because the season for growing vegetables outdoors in Kyrgyzstan's mountainous regions is short and limits the types of crops farmers can produce.
"Hothouse production is the best solution to extend the growing season and increase the availability of fresh vegetables" and to increase farmers' incomes, Hernandez said.
"That is why the farmers are extremely interested in them," he said. "As exemplified by these women, the project showcased cutting-edge technology to farmers and demonstrated that greenhouse farming is profitable."
Hernandez said the women who were selected to participate in the greenhouse project had demonstrated good results during a separate project in 2016, in which 1,600 households in remote mountainous areas strengthened their technical farming skills.
"We selected farmers based on their entrepreneurial qualities, meaning farmers that had shown serious interest, earned the necessary experience, and were ready to put in their fair share to build the [greenhouses] and produce the vegetables," he said.
The farmers successfully completed all of the construction work by the end of July and began producing vegetables in August. USAID is now providing technical support and helping farmers find alternative markets, said Hernandez.
Aychurok Ryskulova, a resident of Pervomayskoe village in the Alay region, said she had never grown anything in a greenhouse until she participated in the project.
"Thanks to the greenhouse, my crop yield and income increased beyond belief, and we harvested more than 1,500 tonnes of tomatoes," she told Caravanserai. "My children also work in the greenhouse -- my son and daughter are actively involved in it."
Ryskulova said her family income has increased significantly as previously they grew tomatoes only in the garden and earned only a few thousand KGS during the short growing season.
Now the family earns 42,000 KGS ($605) monthly from the greenhouse crops, she said.
Since September, women farmers in Naryn Province have harvested more than 7,000kg of cucumbers and sold them at the local market, leading to a total sales revenues of $5,800 (397,300 KGS), Hernandez said.
"Thanks to this project, my family now has a greenhouse where we grow cucumbers," Gulnura Soltobayeva, a resident of Kulanak village, Naryn Province, told Caravanserai.
"We now have an additional source of significant income," she said. "I hope that the greenhouse fares well, provides a great harvest -- and income -- and I will put in every possible effort so that it does."