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news | January 15, 2018 | Kyrgyzstan | Development

A journey through Batken’s agricultural roots

Rice fields along the road to Ak-Suu © ACTED Kyrgyzstan, 2017

Welcome to Leylek, a remote and vulnerable district of the Batken region, in southern Kyrgyzstan, near the Tajik border.

When driving through the Leylek district, one can observe the arid landscapes and the river beds drained by the warm summer and a rainless autumn. Sometimes one can also see horses or donkeys grazing in the sun-dried meadows within rice fields, apple orchards and recent wheat and potato harvests. This is what Leylek is renowned for.

Since 2015, ACTED and the Rural Advisory Services of the Batken region (RAS-Batken), with funding from the European Union, have been implementing a project to support civil society mechanisms for inclusive and sustainable growth in Leylek, through boosting the social and economic growth in the region. This includes an agricultural component, by providing trainings to local farmers and entrepreneurs, as agriculture remains the most important sector of employment for the local residents.

There in Leylek, near the southern border of the country, people often say: "Kyrgyzstan doesn't end here: it begins here". Leylek people tell their stories – like a journey through an age-old history of agriculture, from rice to fruits and vegetables, deep in the country of Alay mountains.

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The car stops in Chonchy village, a small village with only some hundred families. There, we meet Gaiypov, a local farmer. He happily guides us through his greenhouse, which he built after receiving a grant for this purpose. Garlic, tomatoes, cucumber, radish and greens will sprout very soon. “It is 100% organic. I don’t use any fertilizer or pesticides. Only compost.”

The construction of the greenhouse represented a big investment for Gaiypov, but was worth it, as it will enable him to keep on selling vegetables even in the winter. He already installed the necessary heating system. Now the next step will be to build an irrigation system.

Have you ever tried a dish called plov, one of the most popular Kyrgyz dishes, made of rice, vegetables and meat?

Back inside the house, Gaiypov explains that he started to attend trainings on rice production provided within the project, alongside with other 600 farmers. He explains what changed when he started to use the new varieties of seeds that he received within the project: this year, he harvested 1700kg/km2 against 1300 in previous years. After removing the leaf sheath, 1 ton of the new rice variety gives 700kg of pure rice against 600kg with the variety he used to grow before. Additionally, this new variety absorbs more water when cooked - “so we have more food in our plates!” he says with a smile.

We ended up stopping on our way towards our next destination to have a delicious plov, prepared with the new variety of rice.

Later on, in Sumbula village, we approach a group of farmers conversing in the village. Seven of them took part in a training to improve potato production, provided within the ACTED project, and started using a new variety of seeds which gives three times more potatoes than the variety they used to grow before. These potatoes are larger, softer and taste better. Better quality means also higher benefits on the markets. A part of their harvest is kept for family consumption or to be sold within the village, however most of the production is sold in Bishkek. Merchants often come from the capital to buy potatoes in the region, and local farmers now hope to be able to negotiate better prices when selling their products.

For Nurgazy, an apple farmer from Sary-Dobo village, efforts begin to bear their fruits. Nurgazy applied for a grant to build an apple storage facility and further invested a high amount of money to reach his goal. He now has no doubt it was worth it: he owns the only apple storage facility in his village, which he uses to store his own production, beyond renting it to other farmers. This all enabled him to increase his revenue.

Of course, we couldn’t have left Sary-Dobo village without trying one of Nurgazy’s juicy apples – a genuine taste of Leylek district.

>> Watch the video for more info <<