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news | November 10, 2017 | Kyrgyzstan | Development

Working with Kyrgyz apple and plum growers: A glimpse into a 'fruitful' project!

Estelle joined the ACTED Kyrgyzstan team as part of the EU Aid Volunteer initiative in October 2017, working on agicultural and rural development projects: she shared some thoughts about a project she contributed to, aimed at supporting apple and plum growers of the Ala-Buka district of Kyrgyzstan.

If you decide to go to Kyrgyzstan on a holiday trip, take the time to get off the beaten track to meet the people who can tell you a story: the story of their fruits.

The Ala-Buka district is located in the Djalal-Abad region, in Eastern Kyrgyzstan, few kilometers away from the border with Uzbekistan. This small district of 90,000 inhabitants has the third highest poverty rate in the region and half of the population doesn’t have an employment.

Small-scale cultivation, poorly structured and with low profit

If you wander in autumn, you may be surprised to notice trees loaded with fruits: these are apple and plum orchards which quality the region is renowned for.

Most of the local economy is based on these crops. Some 10,000 tons of plums are produced each year in the district. Though this is considerable figure for the region, farmers are still largely isolated and produce small quantities of fruits each. Nearly 90% of the plum production is produced in private orchards, next to residential areas. Apples, the second main crop in the region, are cultivated in private gardens as well. This system has several consequences:

  • First, the negotiation power towards potential buyers is weak, as each farmer negotiates directly with the potential buyer;
  • Also, the retail price of raw products is up to 10 times lower than the price of processed products;
  • Moreover, due to the lack of infrastructure, 20% of the plums that could be processed end up being wasted;
  • Finally, the economic surplus generated by fruit processing goes beyond the borders of the region (or even of the country), instead of benefitting the Ala-Buka farmers.

A food network outside of Kyrgyzstan

If you have some time, stop and look at the fruits: imagine their future, the paths they will take…

50% of Ala-Buka plums are sent to Tajikistan to be processed before leaving for Russia to be sold. During these stages, the value of the fruit increases, but without benefitting the local economy.

However, the lack of infrastructure and knowledge hampers farmers’ access to more sustainable solutions. ACTED has thus focused on supporting producers to set up cooperatives in order to unlock the potential of the region.

Empowering Ala-Buka farmers: Working together, produce better

Observe trees more carefully, look at the fruits. Imagine what had to be done in order to grow them…

This EU-funded project was launched two years ago to reduce poverty in the region. To this end, ACTED has worked with communities to increase productivity by 40% through better crop management, and to increase producers’ income.

  • A consortium has been created to bring the voice of each producer to the buyers. Cooperatives are being set up to pool production and equipment.
  • The local government has agreed to grant 300 ha of arable land for apple and plum orchards. Thanks to expert trainings, farmers can now manage their crops more efficiently.
  • Old equipment has been repaired and improved. Thanks to the new dryers, cooperatives are able to produce dried fruits and consequently to add value to their products within the district.

Thanks to this projects, Ala-Buka’s farmers are now joining the food market and is taking its rightful place. By processing the fruit themselves, producers become market players and can go at their own pace and ensure that the quality of their products is respected.

When, lost in your thoughts, you notice a farmer close to a fruit tree, working his land, smile and introduce yourself: if you are lucky, this will end around a table with fruits and tea!