In Kyrgyzstan, farmers organize to overcome poverty

local veterinary
Myrzabek Tynybekov, head of the veterinary service, provides a range of the most needed medicines for livestock farming in Kyrgyzstan’s Suusamyr Valley. Credit: Jyldyz Kuvatova / UNDP.

In summers past, all farmers in Kyrgyzstan’s Suusamyr Valley would take their livestock to pasture, leaving their villages virtually unattended. As a consequence, critical jobs such as taking produce to market and preparing for winter were neglected.


  • A project in Kyrgyzstan has helped 126 farmers’ organizations manage their pasture and grazing to improve their livelihoods.
  • The project helped build 56 culverts to channel water under roads, and opened access to 80,000 hectares of pastureland through new roads and bridges.
  • A fund has helped ensure quality seeds are available for barley and herbs, with some harvests tripling.

This changed when local inhabitants were encouraged to make better use of jamaats, traditional community-based associations of 8 to 10 families. Now one or two families for each jamaat take the livestock to pasture in the mountains while others take care of work in the village.

This improved division of labour was spurred by UNDP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Since 2009, they have been working in the Suusamyr Valley to improve pasture management for more than 3,000 people and bolster livelihoods by reinvigorating traditional associations.

Overcoming local skepticism

"When the project started, we were not sure whether it would do any good," said Murat Jumataev, head of a local council. "We expected cash assistance to solve our day-to-day survival problems. But little by little, we began to understand the importance of knowledge, trust and mutual help to change our lives over here."

During the Soviet era, the area was a major sheep-breeding centre. Up to 4 million sheep were driven over mountain passes in the spring to graze. By the 1980s, however, signs of overgrazing and land degradation had become visible.

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the system of collective farms, the area was left without effective pasture management. Individual farmers lacked the organizational capacity to build more sustainable and productive farming – a vacuum the project aimed to fill.

Apart from renewing people’s reliance on jamaats, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility helped introduce a comprehensive approach to reducing the negative effects of livestock grazing, using an electronic pasture database for 126 jamaats to better distribute grazing areas for families and improve land use.

Better infrastructure and veterinary services

In addition, six public yards were refurbished and two antiseptic baths were created for sheep. A veterinary service and two veterinary pharmacies were established. The project helped build 56 culverts to channel water under roads. It also created a fund to ensure quality seeds and fodder during the winter season, and opened access to 80,000 hectares of pastureland.

Local inhabitants praise the results of the project.

"We have seen a lot of changes," said Mr. Jumataev. "We built new roads and bridges to remote pastures and organized into jamaats. Now, they seamlessly work to increase agricultural produce. This year we had more crops than last year, and we plan on more."

Initially, seeds of esparcet seeds, a type of herb, were sown on 24 hectares of land, and barley on 55 hectares. In 2010, this resulted in a harvest of four tons of esparcet and 100 tons of barley. In 2011, jamaats sowed 550 hectares of barley and 70 hectares of esparcet that resulted in around 1,100 tons of seeds. In 2012, the area of land under barley cultivation grew to 2,500 hectares, and the total harvest increased three times.

In addition, a joint project between UNDP and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provided a grain separator, a sewing workshop and a hackle for combing wool.

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