More than 60% of the population of Kyrgyzstan lives in rural areas and their livelihood depends mostly on agriculture. After the land reform in 2010, about 75% of the agricultural land in Kyrgyzstan is privately held, while 25% is state-owned. Over 90% of the agricultural output is produced by the private sector. With more than 300,000 farms, the share of agriculture is 25% added value of the GDP. Most farms are small (0.5-0.7 ha) and are run by individual farmers. Women make up 30% of the economically active population in agriculture. Knowledge of modern technologies of cultivation is still a serious constraint due to lack of experienced personnel and farmers as well as shortage of modern equipment and communication means. In that context, FAO, at the request of the Ministry of Agriculture and Melioration of the Kyrgyz Republic, put the wheels in motion to provide assistance to support developing farmers’ capacity and promotion of modern crop management and plant protection techniques.
Today, three-quarters of all arable land in Kyrgyzstan is privately owned, and 90% of agricultural output is produced by the private sector. Yet, with more than 60% of the population living in rural areas and depending primarily on agriculture for their livelihoods, farmers’ need for up-to-date technical knowledge is greater than ever.
“After the collapse of the Soviet Union, farmers were left alone and helpless,” says Kalybek Mursadairov, head of the agriculture department in Kemin rayon, Chui province. “Few knew how to cultivate their land, which fertilizers to use, and which pests to fight.”
The FAO project which is now underway is addressing that knowledge gap through hands-on “farmer field schools.” Experts work with farmers to introduce new resource-saving approaches such as conservation agriculture and integrated pest management.
A farmer field day in Samansur village brought together representatives of 20 farmer field schools from two rayons of Chui province.
“It’s an ordinary school but with no walls – because it is held in a field,” says Kayirkul Kasylaeva of the Agrolid organization, one of FAO’s partners on the project. “But the field is a book for the farmer.”
“Year after year, soil fertility is declining, and pests and diseases defoliate part of the crop,” exaplains FAO national consultant Omurbek Mambetov. “So the strategy of the project – in addition to supplying special agricultural equipment – is to provide training in field schools to the most advanced and interested farmers, who in turn will push the knowledge further.”
The experimental field of Duishonbek Asanaliev was the scene of the most recent field school. The field was divided into two parts. One had been sown with “Intensive” wheat seed and cultivated as usual. The other was sown with “Janym,” a local wheat variety produced by Kyrgyz selectionists, and cultivated using knowledge obtained in the farmer field school. The results were noticeably better in the second plot, and farmers decided to apply their field school knowledge on their own land.
Mira Junusova, author of the “Janym” variety, also took part in the experiment. She noted that the seeds were sown in late-April but really should have been planted immediately after snows had melted. When sown in early spring, this variety can yield 55-60 quintals of grain per hectare. What’s more, “Janym” wheat doesn’t need frequent watering, grows tall and has low gluten content. Junusova advised farmers to use only certified seeds.
Rainfall has been low in Kyrgyzstan this year and rural people are already looking at their losses. They say that in an extended period of water scarcity, FAO’s conservation agriculture technologies are especially important for the country.
Tasin Izatov, in the neighboring Issyk-Ata rayon, cultivates 60 hectares of land and manages 50 head of Goldstein cattle. He was among the first farmers to get involved in the project. “I’ve been cultivating the land for almost 20 years but every day I can learn something new in the field school,” he says. “The more knowledge you acquire, the more you understand how little you know!”