The villages on the south-west of Issyk-Kul lake, Kyrgyzstan, that are located in semi-desert areas are becoming increasingly vulnerable to changes in the climate. The area receives very little precipitation (200 -300 mm/year), and has growing land degradation issues caused by excessive livestock grazing and water shortages – primarily due to increasing economic activity of the local population and rapid glacier melting. For the villages, where 90% of the population depend on livestock breeding and agriculture for income, it is becoming extremely challenging to sustain crop lands by traditional way of agriculture (canal irrigation and monocrops).
The situation is especially difficult for women that are employed as invisible forces in agriculture and have no other source of income. Their labour force is not valued, since it is perceived that the men do the “main work”, and women are only engaged in “smaller work”, e.g. weed cleaning, preparation of food and harvesting. Based on this distinction, men are perceived and normalized as the decision-makers and income earner. Additionally, women in the rural areas of Kyrgyzstan have no control over land resources, as land culturally is perceived as the assets of men only. At the municipality and political level, women are not included in the decision-making processes; all issues related to land being discussed with the participation of men mainly. Young women under 30 years are most vulnerable as they are recently married, have no civic activity due to many household duties, and often live with parents-in-law that are the main decision-makers.
Having analysed these ecological and economical problems of the area, CAG together with local partner organization El-Too has decided to introduce permaculture initiatives among local women. Permaculture (the word shortened from two words permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. Permaculture gardens are expected to produce environmentally sustainable agriculture that provides a variety of crops for the family’s needs and contributes to restore local ecosystems.
For villages that mainly grow apricots and apples, and buy all other necessary vegetables from the nearest town markets, developing permaculture gardens can benefit in several ways. First of all, the local communities have sufficient resources to introduce permaculture successfully (land, domestic livestock that could produce manures, basic farming skills etc). Secondly, with diversified kitchen gardens, families can be self-sufficient in food production and thus improve their daily diet. Third, women can earn an income through permaculture gardens through 3 ways: growing seedlings from vegetables seeds, producing biohumus, and selling the harvest.
Within the given project, El-Too started training 60 women from 5 villages to get acquainted with permaculture principles – in theory and practice. Through a series of trainings, women will learn composting, make small greenhouses and germinate seeds, design permaculture kitchen gardens by the principle of plant symbiosis and stacking (repeating the nature pattern system), producing biohumus, and growing worms, introducing drip irrigation and other water saving techniques, and handling the plant diseases through useful insects. Women will share their knowledge to their villagers through WhatsApp groups, an effective communication instrument at the village level. When the harvest is ready, women will learn to prepare healthy diet meals.
In April the project started the first round of practical training and developing permaculture demonstration sites at each village. During the first training, women learnt how to create mulching or several organic layers on the land that would effectively retain water that is crucial for semi-desert areas. Next, as the season is short in Kyrgyzstan, women learnt how to build a greenhouse to germinate seeds and compost all organic waste they have at home. Several women recognized that the way they traditionally grow crops is totally different from the newly learnt techniques and were looking forward to the next training. Phenomena such as mulching, biohumus, compost and greenhouses were all new for participants. At the moment, each participant is repeating the practice at home and has established greenhouses using permaculture techniques.
To be continued!