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According to the Kyrgyz Republic’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (Kyrgyz Republic 2003), the incidence of poverty was 55.3 percent of the population in 1999 including over 23 percent in extreme poverty. By 2001 this had reduced somewhat - with less than 50 percent classified as poor and 13 percent as extremely poor. Poverty is greater in rural areas. For example in Jalal-Abad Oblast (in southern Kyrgyzstan), 55 percent of the population was classified as poor in 2001 and per capita annual income was 3,854 soms[3], only 37.4 percent of the national average (Kyrgyz Republic 2003).

The poverty reduction strategy focuses on privatization, governance reform and macroeconomic performance. Interestingly the interim PRSP of 2001 (Kyrgyz Republic 2001) referred to "pro-poor growth" as a major strategy. The PRSP 2003-2005 refers to "sustainable growth". Neither document makes any substantial reference to forests or environment. There are references in the PRSP 2003-2005 (Kyrgyz Republic 2003) to the potential of forests for ecotourism and creating a favourable environment for investors in forest product processing industries.

In order to get a picture of rural poverty it is worth looking at what happens at the Ail Okmut level. Each Ail Okmot collects data on the poverty/wealth situation of its inhabitants twice each year (in January and July). The data set is called the "poverty card". It indicates how many households are categorised as very poor (income 0-140 som), a second category of very poor (141-400 som) or poor (401-600 som). Households that are perceived to be in these categories are visited individually by a staff member of the Ail Okmot, and asked about their income. The definition of income is not further specified, but can most likely be understood as how much cash is available per month. The amounts refer to the total family income, irrespective of the number of members. For 2004, the government has developed a new format for more systematic collection of data. It remains to be seen if the information will become more reliable, as the level of detail is very high, and none of the Ail Okmots has a computer to store the data of the hundreds of poor families.

Table 2 shows some data from four Ail Okmots in the southern province of Jalal-Abad, where livelihoods are strongly interlinked with the nearby forests. Some of the settlements are completely surrounded by forests, others are at the edges of the forest.

Table 2: Summarised poverty data of four Ail Okmots (Jan. 2004), data supplied by Ail Okmot offices in personal interviews with Brieke Steenhof.

Ail Okmot

# settlements

House holds


Very poor (%)

Poor (%)

Total (%)

Data 2003

Kara Alma








Kyzyl Ungur
























One difficulty in assessing rural poverty is that most families, including wealthy families are able to obtain most of their food either through self-production or barter. Even comparatively well-paid city people often obtain food produced on farms from relatives in rural areas. Cash income does not adequately reflect this fact and other criteria for wealth and poverty may be more meaningful.

The Research Group associated with the Kyrgyz-Swiss Forestry Programme’s CFM Project carried out a series of wealth ranking exercises in several leshozes (state forest farms) in rural southern Kyrgyzstan. In these exercises local informants were asked to describe the criteria they would use to classify households in their village in terms of wealth and poverty. There was naturally some variation in the criteria used from site to site, but it is possible to present a generalized picture (see Table 3).

Table 3: Generalized summary of criteria used in local wealth ranking exercises (based on work by Kaspar Schmidt and Nurlan Akenshaev)

A poor family (household)

- has typically no livestock.

- has only very limited, often not very productive land resources (non-irrigated, land on slopes, etc.) within its farming system.

- has no other sources of revenue than agriculture and collection of forest products, adults are unemployed.

- is vulnerable to externally induced shocks (eg. low agricultural yield following bad weather conditions) due to a poorly diversified farming system.

- has many children.

- depends often on support from other households, since the household’s revenues do not allow to sustain a living.

- is poorly dressed.

- lives on a very basic diet, in difficult times mainly consisting of bread, tea and possibly potatoes.

- is chronically short of cash.

- has difficulties to meet the expected contributions to traditional social events, but often makes these contributions despite the expenses involved in order to remain in the local social network.

- lives in poor housing conditions: old small houses built of clay, without insulation, poor heating; poor families often have no house of their own and are forced to rent a house.

A wealthy family (household)

- has a considerable number of livestock and is therefore able to generate cash at any time of the year.

- has a diversified farming system and additional, non-agricultural sources of revenues.

- is able to manage agricultural work according to a plan and priorities drawing on its own resources and, if needed, additional contracted labour force and hired machinery.

- sends children to study at the university.

- has often a private car and/or farming machinery on its own

- lives in its own well maintained, spacious house; often, these houses are built of baked bricks and not of clay.

In terms of strategies for poverty reduction, Ail Okmots have not many suggestions beyond supporting families through donations of cash (100, 200 som) on the occasion of a festival, waiving lease payments for the use of arable fields, or donation of a lamb or sheep for starting a herd. Reduced tariffs for grazing rights do not contribute to poverty reduction as the poor hardly own livestock. In two very serious cases the Ail Okmot of Kara Alma claims to have build simple houses for very poor families. Long-term strategies mainly focus on potential of establishing relations with donor organizations for building factories (such as fruit processing plants). Ail Okmots see solutions in job-creation, but have neither initiatives, ideas nor means to start by themselves. This is not particularly surprising as Ail Okmot staff in general has not been trained in identifying or creating economic opportunities. Improvement of forest management is not cited as an income generating possibility, and encouraging the poor families to become involved in CFM is not yet conceived as within the range of authorities of the Ail Okmot.

[3] In 2001 one USD was approximately equal to 47 soms, in early 2004 one USD was equal to about 42 soms.

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