What a difference some greens make

Improving diets, nutrition and livelihoods for rural families in Kyrgyzstan

Bermet dreamt of being able to provide nutritious food for her family and local community all year round. ©FAO/Karina Levina


Bermet and her family live rural Kyrgyzstan and have always grown much of the food they eat. Potatoes, corn and tomatoes had been their dietary staples, thanks to how easy they are to grow. There was food on the table, but being ‘food secure’ means more than just having enough to eat – it means having access to a nutritious and balanced diet. This is what posed a challenge for Bermet and her family.

“I have always known that our land could produce more and give us better income opportunities,” she recalls, “but we did not have enough knowledge and money to produce anything else.”

A FAO pilot project was launched in Bermet’s area, the Jalal-Abad region of Kyrgyzstan, in 2017 with the aim of boosting not only livelihoods and income but also nutrition. Taking part in the project was a real turning point in Bermet’s life.

After receiving seeds, a small greenhouse and training on agricultural best practices, she wasted no time getting down to business. Bermet planted not only traditional crops like cabbage, carrot, cucumber and tomato but also nutritious plants she had never seen or tried before.

“As for the greens, we had never grown them before. From time to time, I bought some dill at the market and that was it. This was the first time we saw and tried spinach, lettuce, lentils and cauliflower.”

Bermet continues with a smile, "Previously I made salads in winter only from tomatoes, carrots and onions. Now I use different greens, cauliflower and even broccoli from my own garden. Our diet has definitely become richer in vitamins.”

The pilot project, Productive Social Contract/Cash Plus, has helped more than 150 households living in this western region of Kyrgyzstan to improve their nutrition and increase their incomes by giving them training in agriculture. This is designed to complement the existing state social cash transfer programme. The pilot is part of the wider project that is funded by the Russian Federation.

Janybek, Bermet’s husband and his friend, Chynybek, taking part in the sessions on nutrition education. ©FAO/Karina Levina

“There are very few job opportunities in our village. Everyone goes to the capital [Bishkek] or migrates to Russia to earn money. It is difficult to work in agriculture because of the arid land and a lack of knowledge: we didn’t know what to plant, how to care for crops and where to store the yield. We had to rely on casual work which did not bring much income,” says Bermet.

Now with the help of the project, Bermet has learned how to utilise the land in her area to grow healthy, nutritious food for her family.

But she didn’t stop there. Having drastically improved her family’s diet, Bermet realised that her new knowledge could also help her generate income to complement the social cash transfers that came from the government as part of the project.

In early spring, just a year after the start of the project, she was confidently selling the first batch of cucumber and tomato seedlings from her greenhouse to her neighbours, and by summer, she was supplying spinach, parsley, dill and lettuce to the local canteen. In autumn, she even began selling canned vegetables to boost her income throughout the year.

Bermet can now provide a healthy, nutritious diet for her entire family with produce grown in her own backyard. ©FAO/Karina Levina

“The income I get from my vegetable business allows me to invest more in my family and children, providing them with food, clothes or school supplies. I am also no longer afraid that we will not have any money tomorrow. I have even managed to save a little. This spring I want to install drip irrigation in the greenhouse to better use water, land and my time, which means I will be able to produce more and of better quality. This may help to expand my business."

FAO projects take an integrated approach to addressing poverty and malnutrition. This one in Kyrgyzstan  offers vulnerable families the opportunity to provide for themselves, improving their knowledge of nutrition and honing their agricultural skills to diversify their diets. Working with local communities, initiatives like these are helping reduce food insecurity and malnutrition and keeping us on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger) by 2030.

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2. Zero hunger, 3. Good health and well-being, 8. Decent work and economic growth