Integrating social protection and agriculture to improve diets in Kyrgyzstan

By Adnan Quereshi, FAO Representative in Kyrgyzstan

Piloting the Cash+ approach in Kyrgyzstan enhanced the quality of life of 150 vulnerable households by diversifying diets and securing livelihoods. ©FAO


Social protection has a critical role to play in reducing poverty, improving food and nutrition security, and stimulating inclusive economic growth in rural areas. However, social protection alone cannot address all the risks and challenges faced by vulnerable rural populations. Integrated interventions have shown greater impacts than stand-alone social protection or agricultural measures in assisting rural poor to overcome poverty, boost productivity, and improve diets, thus accelerating progress towards Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2. This complementarity is also fundamental for strengthening the resilience of households in the face of external shocks, such as the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.

Since 2016, under the Russian-funded project “Developing Capacity for Strengthening Food Security and Nutrition in Selected Countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia,” FAO has been supporting Kyrgyzstan in aligning social protection with agriculture and rural development through the Cash+ approach. The Cash+ pilot has complemented the national social cash transfer programme – a monthly benefit for low-income families with children (uy-bulogo komok) – with a combination of agricultural inputs and assets, technical training geared towards organic and climate-smart practices, extension services, and nutrition education.

Being a low-income food-deficit country with over 23 percent of the rural population living below the poverty line, Kyrgyzstan suffers from both undernutrition and overnutrition affecting adults and children alike. The coverage of social assistance – in particular of the rural poor – remains a challenge. Social cash transfers reach merely 4 percent of the rural population, and only 9 percent of the rural poorest. Their value also remains far from sufficient, reaching only 24 percent of the food component of the subsistence minimum.

The support packages were therefore designed to enhance families’ nutrition and income status, reflecting their needs, challenges, and opportunities.

To maximize the impact of increased income and production on nutrition and diets, the Cash+ pilot participants, along with other community members, were also offered hands-on nutrition education. ©FAO

The Cash+ pilot benefited 150 households in the Suzak district in Jalal-Abad region, 22 percent of which were female-headed households. Pilot participants were offered three options for homestead gardening, including seeds of nutrition-sensitive vegetables and small tunnel greenhouses for off-season production. The first package was a full kitchen garden, intended for self-consumption, aimed at improving household nutrition through increased dietary diversity. The second, a smaller kitchen garden for labour- or time-constrained households, hoped to provide a boost in dietary diversity. Finally, the third package targeted generating additional income through increased production. In this last package, enhanced nutrition was envisaged through additional income to purchase food and increased production for self-consumption.

The pilot participants enjoyed comprehensive skills development in sustainable agricultural practices. To maximize the impact of increased income and production on nutrition and diets, the Cash+ pilot participants, along with other community members, were also offered hands-on nutrition education.

FAO and local community experts continued to assist pilot beneficiaries to ensure they were able to carry out agronomic activities and follow nutrition advice, and, more generally, receive necessary support to overcome barriers they may face along the way.

With the combination of monthly benefits and income from the crops, as well as the new knowledge and skills, livelihoods of the Cash+ beneficiaries have become more sustainable and resilient and they were able to improve their economic and social situation. 

The dietary diversity and food and nutrition security of vulnerable households, including many children, women, and youth, have also seen remarkable improvements owing to the integrated approach. Households who benefited from the pilot reported that worries of not having enough food had decreased, and, moreover, there had been less need to reduce the diversity of their diet due to a lack of resources.

As many as 65 percent of households reported an increase in the frequency of children eating vegetables and fruit.

The dietary diversity and food and nutrition security of vulnerable households have seen remarkable improvements owing to the integrated approach. ©FAO

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in some unintended positive outcomes of this coordinated intervention. During the lockdown, when strict confinement measures caused disruptions in food and agricultural inputs supply chains, the Cash+ pilot participants reported to continue agricultural production. They not only managed to maintain their households’ food security in a time of shock, but also generated a spillover effect on local communities by selling the surplus to their fellow villagers or sharing assets and skills to revitalize their agricultural production. Enhanced community resilience is a clear proof for this integrated intervention to be relevant and effective.

At national level, as an additional benefit, the Cash+ pilot strengthened the cooperation between FAO and the Kyrgyz Ministry of Agriculture, Water Management and Regional Development and Ministry of Health and Social Development.

At policy level, by demonstrating that integrated social protection and agricultural interventions can generate sustainable improvements in vulnerable rural households’ food security and nutrition, enhance their agricultural productivity, and alleviate poverty, the Cash+ pilot influenced the development of the national social contract programme and respective policy frameworks in Kyrgyzstan.

Sustainably protecting incomes and supporting food and nutrition security of vulnerable rural families requires coherence and coordination between agriculture and social protection. The Cash+ experience from Kyrgyzstan has vividly demonstrated how integrated measures could support and empower the most vulnerable, even during such an unprecedented crisis as COVID-19, and thus contribute to accelerating progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Learn more

1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth