WFP Helps Abandoned Women Regain their Lives with Vegetables
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Published on 4 July 2011

 Growing vegetables brings a new hope for abandoned mothers and wives. Photo: WFP\M.Shubovich

4,000 most vulnerable women-headed households across Kyrgyzstan received high quality seeds and technical know-how to start growing vegetables for consumption and sale bringing them a hope for better food security while regaining community respect.  
Bishkek - Gulsana Toktobaeva, a women activist and mother of four, has no time to grieve for being abandoned by her extended family - there is work to be done! 
 
Growing vegetables to secure a future is her new ethos. She leads and supervises five women self-help groups in Zymyryk village in the south of the Kyrgyz Republic, coordinates seed distribution, attends agro-training, and even markets and sells the vegetables.
 
“Vegetable production is the only source of income for many women in my village,” said Gulsana-eje (‘eje’ is a polite reference to an elderly woman in Kyrgyzstan). “We work hard and become well known for our vegetables. If we go to local markets and say we’re from Zymyryk – our vegetables will be bought out immediately!” Gulsana-eje says, beaming with pride. 
 
With no support from husbands, brothers or sons who often move abroad to secure jobs (some never return), so-called abandoned wives and mothers are left with the legacy of trying to feed their remaining family and a stigmatisation that often results in the removal of community support and weakened social networks. While most do their best to make ends meet, fading self-confidence and community respect often means their very survival can hang in the balance. 
 
“After being humbled for many years, we have now regained the respect of our family and community,” Gulmira says. “I can now feed my family, I can earn much needed cash for my family, and I can help others to get out of poverty.”
 
35 woman-headed households from Gulmira’s village are the newcomers to the WFP/World Bank/UN Women vegetable production project. This year, 1,977 vulnerable households (or an estimated 9,885 persons) from 65 villages nationwide are being provided with the technical know-how to stand on their own two feet.
 
Nearly 2 million high quality seeds have been distributed and WFP will provide 425 metric tons of food to ensure the women have the time to plant, manage, and harvest their crops without having to forage for food or engage in other work to buy food. The women receive food in exchange for learning new crop planting and cultivation methods. 
 
Since the programme began in 2010 more than 4,000 vulnerable women-headed households across the country have received high quality seeds and technical training to start growing vegetables for consumption and sale - bringing them hope for better food security while regaining community respect. 
 
WFP’s vegetable production project targets the poorest women in the poorest regions to give them the best chance possible of breaking the poverty cycle that keeps them entrenched in deprivation. 
 
Rozuhan Kasymova could easily have become another abandoned statistic. Seven years ago her husband and 5 sons left for Russia in search for better employment opportunities. Rozuhan, 62, and four of her small grandchildren were left behind with little family or community support.
 
“My husband and sons do not earn much in Russia, so their remittances are rare and very modest. We have an income that barely meets our basic needs,” Rozuhan sobs. “My children will not return home until they have saved enough to buy a house of their own in our village.”
 
In the past, Rozuhan often had difficult choices to make: feed her grandchildren; send them to school; or go to see a doctor. This is when WFP and its partners stepped into the picture with the vegetable production project. This year she joined a group of six other women and received 1,132 high-quality tomato seeds and 760 cucumber seeds. With the assistance of WFP and partners, women groups re-invest part of the proceeds in a communal fund, which works as a credit facility for future seeds and other inputs for the next season.
 
“The seeds were so small - it was so difficult to count them, but no one complained,” says Rozuhan. “We knew that each seed would grow and bring us a good yield.”
 
The first vegetables should be harvested in late June and will be available for household consumption as well as for selling on local markets - increasing the overall availability of vegetables (onion, carrot, pumpkin, cucumber, tomato, red beet, eggplant) to buyer at more affordable prices. The direct bonus for women like Rozuhan is that the surplus will generate income, enabling them to purchase additional food. This is particularly critical in the Kyrgyz Republic as staple food prices have soared by 40 percent in the last year. 
 
“Based on my very rough calculations, I’ll harvest at least 3,5 tons of cucumbers and 3 tons of tomatoes – a windfall I never thought possible!,” Rozuhan says excitedly. “I will be able to use about one third of the tomatoes and cucumbers for myself, and then sell the rest.” 
 
In the meantime, WFP food commodities will be provided to keep her family fed until the harvest. 
“The prices keep going up and up in the market,” Rozuhan said. “I would never be able to buy that amount of flour and oil, WFP’s food component of this project is a great incentive for us to learn and employ new cultivation techniques. It really is helping us to change our future.”