A WFP Project Empowers Women Farmers In Rural Kyrgyzstan
Published on 9 December 2013

Shayirkul Adreshova is part of group of women farmers who supply medicinal herbs to European markets, thanks to WFP/GIZ project. Photo: WFP/Alima Nurgazieva

In a remote Kyrgyz village, Shayirkul Adreshova had the seemingly impossible dream of becoming a successful business woman whose products sell internationally. The dream turned into reality three years after she had joined a WFP food-for-assets project that assists vulnerable rural women. She is now part of a small group of women farmers who provide medicinal herbs to European markets, including valerian that is most often used to treat insomnia.

Ak-Bulun, KYRGYZSTAN -- “I help people in Europe sleep well,” Shayirkul repeats this so often that it has become her marketing strategy. 
Since the project launch in 2010, women-headed households across Kyrgyzstan have been receiving WFP food assistance in return for their work in preparing the land for growing vegetables. This was part of a joint UN project that provided them with seeds and technical training to help them generate incomes for their families and communities.
Shayirkul was among more than 7000 rural women, split into self-help groups across the Kyrgyz Republic, who received agricultural and marketing training as well as high-yield seeds to strengthen vegetable production and improve food security.
This year, Shayirkul’s group and eight other groups in Issyk-Kul province decided to diversify their agricultural production by growing highly sought after medicinal herbs, particularly valerian.
“Our climate is perfect for growing herbs such as valerian, calendula, sage, camomile and others, so we thought we should give this a try,” says Shayirkul.
WFP partnered with the German International Cooperation (GIZ) that provided training on growing herbs and helped the women connect with a pharmaceutical company. 
The high quality, essential oil rich and ecologically safe herb harvest was purchased in full.

“Although valerian growing is complicated, it proved to be high-value as we sold it for a much higher price than vegetables,” says Shayirkul. “What encouraged us the most is that the German pharmaceutical company signed with us a contract for the next few years, which guarantees us work and income.”
Herb growing also brought additional benefits for women farmers who started using valerian stems and leaves as forage for cattle.
“Valerian proved to be a zero waste product – nothing is thrown away!” exclaims Shayirkul.
As a consequence of their success, Shayirkul and other women from her group are now inspired to develop their herbs business even further. With support from WFP and GIZ, they plan to produce herbal tea.
“While valerian is growing, from spring to fall, we have spare time that we can use to learn new skills and technologies for herbal tea production,” said Shayirkul. “We have researched market opportunities for herbal teas and understand it is in high demand both in local and international markets.”