Gulrahat Bobokonova is grateful for the food from WFP because soaring food prices have bitten deep into her household budget.
On the tiny portion of Tajikistan that is not covered with mountains, trees explode with green leaves and the brown earth is carpeted with sprouting vegetables.
This year, no one is happier about the arrival of the growing season than Gulrahat Bobokonova, one of 56 rural Tajiks who will receive a food security dividend this year, thanks to the World Food Programme (WFP).
Near the capital Dushanbe, 51-year-old Gulrahat and her co-workers laboured hard to transform the depleted soil of a 20-hectare cotton plantation into a small but thriving enterprise. When they began last year, using a long-term lease granted by the local government, the group was made up of only 12 poor women.
Since word spread regarding the success of the farm, the number of participants has jumped to 56 this year.
Because the farm is their only source of income, the women have to wait for the crops to mature – whether it is winter wheat, which is planted in November and matures the following June; vegetables for consumption and sale at the market; or the cherry tree seedlings which need two years of cultivation to produce fruit.
That’s where WFP comes in. To help the women through the lean season, WFP provides a two-month supply of wheat flour, cooking oil, salt and dried peas in exchange for their labour. This food for work initiative is managed by a local NGO called Sayor, one of many such projects WFP currently supports in Tajikistan. FFW aims at improving food security among the poorest of the poor and gives them long-term, sustainable strategies for good food security and nutrition.
The smile on Gulrahat’s face tells the story best as the mother of five shows WFP visitors the neat rows of vegetables anchored by one-year-old cherry trees across the 20 hectares, which are irrigated by a Soviet-era canal beneath the nearby range of hills.
Gulrahat not only nets a portion of the harvest, but like all participants she has been allotted a small piece of land that she can use for whatever she wants. Gulrahat chose to plant a winter wheat crop and expects to make US$128 from it – a windfall she never dreamed possible. In the meantime, to keep her family fed until the harvest comes, she has the nutritious food commodities from WFP.
“The prices keep going up and up in the market,” she said. “I would be able to buy only half the wheat flour I need if it weren’t for this food you have given me. Rahmat, rahmat (thank you) WFP.”
Heather Hill joined WFP as a Public Information Officer in 1998. A former journalist, she has been a WFP spokesperson in major emergencies including the crises in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) and the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004). She was based in Rome and Bangkok before transferring to Central Asia in July 2009.