UN World Food Programme

Kyrgyzstan: ‘Remittance Man’ Scrapes Through The Winter

This beneficiary wears the traditional kalpak, a felt hat worn by men living in rural areas. The black border of his kalpak signifies his status as an elder.

Copyright: WFP/Aisha Maitmamat Kyzy

The Bakashov family is still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis which left legions of expat workers from poor countries without jobs, putting them and their families on the knife-edge of hunger. WFP food assistance was the only thing that allowed the Bakashovs to get through this winter.

BISHKEK --Talant Bakashov came home to his wife and three children in Kyrgyzstan in 2009, sharply divided between his happiness at being with his family again and despair over how they were going to keep their household afloat. 

Talant is one of Kyrgyzstan’s thousands of labour migrants, the “remittance men” of Central Asia whose wage transfers constitute a significant part of their countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In an average year, Talant himself would send home US $1,500, a small fortune for the family.

Financial meltdown

Talant had been working in neighbouring Kazakhstan on building projects but the global financial meltdown in 2008 brought much of the construction to a standstill. He was forced to return to his home in the town of Amanbaev where job prospects were even gloomier than when he had left. The town is located in Talas Oblast which is characterized by high levels of poverty and insecurity.

Talant, 38, and his wife Aliman, 35, own nearly one hectare of land so their best option was to grow kidney beans for export to Turkey. Like all the small-scale farmers in their Kara-Buura region, they sell their beans at a low price to traders who make a real profit when they sell to the food companies in Turkey. 

But the bad luck just kept coming -- some weeks after the couple planted the seeds, and the green shoots were coming up, a heavy spring snowfall wiped most of the seedlings out.

Something good

Several months later, the sadly reduced bean crop was diminished further by drought. They managed to harvest 150 kg of beans, compared to the 600 kg their land would produce in a good year. Though they had laboured long and hard in their field, they faced winter with no money and few food stocks. Their savings had been spent on coal and winter clothes for children. 

After so much hardship, however, something good finally happened to them when the head of the village that they were on the list of families who would get relief food from WFP to get them through the winter. The Bakashov family received 75 kg of wheat flour and 8 litres of vegetable oil. 

Aliman was close to tears when she took possession of her food. “We could not buy even vegetables to cook for the kids because we didn’t have money,” she said. “The WFP wheat flour and oil came right on time, so that we could afford better quality food for our children and have home-made bread every day.”