UN World Food Programme

Jarkyn, A Role Model For Many Rural Women

Jarkyn Smanalieva (left) and other women in Madaniyat established a Community Seed Farm with WFP support to ensure rural women have access to economic resources. Photo: WFP/Elizabeth Zalkind

When you see energetic and self-confident Jarkyn Smanalieva rushing from one house to the other calling women for a community meeting in the small mountainous village of Madaniyat east of Bishkek, you would never guess that only three years ago she was an exhausted mother of four.

Madaniyat, KYRGYZSTAN -- When you see energetic and self-confident Jarkyn Smanalieva rushing from one house to the other calling women for a community meeting in the small mountainous village of Madaniyat east of Bishkek, you would never guess that only three years ago she was an exhausted mother of four.

“We used to think that only men can earn an income and support a family while women were considered unable to bring any money home; women were limited to keeping their houses and raising children,” said Jarkyn. “So, if a husband is unable to make any money, the whole family suffers.”

Jarkyn was skeptical when she and 57 other women from her village were invited to join a vegetable growing project for women WFP, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Women run.

“We have been planting vegetables in our garden plots for ages and harvests were barely enough for our own consumption,” Jarkyn thought.  “What would change? And how would it bring us income?”

Skepticism turned into appreciation when women were able to sell their first harvest surplus, on top of being able to add fresh produce to their daily diet. With assistance from WFP, FAO and UN Women, Jarkyn and other women in her community established a Community Seed Farm called Ak-Monguluu (Mountains with Snow White Glaciers) that served as a credit facility for future seeds and other inputs for new participants next season. Jarkyn was unanimously selected the Chair of Ak-Monguluu for her dynamism and dedication. 

Since then, the Community Seed Farm in Jarkyn’s village has expanded and now welcomes 50 new women every year. Each woman receives high-yield seeds of tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, beets and other vegetables and attends agriculture and marketing classes. WFP gives them food to ensure they can feed their families while they plant, manage and harvest their vegetables. The project ensures they can put food on the table while at the same time improves their status within the community.

“We have opened a bank account, for the first time in our lives, to keep our accumulated fund of 69,898 soms (about US$1,500) as we wanted to ensure the transparency and accuracy of all our financial activities,” Jarkyn said. “I feel proud every time I enter the bank.”

This year, the joint WFP, FAO and UN Women initiative showed another facet of its success. Many Community Seed Farms like the one run by Jarkyn have developed into local NGOs that help rural women become the drivers of local development while improving their access to economic resources and services. In doing so, the UN is ensuring that sustainable assistance is helping women-headed vulnerable households across the country learn new skills that will enrich their lives and the lives of their children.