BISHKEK (TCA) — Since 2006, school-provided meals have been one of Kyrgyzstan’s strategies for fighting food insecurity. The main beneficiaries have traditionally been the students, who receive a hot breakfast each day. But now, a FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) pilot program is exploring how this scheme can improve the lives of smallholder farmers as well, FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia reported on its website.
Although farmers make up over a quarter of Kyrgyzstan’s workforce, many of them face barriers to growth and development. Individual farmers have trouble meeting the volume that some contracts demand, and they may lack the resources necessary to obtain certificates of quality for their produce. Not having a contract, combined with poor storage facilities, means that smallholder farmers have to spend more time finding buyers – and then sell their produce in a flooded market. “In the fall, the prices for produce drop,” says farmer Azamat Boskebaev, who grows vegetables, grain and clover. “That means losses for the farmer.”
At the same time, some schools are struggling to find the steady supply of quality produce they need to feed their children. Between 2016 and 2017 alone, schools within the Kemin District needed an estimated 9.2 tonnes of potatoes, 4.2 tonnes of carrots and 2.6 tonnes of onions – not to mention additional cabbage, sweet peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, beets and garlic. “We do not have warehouses at the school, so we have to buy produce little by little,” says Galina Shakun, principal of a school in Kemin.
To address the issues, FAO is developing a Logistic Centre in Kemin as part of a pilot programme to link local farmers with Kyrgyzstan’s National School Feeding Programme. Equipped with a lab and storage facilities, the Logistic Centre can certify, buy and store local produce before selling and delivering it to nearby schools. As a result, the Logistic Centre bridges a key disconnect: the inability of smallholder farmers to access the certification their produce needs in order to be served in schools – or shipped elsewhere.
The pilot is part of the FAO project “Developing Capacity for Strengthening Food Security and Nutrition in Selected Countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia.” Launched in 2016 and funded by the Russian Federation, the programme aims to strengthen food security and reduce all forms of malnutrition in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The overall aim here is to increase the effectiveness of the entire process of organizing school feeding by contributing to development of sustainable value chains.
Although the pilot programme in Kyrgyzstan only serves 29 schools, its success could serve as a model for other initiatives across the country. Until recently, Kyrgyzstan lacked an efficient mechanism to enable cooperation between farmers and schools. But because school cafeterias are in need of quality vegetables virtually all year round, Kyrgyzstan’s National School Feeding Programme could become a sustainable sales market for local farmers – simultaneously supplying food for children and boosting local economies.