A new source of water revives lands and lives in Kyrgyzstan’s hottest region

The World Food Programme (WFP) helps increase the harvesting potential of Kyrgyzstan’s hottest region — where summer temperatures can reach as high as 50°C — by constructing irrigation canals.

More than 800 families in Achy, a village in the south of Kyrgyzstan, are brimming with excitement. Their lives are about to change with the opening of newly constructed irrigation canals.

This new access to water will allow local farmers to harvest three times a year. Before the canals, in a good year when there was enough water, families could produce enough food to live on and save for the lean season. Last year, when water was scarce, the harvest was so poor that farmers had to sell part of their seed stock to buy food for their children.

Jusupbek worked in the fields all his life and knows every family in the village. Photo: WFP/Maksim Shubovich

“I have seen entire orchards dry out and people go hungry.”

Jusupbek-aka, a 65-year old farmer from Achy who has worked all his life in the fields, knows every family in the community, their daily challenges and their common critical need for water.

“Here everything depends on water,” said Jusupbek. “Water means a good harvest and good income for the family. It basically means life. Previously we were limited to growing only apricots, as they almost do not need to be watered.”

The only source of irrigating water before was a major irrigation canal seven km away. When the flow of water finally reached the village, there was almost no water left for the residents of Achy, making it even more difficult for families to make a living from their land. At times, hundreds of hectares of croplands were left without water, even at the height of the growing season.

“I have seen entire orchards dry out and people go hungry as the sales from their garden produce were their only source of income,” says Jusupbek. “I have seen people get into arguments over water, which created an unhealthy social environment in the village.”

A man with a mission

Committed to bringing an end to this situation, Jusupbek ran house to house to motivate neighbouring farmers to unite and to rebuild their irrigation canal in order to increase its capacity.

“It was easy for the people to agree that we needed a canal, but it was very difficult to convince them to build it together for the benefit of the entire community,” says Jusupbek-aka.

It took Jusupbek seven years to mobilize the community to initiate this canal-building project. It took him just seven minutes to mobilize the support of the local government and WFP to support the project.

Community members engaged in the construction of 7 km irrigation canal that will bring water, hope and income to 800 families in Kyrgyzstan’s hottest region. Photo: WFP/Maksim Shubovich

Inspired by launching the irrigation canal in time for the planting season, over 20 families worked on constructing the seven-km canal. Thanks to a contribution from the Russian Federation, WFP was able to provide participants with a sixth-month supply of fortified wheat flour and vitamin-rich oil in return for their labour.

“It was a great incentive for poor families to receive flour and oil that can last the families half a year. It was also a good motivation to do more community work as now my fellow villagers are asking if there are more projects that they can work on,” Jusupbek said smiling.

New water source, new possibilities

The new irrigation canal has brought much more than water as it brought hopes for higher harvest yields and helped generate income-building ideas such as planting vegetables. Previously, Archy’s residents in south Kyrgyzstan were limited to growing only apricots, as they almost need no water.

Previously, Archy’s residents in south Kyrgyzstan were limited to growing only apricots, as they almost need no water. They can now plant vegetables which would add to their incomes and diversify their produce as well as food choices. Photo: WFP/Maksim Shubovich

In 2018 alone, WFP supported the construction and restoration of 90 irrigation canals in many food-insecure communities across Kyrgyzstan, helping thousands of smallholder farmers improve their agricultural potential and livelihoods.

“Step by step we are making progress towards improving people’s lives. All we need is to believe in our capacity to work together and in our strength to change our lives for the better,” said Jusupbek.

families enjoying newly installed water pipes in Kyrgyzstan’s hottest region where summer temperatures can reach as high as 50°C. Photo: WFP/Maksim Shubovich
Women working in the garden. Photo: WFP/Maksim Shubovich

Learn more about WFP’s work in Kyrgyzstan.

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Insight by The World Food Programme

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Aichurek Zhunusova

Aichurek Zhunusova

Communications Associate at World Food Programme Kyrgyzstan

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