Vegetables out of thin air


June 7, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Altynai Djumabaeva/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Growing vegetables at high elevation here is a challenge, since the frost-free season is only 85-90 days. Kompanion, a Mercy Corps-founded microfinance institution, is helping train local families how to grow vegetables under these conditions. Photo: Altynai Djumabaeva/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Altynai Djumabaeva/Mercy Corps  </span>
    An abundance of bright red peppers grown in family greenhouses. Photo: Altynai Djumabaeva/Mercy Corps

Sary-Mogol is a very remote village in the Chon-Alai region of southern Kyrgyzstan, located at 3,000 meters above sea level. The 680 families living in Sary-Mogol grow mostly potatoes with some difficulty due to the acutely continental climate and altitude; they primarily engage in animal husbandry. The duration of the frost-free period is only 85-90 days per year.

Kompanion Financial Services — a microfinance organization founded by Mercy Corps — has a small office in this village, where an estimated 70 percent of families live below the poverty line. Kompanion’s goal of “supporting the strengthening and growth of communities” addresses the problem of poor nutrition.

Kompanion aims to show people that having a healthy diet is possible in harsh climatic conditions. Micro-nutrient deficiencies are often the crux of childhood stunting, therefore small increases would have a significant impact on children’s development.

In order to inspire people, Kompanion’s office used the yard of its small office to establish a small demonstration greenhouse with the help of our agronomists and veterinarians who provide agricultural extension services for our clients and their communities. The loan officers took great care of the vegetables with regular consultations from the agronomist. Finally the greenhouse brought its first yields of greens and veggies.

The example was successful and Kompanion started providing trainings to 35 village families to learn how to set up mini-greenhouses and to plant and care for crops such as lettuce, radish and radish greens, parsley, green onion, carrots and cabbage — all adapted to greenhouse and high-elevation conditions.

Our hope is that families will be able to grow greens and herbs that are critical for a healthy diet. They also learned how to adapt traditional recipes using the yields, and learned new storage techniques. For a village where potatoes could hardly grow, the yields from the greenhouse seemed like a miracle. Kompanion provided 28,000 KGS (US$600) to families in Sary-Mogol to build greenhouses to grow high-elevation cabbage, parsley, radish and carrots.

This year the initiative continues, involving more and more people. Maybe we were wrong in calling Chon-Alai an infertile region?

Note: Mercy Corps' Robin Currey also contributed to this blog entry.