Small in size, huge in potential: Women-led agribusinesses in Kyrgyzstan grow with UNDP’s Aid for Trade support
October 19, 2022
The now proud entrepreneur Mahabat Sultanaliyeva from the Issyk-Kul region of Kyrgyzstan had a different professional call just a few years ago. She had a full-time job as a university teacher, and occasionally helped her husband who owns a cold storage facility for local farmers and sells fresh fruits at the nearby market. Seeing the large quantities of fresh produce that would often be discarded has inspired Mahabat to expand and take lead in a complementary business – dried fruits production. Her business idea was based on turning the perishables into a value-added product. And so, she succeeds.
Since 2018, Mahabat is fully devoted to setting up and growing her business, although it was not always easy. They started the mini-workshop with a calorifier-type of dryer which was neither energy efficient, nor in line with food safety standards. It was just her and her husband – with occasional help from others – doing all the work of washing, peeling, cleaning, and drying the apples and pears from their farm.
“It was a pity to throw away so much fruit that just rotted away or we would feed it to livestock because it lacked marketable appearance. So, we started drying the fruit scraps that we used to throw away”
“At first, we had no experience, we did not know how to dry the fruits properly nor where to sell them. We did not have a food technologist or other specialists to consult with.” shares Mahatbat.
They sold the first few batches at the local market for a wholesale price which is much lower than the high-end retail price. But when they saw the high demand for dried fruits, they started drying other fruits and berries such as apricots, rosehips, barberries, and sea buckthorn.
UNDP’s Aid for Trade project offered Mahabat the support needed to near her ambition for a wide assortment of dried fruits under her own brand. Five new products with official technological instruction were developed and she received a grant for a drying cabinet with a heat pump and a solar battery, along with additional workshop equipment. The production became much greener, energy efficient, and safer.
Mahabat was also among a number of aspiring women entrepreneurs in Kyrgyzstan whom the Aid for Trade project helped to develop business plans, advance their business management skills, and do networking and trade connections to other processing companies - beneficiaries of the project.
As a consequence of the highly fragmented, small-scale farm production in Kyrgyzstan, there is shortage of fresh fruits and nuts needed as supplies for further processing. So, the Aid for Trade project also facilitated the advancement of existing and creation of new “farmers’ groups” to increase volumes. Mahabat’s company was also included. “We began to need larger volumes of fruit. The project created a farmers’ group, and we were all trained in horticulture, how to get more crops, how to care after them. As we began accepting raw material from the farmers’ group, the volume and the quality increased and we as processors created a solid chain with other farmers and sold to the market.”
With the project facilitating connections for beneficiaries to expand their pool of clients, Mahabat’s company also started sourcing part of their dried fruits in bulk to “Advantex" LLC, another Aid for Trade beneficiary. Аs a bigger processor, “Advantex” then uses the dry fruits to produce healthy fruit bars. The diversification of sales channels, clients, and products helps Mahabat to ensure sustainability of her business, retain existing employments and create new ones.
“Our work has changed a lot and for the better. Thanks to the equipment we received through the project, the volume and quality of our production grew significantly. If in the beginning we dried 100 - 150 kg, now we have up to 3 tons. If we could employ only two people, now we employ 10. All of them are women. In rural areas, most women are at home without work, doing household chores. Now, this is changing.”
As in any natural growth cycle, Mabahat’s company is slowly but surely leaning towards exports. Again, backed by the Aid for Trade project, Mahabat received training for HACCP standard implementation, and now with the help of a quality expert is preparing the facilities to be fit for the official certification process. This seal of quality will then open doors to the foreign markets where she intends to export the branded dried fruits.
About the Aid for Trade project
Aid for Trade in Central Asia, a project funded by the Government of Finland, has been implemented in Kyrgyzstan since 2009. In the current IV phase (2018 - September 2022), the project focused on three selected value chains: dried fruits and nuts, natural honey, and sustainable adventure tourism. These particular value chains were selected as they can utilize Kyrgyzstan’s natural and ecological attributes and climate in a sustainable and green manner, while growing in size, improving quality, increasing exports and creating new decent jobs for all, especially for women.
With a holistic approach – by working with the small to medium enterprises, trade-support institutions, and policymakers, in this latest phase the project contributed for 16% increase in productivity and 98% increase in market penetration for the honey and dried fruits value chains only. Overall, in the three value chains, 328 new decent jobs were created. As 184 of these jobs now employ women, this is making a positive step forward in the landscape with high unemployment rate among rural women in the country. The increase in income has grown by almost a third in the local communities supported by the project, located in the Osh, Jalal-Abad, Naryn and Issyk-Kul regions of Kyrgyzstan.