My country, Kyrgyzstan, is more than 90 percent mountainous, and nearly half of us live in rural areas. I work closely with these communities and see the struggles of mountain peoples and how hard they work to survive in the face of stalled development and youth outmigration. Kyrgyz people have been nomads for centuries, living in harmony with nature. Mountains have been a part of their daily lives. Our culture and traditions are tightly intertwined with mountains, pastures, forests, plants and animals.
When I was growing up, my grandparents used to visit our high mountain pastures (zhailoo). I remember my grandfather saying, “Mountains treat humans the way humans treat them. Mountains can respond to our attitudes in a good or bad way: that’s why you must treat mountains as your home.”
I have worked in the organic sector since 2010, and became one of the first to introduce the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) as an alternative certification for groups of organic villages (aymaks). I took part in the IFOAM Asia Organic Leadership Course in 2016 and then established the Youth Organic Forum with other course participants. In September 2018, while participating in the Asian Organic Congress in the Philippines, I was awarded the title of “Organic Youth Ambassador” by IFOAM Asia.
Since 2014, I have been working with the BIO-KG Federation of Organic Development, a nongovernmental organization established by stakeholders of organic agriculture in Kyrgyzstan. We have been a Mountain Partnership member for six years.
FOD Bio-KG is the leading Kyrgyz organization of organic development. We work with communities, creating production groups (zhamaats), promoting marketing of organic products and shortening the value chain between consumers and organic aymaks. We organize the annual Exhibition-Fair of Organic and Natural Products, in which organic aymak farmers bring their products to Bishkek to sell to urban dwellers.
We advocate for national policies based upon the principles of organic agriculture. In 2017, we helped develop the Sustainable Development Strategy Kyrgyzstan for 2017-2040. The role of FOD Bio-KG at the national policymaking level is increasing: we have recently become an active player in designing the Law on Organic Agriculture, making changes to the law and developing a certification system at the national level, introducing PGS nationwide. In the past six years, we have certified 12 749 hectares of land as organic, involved 10 000 farmers and created more than 100 jobs.
I am a project coordinator of organic aymaks in the Issyk-Kul and Chui oblasts. I collaborate with farmers in mountain villages to implement organic farming. We started our work with four aymaks, and expanded in 10 aymaks in 2015. All of our projects are linked to improving livelihoods in organic aymaks and increasing the number of villages using organic practices.
The main strength of the partnership between FOD Bio-KG and the organic aymaks is mutual support of self-organization processes and movement forward – with farmers, for farmers and led by farmers. For example, working together, organic aymaks and FOD Bio-KG stopped the construction of a manufacturing plant of chemical fertilizer.
Coming together to fight for a better future in mountains in critical. Last summer, I visited the Naryn and Talas oblasts and, for the first time in my life, I was shocked by the condition of the mountains. I was devastated by the pollution of this ecosystem, so I took part in a flashmob called #cleanafteryou #Уберисьзасобой to collect garbage.
I have seen many changes to our mountains over the past 10 to 20 years. Kyrgyzstan’s mountains and forests are balding. The loss of biodiversity is obvious – the birds’ singing has stopped and rivers run without fish. Like my grandfather once said, the mountains treat us the way we treat them. Today, we face their response to how we have mistreated them. We have degraded our pastures, polluted our rivers and deforested our forests, leading to species extinction. Our mountain communities are vulnerable.
We must go back to our roots by preserving ancient nomadic traditions and culture. Everyone, from mountain communities to urban citizens, must take responsibility for our mountains. Mountains are our history, our present and our future.
News and photo from Asan Alymkulov