Turkmenistan

Mother nature’s bounty: In response to the climate crisis, women are turning to vermicomposting as an alternative source of income in Turkmenistan

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© UNDP Turkmenistan/Igor Lomov.

The Lebap region of Turkmenistan is a land of superlatives. Here you will find the largest river in Central Asia, the Amu Darya. Stretching some 830 kilometers from south to north through one of the world's highest deserts, this ancient waterway has provided water and sustenance for the region since the times of the Scythians and Alexander the Great.

In the face of climate change, environmental degradation, a rise in extreme weather and other factors, the Amu Darya can no longer sustain the farmers who have relied on its bounty to feed their families, grow their crops and ensure their livelihoods for centuries.

This is paradise lost. But with the support of an innovative Climate Resilient Livelihoods Project funded by the Global Environment Facility's Special Climate Change Fund and supported through the United Nations Development Programme, the people of the Lebap region are finding new opportunities, new wealth, and a new hope at prosperity.

WOMEN LEADING THE WAY

All of these environmental and climatic factors are coming together to reduce the welfare of locals, and a significant portion of the population is forced to look for more effective farming solutions and alternative sources of income.

As is the case across much of the world, the main burden often falls on women.

In partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment Protection of Turkmenistan, the **Supporting Climate Resilient Livelihoods in Agricultural Communities in Drought-Prone Areas of Turkmenistan project **provides advisory support to rural women to maintain financial stability. The project is also empowering women by enhancing their potential, introducing successful practices and demonstrating ways to generate alternative sources of income.

The project has achieved notable results since its launch in 2016. Along with the support for alternative livelihoods, the project has also made notable gains in building resilience in Dashoguz and Lebap, alternative financing, solar-powered agriculture and empowering local climate change actions.

AN ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE

To build alternative incomes -- and tap the power of nature's bounty -- women have turned to the simple worm. Indeed, the production of vermicompost (biohumus) has become a central activity that ensures sustainable incomes and well-being for many women -- and women-headed households -- in the pilot areas found in Lebap Province.

Gulbahar was born and raised Lebap Province in the village of Zergomen. She has two daughters and one son.

All her life, Gulbahar worked on the collective farm. After retiring from the farm, she had to look for a new occupation in order to provide for her household. She began to grow flowers, lemons, potatoes and tomatoes in her garden.

"Two years ago, I built a small greenhouse measuring 8x6 meters. I harvested enough for my family and some for sale. I planted bell peppers and tomatoes, and the neighbors came to me to try them, because they said that they had the best taste, because I don't use mineral fertilizers," says Gulbahar. "However, the soil became less and less fertile, and I had to use decayed manure, which attracts insects and causes a lot of weeds to appear. To deal with them, I then had to use various chemicals. It seemed to me that the taste of vegetables changed from this, and therefore I was looking for some means to make my production efficient and environmentally friendly."

In 2019, Gulbahar took part in a series of UNDP-sponsored trainings on alternative sources of income and climate-resilient economic activities.

That's when Gulbahar and other women in the community learned about the power and potential of vermicompost. When applied to farmlands whose nutrients have been depleted from the overuse of chemical fertilizers, a single ton of vermicompost can sequester up to .24 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Gulbahar received a bag of Californian red worms and has now established her own production in her home garden.

Gulbahar is one of the elders in the Vatan farmers' association. To share her knowledge and support her community, she now shows young girls and area residents what green production is, what advantages it has and how to realize its full potential in finding alternate sources of income.

"Now I have received vermicompost, which I use for my farm and this allowed me to increase productivity and save money on mineral fertilizers. I have already sold some tomatoes, because I received some surplus of the harvest. I also sold several packages of vermicompost to neighbors at 4 manat per kg (about US$1.14) and distributed to my relatives. Now I have planted Iranian persimmons and oranges," says Gulbahar. "I want to increase my greenhouse by 30 square meters and expand the production of vermicompost, because it will help me produce more vegetables and flowers for sale."

Gulbahar has received an offer from the chairman of the Vatan Farmers' Association to develop a lemonarium in a demonstration greenhouse that is being built as part of the project. She also plans to breed worms and sell them to those who wish to produce biohumus.

"Many people simply don't know what biohumus is and generally about its existence, but if they knew, they would use it and they would also have a good harvest. I am sure that worms are of great benefit. I tried a lot of things, neither nitrogen nor phosphorus gave such a good effect. I tell everyone about what biohumus is and how to produce it. The most important thing - do not sit idle, do useful things, then there will be no quarrels and discord at home."

"I used to buy vermicompost which was produced abroad. But it was very expensive for me. Then I undertook UNDP trainings and learned about it more. However, I still lacked some knowledge about production of vermicompost. Thanks to the project support, I filled in this knowledge gap and now produce vermicompost myself. I am very satisfied with the results that I got," said Gulbahar.

BENEFITS OF VERMICOMPOSTING

  • Diverts waste from landfills
  • Produces nutrient-rich castings for gardens
  • Less space needed than traditional composting
  • Less labor required to churn the compost pile (the worms literally do the work)
  • Faster production of compost