A woman-entrepreneur developing first lavender farm in Kyrgyzstan

An entrepreneur developing the first lavender farm in Kyrgyzstan

Imagine beautiful fields of lavender, the majestic scent in the air and purple blossoms as far as the eye can see. Imagine these fields not in Provence, France, but in the Issyk-Kul province of Kyrgyzstan. Sounds surreal, but it’s true – Kyrgyzstan officially has the first lavender farm in the country and the Central Asian region as a whole.

Lavender is not something a Kyrgyz farmer would normally grow in the backyard. Potatoes, wheat and onions are among the country’s most important agricultural crops. However, Aisuluu Duishebaeva thought otherwise.

Aisuluu Duishebaeva, 38, used to work for various international organizations based in the capital, Bishkek, mainly on agricultural development projects in Kyrgyzstan. Over the years she gained relevant experience and expertise in organic farming and soon decided to start her own business.

“Details are important. Many farmers lack knowledge about safer and more efficient crop processing,” says Aisuluu. For example, farmers traditionally apply fertilizers to crops when insects have already hatched from eggs and grown, which damages the crops and has little effect on the grown insects: “At that point, the treatment becomes useless and the chemicals remain in the soil. in the water and in the air,” claims Aisuluu. However, when fertilizers are applied at early stages of seed growth, that is, early spring in Kyrgyzstan, the insects are still in the cocoon and therefore the treatment easily kills the pests and does little damage to the soil and plants. Such early treatment also requires less fertilizer, which would help farmers save money and time.

Her previous work experience also helped Aisuluu learn that pure essential oils can be grown in mountainous areas, that is, areas without developed industrial infrastructure. From this point of view, Kyrgyzstan was ideally suited for the experiment: a high mountainous country with clean air and high unemployment in rural areas, especially among women and people with disabilities. Additionally, pure essential oils are expensive compared to other crops in world markets and could therefore potentially bring good revenue.

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Interestingly, niche pharmaceutical companies around the world are always looking for pure, organic essential oils since 80% of perfumes are made from them. “Unfortunately, the global perfume market today is flooded with synthetic oils, so the fragrances will quickly fade and the smell will be spoiled, especially when mixed with human sweat,” shares Aisuluu.

It was January 2020 when Aisuluu bought a farmland in Issyk-Kul province and decided to start her own lavender farm. Needless to say, no one, including herself, expected what seemed a normal flu to turn into a global infection that would close borders between states and lock people in their homes. COVID-19 changed Aisuluu’s life but didn’t affect her resolve.

After spending three months in lockdown in Bishkek, Aisuluu was finally allowed to travel to her farmland in the summer of 2020. She had missed the first and second planting seasons, and there were still no seeds to plant because she ordered the lavender seedlings from Bulgaria in February 2020, which didn’t arrive in Kyrgyzstan until November of the same year when there was snow on the ground.

But this situation taught the young farmer how to deal with business crises. Aisuluu allocated specific plots of land for organic berries and vegetables and soon began supplying them to organic shops in Bishkek – a practice she still does to this day. This helped generate some income that supported Aisuluu until the next lavender seedlings planting season.

“When I got to the farmland there was nothing, a dry and windy wasteland. I had no place to stay, so I lived in my car for three months in the summer of 2020 until we managed to build a small farmhouse,” Aisuluu recalls with a smile on her face.

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The lavender she grows is of exceptionally high quality as it is 100% organic, both the process and the product. Aisuluu hand-plants the lavender seedlings, hand-weeds, never uses fertilizers, and picks the bushes itself. All of this is done to avoid the use of chemicals, kerosene, and machines that destroy the quality of lavender.

Today, Aisuluu successfully exports pure Lavender and Damask Rose essential oil to a high-end perfume company in Japan, creating customized fragrances for each customer. This shows the exceptionally high quality of Aisuluu’s products. Exports will soon be flowing west, to Germany. But the road to export was full of obstacles: “No one helped except my brother, and when I found out that I had received a business grant from the OSCE Program Office in Bishkek, it took me some time to process and believe it,” she shares young entrepreneur.

Last year in 2021, the OSCE Program Office in Bishkek, in cooperation with the PEAK program, which helps in the development of start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises, awarded Aisuluu Duishebaeva a grant in kind in the form of a fruit drying machine and a still, the total cost of which was 8000 amounted to EUR. This new equipment helped Aisuluu expand the production capabilities of pure essential oils, as she explains: “You can only use one burner for one type of plant, in other words, I can’t use the same burner to make essential oils from the Damascus rose and then from the Damascus rose.” Extracting lavender would compromise the purity of both oils. So the acquisition of a new distiller from the OSCE was a turning point for my company.”

In the future, Aisuluu plans to increase the volume of lavender cultivation. On average, villages of Kyrgyzstan allocate 10-15 acres of land per household. Unfortunately, portions of this available land remain unused, and families simply construct outbuildings there. “If I’m successful, I believe I can prove to the local communities, particularly rural women, that allocating about 2-3 hectares of household land to growing lavender can be as profitable as it is unique,” says Aisuluu, whose eyes are filled with excitement to shine. “Imagine bringing together 1000 households, so at least 1000 rural women in Kyrgyzstan and teaching them, working with them, creating new income and opportunities – that is something I aspire to”, dreams Aisuluu, “that would be it also help my business increase lavender oil volume and place my home country on the world map as one of the lavender oil exporting countries.”

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At the same time, Aisuluu stressed that focusing on improving the quality of their essential oils comes first, while increasing production volumes is secondary: “My ultimate goal is not to keep increasing production volumes, but to create added value and thereby improve the quality of life.” Adding value to the country I was born and live in my community and in new women-run businesses across Kyrgyzstan.”

Since 2017, the OSCE Program Office in Bishkek has been supporting the development of SMEs across Kyrgyzstan. In particular, the Program Office has so far helped establish and support the operation of entrepreneurship support centers in Batken, Osh, Djalal-Abad, Talas and Issyk-Kul provinces. In 2020-2021, on the basis of the two ESCs in Batken and Issyk-Kul provinces, the Program Office developed a project to support women’s entrepreneurship, which was awarded the OSCE Gender Champion Award 2022 in the category “Best Initiative”. . The program office team remains committed to supporting the sustainable development of both women’s and men’s SMEs in the host country’s provinces.

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