Kyrgyz Haricot: To bean or not to bean?

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It was indeed a question during the second day of the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Central Asia and the Caucasus. During the plenary discussion that focused on food security and nutrition issues in agriculture, Nurbek Omuraliev, who is a representative of Kyrgyzistan’s Academy of Science, asked presenters  how best bean crops could be included into the Kyrgyz diet.

Central Asian cuisine, and especially Kyrgyz food, is mostly based on meat and dough, so introducing a legume like Kyrgyz haricot is expected to be difficult task. Mr. Omuraliev recounted a story of how the current Kyrgyz prime-minister, Mr. Temirbek Sariev, did in fact eat haricot with soldiers during his visit to one of the military units in the country. In Mr. Omuraliev’s opinion that the Ministry of Defence was indeed successful in making soldiers eat legumes, but the question remained – who could achieve this with the general population?

Production was not an issue. Since independence in 1991, farmers from the Talas region in Kyrgyzstan, grew haricot for export. This has made Talas the home of the Kyrgyz haricot. There are now 57 companies in the Talas region producing this legume, and in 2015,, three more mini-plants for cleaning and bean conservation were opened. Last year alone, the Kyrgyz haricot was exported to 19 countries.

Unfortunately, demand for the Kryrgyz haricot was considerably reduced in 2015 due to logistical difficulties as well as hard currency challenges. Talas haricot producers were negatively affected by the decrease in demand and showed their displeasure with demonstrations. Due to the scale of the crisis, solutions were considered at the central government level. The prime minister actually tasked people to develop new ways of selling the legume and introducing it into the local cuisine. He publicly showed his support by recommending that people eat more Kyrgyz haricot.

And with the UN declaring that 2016 is the International Year of Pulses (IYP), we do need to focus on heightening public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production aimed towards food security and nutrition. It is expected that this year will create a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, help better utilize crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses. Actually, the UN intends to have a broad information campaign promoting the usefulness and importance of leguminous crops in healthy food and initiating programs and projects that increase the production of these crops and help resolve issues of trade.

This global push for more consumption of pulses encouraged participants in the plenary discussion – they proposed different ways of linking Kyrgyz culture with legumes. Ideas included celebrating cultural days, holding farmers days, carrying out demonstrational and educational events, and even attracting top officials – including the Kyrgyz president and prime minister so they could become drivers in the increased consumption of Kyrgyz legumes. Another participant even suggested disseminating seeds more freely, while another contributor recommended that TV channels be approached to help raise awareness.

Other regional actors pitched in. The representative from Armenia, Mr. Armen Harutyunyan, highlighted that Armenian cuisine was rich in its use of legumes. And since it is also a cuisine from the Caucasus, he felt that one tangible possibility to increase consumption of pulses could be sending Armenian cooks to the Kyrgyzistan so that people could be trained in cooking dishes using crops like the Kyrgyz haricot.

The recommendations from the plenary discussion were very welcome, yet it was important to take into consideration local specificities. The main challenge is that the Kyrgyz mind-set is not drawn to consuming beans. Even haricot farmers often do not eat their own legumes in Kyrgyzstan, especially since meat plays an important role in the national Kyrgyz cuisine. So, it really is expected that introducing pulses into the Kyrgyz diet will be hard.

All of this being said, I remember that during one Nooruz holiday in my student years, we all had to prepare national dishes of different countries. I prepared two Arab dishes which consisted of two different types of beans and all my classmates enjoyed the dishes. This gives me hope.  Perhaps by making and sharing legume-based dishes, it will be possible to diversify the Kyrgyz diet. Considering its nutritional value, I at least hope that the Kyrgyz haricot will continue to be.

 

Blogpost by Tynymgul Eshieva, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – teshieva(a)soros.kg

Picture courtesy of azattyk.kg.

This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Central Asia and the Caucasus. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.


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