The Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan, with its favourable geography and climate and its unpolluted soil, offers ideal conditions for farming medicinal plants and herbs – raw materials that are increasingly in demand on the booming European market for herbal medicines.
But the potential offered is untapped because Kyrgyzstan does not have the cropping and marketing strategies it would need. Up to now the rural population has produced primarily to meet their own needs. The phytopharmaceutical manufacturer Dr. Willmar Schwabe aims to change this.
Dr. Willmar Schwabe Pharmaceuticals requires 100 tonnes of top quality valerian every year for its herbal medicines. Daniel Fraas heads the company’s central purchasing department. He knows how important quality is. ‘When it comes to procuring natural raw materials, the price is a secondary consideration for us – quality is the prime consideration. Our customers are also patients; for this reason, we cannot accept any pesticide residues or other contaminants.’
The company was looking for new cultivation areas to ensure a reliable supply of quality valerian in future too – and they hit on Kyrgyzstan. ‘Kyrgyzstan’s soil is practically free of residues,’ explains Fraas, ‘because no pesticides have been used there for decades’.
Since the Karlsruhe-based company values the special purity of Kyrgyzstan’s soil, Dr. Willmar Schwabe aims to harness the country as a source of valerian – which will also improve the quality of life of the people there.
‘A large percentage of the people of Kyrgyzstan are subsistence farmers,’ explains Fraas. ‘They grow cereal crops and potatoes to meet their own needs. Little has been marketed up to now. Growing valerian will raise the income of Kyrgyz farmers, because it commands better prices than many food crops.’
It is not easy to find your feet in a foreign country and establish new structures. Dr. Willmar Schwabe had the support of a development expert. As part of the develoPPP.de programme of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH assisted the company.
‘Everyone who has been involved in procuring natural raw materials for any time has automatically come across GIZ,’ says Fraas, looking back to the origins of the partnership, ‘because GIZ operates on the ground in so many countries and has excellent contacts in country, especially in the agricultural sector.’
A local partner was also brought on board – Galenpharm, a company specialising in plant extracts, that is aiming to develop capacities for the European market.
Managing director Kosmosbek Cholponbaev explains the situation: ‘We specialise in the production of remedies based on plants. We would like to export more to Europe but contract negotiations often break down as a result of the small quantities we can supply. The develoPPP.de programme is giving us the chance to expand our quantities and develop our value chain. We are able to work efficiently with local farmers and help them sell their produce – so the project also has a social side for us.’
In the project region around Issyk-Kul Lake in the mountains, the partners aim to enable local small farmers and their families to grow valerian properly and sustainably.
To this end, Dr. Willmar Schwabe worked with GIZ to develop a train-the-trainer programme, within the scope of which members of the Kyrgyz extension service are trained as valerian experts. They then pass on their newly acquired expertise to the farmers. Galenpharm mobilised about 1,000 small farmers to take part in the training programme. To ensure the best possible results, Dr. Willmar Schwabe provided high quality seed for training.
Denis Krasnojonow is responsible for the GIZ side of the development partnership in Kyrgyzstan. A key part of his work was to ensure the best possible understanding among all the partners. ‘We helped Schwabe and Galenpharm with their everyday communication. We did not only work as translators; above all we helped overcome cultural barriers – which is an important precondition for success.’
A newly established collection point makes for efficient processing of the valerian harvest. From here, the roots are brought to an equally new processing centre where machines have been installed to wash and dry the valerian, relegating the long and difficult hand-washing process to the history books.
In addition to the improved production strategy, long-term supply contracts open up new doors for valerian from Kyrgyzstan. Before the project was wound up, some 400 farmers had entered into contracts with Galenpharm, which is responsible for shipping the valerian to Germany.
‘We have found an excellent partner in Schwabe,’ declares Kosmosbek Cholponbaev. ‘The contract, which runs initially until 2018, has good prospects of being extended. That gives us very good prospects for the future, which is why we have started to develop our own production base. We are also planning to found a cooperative to ensure that we can continue to deliver stable quantities. We aim to offer members agrotechnical extension services and thus firmly anchor valerian expertise in this area.’
In the develoPPP.de project special importance was attached to gender equality and women’s independence. Nasira Asanalieva is one of the many women farmers who were able to significantly boost their income thanks to the trainings.
She saw the advantages of growing valerian in her first year. ‘2,000 valerian roots brought me a net profit of KGS 20,000. By comparison, on the same area I could only have produced 300 kg of potatoes, which would have generated a profit of no more than KGS 1,800.’
Denis Krasnojonov is delighted to see the success of the development partnership. ‘The Kyrgyz farmers have encountered valerian for the first time, and with it a new and promising source of income – without the develoPPP.de project this would not have been possible.
It is also the first time that a company from Kyrgyzstan regularly exports goods to Europe, in cooperation with a large number of farmers – and they do so now without any external assistance. Cooperation among the partners today works so well that they manage without any GIZ support. That is a genuine success story for us.’
Dr. Willmar Schwabe is also satisfied. Today the company buys about 20 tonnes of top quality processed valerian roots per harvest cycle from Kyrgyzstan: further investment in the fields of mechanisation and pesticide-free weed control are planned, in order to come closer to meeting the company’s annual demand of 100 tonnes of quality valerian.
As Daniel Fraas sums up, ‘We have tried many things in the field of procuring raw materials. Of all the projects I’ve been involved in, the development partnership with develoPPP.de was the best.’