• Pistachios - A Positive Legacy for the Future of Rural Uzbekistan

    24 Apr 2014

    From little things...Bastankul Saidkulov demonstrates how pistachio seedlings are best cared for.
    From little things...Bastankul Saidkulov demonstrates how pistachio seedlings are best cared for.

    By Online Communications Assistant James Brindley

    For some farmers they were a means to improve the fertility of overworked soil. Some saw them a hardy crop that can deliver profits even in extreme conditions, while others saw their potential to boost employment in communities. Many considered them a long-lasting investment that would support not only themselves but also their children and descendants.

    In February 2014, 40 farmers from Uzbekistan’s Djizakh, Samarkand and Tashkent travelled to Tashkent city to learn about Central Asia’s native pistachio crop. They took part in the ‘How to create a varietal pistachio plantation – a new, cost solution for the effective use of land in the rain-fed area of the Tashkent Region’ seminar, held at the office of the Council of Farmers of Uzbekistan, at the nation’s capital of Tashkent.

    Organised by both the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP) as implemented by UNDP in Uzbekistan, and its national partners, the event was a chance for farmers to discuss the crop and how its benefits. For Tashkent region farmer Joravoy Odinayev, who lives in a community with low employment, the nuts are a significant long-term investment.

    “It is a very export-viable product,” Joravoy told UNDP. “It’s a crop that is going to give us good opportunities for at least a thousand years, and I have a lot of family members and children who are growing up. I want to leave the trees as my legacy.”

    Joravoy currently exports almonds to Italy, and he intends to expand this business to include the pistachios he plans to grow. What’s more, he hopes that a business processing the pistachios on his property for sale will create workplaces for six to seven employees, while also serving as an example to neighbouring farmers.

    “I already have the land and want to start planting this year. I’m interested in inviting people to attend seminars on my land, explain the benefits of pistachio plantations, and take them to the markets to demonstrate how lucrative the final product is.”

    The Tashkent seminar emphasised that while pistachios are an economically-viable crop for farmers, the time between planting the crops and gaining economic benefits can be up to 15 years. Farmers who wish to plant pistachios have to carefully plan their land use to ensure they can continue they can sustain their livelihoods.

    GEF SGP recommended to participating farmers that if they wish to grow pistachios, they should also plant almond trees on their land. Using this method, the almond trees will grow and give fruit within three to five years, and will provide an alternate income source before the pistachios start to give fruit.

    Seminar participant Bastankul Saidkulov, a farmer from the Djizakh region who has been an active champion for the GEF SGP ‘UZ Pistachio’ project within Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector, helped to demonstrate the pistachio crop’s potential in arid regions.

    By investing a significant amount of his own savings, and $47,000 from SGP GEF, Mr. Saidkulov planted over 30 hectares of the crop on a plantation. He also installed green power generators and efficient water irrigation. Since 2009 1,500 farmers from the Djizakh, Samarkand and Navoi regions were trained on Bastankul’s land by SGP GEF, in preparing land and growing pistachios.

    “A lot of the land in my area, my hometown are dried up,” Mr. Saidkulov said. “One hectare of land gives only 500 kilograms of wheat, which is barely enough just to feed a family, so pistachios are a good business option.”

    “You have to put in effort, but the benefits of this investment will be apparent in future years, when you can start making money.”

    The financial benefits of growing pistachios, Mr. Saidkulov said, are in the numbers. Suppose that 50 hectares of land were planted 11,250 pistachio saplings, he said, with 225 trees per hectare. With yields of 7 to 8 kilograms of pistachios from the tree, the annual income could be around 90,000,000 sum per hectare (approximately 40,000 USD), which far exceeds any other crop that can be grown on dry land.

    The seminar was just one of over 20 training events and workshops that have been undertaken by GEF SGP since February 2009, to encourage the adoption of the pistachio crop by Uzbekistan’s farmers.

    Like other initiatives supported by the nationwide programme, the development of the national pistachio industry has served as a means to strengthen the livelihoods and well-being of rural families. It has also helped to maintain the fertility the majority of Uzbekistan’s dry farmlands.

    “Many of the initiatives supported by GEF SGP in Uzbekistan are examples of sustainable agriculture that can be expanded on and implemented in other regions, including our work with pistachios. They can also serve as an example for other developing nations,” said national coordinator Alexey Volkov.

    “The use of pistachio crops in Uzbekistan demonstrates how infertile lands can be rejuvenated while economic support can be given to farmers. There is great potential for its use to be expanded to other nations in Central Asia that could be facing similar problems.”

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    The ‘How to create a varietal pistachio plantation – a new, cost solution for the effective use of land in the rain-fed area of the Tashkent Region’ seminar was organised by GEF SGP, the Succow Fund, the Republican Scientific-Production Centre of Ornamental Horticulture and Forestry of the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, and the Council of Farmers of Uzbekistan.

    GEF SGP currently undertakes 24 projects in regional Uzbekistan, designed to promote and introduce positive sustainable practices that can both support rural populations and help preserve surrounding environments. The programme offers small grants to initiatives that have the potential to be scaled up nationally.