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Uzbek farmers get a livelihood boost from local fruit tree conservation

An Uzbek farmer proudly showing his grapes. Credit: Bioversity International/P. Sands
An Uzbek farmer proudly showing his grapes. Credit: Bioversity International/P. Sands

After five years of activity, an impact assessment reveals a positive trend in livelihoods linked to increased conservation and use of Uzbekistan’s and its Central Asian neighbors’ fruit trees.

When asked about ways for improving peoples’ livelihoods, do you immediately think of agriculture and picture of a farm?

Think again. Almost one and half billion people directly depend on forests and trees, including fruit and nut tree products, for a portion of their livelihoods. As presented in The State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources published last year, thousands of tree species are instrumental to global diets, health, shelter, fuel and incomes of the world’s poor.

Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are centres of origin for and particularly rich in temperate fruit and nut tree species with global commercial and nutritional importance. Uzbekistan alone is home to 83 traditional varieties of apricot, 43 of grape, 40 of apple and 30 of walnut!

These trees can be said to represent a ‘living genebank’ which houses genes that allow certain species or varieties to withstand climate change and can be used to breed varieties with desirable traits for humankind. Yet, this native genetic diversity of fruit tree species has greatly suffered due to deforestation, industrialization, logging and overgrazing. Losing of the valuable genes described above would mean further loss of biodiversity, degradation of natural habitats and continued delivery of ecosystem services.

In 2006, as part of the CRP-WLE/FTA and UNEP/GEF*-funded ‘In situ/on farm conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity (Horticultural Crops and Wild Fruit Species) in Central Asia’ initiative, Bioversity International set out to improve the way fruit tree diversity is managed, used, consumed and marketed to improve farmer livelihoods and continued in situ conservation of these precious trees.

After five years of activity, over 50 fruit tree nurseries were set up as a result of the initiative – producing over 1.5 million seedlings of traditional varieties of apple, grape, pomegranate and other fruit and nut trees, annually. After 2013, an impact assessment study was carried out with a specific emphasis on Uzbekistan where it was discovered that, thanks to the initiative, fruit trees, including wild fruit species were allocated 5% more land than before, and that apricot was the most popular among farming households. Throughout the five years of activity, 1,500 farmers were trained in soil, water and crop management practices.

The participation of a household member in project activities had a positive and significant effect on the conservation of fruit tree species diversity in Uzbekistan. This positive trend was underlined by a 61% increase in the Equitability Index (a measure of species evenness) and 39% increase in the Simpson Index of Diversity (which measures the number and abundance of species present) at the end of the project.

The assessment revealed that the dissemination of good practices across participant and non-participant households could be improved by having a more constant presence in project sites and by examining the way in which information circulates within and across project communities. It was also stressed that in the future more involvement of  youth would be beneficial as they disseminate information among their peers and promote continuity of the practices as their parents age. Their involvement would also support establishing sharing mechanisms for project technologies, such as grafting equipment, as well as associated knowledge within project villages.

Download the latest Bioversity International impact brief Livelihood implications of in situ conservation strategies of fruit tree species in Uzbekistan to learn more.

*This research is part of the 'In situ/On-Farm Conservation and Use of Agricultural Biodiversity (Horticultural Crops and Wild Fruit Species) in Central Asia' research initiative funded by the CGIAR Research Programs on Water Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

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