Involved Countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
Project Donor(s): UNEP-GEF
Project Duration: 2006-2013
Project Partners: Bioversity
Official web-site: http://centralasia.bioversity.asia/
Central Asia is one of the five most important centres of origin of cultivated plants, and the richest in specific and intraspecific diversity for many globally important agricultural crops (N. I. Vavilov, 1931). Particularly important crops in Central Asia are the temperate fruit species. Apple (Malus domestica), apricot (Armeniaca vulgaris), peach (Persica vulgaris), pear (Pyrus communis), plum (Prunus domestica), grape (Vitis vinifera), almond (Amygdalus communis), pistachio (Pistacia vera), pomegranate (Punica granatum), and fig (Ficus carica) are among the best known crops cultivated in the region where, over the course of several centuries, the diverse natural and climatic conditions have helped farmers produce varieties adaptable to drought and resistant to a number of environmental stress factors. These locally-developed traditional varieties have been shown to be essential components of crop production in difficult environments. Due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition from a centralized economy to a market-driven one, the Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – face serious development problems. These include food insecurity, poverty, and degradation of the environment (see Annex P for a map of the region). Issues of food security and poverty are pushing agricultural development and consequent biodiversity loss. While government efforts to restructure the agricultural sector and diversify production are ongoing, genetic erosion, including of fruit species, is on the rise. Important fruit species genetic diversity is found both in the wild and on-farm; both sources are threatened by a number of factors.
Wild fruit species in Central Asia are under threat due to overgrazing, deforestation, logging and industrialization. The Central Asian countries have responded by establishing 15 forest reserves where wild fruit species grow. However, in many of these reserves, the fruits are used unsustainably by local people, thus contributing to genetic erosion. In addition, the best-quality products are selected to ensure better marketing opportunities. This engenders a human-driven natural selection, which leaves only those varieties that are not immediately marketable to reproduce. The result is loss of wild fruit species, and reduction of intraspecific diversity in natural forests and reserves. The consequent degradation of natural habitats and biodiversity loss leads also to loss of a wide range of valuable ecosystem services (e.g., carbon storage, protection of hydrological functions, soil erosion), an instable environment, and, ultimately, natural calamities such as floods, drought, and landslides. Horticultural crops face equal pressures. Since cultivation began, farmers have managed local varieties in a dynamic way to produce the most marketable plants, and those that have adapted the most effectively to local environmental conditions. However, while many valuable landraces and local cultivars of these species are still maintained in home gardens and on small farms, the introduction of uniform high-yield varieties, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and increased mechanization have reduced the area of agricultural lands on which local cultivars are maintained. The result is loss of traditional diversity-based farming systems, arable lands degradation, pollution of the environment (water, soil, air), genetic erosion, and loss of biodiversity.
The outcome of this project is conservation and sustainable use of horticultural crops and wild fruit species genetic diversity in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Local varieties of horticultural crops and wild fruit species have been conserved in situ/on farm through enhanced capacity of stakeholder groups including policy-makers, researchers, agricultural extension workers, farmers and their associations, local communities, and NGOs. Knowledge about levels and distribution of fruit species genetic diversity, and the value of this diversity for sustainable agriculture and ecosystem health, is used to strengthen policy and legislation as it relates to project objectives. The project has produced and distributed proven participatory management models that contributed to the conservation of this important global resource within and outside the five target countries.
More information on the project results is available at http://centralasia.bioversity.asia/