Saturday, 10 January 2015

Tajikistan develops horticulture

For generations, farmers in the mountainous nation have been planting gardens and vineyards on slopes, hills and arid but unirrigated soil where they couldn't grow vegetables and cotton. They also started gardens on irrigated land if the climate in the area didn't support cotton.
That resourceful use of land has increased in recent years as agricultural leaders fret about disappointing cotton prices and about soil depletion by the notoriously demanding plant.
In the past five years, farmers have planted 53,532ha of new gardens and 4,110ha of new vineyards. Land under gardens now comprises 175,896ha and vineyards 38,398ha, the Tajik Ministry of Agriculture says.
"The most important thing is that we have allowed the farmers to make decisions on what to farm," Akhmajon Kobilov, deputy chairman of the Sughd Province government, told Central Asia Online. "Everything else is up to the market."
The current situation favors horticulture because fruit and vegetable prices in Tajikistan remain consistently high and because the prospects for profitable exports are growing, Tajik analysts say.
"We can see now that farmers prefer setting up new gardens on the sites of failed earlier plantings [of other crops]," Bakhodur Toshmatov, a scholar at the Sughd branch of the Tajik Institute of Horticulture and Vegetable Cultivation, said. "They seize every opportunity to plant fruit trees. Gardens also grow on so-called cotton plots where soil composition won't permit bumper cotton and vegetable crops."
"Five years ago, we stopped farming wherever it lost money," Haji Tulkin Dehkonov, CEO of the Assor Co. in Kanibadam District, said.

Intensive horticulture

Tajik farmers, historically unable to match larger and mechanised foreign rivals on price, have had to adjust some old attitudes. During numerous workshops, international organisations such as Welthungerhilfe (World Hunger Aid), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and local NGOs recommend aggressive implementation of modern technologies.
"For the past two years, we have been explaining advantages of the new technologies, including intensive horticulture [which minimises resource input], to the farmers," Makhinakhon Sulaymonova, chairwoman of the NGO Neksigol, said. "We are trying to convince farmers to drop stereotypes and conservatism and to learn from countries harvesting high yields."
However, the entire country has only about 150ha of intensively farmed plots, the Ministry of Agriculture reported. That's because nobody is pushing to implement the strategy, scholars say.
To encourage intensive horticulture to take off, authorities have greatly simplified procedures for transferring vacant land to such farmers.

Mastering the steppe

The Sughd Grain Co. took advice from HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation and set up a 20ha farm on the Somgar steppe (Bobojon Gafurov District) three years ago.
Ninety-nine percent of sweet cherry, plum and peach saplings thrived. Italian specialists supervised the whole process. Workers harvested 4-5kg of fruits from every tree (20 tonnes total) last year, during the first-ever harvest on the farm. The company expects a full-fledged crop of at least 100 tonnes next year.
"You can grow almost any kind of fruit on the more-than-200km-long right bank of the Syr Darya River in Tajikistan," Toshmatov said.
Authorities plan to carve out farm plots for intensive horticulture on 10,000ha on the Somgar steppe.
The Sughd administration already has received more than 900 requests from farmers and entrepreneurs for land allotments. In order to plant fruit trees as early as the spring of 2015, the administration in February 2014 began operating a pumping station to supply the steppe with Syr Darya River water.
"Intensive horticulture development can become a major stride not only in crowding out [imported] genetically modified fruits but in restoring Tajikistan's [former] status as one of the leading fruit exporters in the post-Soviet space," Dushanbe economist Saydali Gulov said.

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