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Pistachio cultivation can be an investment in the future

Planting pistachio in Uzbekistan
Planting pistachio seeds in Uzbekistan. Photo Credit: Sanobar Khudaybergenova/CACILM II

On the occasion of World Earth Day 2016, the ICARDA-led Knowledge Management in Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management in Phase II (CACILM II) project organized a pistachio tree-planting event on 23 April in the district of Bostanlyk, Tashkent region, Uzbekistan.

The event was attended by over 60 farmers, parliament deputies, NGO representatives, young people and mass media personnel, who participated in planting more than 300 seedlings of pistachios on 1.5 hectares  (ha) of land at a local farm located at an altitude of 650-1200 m above sea level, where the climate is suitable for creating industrial plantations of this crop.

"The purpose of this event, held in cooperation with partner organizations, is to demonstrate and implement research outputs of the project and promote alternative options of crop cultivation in highlands," said Dr. Akmal Akramkhanov, coordinator of the Knowledge Management project. “This event follows the round table held in Tashkent in February 2016 on perspectives of development of pistachio plantations in Uzbekistan, which attracted over 100 farmers, researchers, students and other stakeholders”.

The project prepared and disseminated to local stakeholders in the local Russian language recommendations on establishing pistachio plantations in drylands, a detailed video on pistachios, a video lesson for farmers on the process of inoculation, and an infographic video on the pistachio planting experience of farmers in Kyrgyzstan.

The pistachio tree, known for its strong root system and important role in soil and water conservation, can serve as an alternative income for farmer households in rural drylands were the effects of climate change are felt and the adoption of sustainable land management practices is pivotal.

Since ancient times, mountainous and hilly areas of Central Asia have served as a home for the pistachio tree - acknowledged for its high-calorie fruit. At present, about 300,000 ha of wild pistachio forests are hosted in Central Asia, of which 10% are in the south of Uzbekistan. Foothills are ideally suitable for planting pistachio trees in Uzbekistan and  extend over about 400,000 ha, located in Tashkent, Samarkand, Navoi, Jizzakh, Kashkadarya and Surkhandarya regions, and Ferghana valley. 

Green challenges facing Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan's rainfed agroecosystem is mainly used for grain and oilseed cultivation, and as rangelands. Grain harvest in these areas depends on the moisture content of a particular year, which rarely exceeds 8-10 kg per ha. Such harvest happens once every 3 to 5 years. Otherwise, yields only make up the cost of the seeds, or the crop is completely absent. Due to the increasing number of livestock in rural households and uncontrolled grazing, much of the vegetation cover is gone, including below-ground phytomass. This initiates serious soil erosion processes at large mountain foothills.  Soils suffer from induration, destruction of surface layer and soil structure, wind erosion, increasing surface flow and decreasing interflow.

Climate change is another natural threat to the existing land use in rainfed foothills. Annual air temperatures have increased by up to 4-6 degrees, with the same amount of precipitation. As this raises aridity of the climate, moisture content is reduced, consequently decreasing chances of obtaining acceptable yields without irrigation, as well as forage biomass in pastures. The growing aridity, combined with overgrazing, is increasing pressure on natural pastures and furthering their degradation. Thus, yields of rainfed lands from economic circulation and grain crops on non-irrigated arable land will become completely unprofitable.

Pistachio tree planting event in Uzbekistan organized by CACILM II.
Participants at the pistachio tree planting event organized by CACILM II in Uzbekistan. Photo Credit: Sanobar Khudaybergenova/CACILM II

Pistachios for the future

Creating industrial pistachio plantations is an alternative to the existing foothill rainfed land use system. Due to its notable adaptive capacity, pistachio  -the main forest-forming species in arid lands of the region- is resistant to hot winds, drought and cold weather. The most favorable altitude for the growth and fruiting of pistachio nuts ranges from 800-1300 m above sea level. Such plantations bring huge profits in many countries, such as the United Stated, where the industry annually generates about half a billion dollars.

Pistachio cultivation can be an investment in the future. Trees do not require special care and watering, however, crop yields are not expected soon. Each tree can harvest 1 kg of pistachio after 10 years, and 5-6 kg by the 20th year. The plantation of 200 trees can yield approximately 1 ton of pistachio in 15-17 years, proving the profitability of the industry. Almond trees can also be intercropped between pistachio trees to make profit before pistachio trees reach the age of stable fruiting.  Another source of profit is forage production to feed livestock.

Building high-grade industrial pistachio plantations on highlands means utilizing a natural resource to create new jobs and improve the welfare of the population. The effective involvement of low-production lands in agriculture and the restoration of degraded land both count towards adaptation to climate change.

About the CACILM II Project in Central Asia

The Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management in Phase II (CACILM II) Project, initiated in 2013, has been contributing to building a knowledge platform in the region to consolidate knowledge created for scaling up and out sustainable land management practices. The project's demonstration sites include four main target agro-ecosystems: (i) Irrigated agriculture, covering about 8 million hectares; (ii) mountain ecosystems, constituting over 90 percent of the area of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; (iii) rangelands, occupying a large portion of land in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; and (iv) rainfed cropland. These demonstration sites are used to channel the selected sustainable land management technology packages to farmer communities.

This project is funded by IFAD and led by ICARDA under the framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.

About the author

Ms. Sanobar Khudaybergenova is a consultant for ICARDA-led Knowledge Management in CACILM II regional project in Central Asia.