The open door in the stone wall reveals a lush green space under shady fruit trees. The owner, 65-year-old Azim Choragabov, warmly welcomes us to his garden in Pokhut village, Zerafshan valley, Northern Tajikistan.
Since this small country at the roof of the world is covered mainly by high mountains, farming is restricted only to the valleys. Climate change leads to frequent droughts and mudslides, which endanger the harvest and therefore cause food insecurity and malnutrition. Even under these harsh conditions, agriculture is the main source of income for the broad population of Tajikistan – also for Azim.
The benefits of local plant varieties
When strolling through the fields, he gently runs his fingers through the blossoming potatoes and remembers his former self: "I used to let myself go and consume everything thoughtlessly. I wasted my time. Then I lost my son some years ago. After that I searched for a deeper understanding of life and I got more aware of its inner value."
With this realisation, Azim did not only change his own behaviour, but his attitude towards his surroundings as well. He became more attentive towards the varieties of local plants and showed an increased interest in their specific qualities and benefits. This was when Azim decided to get involved and to take part in the project on "Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Agricultural Landscapes", part of the International Climate Initiative.
A larger crop variety means better nutrition
The project "Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Agricultural Landscapes" is part of the International Climate Initiative and jointly supported by Welthungerhilfe and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Security. It is implemented by the local partner organisation IPD (Innovations and Participation for Development, Tajikistan).
"As someone who knows the local language of agriculture I wanted to participate in this project," Azim says. On his plot, a variety of fruit trees and plants are watered through an old stone canal from Soviet times. With the seeds provided by Welthungerhilfe and distributed through IPD, Azim grows a mixture of plants: potatoes, beans, calendula, wheat, pumpkin and horse beans.
"People used to grow horse beans a lot, they help with diabetes. Now I started growing them again; I sell them and share them with the neighbours." He wants to add some of his horse beans to the seed bank that the project plans to establish. The seed bank will allow farmers in his neighbourhood to exchange not only local seed varieties, but also to reintroduce varieties which are rarely used nowadays. As Azim knows, they provide valuable natural remedies and contribute to meet the nutritional needs of the community. They are more resistant and give high-yielding harvests.
Azim is very active in the Farmer Field School seminars organised by Welthungerhilfe, where he shares his new insights with fellow farmers. By exchanging his experiences with biodiverse farming, Azim spreads his passion to the community. The farmers in Zerafshan valley strengthen their own capacities to provide nutritious food for their families and preserve their unique agricultural landscape on a sustainable basis.
Now, when he is in his kitchen garden, Azim is totally absorbed in what he is doing. He is a serene man richly endowed with inner calm and composure. At times, it seems as if he was listening to his plants and flowers. He passes on his knowledge and love for growing local plants to his six children who help him in the garden. While his grandchildren are playing under the trees, he faces the future with confidence and hope.
Together with GIZ, Welthungerhilfe works with the Tajik agricultural and environmental institutions, aiming to strengthen capacities of land users, their organisations, technical experts and decision-makers in civil society and in public institutions. The long-term aim is to have a positive impact on the ecosystems and biodiversity of Tajikistan.
Project number: TJK 1105