Vegetable production is one of the important branches of agriculture in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Sowing areas have increased constantly during the past years and stood at 783,200 ha in 2010. The average yield of vegetable crops increased from 19 t/ha to 20.4 t/ha between 2006 and 2010. Total vegetable production has increased by 33.2 per cent and was 17.5 million tons in 2010. Currently, in terms of annual vegetable production, Uzbekistan (7.5m tons) and Kazakhstan (3.7m tons) are the biggest vegetable producers in the CAC Region (FAOSTAT, 2012).
There are constraints in vegetable production in the countries of the Region, which are moving towards market-oriented economies. Although there are favorable climatic and soil conditions, and technologies are available for vegetable cultivation in protected agriculture (greenhouses, tunnels), vegetable production is still seasonal. Around half of the production is in the autumn (August – September), and a quarter is in the summer (June – July). Very few vegetables are cultivated in the winter (November – January) or the early spring (February – March).
The Central Asia and the Caucasus Regional Network for Vegetable Systems Research and Development (CACVEG), established by AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center in 2006, aims at assisting in the development of market-oriented vegetable production systems and promoting vegetable research strategies for the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in the Region.
The Fifth Steering Committee Meeting (SCM) of the CACVEG Network was held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on 11-13 December 2012. More than 35 participants, including the national coordinators on vegetable systems R&D and specialists from eight CAC countries, participated in this meeting.
Country reports were presented by the national coordinators during the meeting. The discussion highlighted the fact that the network strengthens regional capacities in vegetable production through collaborative research, including AVRDC’s new germplasm evaluation methods, expansion of non-traditional and indigenous vegetables, adoption of promising varieties and appropriate technologies; good agricultural practices and capacity building through academic studies, training and farmers’ days.
AVRDC Regional Varietal Trials have been carried out annually in different soil and climatic conditions in Armenia (Research Center of Vegetable, Melon and Industrial Crops), Azerbaijan (Azerbaijan Research Institute of Vegetable Growing), Georgia (Research Institute of Crop Husbandry of the Agrarian University), Kazakhstan (Kazakh Research Institute of Potato and Vegetable Growing), Kyrgyzstan (Research Institute of Crop Husbandry), Tajikistan (Research Institute of Horticulture and Vegetable Growing), Turkmenistan (Research Institute of Crop Husbandry) and Uzbekistan (Uzbek Research Institute of Plant Industry, Uzbek Research Institute of Vegetable, Melon Crops and Potato and the Tashkent State Agrarian University).
Through collaboration with AVRDC, currently, 23 varieties of eight vegetable species are undergoing state variety trials in the eight countries. To date, a total of 28 new varieties of 7 vegetable crops, including tomato (6), hot pepper (6), sweet pepper (5), vegetable soybean (5), mungbean (4), yard-long bean (1) and cabbage (1) were developed as a result of collaborative research in the partner research institutes and registered with the State Variety Testing Commissions of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Seeds of promising and new varieties are multiplied and shared with farmers. To facilitate adoption, farmers’ days have been held in all countries, attended by more than 300 farmers, policymakers, business people and specialists.
All released new varieties are characterized by very high marketability in the CAC Region. The meeting also discussed the arrangements for seed multiplication of promising and released vegetable varieties to supply farmers with quality seeds for wide cultivation, increasing production and farmers’ income, diversifying diet, and improving the export potential of vegetables.
Capacity building is an important task and an increasing number of young specialists have been involved in vegetable research. In 2011, two PhD theses were completed in Armenia (Davit Ghazaryan and Karine Sarkisyan). In 2012, one MA thesis (Bakhtiyor Karimov), as well as one PhD thesis (Shukhrat Asadov, Doctor of Agricultural Sciences) were completed in Uzbekistan, where AVRDC germplasm was used for research. Four more theses have been finished during the recent years. In total, 10 young specialists involved in vegetable research in the CAC countries took AVRDC-sponsored English language courses in their home countries. In fact, the seminar entitled "Prospective Research Directions in Vegetable Production in the CAC Region" was conducted as part of the fifth SCM, where fifteen young scientists from the Region presented the results of their research in the area of vegetable germplasm evaluation, breeding, improved cultivation technologies and seed production.
The attendees also touched on current activities and collaboration within the framework of CACVEG, existing problems and ways of strengthening further the capacity of NARS and vegetable R&D, as well as developing appropriate policy options that are critical for crop diversification, micronutrient security, cold season production, distribution channels, post-harvest technologies and market economy. The participants agreed on ways to approach the aforementioned issues and discussed and decided on continued collaboration within CACVEG.
Five national coordinators and research institutes’ directors were awarded Certificates of Recognition for their efforts to disseminate improved genetic resources and technologies in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Among those awarded were: Drs. Gayane Martirosyan and Gayane Sarkisyan from Armenia; Dr. Temirjan Aitbayev, Kazakhstan; Acad. Dzhamin Akimaliev, Kyrgyzstan; and Prof. Botir Azimov, Uzbekistan.
A special session was dedicated to innovative technologies, such as tomato grafting technology, where participants had the opportunity to learn more about grafting technology prospects and conducted some practical work on plant grafting.
A training session titled "Promotion of Vegetables for Dietary Diversity and Health of the Population" was organized for the participants right after the SCM. These events gave the specialists the opportunity to share experience and information for further development of vegetable research and development in the CAC Region.