Cultivation of pistachio can be an investment in the future

Date: 25.04.2016.

ICARDA-led Knowledge Management CACILM II project organized pistachio tree planting on 23 April in Bostanlyk district of Tashkent region, Uzbekistan. Photo by Sanobar Khudoybergenova.

Pistachio tree planting event took place on 23 April in Bostanlyk district of Tashkent region, Uzbekistan. Organized by ICARDA-led Knowledge Management in Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management in Phase II (CACILM II) project, the event was dedicated to the World Earth Day.

Over 60 participants, including farmers, parliament deputies, NGOs, young people and mass media participated in planting over 300 seedlings of pistachios on 1.5 hectares of land at a local farm, located at the altitude of 650-1200 m above sea level, where the climate allows suitable conditions 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”.

Pistachio tree, known for its strong root system and sustainable role in soil and water protection, can serve as an alternative income for farmer households in rural drylands in the conditions of the climate change and requirements for sustainable land use. Since ancient times, mountainous and hilly areas of Central Asia had served home for pistachio, Pistacia vera, dumetosous specie, known for its high-calorie fruit. At present, Central Asia hosts about 300,000 ha of wild pistachio forest, 10% of which is preserved in south of Uzbekistan. Foothills, ideally suitable for planting pistachio in Uzbekistan, occupy about 400,000 hectares. They are located in Tashkent, Samarkand, Navoi, Jizzakh, Kashkadarya and Surkhandarya regions, as well as Ferghana valley. 

Rainfed agroecosystem of Uzbekistan is mainly used for cultivation of grains and oilseeds, and also as rangelands. Grain harvest in these areas depends mainly on moisture content of a particular year, which rarely exceeds 8-10 kg per hectare; such harvest happens every 3 to 5 years. In other years, yields only make up the cost of the seed or the crop is completely absent. Due to increasing number of livestock in rural households and uncontrolled grazing, vegetation cover is gone, including below-ground phytomass, at large mountain foothills, and this initiates serious soil erosion processes. Soils suffer from induration, destruction of surface layer and soil structure, wind erosion, increasing surface flow and decreasing interflow.

Another natural threat to the existing land use in rainfed foothill is climate change, which is reflected in increased annual air temperature up to 4-6 degrees with the same amount of precipitation, leading to further arid climate: moisture content is reduced, consequently decreasing probability of obtaining acceptable yields without irrigation, as well as forage biomass in pastures. Growing aridity combined with overgrazing is increasing pressure on natural pastures and their further degradation, thus yield of rainfed lands from economic circulation and grain crops on non-irrigated arable land will become completely unprofitable.

Creation of industrial pistachio plantations is an alternative to the existing foothill rainfed land use system. Due to its enormous adaptive capacity, pistachio, the main forest-forming spicy in arid lands of the region, is resistant to hot winds, drought and cold weather, where the most favorable altitude for the growth and fruiting of pistachio nuts ranging from 800 to 1300 meters above the sea level. Such plantations in many countries, sometimes located very far from the natural range pistachio, bring huge profits. For example, in the US, the industry annually generates about half a billion dollars.  

Cultivation of pistachio can be an investment in the future - trees do not require special care and watering, but crop yields are not expected soon. After 10 years, each tree can harvest 1 kg of pistachio, and by 20th year it will produce 5-6 kg. The yield for plantation of 200 trees in 15-17 years can approximately make 1 ton, proving that this business is profitable. Additional profits can be gained from forage product to feed livestock. Besides, almond trees can be intercropped between pistachio trees, to make profit before pistachios reach the age of stable fruiting. Using highlands to build on high-grade industrial pistachio plantations can be viewed as a natural resource to create new jobs and improve the welfare of the population, effective involvement of low-productive lands in agricultural use, as well as restoration of degraded land and thus adaptation to climate change.

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