Azerbaijan launches biodiversity project
The COVCHEG project has mapped 40 local varieties of vegetables, fruits, traditional home-made sweets, animal breeds, wild plants and other specialties linked to the villages and climatic zones of the Greater Caucasus Mountains of Azerbaijan. The international social organization Slow Food International reports in its article A Roadmap to Biodiversity – The COVCHEG Project Launches in Azerbaijan that community-based Value Chain Enhancement in the Greater Caucasus Mountains area valorizes local gastronomy and cultural heritage, aiming to foster economic regeneration and the well- being of rural communities in Azerbaijan.
The project promotes a development model that combines agrobiodiversity maintenance, economic development, and poverty reduction as mutually supportive objectives that can be achieved by the sound management and productive use of agrobiodiversity resources. The project coordinated by Slow Food in partnership with Animal protection Public Union (APPU) and the National Association of Rural Municipalities of Azerbaijan (NARMA). The pilot project area includes five districts, part of the Shaki-Zaqatala and Daglig-Shirvan economic regions: Shamakhi, Ismaili, Gabala, Shaki and Qakh.
Half a hectare of land, dotted with vines of the Madrasa grape variety, with its incredible 26% sugar content, is still maintained by an ordinary Shamakhi farmer. Alongside the grapes, more vines, 4 rows of the local tomato variety, a single fruit of which generally clocks a weight of around 1 kg, remain in the Marsan village. These are just a couple of examples of the tragic trend that the Slow Food movement has been tracing in almost every country on earth: The introduction of imported varieties and a deterioration of environmental conditions are pushing many local crops and breeds towards extinction.
In Azerbaijan, through the COVCHEG project, Slow Food is working to safeguard what is left of local biodiversity, and develop sustainable local value chains as viable alternatives to the established and powerful ones that are wiping out local production., The project is being carried out with the financial support of the European Union, in partnership with the Animal Protection Public Union and the National Association of Rural Municipalities of Azerbaijan. On April 11, in Baku, following the completion of the agrobiodiversity mapping phase, the project team, with active support of the EU Delegation and Tourism State Agency of Azerbaijan, held the Conference, attended by the representatives of the EU Delegation in Azerbaijan, State authorities, academia, media, and the real protagonists of any Slow Food project, producers. All the speakers emphasized the great potential of the project areas (Gabala, Shaki, Ismaili, Shamakhi and Qakh districts) for its diversified food heritage and the under-exploitation of its potential for sustainable local development.
Kestutis Jankauskas, the Head of the EU Delegation to the Republic of Azerbaijan, placed great importance on the economic development of rural areas, in particular support for small farmers who are custodians of local identity: “If we are aiming to develop tourism, then it is important to offer our guests something interesting, authentic, and unique to this country or to one of its localities. There are no problems with this in Baku, our goal is to find a highlight in each region and build tourists’ interest around it”. At the same time, the great potential of the Ethno-Gastronomic Tourism based on the local agrobiodiversity heritage was confirmed by Florian Sengstschmid, CEO of the Azerbaijan Tourism Board.
Through the mapping phase, over 40 traditional local products, varieties and breeds, and some key producers of each, were mapped in all five pilot areas. The first potential candidates for Presidium projects have been identified, linked to particular geographical areas (villages) and certain geoclimatic zones.