Pomegranates of the Silk Road turn to Fairtrade
Like most people in his village, Pardaali Holov is a pomegranate farmer. So were his parents and his parents’ parents. The mountainous area around the village of Varganza, Uzbekistan, where he and his family live is famous for its pomegranates, which represent life and fertility in Uzbek culture. Despite the rich symbolism of this juicy red fruit, the farmers there face challenges.
Holov is the coordinator of the Fairtrade producer organization Dustkul Bogi, based nearby Samarkand - the famous ancient city of the Silk Road - in Uzbekistan. Since becoming Fairtrade-certified in 2012 and with their first Premium project already underway, Pardaali is positive about the future.
The 51 members of Dustkul Bogi are small-scale farmers with small plots of land mostly located in front of their houses where they grow pomegranates and subsistence crops. They also sell almonds on Fairtrade terms, but don’t have their own land for them; instead they travel further up the mountains by donkey to collect the wild almonds growing where they grow best - high up.
As Pardaali explains, “Here we grow everything we need to live, but the money we earn from selling pomegranates and almonds helps us with extra things like our children’s education”.
Living in the mountains poses several challenges for the farmers. Transportation of products is difficult due to the bad roads, particularly in winter when they are icy. However, now that they are selling at least 50 percent of their pomegranates on Fairtrade terms, the trader supports them by collecting the fruit from many farmers with a van. Previously Pardaali would go from market to market to sell his products never knowing how much he would sell, but now he can focus on the quality of his produce, safe in the knowledge that a large percentage of his sales are secure and receiving a good price through the long-term relationship they have with a trader.
Challenges in water
However the villagers face a trickier challenge living on the ridge: consistent access to scarce water resources. Currently gates in canals upstream direct water flow from the river to Varganza. The surrounding villages have a system to determine when each gets access to the river flow.
This can lead to tensions, so when it is Varganza’s turn to receive water for irrigation, the farmers often guard the gates so that other villages don’t redirect the water flow their way. Assuring this minimal amount of water involves a concerted effort as the water gates are located 15km away.
The issue of water access is apparent in many conversations with the villagers and confirmed by Jamila Sharipova, a member of Dustkul Bogi, and her husband Mr. Aliev, who is responsible for organizing the irrigation and harvest. He explains that while they have a well in the community, they need electricity to be able to pump up enough water for irrigation since the water is around 70-100m below ground level.
However installing such a pump and improving electricity supply – currently they have electricity for about 2 hours per day – is expensive and could not be covered by their first Fairtrade Premium funds. So together with coordinator Pardaali, the members of Dustkul Bogi came up with a plan. With their first Premium payment in hand, the farmers opted for a different but exciting project: they are constructing a tea house.
The tea house
A tea house is the cultural and social centre of any typical Uzbek village, but since Varganza is a newer village - the houses were built there in 2004 - it doesn’t yet have the infrstructure of an established village. A tea house is where meetings, discussions and celebrations are held. It’s a typical place where the ‘white beards’ (Aksakal) - or the wise people - of a village gather and where others seek their counsel. Constructing such an important and visible centre for the village is a huge step.
“This is all part of our big plan. Once other farmers see our finished tea house, they will all want to join Fairtrade and then with a larger group we will work together to receive a higher Premium,” Pardaali explains. “And then we will install the water pump.
“If one day we achieve our three main aims with the Premium (the tea house, the electricity and the water pump), it would be just fantastic - like a dream come true.”
He smiles proudly, “but first you must visit us again next year and we’ll drink a tea together in the tea house”.
If you are interested in sourcing Fairtrade fruit or nuts from Uzbekistan you can email email@example.com.