Core know-how for intensive apple production in Tajikistan, May 2017
11 May 2017
When switching from a traditional apple orchard to a modern intensive one, the right information and know-how can make all the difference for success.
With that in mind, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) hosted a regional investment conference on apple production in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe from 31 March to 1 April.
Over 100 farmers and entrepreneurs attended the event, where they learned what, and what not, to do when planting and managing an intensive apple orchard.
International experts spoke on topics ranging from efficient production techniques and proper cold storage, to packaging, retail opportunities and payback periods.
Participants also visited Sitabr Agro, one of the few Tajik companies featuring both an intensive apple orchard and a modern storage facility for fruit.
The conference was standing room only as there is a “huge demand among Tajik fruit producers for practical knowledge,” said Andriy Yarmak, an FAO economist.
The event was part of an FAO/EBRD project to improve the efficiency of fruit and vegetable supply chains in Tajikistan and Moldova – making quality fresh produce more accessible and affordable to consumers, while opening up marketing opportunities for farmers.
“EBRD stands ready to help these companies with financing, technical assistance and expertise, bringing them closer to international standards and making the sector more attractive for strategic investors,” said Victoria Zinchuk, Head of Agribusiness Advisory in the EBRD.
Fresh produce is a major source of income for rural households in Tajikistan. It also accounts for more than half of the country’s agricultural exports.
Yet the supply and selection of fresh fruit and vegetables vary significantly depending on the season. From January until May, for example, the country imports most of its apples, resulting in higher prices for consumers.
During an FAO/EBRD study tour to Moldova in late 2016, Tajik producers and exporters recognized the huge potential their country has for intensive apple production.
The conditions for growing high quality apples are ideal, and domestic demand for better quality fresh produce is on the rise.
In addition, with support from the EBRD, Tajikistan is moving from open-air food markets to more modern retail, having opened an Auchan, its first hypermarket, in Dushanbe last year.
By investing in modern technologies, Tajik producers could see high returns and relatively short payback periods.
“Farmers can now earn USD 5,000 to 10,000 per hectare from traditional apple orchards, but they usually have to wait five or six years for the first harvest, and the quality is low,” Yarmak said. “With modern intensive orchards, they could earn up to USD 60,000 per hectare, depending on how well the technology is managed, and harvest after two years – sometimes even after one year. The quality is almost uniformly high, increasing the fruit’s market value.”
Many producers in Uzbekistan, Poland and Ukraine have transitioned from traditional to intensive apple production systems, providing valuable lessons for Tajikistan, which has only a handful of modern apple orchards.
Some of the common mistakes include planting varieties not adapted to the climate, using poor quality nursery trees or setting up orchards in areas without sufficient water resources for irrigation.
Cheap or homemade trellis systems can collapse once trees start to bear fruit, while planting too many varieties can affect marketing opportunities.
Likewise, not investing in the education of agronomists on pruning apple trees correctly or keeping them free from pests and disease, or in proper storage and packaging, can harm the success of the business.
The conference’s experts provided practical solutions for various scenarios.
Closing the information gap
For Nasrullo Saifullaev, a Tajik apple producer, this information came at just the right time. Having worked in the financial sector for years, he dabbled in gardening. Seeing a good business opportunity, he decided earlier this year to invest in a 6-hectare intensive apple orchard.
“Before this conference, I desperately searched for information, mainly through Google,” he said. “The experts here gave precise explanations on modern approaches to intensive farming, helping to fill in the gaps.”
Umed Sharipov, from Katra LLC, a local grower and service provider, added that it would be useful to set up a platform “so this knowledge could become accessible to more farmers.”
FAO and the EBRD plan to build on these efforts and continue closing the information gap in Tajikistan on new technologies, updated production, handling and packing techniques and marketing options to help produce farmers get better results.