DUSHANBE – In western Tajikistan, in a series of villages along the border with Uzbekistan, WFP has given 800 vulnerable families 40 trees apiece – apricot, pomegranate, cherry, mulberry, almond, pistachio and pine. These families will also get WFP food while they receive training in looking after the trees. In three years, when the trees become productive, the families will have ample supplies of fruit for the first time in their lives with enough left over to sell at the market.
Mahbouba Khal, 23, whose mother Ghizlan is in charge of their seedlings, shows a visitor from WFP a big jar of tomato and onion compote that was made from last summer’s produce. “When the apricots and mulberries start to grow, I will make preserves from them and store them in this same container,” she explains. “We will have fruit all winter long.”
Some 63,000 fruit, nut and pine trees are currently taking root in Tajikistan thanks to U.S. $100,000 provided by WFP's vehicle-leasing department in Dubai. The idea -- the first such initiative in WFP -- is to offset the carbon footprint of the vehicles used in WFP food assistance operations by planting trees which will have environmental as well as economic benefits.
The trees have been planted in two food-insecure areas of Tajikistan: the west, where Mahbouba and his mother live, and in the eastern Rasht Valley. In the east, WFP is partnering with UNICEF in 50 secondary schools in a learning and environmental awareness programme. Some 10,000 secondary students have been given one tree each – either apricot, apple or poplar – which is marked with a plaque bearing their name. The boys and girls are responsible for making the tree grow, and in doing so, they learn about the role of trees in preventing soil erosion.
Important collaboration on this project came from the Tajikistan Forestry Agency, which designated staff to train the beneficiaries, provided technical assistance from maps and reports going back some 50 years, dedicated a forest ranger to patrol the pistacchio seedlings on horseback, and signed a 20-year land lease with the new tree-owners, charging them just US$1 a year.
For Ilmira Jaffarov, the WFP tree project is a dream come true. To buy one fruit tree at the market would cost her family several weeks of savings. Now they have 43 saplings growing in their small garden. And if she has to wait three to four years for the trees to give fruit? Ilmira, 50, just smiles. “These trees are our future” she says. “Even if they don’t give us fruit now, they will remain here even for our children to enjoy.”