A growing number of consumers are getting hungry for organic produce, and production is on the rise in many parts of the world. Because of their agricultural tradition, manpower and favourable environmental conditions, Central Asian countries have a significant opportunity to contribute to this global expansion.

Knowing this, countries in the region have sought FAO assistance to facilitate organic agricultural production. One tangible result is a publication series newly released in additional language versions.

Besides the “Development of Organic Agriculture in Central Asia,” which summarizes the proceedings of the international conference last year in Uzbekistan, a publication on organic agriculture is available for Azerbaijan  (in English and Azerbaijani), Kazakhstan (in Russian), and Uzbekistan (in English and Russian) to help assess these countries’ future prospects within the global context.

“FAO supports organic production under its ‘Save and Grow’ concept, which aims to intensify smallholders’ crop production in a sustainable manner, without overexploiting our environment,” explained FAO agricultural officer Hafiz Muminjanov, who is also the driving force behind this pursuit.

Although agriculture is among the foremost and largest sectors in Central Asia in its contributions to the national economy, organic agriculture is less common.

To trigger change, FAO has assisted Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in improving legislative and institutional frameworks for organic production, certification, and marketing. Similar activities also have been implemented in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Recently in Uzbekistan, FAO implemented a comprehensive project on the development of organic farming, assisting in the formulation of national regulations and standards and working with farmers, researchers, extension specialists, and policymakers, Muminjanov said.

“Central Asian countries have good prospects to go organic and enter foreign markets with their native commodities, such as cotton, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and dried fruits production,” he said.

The Eurasian Economic Union has developed regional standards for organic products, and currently FAO is facilitating the review process to include them into the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement’s family of standards.
In Azerbaijan, according to the report, only 1 percent of all agricultural land – mainly growing fruits and oilseeds – certifies as organic. Honey is the country’s only registered organic animal product. Expansion is hindered by certain restrictions and limitations for organic farmers to scale up and diversify production and export.

“Organizing awareness-raising campaigns at local level, in collaboration with the line ministry and farmers’ organizations, would help convince more producers to convert their production into organic,” Muminjanov said. “Beside economic benefits, long-term environmental protection and sustainability aspects of organic farming should also be emphasized.”

With the purpose of sharing knowledge and experience on organic agriculture, a regional webpage was developed with FAO support and hosted by a local non-governmental organization in Kyrgyzstan.

Muminjanov suggests that organic farming is viable and profit-yielding for farms at all scales. If planned properly, he said, organic farming can also generate other benefits, such as creating more jobs, presenting an opportunity for rural development in areas with high unemployment.

“Organic is not the holy grail that will solve every problem in Central Asia, but if willingness is there, it can be a building stone of a sustainable agriculture that ensures a secure and healthy life for those working in and benefitting from the sector,” Muminjanov concluded.