Gardens in the Desert
Spring wind is softly touching thin, delicate bodies of freshly planted fruit trees. The gardener is anxious to check, attend and water each tree. This would be an ordinary picture unless the fact that the fruit orchard came into being on degraded land – in a village next to the newly arisen sand desert, formerly Aral Sea bed.
And the “gardener “is Navruzhon Alanova, 15-year-old pupil of a local school. Navruzhon, like many of her peers is a participant of the “The Best Green Yard” competition, organized by United Nations Development Programme, together with the Global Environment Facility and the Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The “Achieving Ecosystem Stability on Degraded Land in Karakalpakstan and the Kyzylkum Desert”project tests, evaluates and promotes innovative solutions to combat land degradation at a pilot scale.
Kazakhdarya village, where Navruzhon lives is one of many former fishermen’s villages which suffered the consequences of the Aral Sea’s shrinking. The village is home to over 3500 inhabitants. Within a few decades people, who had been fishing for centuries lost their main source of income – fishing. Moreover, falling water level revealed thousands of hectares of sand, which wind blows around, and dust and sand particles threaten human’s health and existence of such villages. Still, people continue living in the village and have to adapt to the changing conditions.
The project joins efforts with the local communities with the view to achieve ecosystem stability: restrain desertification, preserve biodiversity and jointly create health and socio-economic benefits for the population on a sustainable basis.
Awareness-raising and trainings in gardening, actively conducted by project experts are literally bearing their first fruits. A few years ago out of 580 households only 3-4 had greenery in their yards, now the number of “green households” is over 40. With the experts’ assistance and consultation people are learning to grow apple-trees, peaches, apricots and other fruit-trees, tomatoes, beetroots and many others.
Previously, lack of traditional agricultural knowledge, experience and absence of available water resources made gardening almost impossible. The project assisted in addressing these challenges through organizing practical field trainings, where village inhabitants became able to acquire necessary skills. Meanwhile, the water pumps, purchased with the project’s support enabled much-needed irrigation. The pumps deliver water from Kazakhdarya River to the land plots, which now boast rich harvests.
Benefits are multiple. Planting greenery in the household plots enables to ensure food availability, diversify people’s diets, creates new income source and improves village green microclimate. Produced agricultural output is of significant economic value for the population, since it provides fruits, vegetables, construction materials, medical herbs and fuel. These contribute to the households’ economic well-being and people’s health.
Gardening has become an important part of environmental education of children. The announced competition stirred vivid interest among schoolchildren and became a powerful impulse for planting trees and vegetables in the household yards. The winners will be announced only in June 5, 2011 – the World Environment Day, but according to Kurbongul Turdibekova, Navruzhon’s mother: “We are already rewarded. Our yard is now full of trees, and in a few years we will enjoy their fruits. I am very glad that my daughter is learning gardening. Our children and grandchildren who will inherit this land and it is our responsibility to improve the environment of our village and pass experience to the future generations”.