The COVCHEG project has mapped 40 local varieties of vegetables, fruits, traditional home-made sweets, animal breeds, wild plants and other specialties linked to the villages and climatic zones of the Greater Caucasus Mountains of Azerbaijan.
Half a hectare of land, dotted with vines of the Madrasa grape variety, with its incredible 26% sugar content, is still maintained by an ordinary Shamakhi farmer. Only 4 rows of the local tomato variety, a single fruit of which generally clocks a weight of around 1 kg, remain in the Marsan village. These are just a couple of examples of the tragic trend that the Slow Food movement has been tracing in almost every country on earth: The introduction of imported varieties and a deterioration of environmental conditions are pushing many local crops and breeds towards extinction.
In Azerbaijan, through the COVCHEG project, Slow Food is working to safeguard what is left of local biodiversity, and develop sustainable local value chains as viable alternatives to the established and powerful ones that are wiping out local production., The project is being carried out with the financial support of the European Union, in partnership with the Animal Protection Public Union and the National Association of Rural Municipalities of Azerbaijan. On April 11, in Baku, following the completion of the agrobiodiversity mapping phase, the project team, with active support of the EU Delegation and Tourism State Agency of Azerbaijan, held the Conference, attended by the representatives of the EU Delegation in Azerbaijan, State authorities, academia, media, and the real protagonists of any Slow Food project, producers. All the speakers emphasized the great potential of the project areas (Gabala, Shaki, Ismaili, Shamakhi and Qakh districts) for its diversified food heritage and the under-exploitation of its potential for sustainable local development.
Kestutis Jankauskas, the Head of the EU Delegation to the Republic of Azerbaijan, placed great importance on the economic development of rural areas, in particular support for small farmers who are custodians of local identity: “If we are aiming to develop tourism, then it is important to offer our guests something interesting, authentic, and unique to this country or to one of its localities. There are no problems with this in Baku, our goal is to find a highlight in each region and build tourists’ interest around it”. At the same time, the great potential of the Ethno-Gastronomic Tourism based on the local agrobiodiversity heritage was confirmed by Florian Sengstschmid, CEO of the Azerbaijan Tourism Board.
Through the mapping phase, over 40 traditional local products, varieties and breeds, and some key producers of each, were mapped in all five pilot areas. The first potential candidates for Presidium projects have been identified, linked to particular geographical areas (villages) and certain geoclimatic zones.
With the financial support of the European Union, Slow Food, in partnership with the Animal Protection Public Union and the National Association of Rural Municipalities of Azerbaijan and strategic support from the Tourism State Agency, Ministries of Azerbaijan and PASHA-Travel,, is developing a project to support smallholder famers in the Greater Caucasus Mountains region. Working closely with local authorities, civil society groups, and other stakeholders, the EU-Azerbaijan partnership will share EU best practices and experience on local identities and gastronomy as well as the conservation of biodiversity and cultural heritage in the area.