There are still places on our planet where nature has been preserved unspoiled, where people live in harmony with the environment, where there are no factories or industries. One of these is the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region in Tajikistan. Though it occupies half of the country, covering almost 65,000 square kilometers, just 3% of the land is suited to human settlement. Gorno-Badakhshan is in the Pamir Mountains, the “roof of the world.” The villages here are located in the river valleys, and the people make the most of every sliver of land available to them.
Mulberry trees are an important source of food for the valley-dwellers. In many villages there are more mulberries than all the other fruit trees put together. The dried fruit serve as a substitute for wheat and barley in an area where the soil is not well suited to agriculture. In the past, dried mulberries accounted for as much as 90% of the diet of the Pamiris. The fruit, brought to the Pamir area from China during the early years of the Silk Road, has adapted to the difficult mountain environment, where the trees grow at altitudes ranging from 1,100 to 2,400 meters above sea level. Thanks to many centuries of cultivation, selection and adaptation, there are now over 60 varieties of mulberry in the Pamir Mountains. Many of these are eaten fresh or made into jams or syrups, but others are dried and used to make pikht, dried mulberry flour, which can be mixed with various seeds and grains.
In the Pamiri culture, everything that is beautiful is associated with the mulberry tree and its fruit. Some years before building a house, the Pamiris will plant a tree, which will then give food to whoever is working on constructing the building. Mulberries are used to welcome newly married couples and are said to bring them a sweeter life. The flavor of the fruit is indeed very sweet, and the people of Pamir are familiar with it from early childhood, which explains their love for the tree. To the children, they are like candy.
Dried mulberries, according to the Pamiris, have saved their lives on at least two occasions: during the Second World War, and during the civil war that was suspended in 1997, but ended only in 2000. The elders remember that even though they had no medicines, they still managed to stay healthy because they were eating mulberries all year round. In the Pamir valleys, each family collects around 20 to 30 sacks of dried mulberries, which are consumed during the winter. Direct sales are made difficult by the fragility of the berries, which suffer from being transported along the unpaved roads that lead to the capital. Additionally the cost of the bus ticket for the capital is prohibitive compared to the possible earnings from selling the fruit at the market.
Following the first Terra Madre in 2004, a community of mulberry producers was established in Khorog, Porshinev village, Shughnon district. The women joined together to protect the traditions linked to mulberry consumption, threatened in recent years by the arrival of many industrial products. In 2009 the Pamir Mulberry Presidium was started. The Presidium’s coordinator, Mohira Rahimjonova, will participate in the second edition of ITM in India.
The Pamiris are an Iranian ethnic group living in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of eastern Tajikistan, the Badakhshan region of northeast Afghanistan and the Chitral and Gilgit Baltistan regions of northern Pakistan. This indigenous group shares a language and cultural and religious links (they are Nizari, the main sect of the Ismailis, a branch of Shia Islam, followers of the Aga Khan).