“An old man was planting a tree sapling in the forest when two young boys noticed him and approached with curiosity. They asked the man why he was planting a tree when he is already old and might not have a chance to enjoy its fruits. The old man answered, “When I was a child, I saw my grandfather planting trees and he never had a chance to eat their fruits. I was the one who enjoyed them and I still eat the fruits growing on those trees. Now, it is time to return the favour. I am planting trees so you, my children, can enjoy the benefits.”

This was a small part of a theatre show performed by the schoolchildren of Dashtijum village during recent harvest festival celebrations in Tajikistan. The harvest festival, or Mehrgon in Tajik, is celebrated annually in October. Following the harvest from the forest and fields, farmers and communities celebrate the season, thanking Mother Earth for the gifts presented to them.

Tajikistan's mountainous landscapes give way to important fruit-and-nut forest remnants. This globally important forest type is characterised by ancient walnut stands as well as wild apple, pear, cherry, pistachio and almond. Credit: David Gill/FFI
Tajikistan’s mountainous landscapes give way to important fruit-and-nut forest remnants. This globally important forest type is characterised by ancient walnut stands as well as wild apple, pear, cherry, pistachio and almond. Credit: David Gill/FFI

This year, the Fauna & Flora International (FFI) team in Tajikistan, with the support of the UK government’s Darwin Initiative and the Global Trees Campaign, celebrated the harvest festival across both our project sites in Dashtijum and Childukhtaron Nature Reserves. Fruit and nut trees growing here provide an essential source of household income for communities across the two reserves. The reserves are identified in Tajikistan’s National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan as two of the country’s three most valuable walnut-maple forest sites, with a rich variety of wild fruit and nut trees. These include the critically endangered Tajik pear and Bukharan pear, as well as threatened species of almond and apple.

Around 900 people and schoolchildren from both villages participated in the festival. The aims of the celebrations were to highlight local biodiversity and to raise awareness of the importance of conserving native pears and other threatened native fruit trees, both for the forest itself and for the local community whose livelihood depends on this vital natural resource.

Local communities supported the harvest celebrations. Credit Rasima Sabzalieva/FFI
Local communities supported the harvest celebrations. Credit Rasima Sabzalieva/FFI

Different cultural celebrations took place across the two sites, including traditional folk dance and music, exhibitions of forest products, theatre shows performed by schoolchildren and contests to find the best nature painter and best florist among the students. Schoolchildren at both sites actively participated in the events and delivered an engaging programme for the local community. Along with the students, local farmers also participated, presenting the harvest from their own fields and gardens and, with the support of FFI, the members of established savings and producers groups were also involved.

The atmosphere was cheerful and villagers were excited and entertained by the combination of cultural music, dance and theatre. This kind of event leaves a lasting impact on local communities and brings greater attention and emphasis to biodiversity conservation.

The variety of colourful offerings on show at the events. Credit: Rasima Sabzalieva/FFI
The variety of colourful offerings on show at the events. Credit: Rasima Sabzalieva/FFI

FFI’s team in Tajikistan used this opportunity to engage the local community and remind them that, without their effort and care for the forest, there would be no harvest at all. The harvest of such a variety of delicious fruits that we celebrate today would not be possible at all if our grandfathers had not planted or taken care of the trees. So, in order to continue this harvest tradition we must support and protect the forest for the sake of future generations.

Such acts of care to restore and expand the forest area and protect the threatened trees are now well under way. The project is contributing to a healthy and diverse forest ecosystem through the planting of more than 137,000 trees from 14 native species since 2017, including four threatened tree species. This autumn we plan to plant a further 80,000 native trees.