Community seed banks in the Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan

By Askarsho Zevarshoev

Feature image: Local farmers study the wheat with a scientist © Environmental Consultancy

My association, the Environmental Consultancy, has established community seed banks in twelve remote mountain communities in the Pamir Mountains. Among the world’s highest mountains, the Pamirs are deep in the heart of Central Asia, mostly in Tajikistan, with some of the ranges in Afghanistan, China and Kyrgyzstan. Through our initiative, we support communities to preserve their local seeds for future generations: an approach which also serves as a coping strategy for climate change adaptation.  

The seed banks we established are in areas of harsh climatic conditions, including altitudes of more than 3000 meters above sea level, with each community seed bank located at a different altitude. For five of the twelve communities, seed bank infrastructure needed to be installed in safe areas away from natural disasters, which have been a common occurrence over the last ten years due to climate change. GEN seed funding will help us with this objective and will provide greater reliability and longevity to the seed banks.

Constructing infrastructure at a community seed bank © Environmental Consultancy

Members of the communities involved in the seed banks exchange seeds amongst themselves and thus form the very heart of the initiative. Those located at high altitudes are fortunate to be able to source seeds from those at lower altitudes following climatic catastrophes, which destroys their yield very often. Traditionally, seed banks are made out of simple containers, without any basic infrastructure to guarantee safe preservation of the seeds to the next season, or longer. Therefore, we decided to establish a seed bank equipped with cold storage and appropriate technology needed to extend the lifetime of the seeds. As the community seed banks are scattered in various remote places which are difficult to access, we also decided to establish a centralised seed bank, which will be managed by the Environmental Consultancy. Through this, we will support the sustainable management of the community level seed banks.

We are collaborating with research institutes and seed banks to exchange seeds across Tajikistan. The seeds we obtain are disseminated to the said communities, which provides them with access to different types of seeds with more productivity or nutritional status. We work with the All-Russian Research Institute of Plant Industry, which houses one of the largest seed banks in the region. It contains 100-year old seeds from the Pamir Mountain area, which were collected by Russian geneticist, geographer and scientist Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, when he visited the Pamir Mountains in 1916 and 1924. Environmental Consultancy is currently collaborating with the institute to transfer the seeds to Tajikistan to preserve in our newly-established seed bank as well as disseminate among communities, which have lost most of their seeds.

Using donkeys for wheat graining © Environmental Consultancy

The Community seed banks in the Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan project is being carried out by GEN member Askarsho Zevarshoev and is supported through GEN Project Packages.