Although Azerbaijan has been a major supplier of fruits and vegetables to Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere in the region since the Soviet era, it is able to export very few agricultural products to modern markets. Due largely to an inability to provide sufficient volumes and consistent quality, most of the country’s fruits and vegetables are not internationally competitive. Azerbaijani pomegranates, however, have the potential to be a notable exception. The country already exports a variety of processed pomegranate products, including narsharab, a traditional Azerbaijani sauce. Unfortunately, farmers selling to processors are price-takers and are paid very little for their produce. Therefore, to help them increase their incomes, the USAID Agricultural Assistance to Azerbaijan Project (ASAP) is working with pomegranate growers to improve quality for both the export and premium domestic markets.
Mr. Eyvaz Samedov, who has a farm in the Goychay region of central Azerbaijan, is a good example of the kind of grower that ASAP is assisting. Around 6-7 years ago, he planted four different pomegranate varieties (of the over 20 grown in the country) on a 60-hectare orchard. Although his trees are in good physical condition, his lack of agronomic knowledge has prevented him from achieving the required production quantities and quality, forcing him to sell his entire harvest last year for the extremely low prices paid by domestic processors. An input dealer who has worked with Samedov in the past and was aware of his difficulties, referred ASAP to him in early 2015.
ASAP began by providing basic growing recommendations that Mr. Samedov committed to implementing on a dedicated three hectares of his orchard in order to compare the results of these new efforts with his existing yields and quality. Then, on ASAP’s recommendation, Samedov purchased a cultivator and chemical sprayer (at a total cost of 9300 AZN), and initiated the application of mineral fertilizers for the first time, buying six tons of triple 16 and four tons of urea (for 3080 AZN).
Besides providing technical assistance in pruning, weed control, irrigation and pest management, ASAP decided to introduce pollination of early pomegranate flowers to the farm. By purchasing bumblebees, placing the hive in the center of the demo plot, and ensuring that the bees were provided with plenty of water, pollination within 200 meters of the hive was facilitated. Pomegranate flowers that are pollinated earlier in the season typically produce larger, higher quality fruit. In the future, ASAP will work with Mr. Samedov on improving his harvesting techniques as well as improving his postharvest handling and storage capacity. With proper implementation, he will be soon able to sell his product to the much more lucrative fresh market, both domestically and to Russia, with the potential to eventually initiate exports to EU countries.