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UNECE supports three Central Asian countries reaching new markets for their fruit, vegetables and nuts

During the last four years, UNECE together with UNDP and partner aid agencies, have worked with the public and the private sectors in Central Asia to improve their capacity to sell products in the UNECE region and beyond. The focus has been Central Asia’s largest production region, an area shared by three Central Asian Republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan: the Ferghana valley. This most populated region of Central Asia has vast potential but has been challenged by ethnic tensions and border conflicts as well as environmental issues. These together with economic difficulties and unemployment, particularly among its young population, required solutions that included all three neighbouring countries. UNECE’s work therefore aims at mobilizing local and regional support in all three countries for a better economic future for the entire Valley, a stronger and more competitive position on international markets to help ease tensions, and an increase in the integration into international supply chains. UNECE, together with UNDP offices in all three countries, has trained over 350 producers, traders and government agencies in international best practices to improve agricultural quality along the entire value chain and the possibilities of cross-border pooling of production for international trade. Delegates from the region are now fully integrated into UNECE’s intergovernmental work and are drafting a new standard for dried melons.  

The results of these efforts have become tangible. Between 2016 and 2017 alone, the export of fresh fruit and vegetables (including nuts and dried fruit) from Uzbekistan increased by 13 per cent, and the share of dried fruit in these exports increased from only 4 per cent in 2005 to over 26 per cent in 2017 (UNDP Uzbekistan 2018). The share of nuts in the overall export of fruits and vegetables doubled during the same period. The three countries have adopted UNECE standards (Uzbekistan over 80 in the largest single adoption ever) and attracted the attention of other Central Asian countries to explore this as a model.

At the recent 2018 workshop in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), for the first time, training material developed by Central Asia under the guidance of UNECE experts was used and experts from the region trained others. The Central Asia working group whose establishment UNECE supported, mobilized 90 participants for the symposium and 40 for an intensive training. This working group, which meets twice a year to harmonize the quality rules in the region, has become an important vehicle for ensuring the sustainability of UNECE’s efforts beyond international or donor funding. At the end of the three days, the preliminary sales contracts were signed between traders for both imports and exports.   

The numbers above attest to the progress made and how much possibilities for sustainable economic development in the region have improved, leading to a more sustainable use of scarce natural resources; a lasting empowerment of women in the farming and trade business who often run farms and trading businesses; peace building; and increased livelihoods. At the 2018 workshop in Tashkent, UNECE was joined by three other UN agencies (UNDP, FAO and UNCTAD) and two international aid agencies (GIZ and Hilfswerk Austria International) to set the stage for the next steps. UNECE and its partners have succeeded together with all stakeholders in providing a solid platform and training, but the ownership of the endeavour, however, is entirely Central Asian.