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How UNECE agricultural quality standards and forestry expertise can support sustainable nut and dried fruit value chains

Forest tree nuts and dried fruits can contribute to the sustainable use of natural resources as well as livelihoods of producers, supporting cross-cutting progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

More than 1.6 billion people, mostly in developing countries, depend on forests and forest resources for their livelihoods. The international trade of nuts is estimated to be worth about USD 45 billion, of which approximately USD 8 billion is from forest tree nuts.

In the Caucasus and Central Asia, whose land area of 419 million hectares is almost equivalent to the size of the European Union, forests cover only 6.5%, compared to 31% of the global average. This makes the forests of the region of critical importance, in particular considering the harsh climatic conditions, human pressures and natural threats they are exposed to. In this region, non-wood forest services, including nut and fruit production, are of greater economic importance for rural populations than wood production. Nuts and dried fruit in general, particularly wild-growing forest nuts, are part of value chains that generate valuable employment opportunities in local communities, as highlighted during the recent UNECE-FAO tasting event and conference on “Sustainable Natural Resources and Their Value Chains: Nuts”.

UNECE has developed over 100 agricultural quality standards, including close to 30 for nuts and dried fruit. These standards, together with recommendations and training, help producers around the world to improve quality and access international markets, unlocking sustainable growth opportunities.

UNECE and FAO work together with countries of the region in developing sustainable forest management. Together with enhancing forest governance and monitoring, they provide broad support to activities in the field, focused on reforestation and restoration of degraded forest landscapes.

Forest nuts: supporting sustainable production

The sale of nuts (mainly walnuts) plays a primary role in generating income and livelihoods of forest-dependent people. In Central Asia, rural populations, most of whom live close to a forest, account for 60% to over 70% of the total population. In Kyrgyzstan, walnut production, collection and drying by itself contributes to 50% of family incomes in the forests.

The majority of the collection (harvesting) and cracking of forest nuts in the region is done by women. For the many women and their families whose income depends on nut value chains, it is essential to ensure decent employment. The careful harvesting and production of nuts in forests is therefore particularly important to ensure they can be traded and sold at good prices. In addition, forests provide ecosystem benefits that are critical to human welfare and must therefore be managed sustainably.

Improved agricultural practices in the related nut industries can help conserve biodiversity for generations – in countries all over the world. In Kenya, for example, macadamia shells and husks, the waste products of shelling macadamia nuts, are used to produce energy. Macadamia pollens are very attractive to bees. Another preservation example is the Amazonian rainforest, where Brazil (Amazonian) nuts are one of the most important Non-Wood Forest Products. This particular type of nut is collected by local populations and has enormous potential for expansion while conserving the rainforest. Nut production requires careful management and resource planning to achieve economically viable yields and, at the same time, balancing environmental and social impacts.

The UNECE/FAO tasting event was supported by 13 countries and international organizations, which contributed a variety of dry and dried produce, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecan nuts, pistachios, cashew nuts, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, dried melons, dried bananas. The contributions were provided by Brazil, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, Tajikistan, United States, Uzbekistan and the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC).

The conference, organized on 25 June 2019 by UNECE and the FAO Liaison Office in Geneva, was held in the context of the Sixty-sixth session of the Specialized Section on Standardization of Dry and Dried Produce under UNECE’s Working Party on Agricultural Quality Standards.