Kazakhstan taps farmers' knowledge to safeguard pollinators

March 14, 2022

Photo credit: Bauyrzhan Zhuasbaev/UNDP Kazakhstan

"At a young age, I was fortunate to have been exposed to the importance of pollination not only for food production in Kazakhstan but also for food security in greater Central Asian regions or further afield. That awareness has stayed with me ever since." Elena Kurganova, Executive Secretary of the Beekeepers Union Bal-Ara and the Association of Nuts and Berries Producers from Kazakhstan, is a genuine advocate of sharing knowledge on pollinators with the local farmers.

The overuse of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, reliance on monoculture, and rapid rotation between forage crops and other cash crops are reducing the diversity of pollinator species. This poses a threat to regional food security and Kazakhstan's economic revenue from pollinator-dependent export crops such as cotton, wheat, and oil crops.

Photo credit: UNDP Kazakhstan

"As the 9th largest wheat producer in the world, Kazakhstan pays great attention to the protection of pollinators and combating land degradation at the national and regional levels. To support national efforts to restore soils and protect pollinators, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has launched a biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services project in Kazakhstan. To this end, the BES Solution Fund has allocated nearly $400,000 for a 3-year project (2020-2022)," says UNDP Project Technical Advisor Firuz Ibragimov.

Launched with the support of BES Solution Fund, the UNDP project supports conservation efforts on the ground and fosters peer-to-peer support and exchange while nourishing and cultivating a community of like-minded biodiversity conservation enthusiasts like Elena. Elena leads the implementation of a pilot honey plant conveyor in the Almaty and Kostanay regions. The demonstration plots with nectar crops, like the one managed by Elena and her team, unleashes the wide range of benefits that pollinators provide to farmers' and beekeepers' livelihoods, preserving cultural values in balance with nature.  

Photo credit: UNDP Kazakhstan

Ultimately, these practices ensure ecosystem stability and support harmonious interaction between nature and people. Unfortunately, intensive agricultural practices are spurred on by market demands that 'don't always consider what is best for the environment. The profit-driven economic paradigm often fails to capture pollinators' complex and interlinked benefits. Pollinator-friendly practices such as nurseries for the melliferous plants or conveyor methods that bring long-term benefits to nature and communities are underestimated by the private sector that values short-term revenue, keeping in mind fresh memories of the economic challenges in the early post-Soviet era. Once considered the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is still an exporter of crops, mainly grain and oil which are produced mainly in large-scale,  integrated farms. Furthermore, the absence of a policy response to safeguard pollinators and promote sustainable land use has hampered integrated nature-based solutions.

Yet sustainable practices are not new to Kazakh farmers who have long preserved traditional knowledge of camel milk, grain and oilseed production. Acknowledging the intrinsic value of 'farmers' knowledge supports the cultivation of indigenous genetic and biological resources and reduces pressures of wild species, promoting their conservation and sustainable use. Kazakhstan joined Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan that recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to support the indigenous genetic resources, including medicinal and herbal herbs, and promote a harmonized approach in related regulations. This vision of cooperation to protect indigenous genetic resources of the region was set back in 2019 when the counties took part in the BES-Net Central Asia Regional Trialogue in October 2019.

"Awareness-raising, capacity building, and exchange of experiences play a critical role in shifting mindsets. They help in empowering the business sector to embrace techniques that protect pollinators and in encouraging policymakers to adopt laws supporting those practices", adds Yevgeniy Klimov from Kazakhstan Federation of Organic Movement and Agricultural Extension Center.

Photo credit: UNDP Kazakhstan

Yevgeny and other experts implementing the BES Solution Fund in Kazakhstan within UNDP project are aware of interlinkages between sustainable farming, land restoration, pollinators protection, and human wellbeing. "I was truly moved when I finally managed to find locally grown organic food to wean my child. At that moment, all our advocacy activities and capacity-building work to inform policymakers of biodiversity loss seemed to make sense. Health would be the greatest gift for the next generation", added Yevgeny.  

The interconnection of pollination, food security, and human wellbeing is a tangible example that teaches us that the complex challenges require an integrated response with collective action that truly leaves no one behind. Building trust for a coordinated response from policymakers, the business sector, grassroots organizations, youth, academia, and traditional knowledge holders will bring sustainable impact in Kazakhstan for years to come.

The initiative will contribute to UNDP’s goal on strengthening sustainable environmental management, sustainable development of rural and urban areas to support local communities.

Photo credit: UNDP Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is supported by BES-Net through the BES Solution Fund to upscale and implements findings emerging from the IPBES assessments as well as key priority actions identified during the Central Asia Regional Trialogue in October 2019.

Aligning with national biodiversity strategies and action plans, BES Solution Fund will help to strengthen institutions, better engage science, policy, and practice communities, improve data availability and use and promote rigorous on-the-ground initiatives to conserve, protect and restore threatened ecosystems.