Home gardens are ‘living gene banks’ that sustain livelihoods in Central Asia: Research on home gardens has shown the critical roles these play in the livelihoods and sustenance of rural dwellers worldwide, but little scholarly attention has focused on home gardens in Central Asia, particularly in the English language literature.
In a new paper published in PLOS ONE, researchers address this gap and show the rich diversity—both within and across species—of fruit and nut trees that Central Asian home gardeners maintain. Drawing on interviews with home garden managers, the authors also show the links between trees in these gardens and their wild relatives in nearby forests.
The researchers found the home gardens were established about on average 40 to 50 years before the data collection, that is, during the rule of the Soviet Union, with some older home gardens over 70 years old found in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and some very young ones found in Kyrgyzstan.
In Tajikistan, “these trees have been vital for people to survive during times of conflict, and these home gardens with trees and vegetables play an important role to support families, providing a lot of the food for the household, in addition to income,” explains Barbara Vinceti, a forest ecologist and the lead author of the study. Marlène Elias, a Senior Scientist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, says home gardens’ role in sustaining and protecting a rich diversity of tree species make them “living gene banks. We looked at home gardens situated close to forests and examined how genetic material moves between the forests and the home gardens,” Elias said, adding that this flow between the two is critical to maintain tree and varietal tree diversity in both home gardens and forests.
Yet, despite this rich diversity, Vinceti cautions that foreign varieties have become more common in home gardens because they are increasingly lucrative. Apple and pear varieties in particular are increasingly threatened by an influx of foreign commercial varieties. “We saw a significant erosion of local tree varieties of key species as more varieties come from outside,” Vinceti said, adding that commercial exotics coming in from the U.S., Russia and Europe were starting to replace local diversity in home gardens.