There are still pristine places in existence without industry and pollution, where people live in harmony with their environment. One of them is the autonomous province of Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan. Though its area (about 65,000 sq km) extends over half the country, only 3% is habitable. Gorno-Badakhshan is located among the Pamir Mountains or “Roof of the World”. A few villages are situated in valleys beside rivers, and the populations cultivate every patch of land available.
Introduced from China via the Silk Route, the mulberry is perfectly adapted to the difficult mountain environment, where it grows between 1100 and 2400 meters above sea level, replacing crops such as wheat and barley, which cannot grow at these altitudes. An important food resource particularly during times of crisis, the bushes are cultivated on small plots of land and the elderly producers say that some are over a hundred years old.
There are more than 60 varieties of mulberry in the Pamir region, the result of centuries of natural selection and adaptation. They can be eaten raw or transformed into jams and syrups; the berries can also be eaten dried, whole or ground, and made into pikht, which is generally mixed with other seeds and cereals to make a traditional sweet food. Pikht is used as a sweetener in tea, fermented milk or sour cream or alternatively mixed with ricotta cheese as an ingredient in cake fillings.
Mulberries are mainly harvested for family consumption: In summer families put as many as 20-30 sacks of dried mulberry aside as a reserve for the winter.
In the local culture the mulberry tree and fruit are associated with beauty: Berries were traditionally given to a couple to make their life sweeter, and before starting to build a new house, a mulberry tree would be planted.
During the Second World War and the extended civil war which afflicted the country until 1997, mulberry played a crucial role in providing the main source of nutrition for the local population.
The Presidium, created in collaboration with Bioversity International, currently involves more than 20 producers from four districts in the autonomous province of Gorno- Badakhshan, organized into groups of 5 to 6 people.
Its main objective is to defend the Pamir tradition of eating mulberries, which has significantly decreased in recent years with the spread of industrial products. The Pamir Biological Institute of the Tajikistan Academy of Sciences has classified and catalogued local varieties, and identified those most suitable for promotion. The Presidium will provide the producers with the equipment required to gather, dry and preserve the berries. The Presidium also exports the mulberries to Europe, and has organic certifica- tion pending.
Shugnan and Rushan districts, Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province
Pamir Biological Institute, GBAO, Tajikistan