As part of its contribution to the International Year of Biodiversity, FAO has published a book celebrating the richness of biodiversity for food and agriculture in the Southern Caucasus, birthplace of many common foods found on plates all over the world.
Comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, the Southern Caucasus was one of the places where human beings first practised agriculture around 10 000 years ago and food crops such as wheat and grapes have their ancestral home in the region.
The Southern Caucasus has also been listed as the centre of origin of apples, apricots, pomegranates, pears and peas.
Small farms and gardens
Today, the area is still one of the world’s hotspots of biodiversity for food and agriculture. And the reason for this is largely thanks to the attachment to traditional food production systems by small farmers and local people who grow food in their gardens.
This diversity in food crops is mainly due to the climate – hot summers and cold winters – and to the mountains that provide differing degrees of shade and rainfall patterns. Entitled Gardens of Biodiversity, the FAO book contains hundreds of beautiful photographs documenting genetic resources, rural life and traditional food practices.
It also provides over 400 bibliographic references in seven different languages that have been used by the book’s contributors, including farmers, specialists in national research institutions and FAO staff in both the regional offices and headquarters.
The Southern Caucasus is well known for its diversity of endemic species and subspecies of cultivated and wild wheat. All three countries maintain rich collections in their national seed banks and scientists are constantly working on wheat selections of varieties with a good productive potential and pest resistance.
"We have to store germplasm in seed banks, but we also need farmers to preserve and use this genetic material in their day-to-day activities. This book pays homage to that, and we hope it will help focus on the role of farmers in the Southern Caucasus and elsewhere in this important task", said Caterina Batello, Senior FAO Officer and one of the book's authors.
The culinary ingenuity of the people has added to this rich mix with, for example, an extraordinary range of breads, which play an essential role in local food culture.
Livestock and bees
As well as plants, the Southern Caucasus are also home to important local breeds of cattle and sheep, such as Georgian mountain cattle, Megruli red cattle and Balbas, Mazekh and Bozakh sheep.
The region even has its own indigenous bee, the Caucasian honeybee, which because of its productivity is popular all over the world.
"The Southern Caucasus is a treasure trove of biodiversity that must not be lost. Only concrete action will ensure that present and future generations can continue to improve their food security and livelihoods. Today we must "wake-up" and engage in identifying, maintaining and using our genetic resources to meet the challenges of the future to feed a growing world population," said Batello.