Ata-Baba hazelnut is an ancient hazelnut cultivar of Azerbaijan. Meaning “passed on from father to son” in local dialect, this peculiar variety is diffuse in the northern part of the country, on the southern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, between the districts of Gabala and Gakh. Foothills mild climates, together with the presence of water reserves, have contributed to the development of hazelnuts cultivation, which represents an important source of income for Azerbaijani rural populations since ever. In this territory, every small-scale farmer has even only a couple of hazelnut plants, demonstrating the strong link with the local culture.
Ata-Baba variety is light brown colored and has a perfect round shape with a hard shell. The weight is approximately 2.5 grams, with an oil content reaching 68%, conferring a very sweet and oily taste. The hazelnuts plants can grow high till four meters wild in the bush, but in orchards they are kept around 2.5 meters to facilitate the harvest. The fruits sprout into a husk that is twice the length of the nut, usually in a group of 3-6 nuts. The planting system is traditionally in a framework with good distances to a plant from another, in order to make them grow properly. Cultivation care in the first years is very simple, consisting primarily in keeping the area under the trees clean and guarantee the distribution of fallen leaves in the soil to enrich the organic matter during the dormancy period. Every two- or three-years during winter dormancy some pruning is carried out to guarantee an adequate ventilation of the foliage avoiding the onset of thickening of humidity. Thanks to the pruning, suckers are available for new planting, while the remaining wood is used both for heating and realization of wooden objects.
The haselnuts are ripe and start falling to the ground at the end of August but harvest begins in late September: traditionally the trees are gently shook manually, allowing the fruits to fall. Some producers use nets to collect them, while others pick the fruits directly from the ground. Once harvested the hazelnuts are cleaned up and left to dry in the shade for about 15 days. Then the good fruits are separated by the deformed or the excessively small ones. Because of their durable shell, hazelnuts store well and were once an essential source of food during the winter. Moreover, the shells are usually used as fuel instead of firewood.
Azerbaijani hazelnuts appeared on the world market in the 1930s, when a full-fledged nut-processing factory was built in Zagatala (next to Gabala and Gakh districts). As Azerbaijan began to consolidate as one of the most important producing countries in the world, local varieties began to lose commercial importance, except for a very local basis, often not adequately remunerated. Small-scale producers have thus lost part of their sovereignty on the autochthonous production and end up delivering the product to local traders who create mass production for the processing industry and export. The Presidium aims at supporting small-scales producers who are still cultivated the ancient variety, helping their product to get the remuneration they deserve. The Presidium works to make the producers able to directly process the fruits, in order to access the market with final products. Moreover, Presidium producers’ have agreed on strict cultural practices by signing a production protocol that establishes the ban of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic chemicals.