The impact of the EU-Funded COVCHEG project

I remember times when we would greet shepherds bringing their animals back from a common pasture when we would harvest potatoes and clover, wait in line for fresh milk, fresh bread and much more. We used to bring industrial tools from the city to our farmer neighbors in exchange for their products. But times have changed, lots of farmers have moved on and traditions have almost disappeared. Now there are farmers who ask us to bring back grocery shopping for them when we go into town.

Recently I joined the Slow Food movement and became part of the EU-funded COVCHEG project implemented with local partner organizations such as APPU and NARMA with the support of the Azerbaijan Tourism Board, State Tourism Agency, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Economy, SMEDA, Ministry of Ecology, Ministry of Education and Pasha Travel to protect local biodiversity. This project regards two of the most important sectors of Azerbaijan’s economy: agriculture and tourism. On the one hand, agricultural production can be a great boost to the rural economy if we work to provide technical assistance to farmers and producer cooperatives. On the other hand, developing a sustainable agri-tourism model based on local biodiversity and gastronomic culture can provide an alternative revenue stream for farmers.

In its first year of implementation, the project has mapped more than 50 local products and launched a contest to encourage people to collect data and promote their local heritage.

These products represent the country, the wider region and its farmers, and they have been submitted for inclusion in the world’s largest catalog of gastronomic traditions: The Ark of Taste.  

We also chose six products from the Ark of Taste with the potential to become Presidia and we’ve started building production cooperatives around them in order to improve the quality of their productions and increase market access. This was not an easy task: more than 60 farmers, including women farmers, joined our capacity-building training sessions, and they were then visited and interviewed several times by international and local experts. After processing all this data, the products were selected and currently, Slow Food is preparing production protocols for the new Presidia.

Another notable part of the project was mapping farms for Slow Food Travel. I still remember the excitement of farmers when we visited them with our tourism expert who explained their potential for agri-tourism. We are now building tourist itineraries and activities to create opportunities for extra income in rural areas by promoting local biodiversity. We believe it will be a great marketing asset for rural citizens which will bring visitors to hear their stories, engage in production, eat from their gardens and share their rural culture.  Restaurants and chefs also joined us, and we’ll soon launch a new branch of the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance to bring together gastronomic heroes who are fighting for the protection and promotion of biodiversity in their kitchens.

Last but not least the launch of the Slow Food Youth Network in Azerbaijan was a great achievement of the COVCHEG project, which conquered the hearts of youth and gained their support for raising awareness across various platforms. Starting with just two young enthusiasts the network now has 14 active volunteers and has launched its first recruitment campaign to find and involve new members.

Article by Yagub Zeynalzade