Kazakhstan is the genetic origin of apples.
In the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains, wild forests of fifty-foot tall apple trees embody an incredible diversity, tenacity, and history. For thousands of years, these mountains have been one of the greatest biodiversity hotspots of the world.
And yet, due to rapid development and shifting cultures, the forests are disappearing. More than 75% have been lost in the last 30 years, and the destruction continues despite international attention and collaboration.
At the same time, the ancient genes of the Kazakh apple trees may hold keys to a truly regenerative agriculture. The drought tolerance, disease resistance, wild polycultures, and ecosystem characteristics of the Kazakh apple forests can provide valuable patterns and strategies for permaculture design and climate change resilience in cold temperate climates around the world.
I have traveled to Kazakhstan three times in the last 10 years, documenting the wild fruit ecosystems and working to preserve them. I’ve had the fortune to work with two excellent Kazakh organizations: the Kazakh Institute of Horticulture and Viticulture and the Institute for Ecological and Social Development.
Both organizations want to carry out a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping project to locate and quantify the extent of the wild apple forests in southern and eastern Kazakhstan. This will aid in further research and preservation efforts. The organizations also are looking for collaborators on projects focused on wild fruit tree propagation, training in permaculture, and new research in organic orchard practices.
If you or your organization would like to help preserve the wild apple forests, please contact me for more information.