Farmers from Mashkhan village share their stories
The South of Azerbaijan (Astara and Lenkoran) is known for its ‘exotic fruits’- feijoa, kiwi, oranges and tangerines. Mashkhan is a typical village in the Astara province where all those fruits are cultivated.
Oktay has 120 tangerine trees on his plot of land which produces about 2.5 tons (and in best seasons 3 tons) of tangerines.
As the years pass by, Oktay finds it much more difficult to harvest fruit himself. Hence his son, Emin, helps him in this matter.
“A warm wind has spoiled plenty of tangerines this year. We also call it ‘gyalmish’ [an alien –ed.note]. It blows from Iran towards the sea. It adds to the already hot summer. So tangerines gradually rot right on the trees. If you put one in a crate with other tangerines they will go bad too,” says Oktay.
“You can find different types of tangerines from Iran and Georgia at the market. But I think that our Azerbaijani tangerines are better because they are sweeter. The reason the imported tangerines look ‘more beautiful’ is that we don’t always have water to properly irrigate trees.”
“If placed it in a wooden crate, tangerines can be stored for 1-2 months. In plastic containers with better ventilation they can be stored for up to 4 months. And it’s much more convenient to store kiwi. You just put solid fruits in an egg carton and they will ripen once they reach their destination.”
“We aren’t afraid that someone is going to steal our fruit. After all, everyone has his/her own land plot with fruit trees. So, what’s the point of stealing?”
“It’s no big deal if tangerines sell badly. We will survive somehow. I breed sheep. I’ve got a total of 54 sheep, of which four are rams and the rest are ewes. I dug a small water canal from the brook for them, so we don’t have to fetch buckets of water from afar in summer,” says Emin.
“The higher a land plot is located above sea level, the better the tangerines grow. Therefore the lowlands are mostly used for pastures.
“After it rains, the road heading to the pastures turns into a swamp. But it wasn’t always so. In Soviet times the land here was communally owned, people cultivated tomatoes and cucumbers, the roads were used all the time and they were not so neglected.
“Afterwards the land was distributed to the people. There were attempts to grow wheat here, but it turned out to be unprofitable. Everything here is abandoned now, though the reeds that grow here are still used for producing broomsticks.”
“There is no competition between the villagers. If someone starts selling goods cheaper, everyone treats it with respect. It means that a person has to pay off his debts.
“2015 was a really bad year. One kilo of tangerines sold for 40 kopeks. Now we sell it for 70-80 kopeks per kilo.
“We don’t have an easy life here –throughout the year we have to live on the money that we earn from trading during the season. But the shop sellers are in an even worse situation. They have to give goods in faith and wait for the money to be paid to them when the season comes. How are they supposed to buy goods? And there are farmers who just don’t pay off their debts. They have nothing to pay with! And you can’t start fighting with them because they are all your men. Vendor booths aren’t found here for that very reason,” says Emin.
Kiwi is not just a tasty fruit. Some kebab makers use kiwi juice to quickly marinate tough cuts of meat.
“After the collapse of the Soviet Union people actively started to leave for Iran to work there. That’s where we first became familiar with kiwis. It was in the early 1990s. We liked that fruit very much. At first the locals called it ‘a hairy potato’,” says Oktay.
Another villager, Aliaga, has 80 tangerine trees in his orchard. There were more of them, but a terrible frost that hit the area in 1985 destroyed many young trees.
His granddaughter Khanim likes tangerines very much. But she can’t eat them directly from the tree because they are cold and she’ll get a sore throat. She has to take her tangerine home and wait until it warms up.