ASTANA – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev presented Almaty Aport apples to Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) Qu Dongyu in the Italian capital on Jan. 19, reported the Kazakh Ministry of Agriculture.
Almaty Aport, an apple variety, participates in the Global Action on One Country One Priority Product (OCOP) initiative to preserve precious agricultural products worldwide. The FAO’s program considers products with unique qualities related to geographical specificities, farming practices, and cultural heritage.
“Kazakhstan is widely known as the birthplace of apples. Aport apples grow near Almaty, the largest metropolis of our country and my hometown,” said Tokayev. The head of state added that Almaty, a homeland of Aport, is translated from Kazakh as ‘a place of abundance of apples.’
The unique type of apple is known for its sour-sweet taste, unforgettable smell, and juiciness. The agricultural miracle of the Almaty mountains has become the national pride and a strive for Kazakhstan to establish its globally recognized brand.
President Tokayev expressed hope for the FAO’s support in promoting Almaty Aport to the world markets. Launched in September 2021, OCOP facilitates inclusive, profitable and environmentally sustainable food systems through the green development of high-value agricultural products.
In 1970, Kazakhstan had 3.8 million Aport trees, and in 1984, the number dropped to 1.4 million, according to the ministry’s data. Nevertheless, scientists have been researching the revival of the apple since 2012 and shared their first impressive results last year.
Innovative solutions for restoring the Kazakh brand
Despite the efforts to ensure international recognition of Aport apples, fruit farming in Almaty encounters the impact of urbanization, bureaucracy, and commercial approach to cultivation. Yet innovations allowed specialists to reinvigorate the legendary taste and create environmental conditions for the development of the Kazakh brand.
In an interview with the Inbusiness.kz news agency, Svetlana Dolgikh, the head of the laboratory of crops biotechnologies at the Kazakh Scientific Research Institute of Fruit Growing and Viticulture, spoke about the challenges in the production of Aport apples and innovations of the horticultural industry used in their cultivation.
“There are a lot of reasons why the Aport apple has degraded. Firstly, the old variety has accumulated a raft of viral infections. Secondly, uncontrolled reproduction. This is when specialists are focused not on the fruits that the tree gives, but on the annual growth. The higher the increase, the worse the quality of the fruits,” she said.
Dense construction in the foothills of Almaty has also destroyed thousands of hectares of Aport apples. “In the 90s, with the launch of the mass construction of elite cottages, the gardens were demolished and uprooted.”
In addition, the market demand remains crucial for the development of the fruit.
“Almaty Aport is a branded variety. It will never give a big profit if the price for 1 kg is 500 tenge (US$1), similarly to other apples. If it is beautiful and large, then its cost should be increased at least five times, and it should be bought as an elite cake on the table,” said the expert.
From 2012 to 2021, the laboratory has been working on the revival of Almaty Aport under the leadership of late Kazakh research biologist and professor Magzhan Issin.
“We selected the types of Aport we decided to clean from viral infections. By 2015, we received its improved varieties. Out of 300 forms of Sievers apples, we selected 11 in which the DNA profile was very close to the profile of Aport,” she said.
Over the past 20 years, Kazakh scientists have been engaged in the revival of Aport using modern technologies and experimental gardens. According to the institute, the researchers have collected 115 clones and developed 29 cultivars based on Almaty Aport.
Global recognition and geographic indication
Almaty Aport was officially registered in the State Register of Geographic Indications in October last year. For this purpose, the Almaty Region Apple Growers Association (ARAGA) applied to the National Institute of Intellectual Property.
To gain global acknowledgment, apple producers must identify the countries where they seek legal protection for Almaty Aport. As a result, respective materials were dispatched to France, Poland, Spain, and Russia.
Three months ago, Kazakh Minister of Justice Azamat Yeskarayev confirmed that Almaty Aport is now recognized as a Kazakh brand. He also noted that Kazakhstan is in the process of patenting its national dishes, such as kumis, kurt, and kozhe.
“It may be patented here in Kazakhstan. To get an international patent, there is a need to conduct an accurate molecular genetic analysis,” explained Dolgikh.
“Only our institute has a collection of Aport forms so that someone can do a genetic analysis. A genetic passport is not required for breeding achievements in Kazakhstan. Disputes will begin as soon as the genetic analysis is launched,” she added. According to Dolgikh, there are now more than 40 forms of Aport globally.
The expert reminded that Kazakhstan is also a member of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), which aims to provide an effective system for plant variety protection.
“We need to find free and suitable land for the production and planting of apple gardens. Now we have all the data and technologies for geoinformation analysis. Everything is ready, we just need to find plots and plant a garden with proper observance of agricultural technologies,” said Dolgikh.
Historical insights into Almaty Aport
The first mention of Aport apples was found in the monastery archives and dated back to 1175. The documents state that the apple was brought to the Kingdom of Poland from the Ottoman Empire. Scientists have different opinions about its origin: some consider it Ukrainian, others – Russian, and others – Turkish. Another theory says it is an authentic aborigine of the Almaty Region’s mountains.
In 1865, a peasant named Yegor Redko from Russia’s Voronezh province brought Aport seedlings to Vernyi (a former name of Almaty). He planted the seeds on the bank of the Malaya Almatinka River in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains and crossed some of them with the local wild apple tree.
The climate of Almaty gave the most suitable conditions for the seedlings to grow. The Aport apple found its ecological niche at 900-1,200 meters above sea level. The harvest represents large fruits weighing up to 370-500 grams.