Bolot Tagaev, a geography teacher in the village of Gumkhana, close to Arslanbob, also works as a local project coordinator for Fauna & Flora. He encourages his pupils to plant seeds and tend to tiny trees in a nursery behind the school.
“The children enjoy it and come in with pockets full of seeds at this time of year,” he said. “It is important that they understand the need to protect the forests from an early age.”
In the schoolyard nursery, he points out specimens of a rare gem of Central Asian flora, saplings that will one day bear the pink-fleshed Niedzwetzky apple.
A 2006 study identified only 117 remaining Niedzwetzky apple trees in Kyrgyzstan. Since then, Bioresurs and Fauna & Flora have planted 4,000 new trees in remote regions where the forests are less affected by human habitation.
But much of tFauna & Flora’s work has focused on planting trees that can be of use to the local population, working with farmers to identify wild species that have qualities of taste, color or hardiness that give them a commercial value.
Jeremy Cherfas, a biologist at Bioversity International in Italy, which has worked with local conservation initiatives in Kyrgyzstan, says that farmers have needed little encouragement — in fact, they have been moving in that direction of their own accord.
“Climate change is increasing average temperature, and that makes higher altitudes tomorrow more like lower altitudes today,” Mr. Cherfas said. “So farmers have been trying out varieties from lower down on their farms.”
Despite the toll the human population has taken on the local environment, conservationists say the landscape stretching out around Arslanbob represents an ideal combination of integrated forest and farmland that could hold the key to preserving biodiversity.
“We are not in the business of conservation biodiversity for its own sake,” said Mr. Cherfas. “It has to be useful, and then the farmers will conserve it. We can’t just go in and say, ‘Don’t chop that tree down,’ if it doesn’t have a greater value alive than dead.”