Biodiversity finance high on agenda in Uzbekistan

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The rich and diverse natural environment of Uzbekistan combined with its gradual transition to a market economy and burgeoning institutional and policy capacities, has piqued the interest of the young republic’s government to join BIOFIN. Jessica Alvsilver, BIOFIN’s Technical Adviser recently joined a workshop in the country and writes of their strong interest and desire to improve biodiversity finance.

By Jessica Alvsilver

“It is not the one who finds the most money but the one who uses the money in the best way – they are the smartest one,” said Khalilulla Sherimbetov, from the State Committee for Ecology and Environment Protection in a workshop held together with BIOFIN in November in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent.

With this passage, Sherimbetov wanted to convince the mixed group of participants that Uzbekistan needs a BIOFIN approach. Over the last three years, BIOFIN has provided biodiversity finance support to many countries outside the 35 currently involved in the initiative. In the case of Uzbekistan, the request was to become a full member of BIOFIN programme.

Mr Sherimbetov had learned about BIOFIN from a Kazakh delegation in a regional snow leopard meeting in Tajikistan. Intrigued by what he was told Sherimbetov decided to learn more, visited Kazakhstan and then contacted BIOFIN for support.

“We have amazing nature (in Uzbekistan), but we need to secure that more finance is assigned to and used in the right ways in our country, that is why we need BIOFIN," he continued in his speech.

“In any meeting where trees are mentioned the discussion gets heated and it never stops,” a participant in the meeting said.

Uzbekistan naturally has a relatively low tree cover and trees are considered very precious. This became clear when looking at the existing finance solutions in the country. Besides many afforestation efforts, there is a recent moratorium on cutting trees, fines if caught cutting a tree and regular tree-planting campaigns.

In the workshop, it was proposed that a “million-trees planting campaign” should take place in the country. Uzbekistan was early in designating protected areas and many are strictly protected meaning that no people can enter them, unless for research and monitoring. There are no roads attached to these parks, they are only accessible on a horse. Lately, some territories have opened for tourist activities, but they do not have any fee system in place.

Nature in Uzbekistan is unique in many ways with iconic species such as snow leopards, long-standing traditions in close interaction between humans and nature including horses and falconry. As a former Soviet nation and long cut off from the outside world, the country is currently transitioning into increased openness and economic optimism is evident. In the midst of this process, biodiversity is considered a high-profile area according to participants in the workshop who came from the government, the private sector and civil society.

Mr. Sherimbetov closed the workshop saying “We know we do not have funding yet but we are determined to become a BIOFIN country”. The Government in Uzbekistan is now seeking funds to undertake a BIOFIN process and plan a donor meeting to present their wishes and needs.

Photo: Tugai Biosphere Reserve, Karakalpakstan UNDP/Uzbekistan