Sitting at the confluence of two large rivers flowing down from the Great Caucasus, Zagatala is Azerbaijan’s hazelnuts heaven. Across the northern district bordering Georgia sprawl over half of the country’s orchards - about 17,000 hectares of the country’s 31,814 are concentrated in the region.
Azerbaijan is the world’s fourth largest exporter of hazelnut, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - projections for 2017 are a total of 20,000 tonnes produced, up from the 15,000 in 2016. The slump in oil and gas prices pushed the Azerbaijani government to diversify its economy, supporting specifically the agricultural sector.
In October 2016 President Ilham Aliyev established with a Presidential Decree the Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation, AZPROMO, an entity aimed at supporting and promoting “Made in Azerbaijan” products around the world – including hazelnuts. In 2016 Ferrero, the world’s largest buyer of hazelnuts, started purchasing large quantities of Azerbaijan’s hazelnuts which are mainly of the ata-baba quality.
For most farmers, the crop is a family business - take Valiyeva Fatmat. Her family’s hazelnut trees sprawl over ten hectares, a little treasure they received from the government after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The 39 -year-old school teacher and her husband Nazir Muradov struggle to keep up with the harvest. The nuts generally ripe by the end of July and are harvested from mid-August to mid-September and the couple hire scores of local workers, mainly women, to collect the harvest.