Armenian Forests for Present and Future Generations

Armenian Forests for Present and Future Generations

Have you ever traveled by car to Dilijan? Having passed by Lake Sevan and up some steeper hills, you emerge from a tunnel to a breathtaking view of a green wonderland opening out below.  Or, have you ever cycled the road to Tsakhkadzor – where the color of the slopes shimmers from yellow to deep green as if, by some magic, the four seasons have come together? In these most precious natural spots, just like in many others, the one key element is the forest cover with its diverse beauty, with the abundant life it harbors, and all the good that it selflessly offers. Historically, forests covered about 40% of the present-day Armenia’s territory; this share has now fallen to a very low 11.2%. What is the condition of the remaining Armenian forests today, and what does their future look like?

Text : Margarit Mirzoyan    Photo : GIZ

 

 

First, there was the commitment to the Paris Agreement to increase the forest cover from 11.2 to 20.1 by 2050. Then came the recent announcement of the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan during Global Innovation Forum 2019, that Armenia plans to plant 10 million trees by the 10th day of the 10th month, which will symbolize the unity of 10 million Armenians. It seems like the government is determined to make Armenia a forest country. But let us start from the beginning.

The economic crisis of the 1990s hit Armenia hard, and the forest ecosystem in the newly independent country fell under enormous pressure. Illegal logging for household purposes suddenly emerged as a rapidly growing problem. The so-called “dark and cold years” resulted in mindset changes, as a priority to sustain one’s family was upheld by many citizens at the expense of the forest. Too many people chose to temporarily disregard the importance of the forest for livelihood purposes. The forest has been, for centuries, a crucial factor in maintaining the appeal of their land with its stable, balanced, and nourishing environment year-round. “The problems we are facing, such as climate change, poor air quality, and many others have been solved by forests for millennia. Therefore, it is crucial to recover the forests in Armenia to adapt to these challenges” indicates Mr. Samvel Sahakyan, Head of the Forest Committee of the RA Ministry of Environment.

 

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The task of forest recovery has several dimensions. One crucial aspect is the cooperation with forest-adjacent communities dependent on the forest for their livelihood. The Forest Committee and “Hayantar” SNCO work closely with these communities. Given the socio-economic issues, especially in rural areas, they recognize reforestation and afforestation as a win-win solution through creating new job opportunities and increasing the forest cover of the area. Reforestation and afforestation, at a glance, might seem as a short-term solution to unemployment, but the consequent maintenance and conservation work in the areas will continue to require significant human and financial resources. Left with no alternative, people do not think about the impact of cutting trees.

Another dimension is the international framework given by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In the framework of the latter, Armenia committed to increase its forest cover up to 20.1% by 2050, which means an increase by around 265,000 ha. The available forest lands for achieving this target are currently insufficient in Armenia. Here, enabling conditions should be created for the establishment of forests on community and private lands. Additionally, according to Mr. Sahakyan, there is a need to establish modern nurseries with newer and more efficient technologies. In the past years, the country used open-air nurseries, with bare root seedling production. In recent years the technique of containerized seedling production has been adopted. This ensures appropriate conditions for the germination of the seedlings and successful transplantation into new locations.

 

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Both Mr. Sahakyan and Vahe Matsakyan, the acting Director of “Hayantar” SNCO, emphasize the importance of environmental education as another essential measure for ensuring the well-being of the forests. Inhabitants of forest-adjacent communities should leave behind their perception of forests as a source of firewood. Instead, the forest should be seen as a vulnerable ecosystem that belongs to them and needs their protection. The lack of awareness and sense of ownership leads to another form of damage – human-induced fires. For example, some villagers believe that burning crop fields can lead to better production, but the fire they make often gets out of control and spreads to the nearby forest. Another challenge is the limited access to formal education in forestry in Armenia while the country experiences a severe shortage of local experts in the field. “Most of the experts in the forest sector are already retiring, and there is a need to make the sector more attractive to younger generations.” says Mr. Sahakyan, “But to accomplish this task, there is a need for higher salaries and modern technologies.”

 

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Both the Committee and “Hayantar” SNCO support the institution of adequate administrative measures. There are different energy alternatives to prevent the use of firewood. For example, the technology of briquettes is gaining more popularity in Armenia. This innovative approach is beneficial both from economic and environmental perspectives. Briquettes produced from non-wood raw materials, such as agricultural remnants (e.g., straw), could contribute to decreasing the demand for firewood. Still, a large segment of Armenia’s population continues to use firewood. To make alternatives to firewood more attractive, they have to become more affordable, while energy efficiency of rural households has to be improved in parallel.

 

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For years, various environmental programmes have been implemented in Armenia to contribute to sustainable forest management. Among the important measures is the development of the National Forest Management Information System (NFMIS) with the support of GIZ on behalf of BMZ. NFMIS is an important tool for operational planning and forest information management. It is based on a GIS client-server technology, which provides a common database and facilitates information processing and communication. The system is enabled to contribute to sustainable forest management through the provision of innovative and transparent administrative and technical procedures. NFMIS has been piloted in one forest enterprise and it is planned to be institutionalized.

 

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In previous years, the forest sector experienced several structural changes. Forest management was transferred from the RA Ministry of Agriculture to the RA Ministry of Environment. The new post-revolutionary government has placed forest conservation high on its political agenda. “Forest is our heritage; all countries which have large forest areas have inherited this treasure from their ancestors. Some waste their inheritance, while others decide to maintain and enhance it,” concludes Samvel Sahakyan. “The forest does not belong to the RA Ministry of Environment or the Forest Committee. The state is responsible for its preservation, but it belongs to the people and we encourage everyone's participation in taking care of it.” The growth from seedlings to a mature forest takes place across generations throughout 80-120 years. Therefore, cross-generational work and responsibility are necessary to secure the sustainable management and growth of Armenian forests.

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