Armenian Forests
Ecology

Armenian Forests

UNDP Perspective

Forest economy in Armenia selflessly supported the nation during the blockade years of early 90’s. The country managed to get out of the post-soviet crisis, but the forest sector in the country almost “drained,” suffering from unsustainable utilization and illegal loggings. In the past years, it became clear that time has come to put all efforts for the conservation and improvement of the forests in Armenia. UNDP, as a critical player, introduced two prominent initiatives tackling the problems of forests and providing hands-on solutions to these issues. Regional Post talked to the team standing behind these projects.

Text : Margarit Mirzoyan    Photo : UNDP

 

The first large-scale forest project initiated and led by UNDP (Mainstreaming Sustainable Land and Forest Management in Mountain Landscapes of North-Eastern Armenia) was introduced in 2016 and will conclude in 2020. Forest enterprises of Lori and Tavush regions are at the spotlight of the project, spreading in two directions. The first one refers to the collection and identification of accurate information about forests: through forest inventory and mapping via field computers, GIS, and GPS systems. Besides the purely technical components, the project includes capacity-building activities designed for the communities in which they operate to ensure the inclusive and long-term nature of the project. By the request of the Ministry of Environment, a dendro-chronometer was donated to the National Bureau of Expertise. The apparatus shows the age transformation of the trees; since when illegal logging takes place, it’s usually hard to identify when exactly the trees were cut, the latter is of great help. “The locals might claim that the tree was cut last year, but the tool enables to conduct an expert assessment which reveals that the tree was cut, for example, a few months ago,” says Hovik Sayadyan, the coordinator of the project. “In other words, the tool helps to restore the real picture, promoting the development of criminology in forest sphere.” To engage the younger generation in this practical part of the field, the project cooperates with various research institutions and universities, namely, with Yerevan State University, NAS RA Institute of Zoology and Institute of Botany, Armenian National Agrarian University, and others.

The second key direction of the project aims to offer alternative income opportunities to the communities in forested areas, in order to relieve the pressure on this already damaged ecosystem. The project has the objective of restoring ca 5000 hectares of forests degraded due to tree logging, plot burning, shrublands, and windthrows. Up to this moment, appropriate actions have been taken toward restoring around 2000 hectares. About 600 people participated in the forest rehabilitation activities, including the employees and residents of six forest enterprises in Lori and Tavush regions.

Cultivation of degraded arable land under fodder production in Mets Parni community

 

The project also touched upon the issue of pastures in forest-adjacent areas, with a defined objective of restoring around 1000 hectares of degraded forests or forest-adjacent pastures. Six target communities were identified – Margahovit and Gugarq settlements in Lori region and Yenokavan, Lusadzor, Koghb and Berd communities in Tavush region. The target communities received all the necessary technical support to work on degraded pastures. 227 hectares were cultivated under fodder production or improved in these six communities, to ensure the sustainable utilization of the meadows. “It’s a common practice in Armenia when livestock is taken out to the grasslands to pasture on the day the snow melts, and in autumn they keep livestock at the pastures up until the moment it begins snowing,” implies Mr. Sayadyan. “This practice eventually disturbs the accumulation of nutrients by the plants, to blossom in spring. As a result, the pastures degrade.” The whole idea of the project is to ensure that at least in six communities (including about 200 livestock breeders) the grazing period is optimized, and early spring and late autumn are excluded. The project also works towards ensuring alternative employment opportunities for the locals.

Continuing its march, the project constructed a 280-square meter passive solar greenhouse in Ardvi community, Lori region, where the residents can plant different vegetables year-round. The greenhouse doesn’t belong to a single person; it is the property of Ardvi foundation, and all the income it generates is directed to the development of the village and to other greenhouses. In Tavush region, anti-hail nets for 18 ha have been procured for vineyards and orchards. “The idea is that if people have constant harvest, they can sell it, generate income, and then pay for gas consumption,” indicates Mr. Sayadyan. “The people in villages use fuelwood all year round, to get warm in the winter and to prepare food in the summer, but if people have an alternative income source and pay for the gas at least for half of the season, the amount of fuelwood utilization will decrease.” Within the framework of the project, energy-efficient ovens have been designed. They consume 30% less fuelwood than ordinary ovens used in households and are more efficient in terms of heating due to their unique design. The idea, design, and testing were conducted within the project, and the ovens were given to 280 community representatives so that they demonstrate their positive impact. Later on, a production of more similar ovens was ordered but not within the project.

The installed solar panels in Berqaber near-border village kindergarten to exclude firewood based heating system

 

In cooperation with Bridge of Hope NGO in Ijevan, the UNDP project installed photovoltaic systems and solar water heaters at six schools and kindergartens in near-border settlements such as Koti, Berqaber, Sarigyugh, Bagratashen, Koghb, and Ijevan. These schools previously used fuelwood as the primary source of heating and electricity. Each panel is saving tens of cubic meters of firewood now and providing healthy environment for our children.

In cooperation with WWF, the programme also provided small grants of AMD 1.2-1.5 mln to Teghut and Haghartsin communities in Dilijan. Two hundred applicants applied for these grants, but only 52 received them. As a result, various small businesses flourished in the region which, at first glance, may seem to have nothing to do with the conservation of forests. For example, small phone repair facility, manufacturing of semi-precious stones, textile or sewing machines, chicken coop, and several guest houses. However, the point is to give community members an opportunity to practice social entrepreneurship and to stop using the forest as an income-generating source.

Another critical achievement of the project is the procurement of a briquetting facility and supporting agricultural machinery to establish a production of briquettes and pellets made of mostly straw, as an alternative to fuelwood. Currently, the project already has a portion of these produced at Lori region’s Mets Parni settlement. Until now, 400 tons of briquettes have been produced, and a large part of it was given to vulnerable families based on social considerations and to promote briquette-based culture. Fortunately, this technology is prospering in Armenia, and UNDP plans to organize a forum of pellet and briquette producers, for all field actors to get acquainted with each other.

S. Papikyan is getting acquainted with briquetting production unit in Mets Parni community

 

The support of small productions is another vital component of the project. In Voskepar settlement, in cooperation with the UNDP “Integrated support to rural development: Building resilient communities” project funded by the Russian Federation, a solar fruit drying facility was established, where the berries from the forests are collected, frozen, processed, packaged, and sold. The project installed solar panels and a solar water heating system at the site so that all the operations in the output would be ecologically-friendly. The same way, in Koti community the project supported an entrepreneur who initiated milk production in a border-adjacent settlement – providing an alternative to heating via fuelwood. In the Debet community, in 81 households, the programme funded the development of backyard berry plantations.

As mentioned before, the engagement of younger generations is also at the spotlight of the project. In Stepanavan region, the project supported the local youth organization, enabling them to develop drone technologies. High school students managed to configure the drones, and currently, they are using these drones for mapping, and they even conduct monitoring to prevent fires. In the same area of Stepanavan, a small recreational sports complex was established, with zip lines for both amateurs and professionals. “The idea is to show people that the forest can serve as a holiday location, not only for fuelwood. The income received will be directed to afforestation measures,” adds Mr. Sayadyan. Lori region’s Dzoraghbyur community there is no gas and pressure on surrounding forests is essential. Project team succeeded to install solar panels and solar water heaters both for school and kindergarten, as well as introduce energy-efficient ovens to community.

Another critical aspect of the project is the assessment of ecosystem services the forests of Armenia can offer. For example, we usually talk about climate change, but previously, there were no laboratory analyses and field estimations of how the forests in Armenia absorb CO2. Similar operations have been conducted for the entire Northern and north-eastern Armenia. Recently, in January, ten employees from different forest enterprises and “Hayantar” SNCO participated in a training in Belarus, and a website for the State Forest Committee was developed.

 

***

The next forest project of UNDP (Addressing climate change impact through the enhanced capacity for wildfires management in Armenia) was launched in 2017 and will wrap up in 2020. The project follows several directions, but the most visible one is the provision with technical support to the forest enterprises. The project procured vehicles and equipment which is being forwarded to the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Environment, and later on, directed to HAYANTAR SNCO and specially protected areas. The equipment enables to extinguish the fire more efficiently. “In Armenia, most of the fires are man-made. For example, people burn their land fields for more abundant production of crops; the fire gets larger, spreading to the near-located forests,” indicates Vardan Melikyan, the technical task leader of the project. Even though the Armenian law prohibits burning the fields, people continue this practice. The UNDP project is also aimed at the successful implementation of the law. To examine the current situation, the project requested data from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and it turned out that there is a more significant number of wildfires in Kotayk region than in other marzes. Analysis has been done in that particular region, which revealed that people mostly burn bioresidue left after the harvest of grains. But as there’s the technology of briquette production, they can create fuel from organic waste. So instead of burning the bioresidue at the fields, the project wants to establish briquette  production at Kotayk Marz and use these leftovers after the harvest to produce organic fuel.

Project expert is monitoring the restoration of degraded forest ecosystem in Noyemberyan forest enterprise

 

During the fire in the Khosrov forest state reserve back in 2017, it became clear that there’s an efficient management issue as well because there was a confusion regarding the responsibilities of the organizations involved. Thus, the project also includes the development of protocols and instructions for similar cases, so that the institutions involved will have an idea of the overall operations. In the future, there might be a need for legislative changes to make these protocols a widely used practice in all institutions. In cooperation with the relevant Ministries, the project also came up with the Forest Fires Information System, which will be an online tool. “Employing satellite images and the data received from meteorological stations, the software will identify the level of fire danger in different locations,” explains Mr. Melikyan. Armenia has such a system, but it needs to be upgraded. The new tool will provide more accurate data, which will enable to prevent the catastrophes much faster and take urgent steps. The next direction of the project is the development of relevant curricula for the State Academy of Crisis Management of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Armenian National Agrarian University to educate new specialists. Of course, there are firemen, emergency specialists, but the forest fires have their peculiarities, and there are very few people with that particular expertise.

Another initiative within the project is the Climate Change Technological Accelerator, which helps the emerging IT companies and enterprises to bring their climate-related products into a presentable form for entering the market. Now, the initiative is in its second phase. The call of the first part was for the organizations working in the sphere of agriculture and forest economies, but the target of the second phase is sustainable urban development projects. For six months, the startups attend the accelerators where they are trained in three directions: technology, impact, and business. Here they finalize the product and become ready to search for financing and to enter the market. For example, on the topic of forest fires, they had two initiatives. One was about the application of sensors which identify smoke. This will help to prevent fires or at least address them earlier and avoid more significant catastrophes. The second one was software for modeling the spreading of forest fires. The software enables to identify the fire tendencies based on the weather forecast, the geographical position, landscape of the burning location, and the tree species in there. Primary information is already in the software but combining with the daily forecast information, the product makes accurate predictions. “The software is an excellent tool for the firemen to define the right directions when working in the field, and also it will be a useful tool for identifying the strategy of sustainable forest management,” says Mr. Melikyan. Recently, the project provided three small fire trucks to the Ministry of Emergency Situations. They also purchased equipment, tools, and specialized clothing for 360 firefighters. In the future, awareness-raising activities are in focus and also currently, the international expert of the project is developing a manual for fighting forest fires. Based on the guideline, next year, TOT format classes will be conducted for the specialists of the relevant Ministries.

“Summer forest camp” in nearby Mshkavanq church

Related Articles