PLANTING WILLOWS: THE NEW SOCIO-ECONOMIC ASSET IN THE TIMES OF PANDEMIC

PLANTING WILLOWS: THE NEW SOCIO-ECONOMIC ASSET IN THE TIMES OF PANDEMIC

In the frame of the 15th measure to neutralize the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, the Ministry of Environment has initiated a planting of almost two million willow cuttings in 7 regions of Armenia. Regional Post talked with the Deputy Minister of Environment Vardan Melikyan about the program and how it can be a lifebuoy for the socio-economic crisis that Armenia currently faces.

Text: Margarit Mirzoyan

Photos: Ministry of Environment

 

In the past several months, many countries in the world have implemented anti-crisis programs to eliminate the socio-economic repercussions of the pandemic. However, Armenia is probably the only country that started planting trees as a solution to the issue. Within the past two months, over two million willow cuttings were planted in the regions of Syunik, Vayots Dzor, Gegharkunik, Tavush, Lori, Shirak, and Kotayk by the efforts of the local workforce. The program became an income source for over 1000 people. On average, each employee received 8000 to 10000 AMD per day, which estimates 50 AMD for each tree cutting with over 200 trees planted per day. At first, the program received some criticism, arguing that the price set for a seedling is very low, but according to Mr. Melikyan, people who have experience in reforestation activities confirm that 50 AMD is quite fair. Many people had travelled long distances from other communities to come and work in the frame of the project and during this period it might have been their only source of income.

In all regions, the program was brought to life in partnership with Hayantar SNCO, except for the Vayots Dzor, where the work was carried out by the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC) and in the Gegharkunik region, where Armenia Tree Project also participated in the program. “Initially, this was a socio-economic project aimed at providing a source of income to the local people who had lost their jobs due to this global situation, but taking into account the specificity of our work, the project should have an ecological context,” says Mr. Melikyan. “And as we had to start the work immediately, the only tree we could plant at this season was the willow.”

The Ministry chose areas located at the height of 1800-2400 meters above sea level, where vegetation did not start yet and it would be possible to carry out the plantings. Additionally, the locations were identified according to the remains of the willow tree “population.” Consequently, they didn’t change the environment of these areas, they just restored the previous condition and the cuttings were taken from the willows right on spot.

Geographically, Armenia has an issue with strengthening its riverbanks, and the program has initiated plantings in those specific areas restoring the so-called riparian forest/zone.

The presence of these trees on the riverbanks is also important in terms of filtering the water quality. Plus, the riparian zone protects the river from the pollution that comes with the rain, reducing the temperature of the water, which creates suitable conditions for fish reproduction.

In terms of climate change, Armenia has a 9% reduction in precipitations, and now the country needs to be ready to resist and stay away from disasters in the future by protecting and rehabilitating the riverbanks. Another positive “shortcoming” of the willows is going to be the flow regulation. Being partially saved at the roots of the trees, the water will be evenly distributed. The final key advantage of willow trees and one of the main reasons why it was chosen for this project is that willows don’t need further maintenance once the seedling gets into the ground. There might be a need for fencing in some areas, but in the rest of the cases, the willows will receive all the water they need from the rivers.

Armenia is a country which has made its living at the expense of its nature for dozens of years. This issue is relevant not only to Armenia but to many other countries, which took nature for granted, making it a permanent source of income. For a very long time, it was set in people’s minds that the main function of the forest zones is to provide fuelwood to the locals so they can sell it or get warm during the wintertime. This program, on the contrary, proves that it’s possible even to make the local environment a source of income without hurting it, moreover, via protecting and developing it. In other words, it is possible to find a mutually beneficial solution, where people receive income and simultaneously, contribute to the environment. Usually, we have the opposite image when we have human benefit and environment on the two sides of the scale.

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