A villager in the Getik River Valley with tree seedlings growing in a backyard plot. Photo by Adrineh Der-Boghossian via the Armenia Tree Project.
The series of calamities -- a massive earthquake, energy shortages, and military conflict -- that hit the small Caucasus nation of Armenia in the late 1980s left much of its population uprooted and unemployed, and its environment impoverished as well. At the current rate of deforestation, the country could be a desert within 20 to 50 years, according to the Armenia Tree Project, which has been working to rebuild and revitalize the nation and its people, one seedling at a time.Villagers uprooted during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan are among the beneficiaries of the group's environmental efforts. In the Getik River Valley, families that had to abandon the fields they'd tended for decades are reestablishing their lives with the help of the group's Backyard Nursery Micro-Enterprise Program, in which villagers in the area grow seedlings in their yards and sell them to the organization when they are ready to be planted in the forest. Many have doubled their annual income as a result:
Thirty-nine-year-old Vatchakan Tsakanyan... lives with his sister and her two kids, as well as his wife and their four children. The tree seeds they received from Armenia Tree Project are cared for by Vatchakan's sister, 35-year-old Nvart, who fills buckets from the nearby Getik River a few times a day and carries them to water the plants.
Though it's hard work, Nvart and Vatchakan are happy to use part of their land to raise tree seedlings for ATP. With the money they will receive from ATP for their backyard tree nursery, Vatchakan and Nvart hope to increase their three beehives to 15.... [and] earn a bit of an income from the sale of honey.
A successfully re-greened park in Armenia. Photo via the Armenia Tree Project.
Since its founding in 1994, the Armenia Tree Project has planted and restored more than 3,500,000 trees at over 800 sites around the country and created hundreds of jobs in tree-regeneration programs. The need is dire: Dependence on wood for cooking and heating has reduced the amount of forest cover from a healthy 25 percent at the beginning of the 1900s to less than 8 percent today, causing flooding, erosion, and landslides that have destroyed homes and arable land.
In addition to planting trees, the group is designing environmental education programs for the country's schools and providing sustainable forestry training for adults in partnership with Yale University's Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry. It also provides fruit and nut trees to people in urban areas and hopes to eventually win national protection for forests as wilderness sanctuaries. "In many ways," NatGeo News Watch wrote in a blog post about the group's work, "the effort to restore trees to Armenia is a restoration of the nation's vitality."
More about environmental issues in Armenia:
Can 'Ecological Exploitation' Save Teghut Forest?
Hard Rocker Joins Fight for His Homeland's Forests
Armenian 'Stork Girls' Recruit Local Villagers to Keep an Eye on the Big Birds
UNDP Projects Climate For 52 Developing Countries
Tiny Countries Go Green