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How trees are restoring hope to Armenia

Armenia has learned the hard way what it means for a country to lose its forests–and the huge backbreaking effort required to replant them. But in its struggle and determination to restore its trees, Armenia is an inspiration for the rest of the planet.

The endeavor to bring trees back to Armenia–a Massachusetts-size nation on the borders of Iran and Turkey–is thanks mostly to an initiative called the Armenia Tree Project, a program supported by the international conservation charity WWF and BMU/KfW, the German Development Bank.

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The Armenia Tree Project has been raising and planting trees throughout the country for almost 16 years. Last year one million trees were planted, a record that brings the total of trees planted over the life of the project to about 3.5 million.

Picture courtesy of Armenia Tree Project

A million plantings is perhaps a tiny portion of the hundreds of millions of trees that were lost during the great deforestation of Armenia of the last century–but think about it: A million trees required a million individual efforts, holes dug, backs bent, tender hands placing seedlings in the soil, careful nurturing of saplings to raise them to productivity.

All of this is done by individuals determined that their trees will become forests that will sustain livelihoods and restore a vibrant environment to Armenia.

What happened to Armenia and its trees, and what’s being done to reverse the devastation of its forests? Nat Geo News Watch interviewed Jason Sohigian, deputy director of the Armenia Tree Project, when he recently visited Washington, D.C.

Watch this 16-minute documentary (commissioned by the Armenia Tree Project) for the background to the crisis that led to the destruction of the country’s forests, what will happen if the nation can’t reverse the loss of its trees, and how ordinary people are pulling together to reinvent Armenia and its future through restoring its trees.

Armenia Tree Project video

Lack of alternate fuel sources caused the loss of Armenia’s forests, Sohigian said in the interview with Nat Geo News Watch, especially during the years after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, when people had no other way to keep warm than to cut down trees for fuel.

Ideally, forest should cover 25 percent of Armenia, Sohigian said. But now, even after a big replanting effort, the country’s tree cover is in the range of only 7 or 8 percent.

Where the trees have been cut, the land is often degraded and desertification has set in as topsoil washes away.

To make matters worse, the changing global climate threatens the last fragments of forest, especially if rainfall declines.

“One of our goals is to try to tip the balance back to where forests can regenerate naturally, which we can do provided we don’t continue to lose trees,” Sohigian said.

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Picture courtesy of Armenia Tree Project

“We’re trying to get young people involved in investing in Armenia’s future,” Sohigian said. “This program is also a way for Armenians outside the country to build the future of Armenia, especially this year, the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide [1915-1917]. We encourage Armenians–and others–to support us with the future of the country in mind. It’s why we’re calling this initiative ‘Trees of Hope.’”

Trees of Hope is one way to get involved, by sponsoring the program to plant trees. Another way is to support the Armenia Tree Project’s focus on education.

“Education is a big focus for us this year,” Sohigian said. “We’re working with teachers to educate children about the environment, and we’ve partnered with the Yale University Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry to provide sustainable forestry training for adults.

“By asking the worldwide Armenian community to sponsor these activities, we’re telling them to put their roots back into Armenia in a tangible form. It helps Armenians everywhere create an emotional and physical connection to their ancestral country.”

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Picture courtesy of Armenia Tree Project

The Armenia Tree Project works to afforest Armenia with natural forests, planting a mixture of native trees that should in time expand and regenerate forests naturally. “We are really trying to recreate natural forests, rather than plantations for harvesting,” Sohigian said. The partnership with Yale is focused on training foresters to plant, maintain and harvest such “natural” forests sustainably. Part of the training initiative is the production of a sustainable forestry manual.

“We are bringing the best practices in international forestry to Armenia,” Sohigian said. “The next step is to organize engagement meetings with the people who live in or near the forests to teach and encourage them to maximize their efforts to protect the forests around them.”

A more lofty goal is to win national protection for forests as wilderness sanctuaries, particularly where charismatic animals such as the Persian leopard live.

Fruit and nut trees are also provided by the Armenia Tree Project to people in urban areas, so that individuals may plant trees on the streets or in their yards. This provides food to eat and trade as well as a more pleasant, landscaped environment.

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An example of how Armenia’s urban areas have become green again is this school, in pictures made ten years apart.

Picture courtesy of Armenia Tree Project

The massive tree planting program has also stimulated employment for Armenians, from the cultivation of seedlings to planting to protection of the nascent forests.

In many ways the effort to restore trees to Armenia is a restoration of the nation’s vitality.

Learn more and find out how you can support this intiative on the Armenia Tree Project Web site.

Comments

  1. feg
    June 7, 2011, 6:21 am

    emg

  2. melanie
    June 20, 2010, 12:46 pm

    I am very happy to see the progress and tangible results of the ATP. This vital project is one of the most successful interventions in Armenia to address environmental and deforestation concerns. Keep growing and green way to you!

  3. Nathan
    June 17, 2010, 4:40 am

    MAKE UGANDA THE MOST GREEN COUNTRY (GREENEST) IN THE WHOLE WORLD!
    Targeting: The Chief Justice (The Judiciary of the Republic of Uganda), The President of the Republic of Uganda (State House) and The speaker of Parliament (Parliament of Uganda)
    Started by: Green Uganda
    PEOPLES’ PETITION TO COMPEL THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA TO MAKE UGANDA THE MOST GREEN COUNTRY IN THE WHOLE WORLD BY PLANTING TREES IN EVERY PART OF THE COUNTRY
    This petition which is presented by Mwiine Derrick will be forwarded to Uganda’s parliament.
    A 13 years old Ugandan lad Mwiine Derrick is behind the mobilisation of the masses where thousands of Ugandans have already signed his petition on paper to compel the government to plant trees in every part of his country. Hundreds have also confirmed their attendance & promised to escort Derrick to Uganda`s powerful parliament http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=115760311770037&index=1 where he will hand the petition to the speaker of the Ugandan parliament. So far several MPs both from NRM ruling party and the opposition have vowed to support Mwiine’s petition all the way through. With your support, Uganda is likely to take the lead in fighting global warming!
    More about Mwiine Derrick
    Mwiine Derrick is someone who is so passionate about his country, Uganda:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5N0dW4I9uQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE-BrbO_mws
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_aUBDjTD_k
    http://pearlafrica.blogspot.com
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mwiinederrick
    http://allafrica.com/stories/200908070617.html
    http://www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4671&Itemid=63
    Petition Text
    MAKE UGANDA THE MOST GREEN COUNTRY (GREENEST) IN THE WHOLE WORLD!
    COMRADES IN THE STRUGGLE,
    Be proud to be part of the struggle to save our world!
    Our environment is our future!
    PETITION
    We the undersigned patriotic Ugandans and friends of Uganda who are aware of climate change, the global warming and it’s implications, People who love our motherland, a country which used to be so green, fertile with good climatic conditions, ‘The pearl of Africa’ which most of the foreigners fall in love with each time they visit, support the following petition; PEOPLES’ PETITION TO COMPEL THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA TO MAKE UGANDA THE MOST GREEN COUNTRY IN THE WHOLE WORLD BY PLANTING TREES IN EVERY PART OF THE COUNTRY
    PEOPLES’ PETITION TO COMPEL THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA TO MAKE UGANDA THE MOST GREEN (GREENEST)COUNTRY IN THE WHOLE WORLD BY PLANTING TREES IN EVERY PART OF THE COUNTRY
    THE APPEAL
    Please!
    Patriotic Ugandans and kind friends of Uganda in the whole world who are aware of climate change, the global warming and its implications, People who care and love our motherland, a country which used to be so green, fertile with good climatic conditions, ‘The pearl of Africa’ which most of the foreigners fall in love with each time they visit,
    Be there for Uganda!
    Be there for our motherland!
    Be there for our future!
    Be there for our children, grand children, & next generation!
    Be there for Mankind, Animals, Plants, & our planet!
    Be there for our world environment!
    Be there for God’s hope, Love & his creation!
    OUR ENVIRONMENT IS OUR FUTURE!

  4. repliertoll
    June 16, 2010, 1:51 pm

    Armenia is a great country. Thanks for this informative piece! we can turn back the environmental disaster that humans have created… One tree at a time!

  5. Tom1492
    May 30, 2010, 9:12 pm

    The government of Armenia is setting a fine example that all world leaders should follow, regardless of how improvished or wealthy their countries may be.

  6. Munnu
    May 29, 2010, 9:08 pm

    This is a lesson to be learnt!! It shows that we still have time to set the wrong we have done by replanting the tress that we have knowingly of unknowingly destroyed in the part! The best way to realize this goal is to involve the children who will carry on the work and continue it throughout their schooling!! I hope this article will be the beginning of a new chapter to improve our environment!!

  7. Armenian Volunteer Corps
    March 20, 2010, 1:41 am

    Thank you for bringing attention to the essential work the Armenia Tree Project has been doing in Armenia for almost two decades.
    We have often participated in ATP’s tree planting and other programs here in Armenia and would encourage others to do the same. One million trees planted in Armenia’s Lori region is a major accomplishment. The results of ATP’s determination and hard work to reforest Armenia and protect the environment are an integral part of Armenia’s development and sustainability.
    Thank you National Geographic and thank you ATP!

  8. ahairumian
    March 18, 2010, 10:26 pm

    I am very happy to see the progress and tangible results of the ATP. This vital project is one of the most successful interventions in Armenia to address environmental and deforestation concerns. Keep growing and green way to you!

  9. Lynn Noell
    March 18, 2010, 3:30 pm

    As a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Goris, Armenia (2001-2003) I experienced the deforestation in my area because of the need for winter fuel. It was devastating. I am happy that the Armenia Tree Project has begun to correct the loss of trees. I urge the Armenian government to support ATP and consider this project as critical to the rebuilding of the country. Thank you, National Geographic for featuring this story and the example it sets for all of us!

  10. mardehros
    March 17, 2010, 11:56 am

    Perhaps Olga Qdaimati just volunteered to do the job. It would be quite a stride if ATP gained non-profit status in canada and I’m sure any help to accomplish that would be very welcome.

  11. OlgaQdaimati
    March 17, 2010, 6:54 am

    Thank you for a very informative article and congratulations to the ATP for the excellent work they have done and continue to do in Armenia. Unfortunately, the ATP management does not seem eager to obtain support for its project outside the USA. It has not registered as a charity that can issue tax-deductible receipts anywhere but in the USA. I and several others have written to the ATP Director Mr. Masaradjian several times over the last 4 years, asking him to obtain charity status for the ATP in other countries (specifically Canada) but he kept promising he would look into it and did NOTHING! SHAME!
    I and others would have liked to help Armenia’s reforestation effort by donating to the ATP, but we feel excluded by Mr. Masarajian’s attitude and lack of effort.
    OQ

  12. anizib
    March 16, 2010, 5:06 am

    Thanks for this informative piece! we can turn back the environmental disaster that humans have created… One tree at a time!

  13. Rubin
    March 15, 2010, 5:42 am

    oh yes, David, well said.
    Thank you fro this article dear David Braun.
    My Armenian Apostolic Christian (the mother church of Armenians is called Armenian Apostolic Holy Church, this is our denomination) friends, my mom and I planted lots of oak trees on 2350 meters on the mountain in Spitak , Jrashen village with the ATP`Armenia Tree project, Reverend father Der Dajad Davidian last fall.
    Around 1 million trees in total were planted in general.
    And we are gonna do that again this spring-summer.

  14. David_Davidian
    March 14, 2010, 10:10 pm

    It is significant that the National Geographic has brought attention to the work of many towards the professional re-forestation of Armenia. A large percentage of trees in and around cities and towns were cut down during the winter of 1992 as most of Armenia’s transport routes were blockaded by the vagaries of it bordering countries after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. With no heat, gas or electricity, that winter will not easily be forgotten. As is pointed out by editor David Braun, the re-greening of Armenia brings with it the promise of hope. As old growth forests are being destroyed globally, it is refreshing to know of efforts towards reversing this devastating trend.
    The November 1919 edition of the National Geographic published an article entitled, _The Land of Stalking Death; A Journey Through Starving Armenia on an American Relief Train_. Just over ninety years later, the National Geographic has published an article in sharp contrast, emphasizing hope and survival through the simple act of planting a tree – multiplied by three and a half a million!

  15. Blogian
    March 14, 2010, 5:28 pm

    Thank you for this important story on ATP’s good work in Armenia. Unfortunately, Armenia’s government is little concerned about deforestation – which could make Armenia foresteless in a few years. This is why ATP’s work is so important and priceless. Thanks for blogging on this