Saturday, May 2, 2009

ATP case study part of upcoming World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires…

The author with ATP reforestation manager Vadim Uzunyan (left) and a backyard nursery micro-enterprise owner in the Getik River Valley

A case study about the Armenia Tree Project Backyard Nursery Micro-Enterprise Program has been accepted as part of the proceedings of the XIII World Forestry Congress.

The international gathering is scheduled for October 18-23, 2009, in Buenos Aires. The paper was originally drafted for a master’s level course in Sustainable Development that is part of the Environmental Management program at Harvard.

I updated and expanded the section on lessons learned and submitted an abstract, which will be presented as a poster at the meeting and published in the proceedings of the XIII WFC. The following is the text of the abstract as submitted:

Case Study: Armenia Tree Project’s ‘Backyard Nursery’ Micro-Enterprise Program Delivers Poverty Reduction and Environmental Benefits in Rural Areas

Armenia’s forest cover was 18 percent in the 17th and 18th centuries, and a period of cutting for industrial and farming uses has brought the forest cover to a dangerously low level of less than 10 percent. Landsat data has revealed that Armenia’s forest cover was as low as 7.7 percent in 2006, and a major feature of the deforestation has been an accelerated rate of forest fragmentation.

Armenia Tree Project NGO was founded in 1994 and has initiated programs to address the interrelated issues of poverty and deforestation, with the goal of “using trees to improve the standard of living and protect the environment, guided by the need to promote self-sufficiency, aid those with the fewest resources first, and conserve the indigenous ecosystem.”

The organization identified a remote area in northeastern Armenia that was isolated by landslides caused by deforestation and employs its refugee population to grow seedlings to replenish their local forests in a Backyard Nursery Micro-Enterprise Program. ATP identified 20 families to grow seedlings in backyard plots in a pilot project. ATP purchased the surviving seedlings when they were ready to be planted in the forest, and hired additional workers from the village to do the planting.

After the first seedlings were planted in 2004, the organization expanded the program and began working with hundreds of families to produce seedlings. Although the sums paid are small by Western standards, the program has nearly doubled the annual income of these rural families.

The program has accomplished reforestation and poverty reduction goals, but the organization is concerned that it may not be fully sustainable in its current design because it relies on philanthropic donor inputs. However, some sustainable development experts have argued that any program that protects the environment or reduces poverty is sustainable over the long term.

To address the issue of sustainability, ATP is exploring the possibility of identifying other potential buyers of these seedlings, such as the Armenian State Forestry department or forestry programs in neighboring countries. The program may also benefit from the sale of ecosystem services generated by the newly established forests, such as carbon sequestration or groundwater recharge.

The ‘Backyard Nursery’ Micro-Enterprise Program is a good example of a sustainable development project since it provides economic (employing families to grow seedlings), social (partners provide needed services such as school lunches, computer access, health care), and environmental (reforestation to address landslide/erosion problems) benefits.

Update: To read ATP's press release about the XIII World Forestry Congress, click here. To view a PDF of the poster being presented at the series of meetings in Buenos Aires, click here.