Armenia Tree Project Initiates Large scale Reforestation Program

YEREVAN–Nearly 120,000 tree seedlings for reforestation were purchased this Fall by Armenia Tree Project (ATP) from backyard nurseries owned by residents of the rural villages of Aghavnavank–Dzoravank–and Aygut. These rural communities are inhabited by Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan and are located in the Getik River Valley near Lake Sevan.

In October and November–ATP started a massive reforestation project in the Getik River Valley. By the end of November–three plots of over 50 hectares (123 acres) will be completely covered with strong and healthy seedlings. More than 40 villagers are employed by ATP in the reforesting activity.

In 2004–as part of its 10th anniversary–ATP announced the beginning of its first large scale reforestation initiative–which was strongly encouraged by its many generous donors. This phase of the project was made possible through the gift of $100,000 from Mr. and Mrs. Augustus Barber of Maine–who have been enthusiastic supporters of the ATP since 1995.

In the early 1990s–Gus Barber visited Armenia and witnessed people with no work–food–or prospects for improvement. "Trees were being cut down everywhere–and people cannot live without trees," he told ATP. Gus was so struck by the unfortunate plight of Armenia that he made a commitment to improving the situation. Gus’ personal experiences as the son of Armenian immigran’s gave him a particular appreciation for the hardships of others. In 1955–he started a small business with just three employees. Today–as President of Barber Foods–he employs over 850 workers. Over 40 percent of his staff are immigran’s–and each year he pays college tuition for 25 employees. The company celebrated its 50th anniversary in September.

Gus takes great pride in his own flourishing orchard of walnut–apple–and other fruit trees–plus a large stand of wild Maine blueberries. In recent years–the Barber Family supported the planting of over 5,000 walnut and almond trees at pilgrimage sites and in rural villages throughout Armenia.

Gus was instrumental in assisting ATP with the backyard fruit tree renewal project in Aygut–which was completed in Fall 2004.

ATP established a unique backyard nursery pilot project in 2003 in Aygut. Working closely with communities and local officials–ATP entered into agreemen’s with families interested in growing tree seedlings to be sold to ATP for reforestation of the mountains surrounding their village.

Seventeen nurseries were established in the first year–and as a result of the success of the pilot program–the number of families participating grew to 153 this year. The program now includes two other villages where families agreed to develop these micro-enterprises in collaboration with ATP.

In early 2005–ATP was planning to plant 90,000 trees in observance of the 90th anniversary of the Genocide. However–due to the expansion and success of their rural economic development program–the backyard nurseries produced 120,000 seedlings ready for planting. This–in combination with ATP’s Community Tree Planting program–will result in the planting of over 170,000 trees–far exceeding the number of trees ever planted by ATP in a single year.

After signing contracts with ATP–each backyard nursery owner was provided with a variety of seeds from nearby forests as well as the necessary tools and equipment. In addition–ATP agriculture specialists regularly visited the nurseries to provide technical assistance and training to the farmers.

Participants were taught how to maintain soil and properly nurture their seedlings–which needed to achieve a height of 30 cm before being eligible for purchase by ATP.

According to a household survey conducted by ATP in 2003–the average annual income of rural villagers in Aygut was only $280–so the money earned by the families and workers involved in this project has provided a desperately needed source of income.

"As we received seeds for our nurseries and started the joint project with ATP–I felt that my family got involved in something big and very promising.

At present I have 650 seedlings in my backyard nursery–which are ready for planting," said Kamo Mirzoyan from the village of Aghavnavank. Selling each surviving seedling this season–Mirzoyan earned $145.

"Since this is a potentially long-term project which will have an impact on the land and ecosystem of the area–we began by obtaining the consent and official permission of the local mayors and community leaders in each village," explains ATP agriculture specialist Robert Alexanyan–when explaining the organization’s methodology for this endeavor. "Because we took this approach–there were no obstacles to going ahead with the backyard nursery project and the reforestation effort. We are very proud to see our achievemen’s and we intend to expand our mission to other villages."

"The results of the 43 backyard nurseries in Aghavnavank were better than we had hoped. This is a very beneficial project for all of us. We have seven people in my family–and it was rather difficult to satisfy all of their needs. With this program–ATP eased our life and we are happy to have them in the village," says Vardan Grigoryan–head of the local municipality.

Another refugee–Rita Ayvazyan–settled in the village in 1988–when there was no electricity and no drinking or irrigation water. "I am happy for the opportunity to grow and plant trees myself. Now my six children are fed and can attend school without feeling hungry. When my daughter graduates from school–she will join me and plant trees with all of us," Rita told ATP staff with tears in her eyes.

Sixty-one year old Ashot Kocharyan has also been busy growing and planting trees. He mentioned the unifying aspect of reforestation as well: "Shoulder to shoulder–old and young–father and son–husband and wife are planting trees in the Getik Valley. Severe winter is very close–but due to ATP we were able to purchase flour and other needed goods."

While Ashot and his wife were putting another seedling in the soil–another villager expressed his support for the program: "I lost my son in a traffic accident and my three other children left the village for a better life abroad. Now the two of us–my wife and I–decided to dedicate our lives to planting trees."

"More than 215 people in Aghavnavank can rely on the income from the nursery project," said Lyudmila Poghosyan–a backyard nursery owner and mother of four children. "I am also very thankful to ATP for bringing the World Vision organization to the village. Their medical team carefully examines our health and supports us with essential medication and services."

"We are very pleased with the success of ATP’s backyard nursery program–and the new Barber Family Forest planted this Fall demonstrates that we are fulfilling our mission to use trees to improve the standard of living for Armenia’s in the most impoverished regions of the country," stated Vache Kirakosyan–ATP’s new Director of Operations in Yerevan. "Building on the success of this effort–next year ATP hopes to expand the backyard nursery program to include over 300 families."

ATP was founded in 1994 with the vision of securing Armenia’s future by protecting its environment and advancing Armenia’s socio-economic development by mobilizing resources to fund reforestation and community tree planting. ATP uses trees to improve the standard of living of Armenia’s–promoting self-sufficiency and aiding those with the fewest resources first.

In just over 10 years–ATP has planted and rejuvenated nearly 750,000 trees at more than 500 sites in 11 regions of Armenia and Mountainous Karabagh. With the establishment of the new Mirak Family Reforestation nursery in Margahovit and expansion of the Backyard Nursery program–ATP hopes to soon be planting over one million trees per year in Armenia. For additional information–visit www.armeniatree.org or call toll-free (866) 965-TREE.

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