Who Profits From Deforestation in Armenia?

YEREVAN–A new alliance released an unprecedented economic study on June 27 that unveils the system of profits from illegal deforestation in Armenia. The event held at Yerevan’s American University of Armenia was initiated by EcoArmenia alliance with support from the British Embassy in Armenia and OSCE office in Yerevan.
Armenia is one of the world’s 70 countries where forests cover less than 10 percent of the country’s area. In today’s Armenia, deforestation is largely due to illegal logging of forests for obtaining construction and fuel wood. For the last decade the amount of incomes received from illegal wood businesses inside Armenia as well as export of unprocessed wood and wood products reaches millions of US dollars in Armenia.
As the deforestation in Armenia has reached a critical level, the issue is a priority for local environmental groups and international organizations. Four organizations–World Wildlife Fund Armenia, American University of Armenia’s Environmental Conservation Research Center, Armenia Tree Project, and Armenian Forests NGO–formed the EcoArmenia alliance in 2006 to help shift Armenia from a mode of deforestation to reforestation.
In winter 2007, with the involvement of OSCE Armenia office and financial support of the British Embassy in Armenia, the coalition initiated and financed a preparation of an unprecedented study that would unveil the economics of the illegal wood businesses in Armenia.
The study, “The Economics of Armenia’s Forest Industry,” prepared by the Economy and Values Research Center, exposes the financial flows in the sphere of unprocessed wood utilization and wood processing industries, the volumes of export of unprocessed wood and wood products, pinpointing the existing environmental issues, and presenting recommendations towards solving the deforestation problem in Armenia.
“This unique report helps bring light to one of the darkest areas of Armenia ‘s economy,” stated Jeffrey Tufenkian, President of Armenian Forests NGO. “We see this not as an end in itself, but an excellent point from which we can all move forward to help shift Armenia from a mode of deforestation to reforestation.”
Underlining the stance of international organizations towards the problem, Jeanette Klotzer, Economic and Environmental Officer at OSCE Office in Yerevan said “To support Armenia’s authorities and civil society in sustainable forest management is in the focus of our activities in view of the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to environment and security. Raising awareness and national capacity building are important steps on the way to prevent illegal logging and to restore Armenia’s forests as an environmental and economic category.”
A staunch supporter of stopping deforestation in Armenia, the British Embassy expressed its full support for the study by co-financing it. Quoted on the decision to support the initiative, Richard Hyde, Charge d’Affairs of the British Embassy in Armenia’stressed that “The future of Armenia’s forests are at a critical juncture. We hope this study will help in the process to save Armenia’s forests for current and future generations.”
The study shows that nine percent of households in Armenia use wood as fuel for cooking and heating, and more than 300 small, medium, and large wood processing companies operating in Armenia utilize 10 times more wood than the volumes set by the state for annual cutting. Overall annual income from wood business operations equals $132 million US within Armenia, including the profits received from the export of unprocessed high quality wood.
The study recommen’s addressing the problem of deforestation on economic by expanding natural gas supplies to remote villages via micro-credits, exempting of taxes for importing wood to Armenia, a ban on export of unprocessed wood from Armenia, supporting alternative energy resources, and developing eco-tourism.
The report is available from the Economy and Values Research Center in English and Armenian at the following link: http://ev.am/research.htm

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