Young Green Patrols in action: “By protecting trees we protect our future”

School-based forest units: the tradition existed in Azerbaijan before, now it’s time to restore it and to make it fi t the contemporary environment. So far, children have been sensitised to forest protection thanks to the efforts of the Centre of Environmental Education in Baku. Now, a European-supported initiative is aiming to extend their work and to create school-based teams of ‘Young Foresters’. Because the necessity to prevent deforestation and to expand the green topsoil is today a priority in the country, which cannot be met without increasing the population’s environmental education.

Sahavat Huseynov, member of the "Green Patrol"

“The future is in our hands. The environment we will be living in depends very much on how we will protect plants and forests, how we will prevent deforestation.” This is the opinion of 14-year-old Sahavat Huseynov. He is a member of the “Green Patrol” unit, established under the Republican Centre of Environmental Education of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Education. This Centre supports the idea of creating school-based teams of “Young foresters”, which is being implemented within the EU-funded ENPI-FLEG (Forest Law Enforcement and Governance) Program.

The Centre is located in one of the most beautiful spots of Baku, in a park where the residence of famous oil-magnates, the brothers Ludwig and Robert Nobel, stood in the early 20th century. “We plant trees regularly,” says Sahavat Huseynov, “and our ‘Green Patrol’ also monitors the large Nizami Park in Baku, where we prevent pollution and do not allow other kids to break and harm trees. We try to explain to them that this damages not only nature, but the lives of people themselves.”

Building on an old tradition: school-based forest units

Azer Garayev, National Consultant of ENPI FLEG in Azerbaijan says that the Program’s major objective is to inform the public about the need to prevent deforestation and the importance to expand the green topsoil. “But we were aware that this task cannot be fulfilled without some environmental education. That is why the Azerbaijani component of the Program came up with the idea of creating teams of ‘young foresters’ in schools,” says Garayev. “This idea existed in Azerbaijan before, and now our purpose is to restore those traditions, modernize them for the contemporary environment.”

The Republican Centre of Environmental Education is in fact the only place in the country where systematic work promoting children’s engagement in the protection of the environment has been organized. ENPI FLEG’s education consultant in Azerbaijan, Lala Dadasheva, says the Centre works with teachers to increase their knowledge on the need to prevent deforestation. The teachers in turn work with their students, organizing study-tours and tree-planting actions. The center has 54 branches throughout the country.

Local NGOs and media are also very interested in the forest protection activities, says Dadasheva: “The forest is not only a source of fuel or raw materials for industries: it is also a source of the richest biological variety.”

Pilot initiatives to create school-based forest units will be implemented under the Program in three Azerbaijani provinces – in the South, North and Western regions. “If we are able to include at least 20% of the pupils in the young foresters’ teams, it will be success,” Garayev says. The teams will include mostly children from provinces who live close to forests. “But children from cities should not be left behind. There is an idea,” he continues, “to establish summer camps in forest areas where both kids from cities and local children would live together. They could do plenty of useful work regarding protection of forests, monitoring of climate changes, etc.” Such camps could also be international, to attract children from other countries.

Deforestation doesn’t lead to a better life

The ENPI FLEG Program, which has been implemented in Azerbaijan since mid-2010, covers a wide spectrum of issues. One of its components is research on “the economic and social impact of illegal deforestation and unsustainable use of forests resources on the life of local residents.”

The Program’s scientific consultant on social and economic analysis, Azad Aliyev, says that the Ismailly region, 160km west from Baku, was selected for the research. An opinion poll was conducted among the people of the area to study the influence of deforestation. “The results showed that the average people in this region are poorer than in the rest of the country,” Aliyev says, adding that the picture is typical of other forest regions of Azerbaijan too. Local residents mostly use forest to get fuel. “Although this practice declined significantly in recent years due to a law banning deforestation and to awareness campaigns, people still cut forests illegally,” Azad Aliyev says. Meanwhile, not only does deforestation not lead to a better life for local residents, but it also has serious environmental consequences, even influencing people’s health. “Deforestation creates a large oxygen deficit,” continues Aliyev, “and it causes diseases among local residents.” During the last two centuries the amount of land covered by forests has decreased almost three times, and currently it represents only 11.8% of the country’s land. This trend could continue if serious measures to save forest resources are not applied.

A lot has been done, more is to come

Azer Garayev from FLEG believes that among the reasons behind the unsustainable use of forests since the mid-1990s, is the rise in unemployment and poverty levels, the lack of access to energy resources and the sudden development of livestock farming. “This last element negatively affects forests development,” says Garayev, “because uncontrolled pasture of animals results in cattle eating the sprigs.” Rahim Ibrahimov, head of section of the forests development department of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of ecology and natural resources, believes that the ENPI FLEG Program meets the government’s strategy on the prevention of deforestation and increase in forest land from the current 11.8% to 25-30%. “Azerbaijan has done a lot of work in this sector: between 2003 and 2008, a large number of trees were planted, resulting in more than 71,634 hectares of forests. But more is still to be done, so the ENPI FLEG Program is very important for us, to inform, to increase the population’s environmental knowledge and to explain the practical advantages of forest areas.”

Source: ENPI Info Centre

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