Struggling pistachio farmers in Afghanistan are being supported by a USAID project promoting sustainable forestry techniques.
|Mohammad Amin (pointing) and other training participants, developing the pistachio forest maps.|
Pistachios are a major export crop in the country but the ecosystems of natural pistachio forests are in serious danger, due to over logging, overgrazing and unsustainable harvesting techniques.
Awareness of forest rehabilitation issues and problems associated with over-harvesting is also low in local communities, due to a lack of coordination between community and government authorities in the management of the forests.
Despite the recent degradation of pistachio woodland, Afghanistan’s annual export of pistachio nuts was still valued at over USD 40 million in 2008-2009, a significant portion of all exported goods. Pistachio nuts therefore have a great potential as an environmentally friendly way to help vulnerable families and communities, while boosting Afghanistan's economy.
The Reforestation and Biodiversity Conservation of Pistachio Woodland project which is implemented by UNOPS, in coordination with the Government of Afghanistan, is running a Pistachio Forest Management Committee (FMC) to address these issues.
Funded by USAID through ECODIT, the project focuses on the districts of Sharek Yaar, Taikhonak and Rubatak in Samangan Province and Farkhar District in Takhar Province.
Haji Mohammad Amin, a father of six, had difficulties providing for his family, until he became a member of the FMC three years ago.
He said: “It totally changed my life. Thanks to the increased income, my oldest son can now go to high school in the city. I hope I will be able to provide school materials to all my children soon.”
In order to strengthen the local forest management capacity, UNOPS organized a series of training workshops in Samangan for all FMC members, shura, technical staff of the Provincial Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock as well as the National Environmental Protection Agency.
Mohammad Amin actively participated in the training and said: “I liked this training so much, because of the interactive teaching method and very useful information that I didn’t have before. For example, I used to think just about the fruits of the pistachio forest. After this training, I know that the forest brings many more values like a clean environment.”
“If we cut the trees from the forest, it will give us only short-term benefits, but if we don’t, it will give us fruits and other good benefits in the next 50 years and more,” he added.
During the training, the participants developed forest maps, outlining pasture land and grazing areas, roads and villages. The maps were also used to further discuss a grazing plan to avoid overgrazing which, in many parts of the woodland, is a cause for soil erosion. It was a challenging exercise as they had to consider the needs of livestock owners in the villages as well as nomadic Kuchi herders passing through the forests for several months of the year.
Mohammad Amin intends to teach other villagers the environmental messages he learned from training. “From now on, I will not use wood for cooking and heating in my house. Instead, I will use gas or fuel and advise all the other people to do the same.
The project will provide the villagers with further training on nut processing and business skills, in order to increase the sustainability and impact of the project. Environmental awareness raising activities are also planned for school children.