Regenerating the forests of Uzbekistan without financial expenditure and by making use of the local population - one potential strategy

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Раздел: News

Project Manager: Deusheva Gaukhar,
Candidate of biological sciences.

Although this article will deal with the regeneration of forested areas, before we discuss the regeneration strategy in question, we would like to spend some time exploring the importance not only of forests, but of woodlands in general.    

It is hard to overstate the significance of forests for countries and their populations. Forests:

– are a source of numerous products for human consumption that are used in various different ways. For example: commercial timber, firewood, mushrooms, nuts, medicinal plants, etc. All of this is an indispensable part of people's lives and provides them with income.

– are a habitat for plants and animals. If forests are lost, so is the entire biodiversity of the country, and this brings with it the threat of ecological catastrophe. Expert studies have shown that if the pollinators that live in wooded areas were to be lost, humans would starve to death in less than three years.

– have an amelioratory function: forests strengthen riverbanks and hillsides, guarding against erosion and disintegration; regulate springtime surface runoff by changing it into subsurface runoff; regulate the water cycle of soil and rivers; they also clean water, keeping our rivers, lakes and underground water clean.

– regulate the climate. Forests produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, playing a significant role in the gaseous balance of the atmosphere and in regulating the earth's climate, humidify the air and weaken wind.

– contribute to the beauty of nature and recreation. The social role of forests - whether it be for holidays or health needs or the improvement of people's living environment - is ever more significant. The leisure attributes of forests are extremely varied. They produce phytoncides which kill pathogenic bacteria and also have a beneficial effect on the human nervous system.

– produce oxygen which is necessary for our respiration.

– forests (such as woods within cities) absorb noise: the crowns of leafy trees reflect and disperse up to 70% of sonic energy, thereby neutralizing the effect of harmful industrial sonic discharges.

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Natural rehabilitation of forests in the Yangiabad
mountains, Tashkent province

Today's forests all over the world constitute one of the principal pillars of the emergence of a global "green" economy. For example, the use of pellets/briquettes made from vegetable byproducts could easily become an major component of renewable energy and satisfy people's needs in this regard. This constitutes a renewable energy with carbon-neutral effects on the global climate, and operates according to the principle: “it grew, it was used, it was renewed in the next cycle”. The creation of agroforestry clusters in agriculture helps to maintain fertile soil, but also guarantees stable harvests, which is important for food security. Forests are fundamentally important for many branches of agriculture. It is necessary quite simply to make sensible use of what we gain from nature and agricultural procedures in order to ensure that forests last forever as an inexhaustible source of wealth for a country.               

There is a bizarre stereotype according which Uzbekistan, as a country with extensive deserts, has no significant forests. It is true that Uzbekistan counts among the lightly-forested countries. But it possesses many mountainous, riparian (waterside) and, most importantly, desert forests, which make up the national forested areas. The regeneration, planting and sustainable use of wooded areas in arid regions could solve many of the energy-related problems faced by local populations.  The national forested areas include areas covered by forests, as well as areas not covered by forests but set aside for forestry use.

The entirety of the forested areas of the Republic of Uzbekistan as of 1 January 2009 was 8.7 million hectares, of which 3.2 million hectares was covered by forests. Forested areas made up 7.2% of the territory of Uzbekistan.

The government of Uzbekistan is investing large sums in the preservation and regeneration of the country’s forested areas. However, the success of such measures broadly depends on the local population, on awareness-raising work constantly being conducted among the local population by workers from environmental organizations, and on the motivation for individual participation felt by each villager. Currently, even as the state is spending money to regenerate forested areas, the deficit in energy resources is leading to large-scale destruction of forests for timber. During conversations in Surkhandarya Province, Aqsaqal people referred to the figure of 1km: the amount by which the forest climbs the hill each year, or in other words, the amount of forest that disappears. The area covered by riparian forest has shrunk threefold since 1980.

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Timber harvesting in riparian forests of
Karakalpakstan
 Consequences of unsustainable use of natural capital  Irrational use of forest

The state is therefore expending financial resources on regeneration, but regeneration is not happening because the required amount of regeneration is higher than the actual amount of regeneration taking place. The private sector is a user of forests.

Every year, the forestry industry issues statistics on the amount of forest planted. However, there are unfortunately no accurate figures on forested areas, for the simple reason that there are no statistics on the areas used. The figures include increases, but no decreases. There is no budget for drawing up an inventory, monitoring or assessing forest resources. This is one reason why there is a lack of reliable information on over 5 million hectares of state forest areas. There are also no market mechanisms for organizing or planning a sensible use of forests on the basis of an economic assessment of forest resources.          

Interesting facts about forests

– In forests, and in city parks, the air is 15-30% more humid than in streets and areas without greenery.

– The air temperature in forests during hot weather is 4-8 degrees cooler than in open spaces. (How important these two points are given our arid climate! And why is it that we prune back trees so aggressively in the city?!)

– Every hectare of arable land that is not protected by forests or ringed by trees leaks 2.5-7 times more nitrogen, 2-6 times more phosphorus and 3-5 times more potassium than protected fields.

– During periods of dry weather and dust storms, a one-hectare-sized forest belt of a height of 10 metres can protect a field of 25-30 hectares and guarantee, even in difficult years, an increase in the crop harvest of 3-4 centners per hectare, or 75-120 centners over the entire protected area. (Read our article about field-protecting forest belts on our website and in the next newsletter. Farmers are not planting forest belts because they cannot see the benefits in terms of the increased fertility of the soil and the increase in harvest yields.)

– One hectare equals 40 oaks planted in the summer. It emits 14 tons of oxygen and absorbs 18 tons of carbon dioxide. (This is not currently measured in Uzbekistan because its ecological services do not yet have sufficient funds).

It is an issue that the state is spending money on forest regeneration but no regeneration is taking place. This could mean that the approach to managing forest resources should be examined and altered.

Our proposal is to incorporate the private sector (in this case, the local population) in the regeneration of forests and to give them every possible encouragement to carry out regeneration work. The private sector does this work more quickly, to a higher standard, and with more cheaply. By incorporating the private sector into forest regeneration projects, state bodies will find it easier to carry out monitoring and controls. How is this possible? One possible answer is to extend the rights to forested land.

Table 1 Comparison of benefits for the state and local residents from short-term and long-term leases of forest areas.

 

Short-term lease

Long-term lease

State

Spends money on the regeneration of the forest

Does not spend money on the regeneration of forest areas - funds are freed up for other uses

Forested area does not increase in size because of destruction by the local population

Forested area increases due to the planting of trees by the local population as rent and the regeneration of natural forest in additional parts of the forested area

State forestry authorities have the responsibility to:

-        Regenerate forested areas

-        Preserve forests from destruction

-        Monitor lessees

State forestry authorities only have a supervisory function. Duties to regenerate forested areas and to preserve forests from destruction are incumbent on lessees who are responsible for increasing the size of forested areas

The state receives a limited income from rent

The state receives significant income from the use of leased land as it receives a share of the harvest

Local inhabitants

Do not make significant profits from renting land as there is no encouragement to make investments

Make significant profits from the long-term use of land, investment and the additional harvest from rented land

 

There have been several previous attempts to examine the possibility of leasing forested land to local populations. One example is the effort undertaken in the framework of a UNDP-Global Environment Facility project entitled Establishment of the Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biosphere Reserve. The forest-related element of the project tested the possibility of regenerating forested areas according to a particular model:

– Forestry units leased the forested land planted with fruit and wood trees (i.e. trees in general).

– As rent, the lessee was to give 50% of the harvest or products (the amount could be altered) and also to pledge to regenerate the natural botanical life within the limits of the forested area (the size of which was also be discussed). 

In this way the leased areas of forest were to be covered by planted trees (for fruit or wood) and the additional forested land would be regenerated at the lessee’s expense. In this case, no spending on regeneration work was budgeted, but the land would nevertheless gradually become covered by trees. Forestry units were responsible only for oversight: ensuring that lessees met their responsibilities as set out in the lease agreement.

However, there was one drawback. According to law, forest lands could only be leased on a short-term basis. Previously, this meant one year, with the right to extend the term. Now this term has been increased so that the lease can be extended for up to 10 years. However, in practice, a long-term lease of forest land does not last that long. Usually a short-term lease is signed with the possibility of extension. Such an agreement makes the lessee, year after year, directly dependent on the whim of the director of the forest unit. But it is well known that it takes time to make money from trees. Lessees need a firm assurance that, if they invest in planting trees for fruit or wood production, there is a guarantee that they will have a claim to what is produced when the orchard or plantation comes to fruition. This is only possible with a long-term lease. For example, as shown by a Small Grants Programme-Global Environment Facility (SGP GEF) study on the distribution of pistachio plantations in Uzbekistan, pistachio trees only start to yield nuts after six to seven years, and only give maximum yield after 15 years. The lack of guarantees given in short-term loans is a significant barrier to the regeneration of forested areas on forest lands. People simply do not want to invest money without any sort of guarantee. A fundamental recommendation in connection with this issue is therefore to increase the opportunities of working within this scheme to a term of up to 49 years, as is the case with lands set aside for forestry industry use.

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Pistachio plantations in Jizzak province         

According to all indicators, the current short-term leases are a lose-lose situation (both the local population and the state lose out), while long-term leases are a win-win situation.     

In this regard, we noted above the direct drawbacks and benefits that are associated with the leasing of forest land. It would equally have been possible to conduct a robust analysis and to assess the indirect gains of having private individuals increase forested areas. This category would include the economic profits from such areas as the development of tourism and leisure activities, the production of non-wood forest products (berries, medicinal herbs, mushrooms, etc), the reduction in soil erosion, the improvement of the water supply to the population, not to mention the purely ecological benefits (carbon reduction, oxygen production, increase in local habitats for plants and animals, etc).

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In a shade of a saxaul tree in Bukhara province   

Another example of the lowering of state expenditure on the regeneration of forest is provided by the SGP-GEF project The Regeneration of Riparian Forests along the Zarafshan River - the Potential for Preserving a Biodiverse Region which was carried out by Zarafshan, an ecological non-governmental non-profit organization, in Samarkand Province. The goal of the project was to increase the coverage of riparian forest in the Oqdarya District of Samarkand Province, working on zones of 10 hectares by involving the local population in actions to regenerate the forest. The following strategy was tested in this case:

– The forest unit offered to lease an irrigated area to the local population for a short term.
– The lessee, as rent payment, was to regenerate the degraded parts of the forest according to certain criteria.

In this case, once again, the state was able to avoid the burden of having to pay for the regeneration of the degraded sections of forest. In this case, deforested areas made up around 50 hectares of the entire area of riparian forest in the Oqdarya District (205 hectares). The local population was able to carry out regeneration of the forest because it could gather seeds and prepare the grafting of oleanders, tamarisks, buckthorns and hawthorns. The regeneration of forested areas that they carried out cost them only their time and the cost of their independent labour. The state was thus able to avoid spending any financial resources. However, the result was the same: the forest was regenerated. In the final agreement, lessees from the local population received, rent-free, 0.25 hectares of irrigated land for their own personal use for five years in exchange for the obligation to care for and preserve newly-planted poplar seedlings over an area of one hectare. Thus by giving away land in one hectare sections, the state received four hectares of irrigated land. State expenditure in this case merely consisted of the profits lost from not being able to use the leased irrigated land in a different way. Unfortunately, the project was not assessed in an economically detailed manner to detail all parties’ expenditures and profits.

The project included purchasing and planting 10,000 poplar offshoots in the project area

A series of training seminars was conducted on the subject of activities and practical methods to regenerate forests, as well as alternative revenue sources for village residents. The ultimate goal of these workshops was to reduce man-made pressures on riparian forests caused by the villagers (felling of trees and shrubs, livestock grazing, removal of topsoil for individual requirements, etc). The seminars were on the following themes: Problems of Sustainable Animal Breeding; Using Leased Land to Grow Medicinal Plants for Home Use and for the Use of Pharmaceutical Firms; Possibility of Enhancing Feeds for Household Farms. All of these seminars excited great interest from the villagers who lived closed to the riparian forests.

Understanding that the future of riparian forests is crucially dependent on the next generation of villagers, Zarafshan undertook large-scale awareness-raising efforts in three village schools in Oqdarya District (schools No. 14, 15 and 46). Older pupils of these schools were offered theoretical and practical seminars on methods for producing cuttings and choosing seeds for riparian trees. Seminars on the theme of “Trees - Our Friends” gave pupils the foundations of a balanced attitude towards unique natural areas on the basis of an objective and clear comprehension of their significance and role in preserving a biodiverse region. Seminars were conducted to encourage “Friends of the Forest” clubs to form in village schools. In this connection, we developed a set of posters on the biome of riparian forests, the animal and plant world of riparian environments and rules of behaviour in the forest. All of these posters, and other material to be distributed, was given out to three schools to encourage clubs to be established. Furthermore, theoretical and practical seminars were carried out in village schools on how to put together ecological pathways.      

In order to implement the project, Zarafshan selected three project areas in the deforested portions of the riparian forests of Oqdarya District. During preliminary meetings in the villages of Oksulot, Dzharbuta and Kholdor, the goals and challenges of the project were presented to participants and the possibility of village residents participating in the process of regenerating the riparian forests was discussed. In order to encourage residents to participate in tackling the aims and challenges of the project, a project of lease agreements between local residents and the administration of the Oqdarya District forestry unit was presented, which testified to the desire to participate in the process of regenerating the riparian forests. The project was approved and signed by eight lessees who were residents of Dzharbuta, Oksulot and Kholdor.    
Other activities also fell within the scope of the project: 

Implementing this project was the first attempt in the Samarkand Province to involve the village population living close to the riparian forests in work to regenerate these forests, together with corresponding state authorities, such as the regional administration and regional forest units.

In conclusion it should be noted that there exist alternative methods and approaches to managing forest areas. As seen above, the implementation of alternative approaches such as the introduction of long-term leases of land to the local population or the provision of productive, irrigated land are able to aid efforts to regenerate forests. Given enough political will, these methods can be implemented with evident benefits for the state in terms of:

– an increase in the country’s forested areas, along with all the corresponding economic and ecological benefits of this fact; 
– a decrease in spending on such activities;
– an improvement in the well-being of local populations as a result of their involvement in this work and as a result of them receiving real benefits from the sustainable regeneration and use of forests. 

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A black saxaul in the territory of the Ecocenter «Djeyran» in Bukhara province

 

For more information please contact the following persons:
 

Gauhar Gazizovna Deusheva,
Candidate of biological sciences
tel.: +998 91 521 33 82 (mobile)
e-mail: gauhar-d@rambler.ru

 

Leila Enverovna Belyalova
Candidate of biological sciences
tel.: +998 90 521 15 72 (mobile)

e-mail: leylya_bird@rambler.ru                        




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