By Ani Melkonian
A new pair of winter boots for a daughter, a denture from a husband to his wife, and tools for a young hairstylist to start a home-based business. Those are some of the things the local villagers employed by Armenia Tree Project (ATP) are planning on buying with their reimbursement for working on an afforestation project in Tashir this fall.
ATP’s Forestry and Community Tree Planting departments have wrapped up the planting of another 160,767 trees this season, bringing the total to 248,491 planted in 2017. Of that total, 7,450 were fruit trees, including apricot, peach, pear, and wild apple.
“We’re proud of our tree-planting results. After this fall, we’ve planted a total of 5,464,991 trees and shrubs since 1994,” explained ATP Executive Director Jeanmarie Papelian. “The number has been growing steadily and will continue to do so as we work hard to protect and improve Armenia’s natural heritage by providing trees as well as environmental education to the people.”
Tashir is a quiet town in the Lori region. It’s the kind of place where people don’t like to dream and prefer to live without expectations. And, unfortunately, because of high unemployment leading to increased emigration, that is the case with most of rural Armenia. If you go to Tashir in spring or fall, the only excitement or noise you’ll hear will be coming from ATP’s afforestation plot where men and women of all ages are clinking and clanking away to transform the landscape.
ATP has been operating in Tashir for the past three seasons and recruiting temporary workers from the region to help with planting and maintenance of the trees. About 150 people are hired annually by ATP for reforestation projects, and the workers are paid based on the quantity of trees they plant.
“It’s not easy at all. Go ahead, try,” says Arevik, who is from the nearby village of Petrovka. She is the village school guard and has come to Tashir to plant with her daughter.
She’s right. It is heavy work, no matter how soft the soil looks. “We think it’s worth it, of course. We have a slightly different quality of life during planting season. Our burden is a little less,” says Arevik as she continues to plant vigorously.
Arevik’s daughter is a self-taught hairdresser. With no barbershop in the village, she’ll use her earnings from the planting to purchase tools and work out of her house.
Across the field, Vahan is leaving a long trail of pines behind him. “I need to get a denture for my wife, so I can kiss her again,” he jokes and quickly dodges a punch from her. By the time the project is complete, everyone on the field is a little closer to each other—and to their natural surroundings.
“Trees give us so much to be thankful for, and most people don’t even know half of it,” says Papelian. “Trees are how we create jobs in Armenia—how we help people improve their standard of living as well as the environment.”
The trees are supplied by ATP’s four nurseries, which provide full-time employment to several dozen local villagers, many of whom are Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan. Trees are also purchased from ATP’s award-winning Backyard Nursery Micro-Enterprise Program, which is another way people benefit from the organization.
“This year the backyard nurseries expanded to include 19 families,” explained Papelian. “The way it works is ATP gives these families seeds and trains them in propagation…. ATP [then] buys the seedlings and replants them in nearby regions.”
About 5,000 of the trees planted this fall were purchased from families in Aghavnavank Village who are part of the program. Next year, ATP expects to purchase even more seedlings from the backyard-nursery owners. The project was named Energy Globe Award Winner for Armenia at the European Parliament.
ATP also traveled to remote border villages, distributing fruit trees to households as a way to ensure food security and fortify the populations’ roots in the land. It is estimated that ATP’s trees produced a yield of 1.5 million pounds of fruit this year alone.
“With the support of the Diaspora, we are proving there is a way to improve human welfare through trees,” concluded Papelian. “Together we are making Armenia a greener and better place to live in. Selfless acts like planting trees have positive ripple effects which can be felt for generations to come. We hope everyone will ‘Get Rooted with ATP’ and watch it grow.”