In 2020, Armenia Tree Project (ATP) purchased a total of 40,257 trees from its backyard nurseries in the villages of Aghavnavank, Margahovit and Keti. Thanks to the Backyard Nursery (BYN) program, villagers are able to nearly double their family income, attain more financial stability and avoid migrating for work.
The program is structured around a two year period. ATP provides seeds, cuttings and seedlings to families in impoverished villages who tend and grow the plants in their own backyards. ATP staff trains the landowners, supervises the planting and monitors the site throughout the process. Each family has a capacity to grow 1,500 to 2,000 tree seedlings on their plots of land. Once the trees reach harvesting stage, ATP compensates the BYN owner for the healthy trees that are ready to be replanted. These families then begin the nursery cycle again with a new crop of trees.
The backyard nurseries enable village residents to capitalize on their existing assets, which are mainly small parcels of productive agricultural land. By growing trees, they are contributing to sustainable forest management and earning a livelihood that enables them to remain rooted in their communities. Many of the backyard nursery owners are women, which creates a sense of empowerment, equality and entrepreneurship.
In addition, growing seedlings in backyard nurseries frees up space for ATP to focus on growing higher value trees, which require more active care, in its nurseries in Karin, Khachpar and Chiva villages. The trees produced by BYN have become an important part of ATP’s forestry and community plantings. Every year, both the quantity and the quality of trees improve.
Thirty families currently participate in the Backyard Nursery Micro-Enterprise project in the villages of Aghavnavank and Keti (Tavush) and Margahovit (Lori).
The pandemic and the Artsakh War added numerous socio-economic issues in Armenia in 2020. Nearly 80 percent of the residents of Aghavnavank village are Armenian refugees who were relocated from Azerbaijan in the early 90’s. The recent war forced the residents of Aghavnavank to relive the tragedies of the first Artsakh war, when many of them fled their homes in the Armenian communities of Azerbaijan to start their lives anew in Armenia.
“History is repeating itself just like a merry-go-round. My people were forced to flee again as our village in Artsakh is currently under Azeri control in accordance with the ceasefire agreement. This is indescribable pain and sorrow for all of us,” said BYN owner Lusya Poghosyan, a native of Martakert. “This program is one of the few things that gives us hope for the future, and it’s something we can always depend on. We love the work we do, and we love working with ATP’s beautiful team. They are always welcome guests in our community.”
According to interviews conducted by ATP in the village of Aghavnavank, the approximate average income for a family is $2,000 per year (less than $170 per month). This is based on at least one member of the family having a permanent job and receiving a monthly salary, but this is a “best case scenario.” Often, families in these villages live off the fruits of their labor or receive a modest pension or children’s allowance from the government. The BYN program allows families to double their income.
“The good thing about this program is that you don’t have to spend any money from your pocket. Any other business would require that,” says Vahe Malakyan of Margahovit village.
BYN sponsors generously donated bonuses for each of the families in January 2021 (in addition to the compensation the families received for the trees) as a reward for their hard work over the past year and encouragement for the year ahead.
Due to its success in providing critical socio-economic aid to some of Armenia’s most vulnerable communities and the production of healthy planting material essential for Armenia’s reforestation, the BYN program is set to expand significantly and will be brought to dozens more families in the provinces of Shirak, Tavush and Lori in the next three years.