Once a beautiful patchwork of woodland, green hillsides and undergrowth, in recent decades Afghanistan has suffered from severe deforestation - according to the UN, trees now cover just 1.5% of the country’s once luscious land. Afghanaid is working to change this: we’ve been planting trees as part of our projects for years but we’ve now also launched a standalone project which specifically targets reforestation and conservation.

Deforestation in Afghanistan: why have trees been lost?

The loss of Afghanistan’s trees has been the result of a number of mutually reinforcing factors:

Conflict and instability

Decades of conflict and the breakdown of local institutions has meant that traditional community-level natural resource management systems have been lost. Conflict has also caused countless families to flee their homes and move across the country in search of safety. This has led to unclear ownership rights and the unequal and unsustainable use of shared resources, and even the usurpation of previously forested common land for private crop cultivation and the illegal timber trade, which has flourished as part of the war economy. The ongoing conflict has also meant that environmental issues and preparing for climate change has taken a backseat in the country.

Poverty and population growth

Around 70% of people in Afghanistan now live below the poverty line. Such high levels of poverty leave communities with no choice but to fell trees and shrubs for fuel, construction materials and fodder to feed their animals. Population growth has driven both the demand for forest products and overgrazing, leading to further deforestation and the desertification of land.

Outdated agricultural practices

Deforestation has also been driven by improper harvesting practices and outdated farming techniques. Land is often cleared of trees for agriculture, and farmers in remote areas lack the know-how or the financial means to invest in new agricultural tools, resulting in the inefficient and unsustainable use of this land.

Natural disasters and climate change

Deforestation is both a cause and effect of natural disasters like floods and drought in Afghanistan. Climate change is leading to higher temperatures, as well as reduced and more erratic rainfall. As a result, flooding and drought are becoming increasingly severe and frequent across the country. As forests disappear, mass erosion makes floods even worse, washing away crops, harming biodiversity, destroying land and damaging soil.

Why is this a problem?

With the majority of families in Afghanistan dependent on the natural resource base for their livelihoods, deforestation and the degradation of land is a significant threat to these communities: trapping families in poverty, making finding food a major challenge, and intensifying conflict over reduced resources.

Implementing reforestation in Afghanistan

We are excited to announce that Afghanaid has recently launched a reforestation project, funded by The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) as part of a broader reforestation effort, working with communities in Samangan where there is no remaining forest. Over the next 22 months, we will support over six thousand men and women to take the lead on reforestation in their local area, and build their capacity to manage forest landscapes in a sustainable and fair way.

We’re kicking off this project with a series of inclusive sessions with the communities, to raise awareness of deforestation and environmental degradation more broadly, as well as the use and management of natural resources, and the impact of these issues on their communities.

Ensuring sustainability 

In order to ensure the impact lasts long after the project draws to a close, we will set up forest management associations, through which local men and women will learn to work together to collectively manage their resources in a sustainable way that includes and benefits everyone. We will work with these associations to create management plans to identify the specific needs of their village, which will be used to restore the forest landscape in their local area. 

Climate smart agriculture

We will provide suitable drought-resistant fruit and nut trees as well as shrubs which are adapted to the local climate, alongside supporting communities to plant ‘ecological’ trees for reforestation, in order to reduce soil erosion and promote biodiversity. 

Alongside this, we will run a variety of training courses for men and women, and provide the equipment they need to properly look after all aspects of the forest landscapes upon which they rely. This will include topics such as:

  • proper management of pasture grazing by animals;
  • the importance and management of vegetation cover;
  • how to properly prepare and look after land for agriculture;
  • what drought-resistant crops to grow and how best to do this;
  • how to successfully cultivate saplings and care for orchards;
  • and bio-briquette making.

Protecting against natural disasters

We will also strengthen the resilience of local families to natural disasters like floods, landslides and drought. We will teach them how to identify the risks in their area, and build their capacity to protect themselves, their land and of course, their trees.

Taking an inclusive approach

In order to ensure the whole community is involved, we will target particularly vulnerable individuals and families, including female-headed households, people with disabilities, and the unemployed youth. For example, we will support vulnerable women to establish and manage community sapling nurseries. This provides them with a vital source of income, as well as skills they can use in the future, whilst supporting reforestation efforts in their local area. Similarly, we will also support vulnerable women to establish their own kitchen gardens. The women will be provided with all the equipment and seeds they need to get going, and the support they need along the way to make sure their nurseries or gardens flourish.

Communities take the lead on reforestation

By supporting community members to work together to identify and address their specific vulnerabilities, they will be at the forefront of restoring forests, and protecting their communities and their local ecosystems. 

Having worked with rural communities in Afghanistan for close to forty years, environmental issues, and the regeneration and conservation of natural resources are extremely important to us. Our mission is to build sustainable communities, whilst leaving an ecological footprint that is as small as possible. A big part of this is planting and replanting trees.

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