Participatory afforestation for carbon sequestration in Drylands – Iran
Nationally, improving the productivity of semi-arid areas and combating desertification are of prime importance. Locally, rehabilitation of the project site and improving the socio-economic status of the local communities is in line with eradicating poverty and improving quality of life.
The project is designed to be a model initiative for both offsetting biotic carbon and promoting sustainable livelihoods among communities through its participatory approach in combating desertification. It will be later used as a model initiative for replication throughout Iran and other countries with similar topography.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the countries most affected by desertification and has made the rehabilitation of degraded lands a top priority. This project is taking place in a heavily degraded area, which due to its proximity to Afghanistan’s borders is partially occupied by Afghan refugees. The area covers some 148,000 hectares, although much of this is hilly and rocky land. It supports a small population people, living in 30 villages some of which have been abandoned while others contain just one or two families.
Animal herding is the main occupation although the land is so degraded that local herders often have to take their flocks to other areas for long periods of time. Land degradation in the area has been caused by lack of control of the environment by local population and the influx of refugees that has led to overgrazing and excessive fuel wood gathering.
Four months a year the area is made unpleasant by constant sand-laden winds, which also makes arable farming difficult, trees and shrubs could be used to stabilize sand dunes. The area has been left with hardly any woody biomass and only about 10 percent coverage with an unpalatable species of shrub. There is a serious need to provide forage for animals and to reduce the damage caused by wind erosion by reestablishing suitable plant liife.
The project is designed to find sustainable and cost-effective ways to rehabilitate degraded land areas in Iran through the planting and re-seeding that would also sequester carbon both above and the below the ground, as well as in the soil.
In addition to the number of 164 families living in 30 pilot villages, Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Management Organization (FRWO) as the executing agency within the Ministry of Agriculture, UNDP as Implementing Agency and other partners including the Ministry of Energy and University of Birjand are the direct beneficiaries of this project.
- Altogether 3,000 hectares of degraded rangelands have been rehabilitated by planting (1,500 ha) and seeding (1,500 ha) with community preferred species. Around 3,000,000 seedlings have been produced. Local communities have been mobilized to take part in all stages of rehabilitation activities such as site and species selection, plantation and protection and also collection of seeds from various local species needed for the next year’s planting. The percentage of developed and maintained vegetative cover at the project site has increased from 10-15 percent to 18 percent. The estimated quantity of organic carbon stored per hectare has increased from a baseline of 230g to 1150g;
- Significant progress has been made in establishing the Village Development Groups, thus achieving ownership and buy-in from the local communities. By the end of 2007, 26 VDGs had been formed of which 7 were male, 7 female and 12 had mixed composition. Out of 914 VDG members, 48.5 percent are women;
- A micro-financing system is now in place with a current loan disbursement rate of four loans per VDG (totaling $30,000). The scheme has been a valuable tool for community mobilization and income generation. Because of the initial success and huge demand, the planned contribution to the Micro-credit Fund from GEF funding has been increased from originally US$ 50,000 to US$ 100,000. As of June 2006, 114 small loans had been granted with a total amount of $31,000;
- The project has also successfully established village saving schemes. By the end of 2007, the total savings in VDGs’ funds had reached US$11,100 and, around US$ 6,800 had been allocated to VDG members from their own savings in more than 58 loans to micro-businesses;
- Assistance was given to VDGs to exhibit samples of their handicrafts at a National Exhibition held in Tehran in 2006. This was the first time ever that people from the area were able to systematically introduce their products at a national market;
- The project has also been initiating alternative energy initiatives in coordination with various agencies. With the financial and technical support of Ministry of Energy, a solar community bathhouse is being constructed. The bathhouse will help improve the health and sanitation situation of more than 100 households as well as reduce the use of firewood for water heating. Also 23 gas ovens, designed to make naan bread have been distributed to reduce the dependency of local people on rangelands for firewood.
The Project has gained great results in involving local communities and forming VDG however it mostly run by government administration and has little success in involving the NGOs.