For several years, Afghanistan has promoted a seemingly simple solution to cutting pollution, stabilizing environmental problems, and bringing a little happiness to people: planting trees.
Through years of war, torrential floods, deforestation, and droughts, Afghanistan has lost many of its trees. Villages located now on barren plains and mountain slopes, no longer covered with forests, have become exposed to dust storms, avalanches, and floods. The country remains one of the most vulnerable to climate change as it works to adapt to extreme weather, as well as the growing air pollution in Afghanistan’s cities. Everyone from government officials to nonprofit groups to religious leaders have issued calls for solutions to the environmental problems that affect the country—including planting more trees.
Here are some tree planting projects that are changing the landscape in Afghanistan.
National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) Bamyan
This project by NEPA in Bamyan province focuses on the village of Chapqulak Qabrizaghak. Here, the valleys and mountains have been stripped bare of trees, but the project (in conjunction with the United Nations and the Afghan government) annually distributes trees to village residents. At the same time, the initiative has made possible other infrastructure projects, including the construction of small dams and a reservoir to help the community control its water supply. A community garden has also been planted.
Villagers planted almond trees as well as alfalfa along mountain slopes to stabilize them, and the landscape now is filled with willow and poplar trees. Just a few years after the project began, more than 70,000 trees had been planted in and around the village. One local official, in a media interview, described the slopes before the project as “empty and desert-like,” and he added that many homes were destroyed each year when spring rains brought flooding. Now, the whole area is greener, and damaging floods are less frequent.
“The project has had a positive impact,” village resident Roboba Gawhari said in a media interview. “The trees help to trap dust clouds, and we no longer have to go to the bazaar to buy fruit thanks to the community garden.”
The project has not been without challenge. Some trees have died because they didn’t get enough water, and initially some villagers did not understand the benefits of planting trees. However, thanks to educational workshops and the visible success of the project, people now largely appreciate the importance of their tree-filled slopes. In fact, one project official said they often get requests from communities for more trees.
This grassroots organization has worked in Afghanistan for more than six years, and is dedicated to sustainable redevelopment of the country’s resources. Much of its focus has been on restoring forests and ground water, including planting and caring for trees. Samsortya’s larger goal is to build up the social and economic well-being of local communities through environmental restoration.
Along with distributing saplings to Afghan people, Samsortya also teaches agro-forestry and leads tree nursery workshops. The organization raises money to pay for the trees it donates and the training. So far, Samsortya has established five nurseries in eastern Afghanistan on private land, and together they are home to thousands of trees and plants. The harvest of fruits, nuts, and vegetables is available to local families.
National Tree Planting Day
Tree planting has become part of the Afghan Nowruz, or New Year holiday, every March. In fact, the country has named March 10 as its official tree planting day. In this season, the government and other groups distribute trees across the country and encourage residents to plant them. For example, in 2018, NEPA gave away 400 fruit trees and 15,000 non-fruit trees in Bamyan province.
Everyone from school children to the elderly are involved in planting trees every year, all part of a country-wide, long-term plan to plant millions of trees across Afghanistan. According to government officials, Afghans have been planting about 2 million trees every year, and the government plans to distribute more in coming years.
While annual tree planting continues to be successful, the Afghan government also has reported that as much as 40 percent of the country’s new trees have been neglected and left unwatered. NEPA has created a database of all of Afghanistan’s new trees to track their health.
Successful planting in parts of Afghanistan also has been threatened by ongoing deforestation as people cut down trees to use the wood as fuel for cooking and heating their homes. In response, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has promoted more efficient stoves and solar-powered stoves as well as biogas digesters that create cooking gas from animal dung.
The primary game changer, however, could be education. Afghan officials say that many people aren’t aware of how climate change is impacting Afghanistan and its natural resources. Ongoing efforts to teach people about the value of planting and caring for trees could be one key to restoring this invaluable natural resource.