YEREVAN--As leaders from 195 nations negotiated a new global climate change agreement in Paris, Armenia Tree Project (ATP) was putting the final touches on another successful year working with volunteers and local residents to plant thousands of trees.
By the end of 2015, another 229,322 trees were planted by ATP, bringing the total to 4,952,642 trees planted since the organization was founded by Carolyn Mugar in 1994.
An important aspect of this year's plantings was the sites dedicated to the Living Century Initiative. Ten new community forests were established in honor of the people and places of historic Armenian communities that were lost in the Genocide of 1915. The new forest sites in Kotayk, Lori and Shirak cover 27 hectares--nearly 70 acres or an area about the size of 27 European football fields--and already hold more than 13,000 trees.
ATP's flagship Community Tree Planting Program greened sites in every region of Armenia including Artsakh. In partnership with residents of the local community, trees were planted around churches, monuments, parks, schools, and hospitals.
"A core part of our mission is to reduce poverty through planting trees," explains Deputy Director Arthur Harutyunyan. "This year thousands of fruit trees were distributed to village communities, including villages in Artsakh repopulated by Syrian Armenians. The harvest from our trees was the best ever, with more than 473,000 kilos of fruit including apricot, peaches and pear this year."
In addition, fruit trees, shrubs and evergreens were provided to families in the border villages of Vazashen and Aygepar in Tavush. ATP collaborated with Fund for Armenian Relief to distribute trees, and helped to green the newly established Yerevan Park in Martuni, Artsakh.
ATP's Forestry Department was busy completing a large forest in Mikhaylovka, Stepanavan, and establishing a new forest in Koghes, Tashir. The forestry team planted more than 143,000 trees this fall with the support of 100 workers from nearby villages. "The planters came in groups of families, friends and couples, thus supporting one of our goals of creating jobs and giving people a sense of ownership towards their land," says Harutyunyan.
"Planting trees is more than a source of income and jobs. It's for our own good. Our kids can play here once they're older," says Arevik Mkhitaryan, a 30 year old farmer from Mikhaylovka. "I also came to see if my trees from last year had grown…and they have! I planted 220 more trees today."
Several local and international organizations planted with ATP as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programs. "Asian Development Bank, Anelik Bank, Byblos Bank, Ernst and Young and Synopsys Armenia, to name a few, sponsored plantings and tree care activities with the involvement of employees and their families. International diplomatic missions also participated in plantings, and we will gladly expand on this tradition in coming years," adds Harutyunyan.
Looking ahead to 2016, ATP is planning to expand its nursery operations into southern Armenia with the addition of a fourth tree nursery. "We have purchased a plot of land in Vayots Dzor near the wine region of Armenia to establish a new nursery," explains Harutyunyan. "This nursery will allow us to provide more trees to this region that are adapted to local climate conditions, and create new jobs and opportunities for tourism. Stay tuned as we announce more details in the coming months."
Since its inception in 1994, ATP has planted more than 4.9 million trees, established three nurseries and two environmental education centers, and has greened villages, churches, parks, and open spaces throughout Armenia. In the process, the organization has provided employment for hundreds of people and provided vital resources to thousands of villagers. The organization's current campaign is the Living Century Initiative, launched to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. For more information, visit www.livingcentury.org.