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Caucasian and Central Asian countries join forces for sustainable forestry

After independence, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan struggled with the big task to build their own systems leading forestry into sustainability. The problems and challenges are diverse and often country specific. In Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan afforestation is used to fight back desertification and the shrinking level of Aral Sea. With the hope of stopping the environmental disaster huge areas are afforested. Trees store humidity in the soil, capture rainfall and shade the earth surface. This stabilizes the ecosystem. Armenia, Georgia and Uzbekistan try to find solutions to react to the high fuelwood demand of the local population and the uncontrolled pressure this puts on the forest. Forests are widely used to collect fuelwood, mushrooms, berries and the forest has a great spiritual value. These values are recognized but do not reflect in national economies. Forests in Kyrgyzstan are under pressure from over-grazing and many areas suffer from degradation. In addition, Kyrgyzstan is lacking knowledge of the state of the forests countrywide due to scarce information.

Forests fulfil recognized and valuable protective functions like freshwater renewal and prevention of wind and mudslide erosion, and desertification, but their economic and social functions are often not fully recognized. Countries, however, invest in education by establishing forest colleges and university courses. These are the first steps to use the potential of forestry for employment. Job creation in the tourism sector in relation to forest recreation is one of the main goals. Nowadays, the timber industry plays a minor role for the national economies. Kazakhstan and Georgia have an unused wood potential. Their wood processing industry is nearly inexistent. With wise management of wood supply it could be increased. Recognition of all forest ecosystem services seems to be the way to improve the economic performance of the forest sector.

UNECE/FAO is supporting capacity building activities in these five countries to release the social, economic and ecological potential of sustainable forest management. The regional inception workshop for a 3-year UNDA project led by UNECE/FAO to support the countries in the process of developing national criteria and indicators to assess sustainable forest management took place in Yerevan, Armenia from 15 to 18 November 2016. Criteria and indicators are the key tool to define and implement sustainable forest management. The concept was developed after Rio s ’92 Earth Summit and implemented in the majority of regions.

Out of the Caucasian and Central Asian countries, only Georgia participates in one of the international criteria and indicator processes- Forest Europe. However, neither Georgia nor the other countries have developed criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management at a national level. UNECE/FAO supports the development of these national actions.

Georgia, where forests cover 42% of country, is in the process of implementing sustainable forest management practices and principles. The process has high governmental support, which was visible through the presence of the deputy minister of the Ministry of Environment, Mr. Abashidze at the workshop. With support from GIZ, Georgia and neighbouring Armenia are establishing forest monitoring systems. “Armenia has to learn from its brother country Georgia how to advance forest management”, says Mr. Petrosyan, Chief Forester of the Ministry of Agriculture in Armenia. In addition, to the development of criteria and indicators the UNECE/FAO project aims at stimulating exchange and cooperation among the countries.