Preserving a Pristine Landscape in Bamyan

Haji Abdul Rahim sits beside his fruit nursery, which will produce adaptive fruit saplings for distribution in Jawzari communities, bringing in money and raising his community’s standard of living. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / Rob Few / 2015

Bamyan, August 2015 — Jawzari lies in pristine foothills of central Afghanistan’s Baba Mountains, about 15 kilometres south of Bamyan City. It’s an area of great beauty and environmental significance that needs to be preserved – but in a way that protects the livelihoods of Jawzari’s several isolated farming communities who depend on local rangeland for food, fire, water and shelter.

Recently, this balancing act between people and nature has been made more precarious by both population growth and climate change.

Threats from floods and glaciers
Local communities have started to witness a surge in glaciers in late winter and flashfloods in spring that have heavily damaged houses, killed livestock and even taken human lives.

“Three years back our potato field was completely washed away by flood,” said Muhammad Naser, 20, a Jawzari villager from a family of three brothers and four sisters. “That year we didn’t have any income and we had to borrow from fellow villagers. They were very bad days, all due to floods.”
Initiatives and practices to save environment
Something had to be done, so several years back, the Conservation Organization for Afghanistan Mountains (COAM) started working with local communities to plant more trees and introduce proper use of pastures. Funded through UNDP, the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF)’s Small Grants Programme and COAM’s own resources, activities included awareness raising programmes for villagers and schoolchildren, restoring pastures and proper grazing, and establishing nurseries.

Planted in 2013, two nurseries in Jawzari will, in less than two years, produce 200,000 saplings of apricot, apple, pear, almond and cherry, which will be distributed among local farmers. People can establish fruit orchards or plant saplings even on tiny plots. And since these are local varieties, they’ll be able to adapt to the harsh winters. One Jawzari elder, Haji Abdul Rahim, 38, who looks after one of the nurseries, sees a growing interest in fruit trees that can raise his community’s standard of living.

“If a family has 10 apple trees at home, they can use some of the fruit and sell the rest in the bazaar,” he explains. 

Besides helping people make money, COAM’s work has also helped the environment.

“There were few trees and very little greenery when we first started. Now things have changed a lot in Jawzari,” says Habiba Anwari, COAM’s Director. “We’ve managed the watershed through planting hundreds of trees to prevent flashfloods, so we’re proud of our work here.” 

Revitalizing pastures
Last year, villagers were also provided with grass seeds, which they have planted all over the mountainside. The grass has already begun to sprout, and this time neighboring villagers won’t allow their animals to graze on the grass and other plants. Instead, they’ll cut the grass and feed it to their livestock in a sustainable manner.

Reza Haqjo, the COAM manager for the nursery project, reports that, thanks to rehabilitation of the pastures and the planting of trees, there were no glaciers this past season. “This will continue to lessen the threats of similar natural disasters in the future,” he adds.
Awareness and Jawzari’s growth potential
Farmers in Jawzari now acknowledge that planting trees will help prevent natural disasters.

“We joined our other villagers in planting as many trees as possible this year so that we can avoid floods and glaciers in the upcoming seasons,” says Naser as he ploughs with his father to prepare a potato field.

Environmental actors in Bamyan, including COAM, are pushing for Jawzari valley to be declared a protected area, which could open up a multitude of livelihood opportunities.

“We believe that this area has the potential to be converted into a tourist site that will generate jobs for locals and strengthen the economy,” says Ms. Anwari. “So it’s vital that we protect the environment.” 

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