Recently, the EU-funded FLEG II Program, in collaboration with the Republican Center of Ecological Education and Practice of Azerbaijan, organized a series of meeting with young foresters in the Ismailli and Shamakha districts of Azerbaijan. The aims were to widen the young foresters’ network in schools and to create a platform for the school students to share experience and their plans for the future. Both events were initiated by the district centers of ecological education and practice.
The Ismailli and Shamakhi regions located in the central-north part of Azerbaijan are distinguished by ample forest resources. The Greater Caucasus forms unique recreational opportunities for the businesses here, and creates a solid base for the population’s economic prosperity. So, it was clear why the first pilot schools to test the newly-initiated “school-based” young foresters’ groups introduced by FLEG I were selected exactly in these regions. After a series of seminars and training programs organized for the teachers and schoolchildren during the first phase of the Program, special centers unifying young admirers of forests have been established in select central and rural schools. Thanks to this involvement, school students have taken an active part in forest protection and rehabilitation activities, supporting local Forest Rehabilitation and Protection Enterprises (FRPEs) and conducting awareness-raising work among the local population.
On April 22nd, in City Secondary School #1, Ismailli, a conference dedicated to International Earth Day was organized. Participants came from all over the region, represented by teachers and school students, as well as employees of the local FRPE, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources (MENR) of Azerbaijan.
A series of presentations was followed by intense discussions which revealed the importance of forest protection work being done by the youth. As a young forester from Ivanovka village put it - “Protecting the forests is like protecting your home, because we live in such proximity to the forests that they are indeed a home for all of us.” Another young forester from Tazakand village described the importance of raising awareness among the people as “the more we talk with people about the particulars of forest biodiversity, and how catastrophic illegal grazing and illegal logging are, the more interest it evokes and the more positive changes we witness”.
The older generation, represented by officials from the district FRPE and MENR, broadly described the efforts undertaken by the state in the area of forest protection and rehabilitation. The local foresters, who already appreciate the importance of support from the young foresters, urged them to continue and try to extend this crucial work to other regions of the country. In this respect, participants mentioned the successful participation of the young foresters in various in-country and international ecological contests and events.
The FLEG II Program’s Forest Education Consultant in Azerbaijan gave a broad overview of forest education activities planned and currently implemented by the Program in the country.
The most intense and interesting debates revolved around such tough forest-related problems as illegal grazing, forest fires, unsustainable forest practices and the prospect of the establishment of new young foresters’ groups in the country. “The establishment of school-based forestry”, a newly-developed tutorial within the FLEG II Program in Azerbaijan, which contains information on young foresters of Ismailli, was circulated among the participants.
Concluding the event, school students took part in some positive green action, dedicated to International Earth Day, and planted trees and shrubs, presented by the regional FRPE at the school site.
Another meeting with the young foresters took place in the Shamakhi district of Azerbaijan on April 23. The round table was initiated by the Shamakhi region district Ecological Education and Practice Center (EEPC).
Since 2012, the young foresters’ groups have been operating in the secondary schools of Pirgulu, Avakhil, Jaghan, Kechmadin, Gonagkand, Sharadil, Nagharakhana and other villages in the region. They actively participate in forest restoration, forest protection activities and strengthening public awareness within the local population. These exact topics were the focus of the presentations delivered by the head of the district EEPC, Adiba Namazova, school principal Azizagha Valiyev, and the head of the Shamakhi district FRPE, Birhan Zeynalov. Throughout the discussions, it became clear that a steady and working relationship has developed between the respective governmental bodies and the young foresters’ groups in strengthening of sustainable forest practices.
The young foresters were eager to share results of their efforts that are already underway, and their plans for the future. The Shamakhi district, like a number of other districts in Azerbaijan, has a number of sacred groves that have been protected for generations. While discussing an informative campaign among the local population, the young foresters recalled conversations with the old people for whom trees are sacred and untouchable objects.
Recognizing the significance of the widening of ecological education activities, the representative from the district EEPC, Adalat Mammadov, awarded the distinguished teachers and study group members with honorary awards and certificates. The final accord was made by the young foresters, who enthusiastically planted trees and shrubs received from the district FRPE at the nearby school practice site.