Parched plains of Iran gain new life
By Tamara Kummer
The project has promoted alternative livelihoods for women which has made them more empowered members of their communities.
Efforts to fight desertification and create new income sources for community members have brought about a new life to the barren land of Hossein Abad valley. With the land rehabilitation activities, not only have people decided to stay in Hossein Abad, but they have also been motivated to engage in the fight against climate change.
The land of Hossein Abad, located near the Afghan border, has continuously been degraded by over-grazing, wood cutting for fuel, and severe erosive winds. The hostile environment made it impossible for its inhabitants to pull together even a meager living. Many of them flock to a neighboring city of Birjand in search of work.
“My family was about to move to a nearby city in search of life, with our marriage at the brink of failure,” says Zari Sa’adati, a 35-year-old woman from a village in Hossein Abad. “The small herbal extract workshop that I started with the help of the project’s micro-credit system has contributed to our family income. We are now busy enough to stay in our own village.”
Reviving the dry land
By increasing the vegetation cover in the Hossein Abad Plain, the project has helped reduce wind erosion.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility joined forces with the Iranian Forest, Range and Watershed Management Organization initiated the Carbon Sequestration project in 2003 to revive the livelihoods in Hossein Abad. The project aimed at controlling desertification, reducing the emission of green-house gasses in dry land areas and providing micro-financing opportunities to the communities living in Hossein Abad.
The project re-planted patches of land and special plants that can weather the strong ‘120 day winds,’ which the region experiences each year.
“This project,” says Dr. G. R. Hadarbadi, Head of the Jihad Agriculture Organization, “is the first time we modeled the way in which dry land vegetation contributes to absorbing atmospheric carbon.”
The communities were also provided with training on how to tackle their serious environmental and economic challenges, and build diverse livelihoods. “Involving communities was essential to give them a sense of ownership and make them feel like they could take their destiny into their own hands,” says Prahbu Budhathoki, who lived in Hossein Abad for two years as the project’s Chief Technical Advisor.
New opportunities for local communities
A young girl waters seedlings.
The local communities set up several micro-financing funds with the project’s funds and the savings of the community members. The funds were managed by the Village Development Groups specifically created and mobilized by the project. The community members could borrow funds to use as seed money for income-generating activities such as purchasing, growing and selling seedling for re-planting their parched earth. Considering that no mainstream banks wanted to set up a branch in the area because the residents were extremely poor, the establishment of the funds meant empowerment to the community members.
The funds provided a variety of opportunities to the members. Some drew on micro-credit funds for environmental rehabilitation activities, and others borrowed money for creation of social benefits. For example, the Health Service Network was created entirely with micro-credit funds and parents can now bring their children for medical check-ups.
By the end of 2011, 60 Village Development Groups have been created and are thriving, 11 of which are exclusively female, and 30 are co-ed. “In addition to its significantly positive impact on the environment, one of the project’s major achievements is the involvement of women. It has given them confidence. They talk to me proudly about their future initiatives and plans,” says a UNDP official.
The experience of the project is spreading across Iran as a good example. The Government of Iran has selected the project as a model for replication in other provinces such as Tehran and Kerman.
The partner organizations of the project have agreed to extend it into a second phase, which will encompass up to 15 additional villages, using the same participatory method that was successful in the phase one. The new community members will be in charge of restoring their environment and rebuilding their livelihoods in a sustainable way.