Helping Iran breathe life into the parched plains of Hossein Abad

An environment project that produces inclusive growth and development impacts

Iranian Girl

In April of 2005, Prahbu Budhathoki, a technical advisor for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), stepped out of the plane that brought him to Hossein Abad, 100km away from the urban center of Birjand, in Iran’s South Khorasan province. All he could see around him was a vast stretch of barren earth.

“When I first visited the Hossein Abad valley, I could not imagine that people could live there. The area was very dry, windy and bare and the situation was exacerbated by a prolonged drought. Sheep and goats were trying to get something from a dry and dusty land.  I often asked myself whether these animals were eating sand or grass. People were completely covered with clothes to protect themselves from sistani wind and scorching heat. There was life, but living conditions were simply not right.”

Highlights

  • The Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNDP and Iranian Forest, Range and Watershed Management Organization (FRWMO) funded project begun here in 2004 which has helped control desertification, model the sequestration of green-house gasses in dry land areas and provide micro-financing opportunities for the communities living in Hossein Abad.
  • The first phase of the Carbon Sequestration project has been so successful that the government of Iran has selected it as a model for replication in other provinces such as Tehran and Kerman
  • UNDP, and FRWMO have agreed to extend the project into its second phase which will encompass up to 15 additional villages, using the same participatory methods that proved so successful in phase one

The rangelands in this region near the Afghan border have been continuously degraded by unsustainable use, over-grazing, fuel wood cutting and severe erosive winds. Hossein Abad’s hostile environment has made it impossible for its inhabitants to pull together even a meager living. Many of them flock to Birjand in search of work.

“My family was about to migrate to the city nearby in search of a living, with our marriage at the brink of failure. This small herbal extract workshop that I started with the help of the project’s microcredit system has contributed to our family income. We are now busy enough to stay in our own village. God has blessed my family by giving us a second child, my baby boy,” confesses Mrs. Zari Sa’adati, a 35-year-old woman from the village of Hassankolangi.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNDP and Iranian Forest, Range and Watershed Management Organization (FRWMO) funded project begun here in 2004 which has helped control desertification, model the sequestration of green-house gasses in dry land areas and provide micro-financing opportunities for the communities living in Hossein Abad. Thanks to the land rehabilitation activities supported by the project, not only are people less inclined to migrate to the city; they are setting a bottom-up model of contribution to the fight against climate change.

In line with advice from the specialized Iranian government agency, patches of land are re-planted using the pool of funds provided by Government, UNDP and GEF UNDP and GEF have also supported the communities in the Hossein Abad plain with training to enable them to tackle their serious environmental and economic challenges, and to build diverse and sustainable livelihoods. The plants used are selected specifically for their capacity to slow the advance of the ever-threatening desert, pushed by the strong “120 day winds” the region experiences each year. This has helped break the vicious cycle of environmental degradation and ready the land for cultivation.  “This project is the first time we have modeled the way dry land vegetation contributes to absorbing atmospheric carbon,” explains Dr. G. R. Hadarbadi, Head of Jihad Agriculture Organization, in South Khorasan Province:

“It was essential to involve communities to give them a sense of ownership and make them feel like they could take their destiny into their own hands,” explains Mr. Budhathoki of Nepal, who lived for two full years in Hossein Abad as the Chief Technical Advisor of the project.

Hossein Abad
As a result of partnership between GEF, UNDP and the Iranian FRWMO, the hostile land in Hossein Abad is being rehabilitated for the benefit of the people

The local communities set up several micro-financing funds constituted with money from the project and with the savings of villagers living within the project’s area. The funds were managed by Village Development Groups (VDGs) specifically created and mobilized by the UNDP/GEF funded project. Villagers could borrow funds to use as starter money for income generating activities like purchasing, growing and selling seedlings to re-plant their parched earth, or for environmentally-friendly animal husbandry.

“No mainstream banks wanted to set up shop in this area because there was no profit to be made. The people living here are extremely poor,” notes Farzaneh Derakhshi, UNDP Programme Associate.

The project drew on a holistic approach; while most VDG members drew on microcredit funds for environmental rehabilitation activities, some borrowed money for the creation of parallel socially relevant initiatives. For instance, a Health Service Network was entirely created with micro-credit funds in Sarbishe township where parents can now bring their children for medical checkups.

By the end of 2012, 60 Village Development Groups were created, 9 of which are exclusively female and 28 are mixed gender. “Importantly, the project has set a model for local community participation and bottom-up decision making for the sound management of natural resources. This is essential for achieving sustainable development,” states Dr. Hadarbadi. “The project organized people and made them understand that collectively they can do more for their individual and community benefits”, adds Mr. Budhathoki.

“In addition to its significant positive impact on the environment, one of the project’s major achievements is the involvement of women. It has given them confidence. Before, they were too shy, too embarrassed to talk to me – even as a woman. Today, they talk to me proudly about their future initiatives and plans, “adds Ms. Derakhshi.

The first phase of the Carbon Sequestration project has been so successful that the government of Iran has selected it as a model for replication in other provinces such as Tehran and Kerman. A women’s self-help group is now working to replicate the project near Yazd. Kasrab, one of the 30 villages covered by the project, was selected by the Imam Ali charity as a model for knowledge transfer.

UNDP, and FRWMO have agreed to extend the project into its second phase which will encompass up to 15 additional villages, using the same participatory methods that proved so successful in phase one. New communities will have direct responsibility for restoring their environment and rebuilding their livelihoods sustainably, while contributing to the fight against climate change.

“The results of the Carbon Sequestration project have exceeded my expectations by far,” admits Mr.  Sharifi, Director-Genral for Natural Resource in South Khorasan. “The communities of Hossein Abad can be proud of their achievements – for rebuilding their local livelihoods, for the model they have created, and for their broader contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Today Hossein Abad is greener and more bustling than I ever could have imagined.”