FLEG supports the development of the Georgian state program towards sustainable management of forests
Forest is life. Human life. In 2005, the signatory countries to the Saint Petersburg Declaration acknowledged the critical role of forests to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people in the ENA (Europe and North Asia) Region.
Despite the long-term economic, social, cultural, and environmental benefits that sustainably-managed forests bring to local populations, these ecosystems are often regarded as merely sources of firewood.
Since June 2015, the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance Program (FLEG) and the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN) have been supporting the Georgian government in the development of a state program which aims to provide rural populations with sufficient heating resources.
Under the slogan “Forest is Not Firewood”, FLEG, along with the other members of the National Working Group set up by the MoENRP (Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection), points out how forests cannot represent the only available resource to satisfy the energy needs of Georgian households.
In close cooperation with the National Forestry Agency and the Forest Policy Service of the MoENRP, the FLEG team and CENN carried out an accurate assessment of firewood provision and consumption in the country.
“According to our preliminary calculations, we need about 3,285,000 m3 of firewood per year to heat the houses of the almost 550,000 Georgian families in need of fuel” said Marika Kavtarishvili, FLEG Program Coordinator for IUCN Georgia, “The annual amount of firewood currently available is of approximately 188,000 m3: The shocking truth is that there is a massive deficit. If we thought of bridging this gap exclusively through firewood, all Georgian forests would disappear in a few years”.
The ground-breaking research undertaken by FLEG experts includes the analysis of alternative energy sources such as gas, coal, briquettes, and nutshells, and their availability in different areas of the country.
“The pioneering work done by FLEG and CENN is of major importance for us” said Tornike Gvazava, Head of the National Forestry Agency (NFA) and FLEG Focal Point, “The provision of energy resources to all municipalities is a very hot topic in Georgia at the moment. For our Agency, the real challenge remains the allocation of firewood to local households, which still represents our primary activity. The fact of having reliable data and analysis at our disposal is crucial to improve our services”.
Through FLEG’s financial and technical support, the National Working Group is discussing the process of development of the state program. Moreover, the analysis of the energy situation was brought to the attention of the Georgian parliament, and consultations were held with Gia Zhorzholiani, Chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Protection Committee.
On February 9th 2016, Mr. Zhorzholiani’s Committee convened a joint sitting with the Regional Policy and Self Governance Committee to discuss the ongoing forest sector reform. On this occasion, the data provided by FLEG and CENN made a valuable contribution to the debate, and their positions were taken into careful consideration.
“We believe that the burning issue of heating resources cannot be addressed by the MoENPR alone, but the Ministries of Finance, of Energy and of Regional Development and Infrastructure must play a central role in the debate” said Ms. Kavtarishvili, “The National Forestry Agency is currently employing most of its staff in social cutting, that is the cutting of trees for non-commercial purposes to meet the energy needs of local households and state institutions. We think that this burden shouldn’t be borne by the NFA. The Government itself should take responsibility for this, so that the NFA could focus on activities fostering the sustainable management of forests”.
The discussion around heating resources provision is still open and will continue in the process of the approval of the state program and the new forestry reform. However, the fruitful collaboration between FLEG Program and Georgian institutions already represents a very positive achievement.
“The activities realised within FLEG Program are a precious support for our Ministry in the development of sectoral policies” said Karlo Amirgulashvili, Head of the Forest Policy Service of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection of Georgia, “The data on firewood need provided by FLEG is crucial in the discussion on the urgency of reforms both at the local and national levels. The FLEG team is bringing an invaluable contribution to the debate”.
Ms. Kavtarishvili was interviewed on Radio1, together with Rezo Getiashvili from CENN, to discuss the issue of heating resources and the use of firewood on February 17, 2016. During the program, the interviewees had the opportunity to interact with some active citizens who called in to express their opinions and ask questions. The full interview is available in Georgian language.