Ecological Exploitation for Teghut?: New project could make forest profitable without destruction

Ecological Exploitation for Teghut?: New project could make forest profitable without destruction

Photolure

An entrepreneur who lives by an endangered forest and uses its wealth for his business has drafted an alternative project that he hopes will give protection to green areas of the country.


Environmentalists have resisted the development of copper mines around Teghut, in northern Armenia, warning that the operations put the local forest with some rare species of flora and fauna on the verge of extinction. The newly established ‘Teghut for the Generations’ civic organization, which is supported by the Teghut defense initiative group, has presented an alternative development project for Teghut and other forest areas in Armenia. If realized, the organization says, the project will assure protection of Armenia’s forests and ensure that their material wealth is processed and consumed.

The project is drafted by businessman Ruben Shakhkyan, a resident of the village of Teghut in Armenia’s Lori province.

“The main objective of the project is creating new jobs in the sphere of agriculture,” says Shakhkyan, who has small productions of vodka, wine, different types of jams and honey. He uses plants and vegetation from Teghut for production purposes.

Shakhkyan is among activists opposing loggings in Teghut for industrial mining purposes. The Armenian Copper Programme (ACP) (a company included in Vallex Group owned by well-known Armenian businessman Valery Mezhlumyan) has the permission to log Teghut forests and develop the copper-molybdenum mines there. Since ACP received the license three years ago, Armenian environmentalists have been raising the alarm about irreparable damage being caused to the environment (to the eco-system of the forest, including animals and plants registered in the Red Book of endangered species, as well as damage to public health caused by the industrial wastes, etc.). The Teghut deposit is estimated to contain 1.6 million tons of copper and about 100,000 tons of molybdenum. Environmentalists say its exploitation will result in the destruction of 357 hectares of rich forest.

ACP, meanwhile, says the mining creates new jobs for locals today and will create jobs for them in the future and are also important for the economic development of the whole of Armenia.

The project drafted by Shakhkyan includes woodworking free of wastes, centralized collecting of edible plants and herbs, their drying and sale, gathering of forest fruit, production of mixed feed, foundation of hotbeds for silver firs and rare decorative trees, gathering of raspberry and blackberry. He believes the project is doable if Hayantar (Armenian forest), a state-run not-for-profit organization, is restructured (this organization oversees all forests in Armenia). He estimates that up to 3,000 people could be involved in the sale of forest material wealth, and during seasonal works this number may grow.

“The production of all this will be interconnected, and thanks to the low cost price of the products, as well as ecological advantages, they will have a more beneficial position in the competitive market,” Shakhkyan says, presenting the idea as an alternative to job creation to be afforded by the mine exploitation.

(Even though it was planned to start the exploitation of the Teghut mine in 2011, ACP has not managed to find financial partners and make necessary investments yet.)

Ruben Petrosyan, chief Hayantar forester, believes that the project is a good one and it pursues worthy goals, but he also thinks that it necessary to submit separate business plans for each product to corresponding state instances.

“We must promote the development of the private sector in the forest sphere, and if Hayantar does everything, it will hinder the private sector,” says Petrosyan.