Feature Story

How a community-based organization in Afghanistan is transforming lives while caring for the environment

June 24, 2016

Femi Oke, Naoko Ishii, H.E. Remi Allah-Kouadio, Farkhunda Sidiqqi
Femi Oke, Naoko Ishii, H.E. Remi Allah-Kouadio, Farkhunda Sidiqqi at the GEF 25th Anniversary Celebration

Indigenous and traditional communities everywhere have special relationships with the natural environment they live in. Fishermen, cattle-breeders, farmers, they rely on land and water for their livelihoods. Drastic changes in climate have devastating impact on their lives and adapting to them is especially difficult if a community lives in a war-torn country like Afghanistan.

In her speech on the occasion of GEF’s 25th anniversary, Farkhunda Sidiqqi, an environmental activist from Afghanistan, told a story of her small community-based organization’s success in conserving the environment and protecting natural resources, while creating jobs and supporting livelihoods.

In one of the most remote and poorest provinces in Afghanistan, the Rural Green Environment Organization is working across an area of 1,500 square kilometers and 90 villages to promote a model of community development that is based on peace building, environmental regeneration, sustainable livelihoods and wildlife protection.

Starting in one community and since expanding to eight, the organization has worked through community elders to create a community-based forum to ban illegal fishing and hunting, improve food security and restore degraded lands.

In Afghanistan, decades of conflict have left a challenging legacy: rapid population growth, returning refugees, unplanned development, and environmental degradation which is affecting biodiversity, forests, land productivity. But the country is also home to thousands of species of amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles and plants, of which some are endemic but also threatened.

Over the past thirty years, deforestation caused by increased demand for timber and firewood, and conflict, have led to a decline in forest cover. This deforestation is further worsening the country’s arid landscape, air pollution, habitat loss, and leading to increased vulnerability to flooding.

With the initial support of the GEF Small Grants Programme, financed by the GEF and implemented by the UNDP, the Rural Green Environment Organization has been able to restore forests in Tagab, across a vast land area. In addition, more than 80,000 indigenous wild vines have been grafted and farmers have been trained to care for them.

As a result, landslides have been decreased to a large extent, wild animals and birds have been seen returning to their habitats, and 6000 job opportunities have been created for the local people in 40 villages. Malnutrition have decreased due to the strengthening of a diverse food basket and improved food security among the communities. 

In her speech, Siddiqi announced that the organization is now aiming to replicate their successful models all over Afghanistan and stated that these programs cannot be completed without the assistance of international organizations like the GEF, UNDP and other donors.

Communities everywhere, said Farkhunda, are affected by environmental degradation and loss of natural resources and are taking action to restore and protect the global environment for generations to come. These local actions can have far reaching global impacts, but require an enabling environment and more support and resources to survive and take root.

At the last year’s Climate COP in Paris, the Rural Green Environment Organization was awarded an Equator Prize 2015 in the category of community-based adaptation to climate change and sustainable livelihoods.

The Equator Prize is awarded biennially to recognize and advance local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities. As local and indigenous groups across the world chart a path towards sustainable development, the Equator Prize shines a spotlight on their efforts by honoring them on an international stage.

“I urge the GEF, its donors, partners and stakeholders all over the world to remain steadfast in its important mission which is more urgent and vital than ever before”, said Farkhunda, addressing the audience gathered to celebrate 25 years of GEF’s accomplishments, “Then we will achieve the kind of development we want for our families, our communities, our countries, and our planet – one that is just, fair and sustainable and that does not compromise our future for the present.”

Rural Green Environment Organization, Afghanistan - Equator Prize 2015 Winner