Our planet is a fragile and complex ecosystem, in which every aspect affects another, and never has it been more important than now to ensure that we leave a healthy planet for future generations. We speak to Dr Patric Schlager, who is working to protect Azerbaijan’s biodiversity, on the challenges faced, and some of the success stories he has witnessed in the South Caucasus
Biodiversity encompasses all living things on this planet – flora and fauna, and the millions of species this encompasses, which in turn provide us with tens of thousands of different types of food, medicine, clothing and shelter. Dr Patric Schlager, of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) tells us about some of the work he and his team have been doing in Azerbaijan to counter erosion of natural habitats.
In a nutshell, why should we care about biodiversity?
Healthy biodiversity is the basis for all human wellbeing. Without it, our soils would not be fertile, 80 per cent of plants would not grow and many of our medicines would not be available. Nature provides everything free of charge, but its supplies are not unlimited.
And just what is GIZ?
We are a federal enterprise that supports the German Government in promoting sustainable development. In short, GIZ helps societies shape their future by improving their current living conditions.
How did you get involved with GIZ?
Whilst studying I became interested in international developments between the CIS and former Soviet Union countries and was given the chance to see developments in Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Eastern Europe.
Then, when GIZ was looking for a project manager for their Integrated Biodiversity Management, South Caucasus project in Azerbaijan in 2016, I was fortunate enough to be chosen for this position. The Caucasus is one of 35 biodiversity hotspots worldwide – making it an attractive site for an environmentalist like me!
What have you achieved so far in Azerbaijan?
We believe that people take more care of the environment when they know more about it. We have trained over 100 citizens on the importance of ecosystems for sustainable development. Whilst visiting national parks, more than 400 children, students and teachers have discovered the richness of Azerbaijan’s nature. On a national level, we support the implementation of strategies such as the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.
We also support small scale farmers in Ismayilli, a region of Azerbaijan, on biodiversity friendly land management. By controlling erosion, we not only stop the loss of fertile soils, but also increase the number of blossoming plants which are essential for pollinators like bees in honey production.
In addition, over 14,000 hazelnut seedlings were planted on 35 hectares of degraded land for further protection against erosion. Finally, we support development beyond the borders of Azerbaijan. Nature does not stick to state borders, for example, the mountain chain of the Caucasus stretches from Azerbaijan into Georgia. Therefore, we support environmental developments in the South Caucasus as well.
What have been some of the highlights for you in Azerbaijan specifically?
When I came to Azerbaijan in 2016, we started to work with communities in the mountainous areas of the country. Many communities there suffer from an overgrazing of pastures, which, in turn, can cause loss of productivity or an increased flood risk (because less water is absorbed by the soil). To reduce this erosion we implemented different bioengineering measures to increase the amount of land covered by grass.
This has meant that in one of the villages flooding has stopped and the road which connects the village to the lowland is no longer threatened by erosion. On these rehabilitated sites women started to collect wild herbs which they then sell in the local market. Also, because the pastures are now blossoming, an additional income for villages with bee families has been created as a result of successful honey production. It makes me proud to see this pay off.
What can we do to help with the protection of biodiversity?
This is a challenging question! Biodiversity conservation is a complex issue, challenging for professionals, too. Nevertheless, an important thing I believe we can do is to spend more time with our children outdoors to try to learn more about the trees, plants and animals. I believe that children have a natural attraction to the beauty of nature and we should give them the freedom to explore and interact outside.
Main image courtesy of Getty Images. Images courtesy of GIZ