Tea plantations destroy forests in Azerbaijan
According to the Ecofront organization, the Azerbaijani authorities sold forest in the Lankaran region to tea producers, and continue to turn a blind eye to the destruction of rare trees. The Ministry of Ecology agreed that the company violated part of the terms of the contract and fined it but activists are demanding that the contract be canceled completely.
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According to the head of the Ecofront organization Javid Gara, 45 hectares of forest, which is part of the Kyzylagaj reserve, was leased to the tea producer – Beta company near the village of Haftoni in the Lankaran region.
Activists demand termination of the contract
Javid Gara notes that the forest strip was leased for 49 years, but despite the demands to familiarize himself with the terms of the contract, he was never able to obtain the document. Gara is almost certain that this is a symbolic amount. According to the activist, similar agreements have been signed in relation to forest plots in other regions of the country, and those documents contain scanty sums.
“I am sure that like in Sheki and other regions, here, too, a hectare of forest was leased for 25 manats (!!!) per year [about $ 14.7]. In other words, over 50 years the state will only earn 1,250 manats from this lease [approximately $ 735]. Although, the market price of a hectare of land in the same Lankaran region varies from 5,000 – 15,000 manats [approximately 3,000 – 9,000 US dollars]”, he stressed.
The tea grower has already cut down part of the land allotted for the plantation and is busy laying out his land. JAMnews correspondent, who joined the activists to the Lankaran region, witnessed the destruction of a part of the forest belt and photographed what he saw.
“The law has obviously been violated. The lease should be canceled, but the ministry is not commenting on this. Although the work has already been suspended, no one can guarantee their resumption in the near future. The agreement will not be canceled, because in this case, the money received by illegal means will have to be returned”, Javid Gara said.
Activists demand that the Ministry of Ecology terminates the agreement on the lease of the forest belt.
Ministry of Ecology’s response
The head of the state service for environmental safety, Hikmet Alizadeh, said that the investigation after the appeal of eco-activists revealed deviations from the terms of the contract on the part of the tenant, along with dried bushes, trees were also destroyed.
“A decision was made to plant new trees instead of the felled ones, as well as to compensate the material damage caused to nature by Beta”, he added.
According to the head of the civil service, the employees of the ministry exercising control over the work under the contract have been punished in an administrative manner.
Meeting with activists
On July 11, activists of the Ecofront organization organized a trip to the Lankaran region – to the site where a forest was cut down for tea plantations. The head of the forest development service of the Ministry of Ecology, Namik Khidirov, also met them there.
“In this territory, the company has violated the terms of the agreement, measures are being taken against the perpetrators of the incident. In autumn, with the participation of representatives of the public, trees will be planted in the place of the felled plants. From now on, decisions on lease agreements will be made after public hearings”, said a government official.
Are another 150 hectares of forest being sold?
According to activists of the Ecofront organization, not far from the tea plantation site, there is a larger plot of forest that has been sold to another businessman.
“Another area of the forest of 150 hectares was destroyed. Red Book, relict, and endemic trees were growing there.
In 2020, a forest was cut in here. The entire area is surrounded by a powerful fence. Planting has not yet begun, but rumor has it that there will be a lemon orchard here”, says Ecofront.