Amin’s dream to green Afghanistan
Afghan refugee Amin Niazai had a dream to turn the deserts of his country green, creating food sources, jobs and sustainable ecosystems.
Amin, who has a doctorate in Forestry and Biomaterials, developed the plan to transform landscapes ravaged by years of drought and make them productive again while also lifting the living standards of local populations.
But the return of the Taliban has meant his dreams remain just that.
“I had a dream and a plan for my country. And my studies were all aimed towards this dream of making the deserts of Afghanistan green and to restore the forests of my country,” he said.
“We had concrete ideas around fighting desertification and reducing the effect of years of drought.
“This would have improved the lives of people and communities through sustainable forestry and farming initiatives.
“It was a very practical plan to make parts of my country more productive through restoring native species. We have a lot of labour in Afghanistan so there was an opportunity to grow commercial crops such as nuts.
“But then the Taliban returned and the government collapsed – along with my dreams,” Amin said.
But the 34-year-old has not given up on his dream.
“I still dream that one day we will go back when we have peace and stability and we will rebuild the country,” he said.
Almost ironically, since the Taliban came to power last August, Afghanistan has been plunged into a dire humanitarian crisis exacerbated by drought extreme food insecurity.
A recent report from the UN refugee agency UNHCR says people in Afghanistan face one of the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crises.
It says half of the population face acute hunger, over nine million people are displaced and millions of children are out of school.
The document says fundamental rights of women and girls are under attack, farmers and herders are struggling amidst the worst drought in decades, and the national economy is in free fall.
“Without support, tens of thousands of children are at risk of dying from malnutrition as basic health services have collapsed,” the report says.
Conflict has subsided, but violence, fear, and deprivation continue to drive Afghans to seek safety and asylum across borders, particularly in Iran and Pakistan.
More than 2.2 million registered refugees and a further four million Afghans with different statuses are hosted in the neighbouring countries, which has stretched the capacity of the neighbouring countries hosting them.
The return of the Taliban has also meant that Amin could not return to his homeland after completing his studies in Japan.
His connection with an Australian development company working in Afghanistan meant that Amin was eligible for a humanitarian visa for Australia and his wife and three children arrived last year.
But his extended family remain in Afghanistan where they are vulnerable to Taliban reprisals.
“One of my brothers was an interpreter with Australian troops in Oruzgan province and another was a special forces soldier,” Amin said.
“We were told by people that we would become targets of the Taliban. My brothers are in hiding and I could not return to Afghanistan from Japan.
“The Taliban have taken our family car and other things and other family members have been harassed,” he said.
Since arriving in Australia, Amin is volunteering with a group called ‘Wyntree’ at Wyndham, in Melbourne’s west that is establishing a nursery and a ‘tiny forest’.
Based on a Japanese model, tiny forests are aimed at restoring small parcels of urban land to their original natural landscapes by replanting native species.
The forests restore tree canopies and become localised carbon sinks.
“Using a method invented by a Japanese botanist in the 1970s the forests are dense copses with high biodiversity. They show that plants can thrive in areas the size of a tennis court,” Amin said.
“The trees in these forests can grow more quickly and absorb more carbon than plantations grown for timber.
“The local group has no technical expertise but they have an amazing passion for nature and conservation so I am happy to contribute to help them,” he said.
Amin has an impressive CV in his field of work, including as a risk mediation and emergency response preparedness officer with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in Afghanistan and as head of a Natural Resources Management Unit funded by US Aid supporting Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture.
He also worked with the ministry as a Climate Change and Adaptation Manager and also as a Strategy Implementation Advisor with Australian international development management company GRM International, now known as Palladium.
Amin completed his PhD at the University of Kyoto in Japan.
His research took him to northern Canada, where he developed new methods of determining the extent of environmental change due to drought and the impacts on the long-term growth of ecosystems.
The important studies have helped gain a better understanding of the long-term response of forests to increasing environmental changes.
“We applied a new method to detect growth changes triggered by environmental factors looking at three species of Canadian spruce and poplar trees of various sizes and ages,” Amin said.
“We took samples from the trees to estimate the annual volume growth of each tree.
“We saw growth shifts or changes in the phase of volume growth in every tree, and some shift years were common to the plots and species, suggesting the same environmental impact on trees.
Amin says that his priority now is to find a job in his field and support his family.
He has had several interviews and is looking forward to re-establishing his career in forestry research.
“I would like to contribute to the forestry discipline here in Australia. Maybe I can gain some experience and build on my ideas on forestry,” Amin said.
“Who knows, maybe one day this will help me go back to Afghanistan and realise my dream,” he said.