Students get hands-on experience in crop specialisation. All 60 students came from high mountain villages, which previously had no animal husbandry instruction. Photos: UNDP Azerbaijan


Home to hundreds of species of trees and bushes, the epic forests and rangelands of Azerbaijan form part of the Greater Caucasus mountain range and are a lifeline for 40 percent of the country’s farmers.

Raising and breeding livestock animals is the major source of income for most living in the high-mountain and remote villages of the Gabala and Ismayilli regions.

But today, more than a million hectares of the precious land are drying up under the influence of logging, overgrazing and climate change. A few years ago, for example, the most damaged land swallowed half a dozen houses in the village of Tirjan, perched in the region of Ismailli. Once the pastures are degraded, they release thousands of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change.

Animal husbandry - the science of breeding and caring for farm animals – was not being taught at vocational education schools and there were no certified specialists in this field. This means no one to advise on how to change the way people raised livestock so that is was more sustainable for the environment.

In total, 60 students and seven teachers benefitted from the new curriculum.


Now there’s brighter news on the horizon. Young men and women have the chance to repair their ancestral world and are turning thousands of hectares of land green again. A new four-semester course combines cutting-edge science to measure carbon loss with the most modern cattle rearing techniques, in an initiative, led by UNDP with financial support from the European Union and the Global Environment Facility.

The 13 modules, which UNDP and the host school in Gabala have jointly introduced to the younger generation of scientists and agricultural practitioners, teach the art of climate-smart agriculture. This means everything from animal selection and reproduction and plant protection methods to farm economy, animal feed production and grassland and pasturelands.

 A vegetation map was created using satellite imaging and remote sensing. Climate resistant crops and rotational grazing were introduced to 16 farms, allowing plots to regenerate faster than usual. The most badly cracked land is now being fixed through intricate underground wooden structures which the students master.

At the program, Atabala Mahammadli learned not just animal husbandry but also agro-service and crop production.
After graduating from the program, Atabala found work at a major regional dairy company.


23-year-old Atabala Mahammadli, one of the most recent graduates of the program, grew up in an average rural family. Following the completion of his studies, he got a job at a large dairy farm in Gabala where he oversees the process of livestock feeding and assists in breeding. These were things he’d never known before.

“I was just an ordinary student...now I’m a full-time employee of one of the country’s giant agricultural companies,” he says. “Before, I was not very hopeful about the future ahead of me and was unsure of where my career would take me next. Now I know that I have a purpose in life. My dream is to become a top-notch professional myself and provide high quality services not only within the company, but also to other people in the villages even beyond Gabala.” 

The curriculum is part of a UNDP-GEF programme that has resulted in the sustainable management of 20,000 hectares of forests and 8,000 hectares of pastures.

Today, there’s a positive manifestation of this region’s revival: most of the 60 youth of Shamakhi and Ismailli that received training no longer feel that they are outsiders in their homeland. They are sought after, their skills and knowledge are of demand and they are more confident about their future career plans. For the first time, the promise of making a profit is very real.

For more information, see Sustainable Land and Forest Management in the Greater Caucasus landscape and the Clima East Pilot Project in Azerbaijan.

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