Meet the father of Iranian oak trees

December 14, 2015

KHORRAMABAD, Lorestan Province- Excited and a bit nervous, as always, I arrive 20 minutes before my appointment; therefore, I have enough time to browse around through the town.

Here I am, on Ma’refat Street - in Sheerkhargah neighborhood, an old and respectable district in Khorramabad, the provincial capital of Lorestan Province, where the man known as the father of Iranian oak trees, is living.

Oak saplings, growing in front of houses, are giving the street a unique vibe. No longer nervous as the door opens, I am greeted by a man who seems to be in his 60s.

“If you want to bring about a change, you should start off with your home. Otherwise, whatever you say would be considered an empty slogan,” he says, pointing to the oak saplings in front of his house.

Mozaffar Afshar was born in September 1952. A construction engineer by trade, he is now mostly recognized as the father of Iranian oak trees thanks to three decades of unsparing environmental efforts to protect Iran’s oak forests.

His passion for oak trees becomes quite evident as soon as you enter his home. He has turned the backyard of his house into a personal conservatory where about 2,500 to 3,000 saplings of oaks and wild pears (locally known as Merro tree) are grown every year. These saplings would then be planted all across the country wherever needed but mostly in the protected areas.

The reason that the saplings are cultivated in the conservation areas, according to Afshar, is to protect them from being grazed by sheep and goats - a similar environmental hazard which has made it a pointless effort to grow oak trees in the burnt areas which have increased in the past few years.

Afshar’s communication skills have helped him a great deal in bringing locals, officials, and NGOs together, resulting in the cultivation of eight hectares of oak and wild pear trees in the protected areas of Bam-e Lorestan hills in Eastern Khorramabad.

Afshar’s house is open to the thousands of students who flock there every year on educational school trips to get familiarized with oak trees and learn about its benefits as well as its cultivation techniques.

During the previous Iranian calendar year, which ended on March 20, 2015, about 3,800 students attended Afshar’s workshop, and about 200 people are visiting his home on a weekly basis to learn from him.

But Afshar’s environmental trainings go well beyond his workshop, reaching schools in the more remote villages as well.

Since the beginning of the current Iranian year, Afshar has visited 37 schools in different villages to raise students’ awareness towards the environment around them, with a special focus on oak trees.

One of the important parts of Afshar’s lessons is to encourage people to recycle disposable items for growing plants.

In his workshop, he has amazingly used every disposable item in every imaginable way from eggshells to empty bullet shells, from packets of milk to worn-out shoes, as vases for growing plants.

In answer to my question about the withering phenomenon hitting Zagros Forests, Afshar blames dust pollution coming from neighboring Arab countries as the main cause, adding that the forests in the western province of Ilam have been damaged more than any other place, mainly because they are situated in the border band, thus more exposed to the dusts.

Afshar, however, added that withering is just the tip of the iceberg and pointed out that the intentional demolition of the forests poses a far more serious risk. “More than 98 percent of the forest fires and damage in the province are self-inflicted”, he lamented.

Afshar said that the departments of Environment as well as the Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization are both keen to make some improvements, but they lack the legal power to fight the perpetrators.

Besides, they do not enjoy the human resources it would take to keep vigil on the areas.

In retrospect, he appreciated NGOs for their active role in extinguishing forest fires as well as growing trees, cleaning nature, etc.

By the end of the interview, he invited me to spend the next day with him in Bam-e Lorestan where they were planning to plant oak saplings with other NGOs. I readily accepted the invitation.

As I was leaving, I was glad to see that amid the warnings and complaints over the environmental crisis, in which everybody dodges responsibility, there are still people who, in a selfless act, have dedicated most of their life to the protection of Iran’s environment without expecting any remuneration whatsoever.

Edited by David Gestos