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The Mayor of Tbilisi, Davit Narmania, on air on Maestro TV, discussed the projects being carried out by Tbilisi City Hall, including the planting of one million trees. Mr Narmania stated: "We have really planted a half-million trees and this is absolutely real information. We started the planting programmes from the beginning of autumn 2014. The trees were planted in the central part of the city and in the yards of kindergartens and schools. There were several thousands of trees planted on the area of the Dendrological Park. Additionally, trees were planted on the territory of Tbilisi Sea."

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verified the accuracy of the statement upon the request of a reader.

Bolstering Tbilisi’s green space was one of the priorities of Davit Narmania’s election campaign programme as he underlined: "We will take care of the city’s ecology and carry out reforestation and the expansion of recreational spaces. We are going to plant a million trees and make them flourish."

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addressed Tbilisi City Hall with an official letter and requested detailed information in regard to the ongoing so-called million trees project. According to City Hall’s information, 480,200 trees were planted by its Ecology and Planting Municipal Service in the period of 2014-2015. Of that number, 452,190 saplings were purchased with the remainder of the saplings comprising gifts from various different companies. The majority of the saplings were planted at the Tbilisi Dendrological Park and Tbilisi Sea.

In order to conduct further research, FactCheck

studied the contracts concluded as a part of the million trees project and determined that their number amounted to 23. Of these contracts, four were concluded using the simplified purchase rule whilst 19 were concluded upon the basis of electronic tenders. The total value of the contracts is GEL 1,264,436. The most expensive contract was concluded on 15 September 2015 between Tbilisi City Hall and the National Forestry Nursery with a value of GEL 270,700 and envisaging the purchase of 269,100 saplings. In total, there were four contracts concluded between Tbilisi City Hall and the National Forestry Nursery as a part of the million trees project with a total of 315,720 saplings having been purchased. These particular saplings were designated for planting at the Tbilisi Dendrological Park and adjacent areas.

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asked Tbilisi City Hall’s Ecology and Planting Municipal Service to comment upon the monitoring of those trees which have already been planted. According to the Service’s information, it carries out the monitoring of the planted trees itself although exact information about the saplings will only be available in spring 2016. According to Ecology and Planting Municipal Service representatives, contractor companies are responsible for taking care of the planted trees for a period of two years with a 100% growth rate according to the terms of the contracts. Any saplings which are damaged or die must be replaced by the respective contractor.

According to the information verified by FactCheck, a portion of the contracts concluded as a part of the million trees project comprised the purchase of saplings with an accompanying planting service whilst another portion comprised the purchase of the saplings alone. According to the contracts, 330,720 saplings (76% of the total number of those planted) comprised the amount within the purchase-only deal. City Hall’s Ecology and Planting Municipal Service was responsible for the planting and caring for these particular saplings which means that contractor companies were responsible for the planting and care of only 24% of the total number of saplings. Of additional note is that the majority of the contracts do not exceed a duration of one year. In April 2015, seven contracts expired (covering 20,220 saplings) which then obligated Tbilisi City Hall to become responsible for those saplings which were already planted. Interestingly, one of the largest contractors taking part in the million trees project told us that a 100% growth rate is rather unrealistic with a best-case scenario at 80%. FactCheck

sought clarification from the Ecology and Planting Municipal Service in regard to this issue but we received no reply.

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asked the founder of the NGO Partisan Gardening, Nata Peradze, for her comment concerning the million trees project. Ms Peradze stated: "The majority of the saplings planted by Tbilisi City Hall comprises so-called starter or young plants which need to be planted in a different nursery and take two-to-three years before they can be transplanted into city spaces. These types of saplings should be a metre-and-a-half to two metres in height. Additionally, a newly planted sapling needs to be watered two-to-three times per week in order to grow. Neither Tbilisi City Hall’s Ecology and Planting Municipal Service nor the contractor companies have done this, for sure. We have seen the saplings which were planted in the Dendrological Park which do not meet any standard. They are little sticks and not saplings. Moreover, tree planting standards have been violated. The distance between the saplings planted in the city should be at least five metres but there is only a half-metre between them. The only normal trees were planted around Melikishvili Avenue. Therefore, I am confident that just the very strong saplings, which are only about a half-percent of those which have been planted, can possibly survive and grow."

As we have learned, the size of a sapling comprises critical importance for its survival, growth and subsequent flourishing. To this end, FactCheck

took interest in the size of the saplings which were purchased by Tbilisi City Hall. We learned that of the total amount of saplings (452,190), 41,260 of them were between 120-160 centimetres in height and 7,500 of them were between 170-220 centimetres in height. The height of all of the other saplings, comprising 89% of the total amount of those purchased, ranges from between one-quarter to a full one metre.

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asked Tbilisi City Hall’s Ecology and Planting Municipal Service for its comment in regard to the height of the saplings which were purchased and the planting distance between them. According to the Service’s information, recommendations from the Institute of Botany and Tbilisi Botanical Garden are used to regulate planting activities in urban areas. According to the recommendations, so-called starter plants are saplings for standard planting with an age of two-to-three years and which have a high growth rate. In regard to the planting distance between the saplings which were planted in the Dendrological Park, they follow the reforestation standard which sets a distance of a metre to a metre-and-a-half between them whilst saplings planted in the city are to be placed from two-and-a-half to three metres apart.

FactCheck visited the territory of the Dendrological Park and the Municipality of Gldani in order to check the saplings planted as a part of the million trees project (the full photo album is available here).

The majority of the saplings are small-sized (0.5-0.7 metre in height) and the distance between them is approximately 0.6 metre although most of them have dried up (mostly cypress trees). In regard to the price of the purchased saplings, it ranges from GEL 0.5-10 and depends upon the size. Of those planted in the Dendrological Park, the least expensive was GEL 0.5 whilst the most expensive was GEL 5 (Himalayan cedar).

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Conclusion

According to the information received from Tbilisi City Hall, a total of 480,200 trees were planted in 2014-2015 with GEL 1,264,436 having been spent to this end from the budget. Various inquiries into the activity revealed, among other issues, a sub-standard height for the newly-transplanted saplings.

According to information from Tbilisi City Hall’s Ecology and Planting Municipal Service, contractor companies are responsible for taking care of the planted trees for a period of two years with a 100% growth rate according to the terms of their contracts. Only 24% of the total number of saplings falls under the two-year contractor obligation. Of interesting note is that the majority of these contracts expired in April 2015.

Tbilisi City Hall was responsible for taking care of 76% of the newly planted saplings. Its Ecology and Planting Municipal Service also carries out the monitoring of the saplings and indicated that the planting process was carried out in accordance with respective standards. The Service further informed that information about the exact number of saplings will not be available until spring 2016.

Partisan Gardening commented that whilst a half-million trees could possibly have been planted in Tbilisi, the majority of them will probably not survive. FactCheck

visited the territory of the Dendrological Park and witnessed that most of the planted trees have dried up. We also observed that the saplings are small and there is only a very small planting distance between them.

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does not exclude that a half-million trees were indeed planted. However, the principal question concerns the number of currently surviving saplings from those which were planted (that is, to what extent the Mayor’s promise was fulfilled and if the GEL 1,200,000 spent from the budget was justified) and it remains without an official answer. Tbilisi City Hall plans to plant 180,000 more saplings this year at a cost of GEL 900,000. We hope that GEL 900,000 will indeed be spent for this purpose and the planting of 180,000 new saplings will truly materialise beyond statistics lauding the million trees project.

FactCheck will continue to work on this topic in the future and provide the public with respective information. At the present moment, however, we conclude that Davit Narmania’s statement is FALSE.