THE prime minister’s initiative to plant 100m trees across the country over the next five years under the Green Pakistan programme is a welcome step. Too much of our national conversation is dominated by politics and talk of mega projects, so an ambitious programme centred on a green initiative comes as a breath of fresh air. As it is, we have missed our target for increasing forest cover to 6pc by 2015, and by the looks of it, that target will remain elusive for many more years to come. In addition, coastal mangroves, non-timber forests in the mountainous areas and the preservation of biodiversity are also important goals that need to be either added to the programme, or addressed through similarly muscular plans.
But it is hard to escape the feeling that the programme has been launched on somewhat capricious grounds. It takes its inspiration from the Great Green Wall of China, a project launched to halt the growth of the Gobi desert. That programme was launched in 1978 and will continue till 2050, and is possibly the largest ecological engineering project in the world today, seeing over 259,000 square kilometres of arid land brought under tree cover since its inception. Another Great Green Wall project is under way in Africa, through donor support, to plant a belt of trees on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert to serve as a natural barrier to its expansion. Green walls are used for these purposes for containing growing desertification where the line between arid and arable land is in sharp relief.
Desertification in Pakistan is a much more complex process, and the programme as envisioned by the prime minister is not designed to hem the desert in. It is simply a massive tree plantation drive to preserve and better manage the forest and wildlife resources of the country. That is a laudable objective, and the programme deserves to be pursued strenuously. But it would be better if it can be dovetailed with other, existing programmes that seek to increase tree cover and preserve biodiversity. Some programmes already in play include the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+, under UN auspices, as well as the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. Merely transplanting ideas from another country to address ecological issues will not work, for the simple reason that the ecology of the two countries can be very different. The Green Pakistan Programme contains a few other dimensions that make it more than just a massive tree plantation drive, such as regular stocktaking of forests and their degradation. But for the initiative to have a meaningful impact on the ecology of Pakistan, it will need to be aligned with a broader set of programmes and build on the resources made available by REDD+ and FCPF. Let’s hope the programme grows bigger in the years to come.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2016