ISLAMABAD: With the Billion Tree Afforestation Project (BTAP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa a success, the PTI government has decided to take the tree plantation drive countrywide with a plan to plant 10 billion trees in five years.
Launched in 2014, the BTAP increased forest cover in KP by more than 5pc to 25pc and helped authorities recover 80,000 kanals of encroached land and push back the network of illegal timber trade that operated in state forests.
“Nothing of this kind has been achieved in the country in recent decades, but the most serious challenge is to protect young trees, especially in state forests,” KP Minister for Environment Forest and Wildlife Syed Mohammad Ishtiaq said.
The province has taken several measures to increase tourism, including developing rest houses and other facilities in areas previously unknown to outsiders. But these efforts are also creating unease in the forest department, which fears that massive tourist movement will damage small trees and saplings while also increasing the risk of forest fires.
“We suggest that the roads should not be built too far into the forests, as road construction too requires the destruction of trees. The visitors should walk into the forest and only tent villages or shanty-like construction be allowed,” Mr Ishtiaq said.
He suggested that eco-friendly modes of tourism should be promoted. This would also allow for the tourists to be shifted after some seasons, allowing natural rejuvenation in the part of the forest that has been disturbed due to excessive public movement.
However, Mr Ishtiaq’s views are not welcomed by KP’s tourism department, which wants to encourage tourism in scenic areas to boost the local and state economy. For this reason, the KP government is devising a middle path to promote tourism while protecting forest regeneration.
“A study conducted in 2000 showed that the forests in KP were under-stocked by around 78pc and some 74pc of forest land was incapable of natural regeneration,” Mr Ishtiaq told the press during a recent visit to several districts where trees have been planted over large tracts of land.
The largest concentration of forests in the province is in the Hazara and Malakand divisions, which includes state and guzara forests in the Hazara division. Protected forests are in Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral and Swat where the entire property including the trees belongs to the government but certain concessions are available to local communities.
“The land of the guzara forests in Hazara belong to the local community, but the forest is maintained and monitored by the government,” forest department chief conservator Niaz Ali Khan said.
According to Adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam, 1.2 billion trees have been planted with the support and cooperation of local communities and state institutions.
“There are several categories of land. Large plantations have been made on community land called ‘shamlaat’, where the saplings have been planted by the community and they will protect them to become trees,” he said.
“The forest will be divided into portions and each part will be sold each year – the money generated from it will be divided among the community and that part of the forest will be replanted.”
He also denied that most of the trees that have been planted are eucalyptus trees.
“Only 10pc of the total plantation is of eucalyptus, which was essential in many areas such as certain rocky and arid areas in Malakand and in waterlogged saline land in Dera Ismail Khan,” Mr Aslam said.
To further benefit local communities from the forests, the BTAP includes benefits from international efforts to counter the impact of climate change, such as carbon credits and the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme.
The climate change ministry has launched the Pakistan REDD+ Readiness Preparation Project, and received a grant from the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility to complete four essential elements of REDD+, in order to meet requirements to access result-based payments under the REDD+ mechanism.
However, regulations and systems need to be developed by federal and provincial governments to reap the benefits of such international programmes.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2019