PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa forest department has decided to minimise the plantation of eucalyptus during the execution of the Billion Tree Afforestation Project (BTAP) in the province following criticism by environmentalists and botanical specialists.

“Plantation of eucalyptus will be contained only to waterlogged areas, riverbanks and canals that make approximately 10 per cent of one billion saplings to be planted during the next four years in KP under BTAP,” said project director Mohammad Tehmasip.

He said the pros and cons of the species had been discussed at different forums and it was decided to reduce the ratio of eucalyptus to 10 per cent.

The official said eucalyptus plantation would be carried out at the designated locations only.

He admitted that the stately tree was not suitable to be grown near residential areas as its roots damaged water supply and drainage systems and harmed crops and farmlands.

Official says stately tree’s roots damage water supply, drainage systems, farmlands

“The department will plant more indigenous species under the new programme,” he said.

A source in the forest department told Dawn that feedback of different forums had forced the department to restrict the plantation of eucalyptus to waterlogged and saline areas.

He said the Pakistan Forest Institute had organised a three days conference in Peshawar last year to discuss merits and demerits of eucalyptus plantation under BTAP.

Under the revised plan, eucalyptus will not be planted near residential areas, agricultural lands and the regions, where the water table has gone down.

The spring plantation has begun across the province, including merged tribal districts, with a total of 100 million saplings to be planted by the end of next June.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government has planned to grow 10 billion species across the country.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where one billion trees have already been grown under the much-publicised Billion Tree Tsunami Project since 2013, will plant additional one billion saplings under BTAP.

The provincial government’s Billion Tree Tsunami, flagship project of the ruling PTI during its five years tenure (2013-18), received global appreciations, including the World Economic Forum’s, but it drew criticism in the country due to massive eucalyptus plantation.

Officials said the ratio of eucalyptus plantation in the Billion Tree Tsunami project was 23 per cent of the total afforestation programme.

They said the survival chances of eucalyptus were high compared to other plants.

The officials also said eucalyptus did not require regular water and protection from grazing animals, so those characteristics made it the most favourite species of forest conservators in KP and other provinces.

“Unfortunately, eucalyptus is the most mismanaged species in Pakistan due to plantation at inappropriate locations,” said a botanical expert.

He said eucalyptus was economically very valuable plant but it was planted at wrong places.

The expert said the species was imported from Australia to address salinity and water logging but it was planted without planning in cities, residential areas, farmlands, arid and semi-arid regions, parks, hills and plains and thus, causing environmental issues.

“One can see enclosures of eucalyptus forests from Dera Ismail Khan to high-altitude Chitral,” he said, adding that the water table had gone down in different areas due to the widespread plantation of the species.

Official said the forest department would give preference to indigenous plants in BTAP.

The department had included 116 species mostly indigenous to be planted in three regions of the province, including merged districts.

Mohammad Tehmasip said the estimated cost of BTAP was Rs27 billion to be equally funded by the federal and provincial governments.

He said the department would carry out 40 per cent plantation in merged districts, previously known as Fata.

The project director said 156 events would be organised during plantation in the province.

He said the forest department had signed a memorandum of understanding with the elementary and secondary education department under which every student of the primary and higher secondary schools would plant saplings.

“Approximately four million saplings will be planted through the scheme alone this season,” he said, adding that MoUs will also be signed with communication and works, social welfare and agriculture departments.

Mohammad Tehmasip said the departments would allow the forest department to carry out plantation on their lands.

Officials said plantation on 1,455 enclosures had been completed during the ongoing campaign and had done afforestation on all categories on 8200.756 hectares out of the total 19,101 hectares.

They claimed that 75 million saplings had been planted during the ongoing campaign in the province.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2020