PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has claimed over six per cent increase in the tree-covered area of the province but it couldn’t expand the designated forest area due to multiple reasons after the completion of its flagship Billion Trees Tsunami Afforestation Programme (BTAP).
“Only tree-covered area has increased after the implementation of the BTAP, while designated forest-covered area of the province remained the same,” an official of the environment department told Dawn.
He said the forest department didn’t have legal and administrative control over plantation carried out on private lands under the BTAP programme.
The forest department in its official documents and correspondence with international organisations claimed that under the BTAP, afforestation of all categories were carried out at an area of 286,309 hectares, distribution of 160 million plants under farm forestry and 4,509 enclosures established for assisting natural regeneration had increased the overall forest covered area of the province by 6.3 per cent.
Sources said the designated forest covered area in the province hadn’t increased since the last land reforms carried out in 1970s.
They said the government couldn’t take action if the owners, who dedicated their lands for planting trees under the BTAP, could change use and purpose of their lands anytime other than forestry.
Secy says only tree-covered area in KP increased under BTAP
“The forest department in collaboration with the law and revenue departments has to fulfil certain legal formalities for increasing the existing designated forest-covered area,” said a conservationist.
He said the designated forests could be either increased or decreased after legal protection was given to forests in the merged tribal districts (erstwhile Fata).
The conservationist said consultation with elders and communities in the merged tribal districts was in progress for notifying forests as Guzara forests.
Official documents show that the implementation of BTAP 2014-19 in KP brought 6.3 per cent additional area to the forest cover that increased the forest cover of the province from 20.3 per cent to 26.6 per cent. The Billion Tree Tsunami Programme, which received appreciation at global level, was completed at the cost of Rs19.44 billion.
A research study about the ‘Socioeconomic Impacts of the Billion Trees Afforestation Programme in KP’ conducted by a group of experts in 2019 noted that the BTAP was different from other forest programmes in the country for a couple of reasons.
According to it, first, the programme’s objectives were not only to restore degraded forestland but also to enhance human livelihoods by engaging poor people from the local communities in different project tasks.
The study said in particular, the programme engaged millions of rural residents as core agents of project implementation, including a large private nursery scheme.
Currently, KP has designated forests over 1,508,604hectares that have been divided into four categories, including Reserved, Protected and Guzara in Malakand and Hazara divisions and ‘resume land’ in southern region of the province, including Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan.
Officials said the forest department would give priority to merged tribal districts in the ongoing 10 Billion Trees Afforestation Programme which had been kicked off across the country.
They said 70 per cent share of the 10 BTAP would go to the merged districts.
The estimated cost of the five-year BTAP in KP is Rs27 billion to be equally shared by the provincial and federal governments.
When contacted, environment secretary Shahidullah Khan said the number of trees in the designated forests had increased through the creation of 4,509 enclosures.
He admitted that only tree-covered area of the province had increased under the BTAP.
The secretary, however, said the government would encourage and facilitate the local communities to protect green trees on their lands.
The tentative plantation plan for the current spring season shows that a total of 112.8 million saplings will be planted by different government agencies and in plantation drives. Of this, around 39.5 million trees will be planted in Region-I, 36.2 million in Region-II and 36.5 million in Region-III.
Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2021