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ISLAMABAD, June 27: Experts at a roundtable here on Monday said the government should promote alternative fuels in rural areas and formulate new laws for effective forest management so that the communities continue to benefit from the resources and contribute towards its regeneration.

They also demanded revision of forest laws, addressing landownership and judicious distribution of royalty among forest communities which would help in controlling the activities of timber mafia and encroachment of forest for commercialisation.

The roundtable on 'Sustainable forest management' was organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute. The speakers expressed concerns over rapidly declining forest cover in Pakistan which has reduced to 2.5 per cent of the total area of the country.

Dr Babar Shahbaz from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, said sustainable forest governance was only possible if it came from the collective local action.

“It is not easy to overcome the multidimensional problems involved in forest management as managing natural resource conflict is an integral part of natural resource governance,” Dr Shahbaz said, adding mediated policy dialogue using a neutral facilitator could bring the stakeholders in natural resource conflict together.

The speakers criticised existing forest management policy that puts responsibility to protect forest on the communities without imparting any authority to them.

Forest community representatives Riaz Mohammad Khan and Amir Mohammad Khan said timber mafia in collusion with the forest officials was behind massive deforestation and basic hindrance in sustainable forest management.

“They not only sabotage joint forest management committees but are also responsible for the hardships being faced by forest communities,” they added.

They said the ban on harvesting trees in forests should be lifted for local communities.

The participants were informed that the current laws provided policing powers to officials of the forest department who can even shoot anybody they feel suspicious of cutting or moving wood out of the forest.

The experts said integrated land use planning and coordination among stakeholders for sustainable forest management was need of the time.

It was suggested that the system of joint forest management committees be established, transparent disbursement of royalty, implementation of forests reform agenda, resolution of ownership issues, shift to fruit orchards in wastelands, innovative approaches to correspond to climate change and incentives reforestation compatible with climate change would help the growth of forests.