More than 120 nations have pledged to respond to the climate crisis by immediate action and make efforts in   achieving UN target of restoring 350 million hectares of forest land by 2030. China is planning to drive an afforestation plan approximately in the size of the Ireland. Countries in the Latin America are making moves to reinstate their degraded forests cover over 20 million hectare of land. Africa nations are also not behind in efforts at saving their forests as they are planning to invest over 100 million hectares. Similarly, India is all set to plant over 13 million hectares of land.

Despite the continuous global efforts to restore the degraded and lost forest cover, we are facing unexpected tree loss. According to the FAO report, tree loss has double in the 2016 and is likely to get worse. And, unfortunately, tree plantation drives around the world have become much more political in nature..

However in spite of these discouraging trends, there is high hope as the fervour for a greener and better world is growing across the globe – pushing the governments and relevant agencies to act more responsibly and respond to the challenge resolutely.

In Pakistan, environment had been a low priority of both military and civilian set ups which ruled the state since its creation. But things took a happy turn with the coming into power of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa five years ago. The party of Imran Khan – himself an environment enthusiast – sanitised the public over this vital issue and successfully ran Billion Tree Tsunami project in the north-western KPK province.

Now with PTI gaining control at the federal level and Khan becoming the prime minister three months ago, the noble cause of forestation has gone to the next level. The charismatic premier is leading his nation on an ambitious plan of planting 10 billion more trees across the country over the next five years. Launched by him on September 1, ‘Plant for Pakistan’ campaign is based on a very vigorous and holistic approach.

Despite all of the structural loopholes, the new drive is very welcoming and it will definitely help Pakistan achieve its Sustainable Development Goals and deal with the ever increasing threat of climate change, keeping its vulnerability towards slight changes in the global environment in view.

But mere planting of trees won’t do. Change of social attitudes and out of the box thinking for making trees more valuable is necessary to ensure their nurturing and survival. We will have to turn our forests into a national economic enterprise; otherwise, people at both individual and collective levels would lose interest in planting and taking care of trees.

It costs around $325 to plant a forest per acre and it will take billions of rupees to plant 10 billion trees. Most of the past large scale and state subsidised tree plantation drives were marred by mismanagement and earned notoriety for being very costly. Almost 20 percent of the trees die within few years of their plantation and more are lost over time due to the urge for early commercial benefit. One of the solutions to this problem is commercial mass afforestation through public-private partnership, which is already proving to be a game-changing idea around the world.

Many countries like Brazil, China, India and Paraguay have shown progress in maintaining their forest cover by improving their socio-economic structure and ensuring sustained wood and forest products for their populations. For instance, in Brazil one billion trees (as a part of the Paris Agreement to restore and reforest 12 million hectares by 2030) have been planted and restored at Amazon Protected Forest by involving private investors and the government agencies. Through this initiative, more than 25,000 people were benefited with improved local capacity and increased timber production.

Another unique and successful approach of the commercial afforestation can be seen in Vietnam. Almost 39,274 hectares of land there was converted into the forests for the sustained production of the woodchip production, creating 500,000 jobs annually in the process. Similarly in Nepal, government has leased out 500 hectares of the degraded forest land for the commercial afforestation and production of timber and timber products under the provision of Forest Act 1993.

Luckily Pakistan is also making efforts to contribute towards the sustainable management of the forests. South Punjab Forest Company (SPFC) is one of the pioneers which are promoting commercial afforestation. But there’s a need to expand the scope.

SPFC CEO Tahir Rasheed says Pakistan needs mass plantation to ensure the sustained wood production. He said the country is facing drastic loss in tree cover. Keeping in view our wood consumption, it is the need of the hour to promote commercial afforestation – which will ultimately reduce the logging pressure on natural forests and increase the forest cover.

He informed that SPFC afforestation project would reclaim the barren land and ultimately ensure sustained timber production with increased forest cover. Besides this, the project will create 15,000 green jobs, sequester 35 million tons of the carbon and ultimately lead private investors to inject Rs240 billion in the national economy.

Dr Akbar, former REDD and a National Coordinator said that this initiative will definitely contribute to improving the forest cover of Punjab and help in asserting the climate change. He added that there should be a wholesome approach to the sustainable management of the forests, with a strong monitoring and evaluation system in place.

To benefit from commercial afforestation, government should help create more companies in the country. In Punjab, either more players could be engaged to replicate the work of SPFC or expand this company’s mandate to whole of the province by turning it into Punjab Forest Company. The expansion is advisable for two apparent reasons: first, SPFC has already gained a lot of experience in running and managing afforestation projects; second, the running of commercial afforestation affairs by a single organisation will ensure uniformity in all aspects of policy and administration.

The writer is an environmentalist. She can be reached at ifrahshoukat@gmail.com, or at @ifrahshaukat28 on Twitter

 

Ifrah Shaukat