Why Pakistan Needs a New Forest Policy

Why Pakistan Needs a New Forest Policy

By: Ifrah Shaukat 

Although objectives and scope of forest management diversified and extended before the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), its main objective remained merely timber production. Local communities, indigenous peoples and, most importantly, international NGOs speak out to record their concerns regarding a very narrow definition of forestry. Since then, these voices have managed, somehow, to force some governments to take initiatives that may finally reverse the process of damage and bring into focus the need of changes in policy and implementation so as to bring forth devolution in forest management.

In South Asian countries, especially India and Pakistan, forestry has been a complex issue. Both federal and provincial/state governments have been controlling forestry activities, but federal government has an overruling authority as a policymaking body. This led to the centralization of the forests which, in turn, made them merely a commodity. This policy had tumbling effects on the forests in different countries of the region.

In Pakistan, authorities claim that there is no lack of initiatives and policies that ensure good forest management in practice as they also involve non-foresters in decision-making processes. However, many research forums have warned that Asia’s forests are facing degradation at an unprecedented fast pace. Forest land alienation from the forest-users, over-dependency on technocracy and policing, and commercial overexploitation are some major threats to the very existence of the forests.

Working of the forestry sector depends considerably on the institutional context and its structure along with the prevalent policies. In Pakistan, the most destructive ramification of the centralization of forestry was the alienation of the people from their lands which ensued in situations that were tragic for forests and their quality. For instance, as more and more land was seized by the government, the tracts available for the people dependent on the shifting cultivation shrank. The only option left for those people was to progressively reduce the fallow period which ultimately resulted into forest-degradation and land-erosion. Another consequence of the alienation is the continuous loss of forest knowledge among local people as well as their culture as both of these were inevitably linked with each other.

Besides this, centralization of forests spurred governments to kick-start a number of uneconomic forest management initiatives to increase the forest productivity and to meet the ever-increasing demand of timber in national and international markets. The government has increased manifolds the budgetary allocations to this sector (like Green Pakistan project) instead of resurrecting and revitalizing the existing projects like South Punjab Forest Company. This initiative includes plantation of fast-growing species, having more annual timber productivity than the natural reproducing of forests, on public-private mode so that logging pressure on the natural forests can be reduced.

According to FAO estimates, millions of dollars have been invested in Pakistan to grow new forests while existing ones are getting gradually degraded and are being converted to alternate use. On top of it, such investments largely proved uneconomic, and plant saplings were left to die, thus making most of the investments unproductive. In addition, monitoring of these initiatives like increasing the forest police force proved costly as deforestation rate increased, and corruption in the department also became rampant.

Current and emerging issues, such as involving all stakeholders with appropriate instruments and institutional mechanism in place to ensure the sustainability of wood products and environmental services, redefinition of rights and responsibilities must be addressed in the upcoming forest policy. Land tenure system is Pakistan is highly complex, especially in high mountains where most of the forest is owned by tribal communities. Thus, forest ownership needs to be incorporated with legal implications in the said policy in terms of benefits to individuals and communities as a whole. Pakistan has promised to reduce 20 percent of its emissions by 2030 in its nationally determined contributions towards environment. To achieve this goal, it is imperative that the government revises the forest policy layout and merges it with the green projects currently going on in the country; otherwise, no change in policy will work.

New policy should reflect special needs of the area where forests are to be located and the tribe that would own it. For instance, although there is some cognizance to conserve the representative ecosystem of forests, these relic ecosystems are still at the verge of extinction. Spruce forests in the Naltar valley and Chilghoza and blue pine forests in Balochistan should be protected through special, need-based legislation and policies.

Furthermore, controlling institutional status quo, promoting public-private partnership, setting advanced criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, integration of sectoral policies, alignment of national policies with international conventions, promotion of the wood industries, encouraging farm forestry and people’s participation, decentralization and devolution of forest management are some unavoidable factors and they need to be addressed in policy formulation.

The new forest policy should provide an opportunity to keep pace with the time, recognize important milestones in forestry worldwide and overall alignment with National Climate Change Policy, 2012. Regardless of the many benefits of the new policy, it is important to hold the farsightedness in the existing policies. Needless to say, any revision must be based on extensive consultations. The need to increase forest productivity or ensure an adequate supply of wood or enhance carbon sequestration through plantations is well taken, but it must not come at the cost of natural forests.

Given this, pragmatic indication and well-reasoned discussion must drive policy changes with due focus on steps to reduce natural forest degradation. If this is not done, revising the forest policy might just turn out to be a futile exercise.

Did You Know?

Under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (1973), the subject of forestry falls in the provincial domain and under the respective provincial governments.
The Government of Azad Jammu & Kashmir protects and manages forests in its jurisdiction.
In erstwhile FATA, the federal government was responsible for the forestry sector through the FATA Secretariat.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, forestry is dealt by the Gilgit-Baltistan Council.
The functions of the federal government pertaining to forestry as per Federal Legislative List (Part-II) are limited to national planning and economic coordination, inter-provincial matters and coordination and matters incidental or ancillary thereof.
Article 151 of the Constitution and Federal Legislative List (Part-I) entitle the federal government to regulate import and export of wood and forest products, inter-provincial trade and commerce, and trade and commerce with foreign countries.
Constitutionally, implementation of international conventions and agreements related to forests is the sole mandate of the Federal Government.
Forestry governance in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent has a long history since the late 19th century.
The first Inspector General Forests in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent was appointed in 1896.
Historically, forestry remained a provincial subject even after independence of Pakistan.
In the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973, forestry is purely a provincial subject and not impacted by the 18th amendment.
First Forest Policy of Pakistan was announced in 1955. It was followed by the Forest Policies of 1962, 1975, 1980, and 1988 (as part of the draft National Agricultural Policy), 1991, 2010 and 2015.

NATIONAL FOREST POLICY 2015 / Policy Objectives

In line with the Federal functions of national policy, planning and implementation of international agreements, specific objectives of the National Forest Policy include:

a) Promoting ecological, social and cultural functions of forests through sustainable management and use of forest produce including wood and non-wood forest products
b) Implementing a national level mass afforestation programme to expand and maintain optimum forest cover
c) Maximizing forest areas by investing in available communal lands/ shamlat, and Guzara forests and urban forestry
d) Facilitating and harmonizing inter-provincial movement, trade and commerce of wood and non-wood forest products through the Federal Forestry Board
e) Inter-linking natural forests, protected areas, wetlands and wildlife habitats to reduce fragmentation
f) Enhancing role and contribution of forests in reducing carbon emissions and enhancing forest carbon pools
g) Facilitating implementation of international conventions and agreements related to Forestry, Wetlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change
h) Promoting standardized and harmonized scientific forest planning, research and education including for community-based management

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