Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is well known as one of Pakistan’s greenest and most beautiful landscapes.
Efforts are currently underway to ensure that this not only continues, but that it gets even more ecologically diverse and sustainable.
A massive tree planting programme, known as the ‘billion tree tsunami‘ is underway in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with help from WWF-Pakistan. Rab Nawaz, senior director of programs for WWF-Pakistan said that “The success on the ground is phenomenal. This is not just about planting trees but about changing attitudes.”
As part of the programme, trees will be added to the landscape by both planting and natural regeneration, allowing the landscape to thrive and blossom.
Cricketing celebrity Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party, which governs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in Pakistan’s northwest, are supporting the initiative, which is helping to make it a hit with the public. Early estimates indicate that the forest population in the area will grow by at least 2%, as well as reducing damage done by previous deforestation.
According to Guam Daily Post; Years of tree felling have reduced Pakistan’s forests to under 2 percent of its land area, one of the lowest levels in the region, according to a 2015 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report.About 40 percent of the country’s remaining forests are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where Khan’s tree planting effort is expected to hit its billion-tree goal by the end of 2017.
A network of tree nurseries was established the province in 2016. As part of the preparation for the scheme, loans and purchase agreements were made available from the government so that things could get underway as quickly as possible.
Malik Amin Aslam, the chairman of the province’s Green Growth Initiative, estimates that 11 billion rupees ($110 million) has been spent so far on the effort.
“About 13,000 government and private nurseries, in almost every district of the province, are now producing hundreds of thousands of saplings of local and imported tree varieties, including pines, walnuts and eucalyptus, Aslam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The nurseries have provided about 40 percent of the new trees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; the remaining trees have come from natural regeneration in forests now put under protection, he said.
Many small-scale nurseries, producing up to 25,000 saplings, have been set up with cash advances and a guaranteed purchase agreement from the provincial government.
Such small nurseries can earn incomes of around 12,000 to 15,000 rupees ($115-$140) a month, a sizeable income for rural villagers, said Aslam.
An estimated 500,000 “green jobs” have been created through the effort, some of which have gone to rural women and unemployed youth, he said.
“People have become aware that forests are KP’s precious resource,” he added.
Aslam said the regeneration effort is being monitored by both the provincial forest department and WWF-Pakistan, working as an auditor.
Nawaz, of WWF, said he had just returned from three days looking at 2.5 million new trees in the province. He called the restoration “an amazing achievement” by the government’s forest department and by local communities who are paid to plant trees.
“Whether you support PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party) or not, no one can deny that this is an environmental, economic and social success for other provinces to follow,” he said.”
Leading Pakistani newspaper DAWN, went into great detail about the reforestation project:
Better tech and enforcement
The project is being monitored using modern technology. Last week Khan launched the project’s website, which includes GPS coordinates of all the plantations and a live tree counter.
“This is a project for the future of Pakistan and something I keep very close to my heart. It is not only helping KP by providing a green, breathable environment and green jobs but is also building up Pakistan’s much-needed defence against the high climate vulnerability that it faces,” the cricketer-turned-politician told the the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It significantly contributes to the global efforts for sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change”, Khan added.
To protect its forests, the PTI government has also enforced a complete ban on the cutting and felling of trees in reserved forests.
The government says the activities of the powerful “timber mafia” have been curtailed through dismantling more than 600 illegal sawmills and arresting more than 300 timber cutters, as well as issuing heavy fines.
“Two of our forest guards have been killed in timber encounters while many have braved injuries,” Aslam said.
“All of these steps have forced the timber mafia on to the back foot and delivered a clear political message of ‘zero tolerance’ to the illicit cutting of wood.”
Effort goes nationwide
The project has been recognised by the Bonn Challenge, a global partnership aiming to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020.
The KP government – the only province to register under the Bonn Challenge, officials said – has committed to restore 380,000 hectares of forests and has already achieved nearly 80pc of that goal, Aslam said.
The Bonn challenge website estimates an economic benefit of the reforestation effort at $121m for the province, in terms of carbon sequestration, better watershed improvement and future sustainable wood supplies.
The project has proven so popular that the federal government has now begun implementing its own “Green Pakistan Programme”.
The aim of the programme is to plant 100 million trees all over the country over the next five years.
This is welcome news indeed. As more initiatives like this pop up all over the globe, such as the ongoing Kenyan reforestation project, which we reported on last year, there may be hope for the world’s green spaces after all.