Playing numbers with a billion trees

The number of trees actually planted or sown under BTT is around 200 million — nothing short of an achievement on its own

Playing numbers with a billion trees

“Truth isn’t quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl" - a magical line from the great Oscar Wilde, that came to my mind, the moment I heard proclamation of victory by KP Government on Billion Tree Tsunami.

Promise of a "change", something totally fresh and away from the stale, beaten path and coming, of all the people from an established celebrity - you would be dying to hear that something has finally worked; something did not go wrong, after all.

Especially in a situation when well-wishers of KP Government have been taken for a ride on promises of reforms on several other counts. Plethora of laws on literally anything - right to services, right to information, right to Heaven knows what somehow did not add up to "on-ground " improvement in the lot and life of citizens in KP.

Or the hazy, halo of the so called, successful Police reforms in KP - no increased conviction rates; no empirical evidence suggesting improved quality of investigation; no palpable advances on cardinal pillars of Police Order 2002 a la Safety Commissions, professional specialization or Police Complaint entities . It was naïve to dub KP police as "Model Police" merely on the touchstone of "unbridled police autonomy" without first addressing many other, long awaited, forgotten policing reform issues.

The real innovation under BTT has been that the target of a billion trees inclued 600 million seedlings planted in natural regeneration enclosures and 200 million trees grown by farmers with government incentives 

To the mutual good luck of all concerned, let it be admitted that for all ifs and buts - and there are many of these - Billion Tree Tsunami (BTT) has been perhaps the most successful intervention by the KP Government in its four years tenure.

For the first time, BTT saw the long awaited mixture of technically sound and coherent solutions on enhancing green cover complimented with timely allocations and actual releases of funding from provincial exchequer (something vital, given the seasonal nature of forestry operations). Putting aside a whopping ten billion rupees by a cash-constrained province must be taken as no mean achievement. And to cap it all, BTT got the highest level political ownership that is a rare phenomenon for a green sector intervention.

But the song ends here. One cannot and should not forget to mention what is not told about BTT. Not by way of any evil design but - and I am ready to give benefit of doubt - perhaps by the burning desire that something needs to succeed even if it entails some mixing and cherry picking of facts.

To begin with, it is after all not "Billion or 1000 Million" trees; it is actually a two hundred million tree Tsunami. Lest well-wishers of KP Government go for my head, let me clarify that the number of trees actually planted or sown under BTT is around 200 million (no mean achievement in itself).

So where the number "Billion" came from?

As a matter of fact, BTT program was not designed the way typical afforestation programs are done in Pakistan - or for that matter in South Asia, where colonial styled forestry is in practice for well over a century now.

In classical forestry, you only count towards afforestation the number of trees that have actually been grown in nurseries or sown as seeds in the field by forest officers and staff. That is how, afforestation targets twice each year (spring and monsoon) are set in all provinces (including KP) in Pakistan since 1947.

The real innovation ( you may or may not call it so ) under BTT has been the fact that Billion target achievement also included natural regeneration protection or enclosures which counted for around 600 million and farm forestry ( trees grown by farmers through government incentives ) to the tune of 200 million.

Another 200 million came through farm forestry where forest department incentivized farmers and land owners to grow and plant trees. Again needless to say that achieving this 200 million target without BTT incentive package would have been near to impossible. But equating farm forestry with traditional afforestation is still something where jury is still out.

Lastly, BTT efforts are still a long way from gelling with regular afforestation and forest management practices within forest department. Little is known whether BTT plantation drive is linked with regular forest management plans (which are drawn for 10-15 years period in each forest division).

Notwithstanding all such challenges, it will be unfair to compare Billion Tree Tsunami achievements of KP Government with their "heavy on noise, wanting on meat" kind of police or legislative reforms. But contextualizing or qualifying pronouncements of victory on count of BTT with reality checks is nonetheless crucial.

In all fairness, Billion tree Tsunami has revived forestry sector in Pakistan like never and nothing before; kind of resources, undiluted focus and highest level political commitment that has gone in this effort is worthy of highest praise and acclaim. BTT has actually acted as a catalyst, nearly forcing federal government as well as other provinces to come up with similar interventions - game changer, you may say.

But let’s face it. One billion new trees have not been planted under BTT; the number is actually around 400 million if you add farm forestry and a whopping 8400 million rupees are still needed from KP Government over next three years to ensure survival of BTT planting stock.

So the friends and well-wishers have every right to celebrate BTT as a success story but it will be to the mutual benefit of all concerned if complete truth is told, notwithstanding the warnings by the master playwright, Oscar Wilde.


The writer is a public policy and environmental expert. He can be reached at



Published in Daily Times, August 19th 2017.