The importance of forests

The Billion Tree Tsunami initiative is a true conservation success story

The world is going into a new era of ecosystem restoration motivated by the Aichi Targets which include, The Bonn Challenge set up in 2011 that calls for the restoration of 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. Furthermore, the New York Declaration on Forests was launched at the UN Climate Summit 2014.

Article 5 of the Paris Agreement produced by the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference places forest conservation, enhancement, and sustainable management in the forefront of climate mitigation policies. The partners, WWF, WCS, and Bird Life, three of the world’s largest conservation organisations which collectively work in over 120 countries, will create tailored solutions. WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Bird Life International launched the Trillion trees programme in November 2017, a new 25-year initiative to help scale global forest commitments and spur greater ambitions towards protecting and restoring one trillion trees by 2050, the number needed to override the global decline in tree cover.

Neighbouring China aims to plant new forests in 2018 covering an area roughly the size of Ireland in efforts to better the environment. Forests made up 17 percent of China’s land mass in 2000, according to figures from Global Forest Watch. The country hopes to increase its forest coverage to 23 percent of its total landmass by the remainder of the decade. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s forest cover has decreased from 3.3 percent in 1990 to 1.9 in 2015.

Pakistan is the seventh on the list of the countries mostly likely to be affected by planetary warming and has one of the highest deforestation rates in Asia. Pakistan’s total forest area was at 3.3 percent back in 1990 which has fallen to an alarming 1.9 percent by 2015. Bad news is that decades of tree felling have reduced the country’s forests to less than three percent of its ground area. This in itself should suffice as enough of a warning for us.

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

Launched in 2015 by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Imran Khan the Billion Tree Tsunami aims to turn the tide on land degradation and loss in the mountainous, formerly forested KP province in the Hindu Kush mountain range. The campaign simultaneously helped KP province fulfil its 348,400 hectare commitment to the Bonn Challenge — a world-wide effort to bring 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. This sets the first Bonn Challenge pledge to reach its restoration goal.

Swat Valley KP

In planning for the reforestation effort, the provincial government helped set up a network of tree nurseries across the province in 2016. Nearly 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. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has added three-quarters of a billion new trees, as part of a ‘tree tsunami’ in a year.

The Billion Tree Tsunami, which calls for adding trees both by planting and natural regeneration, aims to turn around deforestation and increase the province’s forested area by at least 2pc. Some 40pc of the country’s remaining forests are in KP. The project is being monitored using advanced technology. Imran Khan launched the project’s web site, which includes GPS coordinates of all the plantations and a live tree counter. This is a project for the future of Pakistan. Environmental protection has traditionally been an element of forestry, both in its emphasis on preserving forests and their natural character and in accounting for environmental impacts outside the forest, especially on soil and water. When laws are successfully implemented, they prevent ‘forest clearing, logging, hunting, and collecting vegetables’ and usually help the forests resources that are involved stay protected.

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. The KP government — the only province to record under the Bonn Challenge, has committed to restore 380,000 hectares of forests. An additional $100 meg will be allocated to maintain the project through June 2020.This support makes the project one of the largest eco-investments ever made in Pakistan,” according to the IUCN. The International Union for Conservation of Nature congratulated the Pakistani province on reaching the momentous milestone. The Billion Tree Tsunami initiative is a true conservation success story, one that further demonstrates Pakistan’s leadership role in the international restoration effort and continued dedication to the Bonn Challenge, acknowledged Inger Anderson, director general of IUCN.

Effort goes nationwide:

The project has proven so popular that the federal regime has now begun implementing its own “Green Pakistan Programme”. The objective of the programme is to plant 100 million trees all over the country over the next five years. Restitution is also gaining important national support. In 2016, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the Green Pakistan Programme, with a goal to plant over 100 million trees in the country.

Green Pakistan Program will enhance the forest cover prompting to the conservation of wildlife. Government’s drive to raise the forest coverage of Pakistan through Green Pakistan Program was formally launched on February 09, 2017. The Punjab Forest Department launched the program by planting 100,000 seedlings. The tree plantation campaign under ‘Green Pakistan Program’ began in Sindh last year as well. And now Pakistan Peoples Party’s Sindh government has made all the arrangements to set new record of planting mangroves on Feb 15, 2018.Sindh forest department would plant mangroves in River Indus delta in Thatta district, the last district on River Indus and would break its own previous record set in 2013 when the department planted over 750,000 saplings at Kharo Chan, Thatta in single day.

Greening entire country will contribute towards global climate mitigation. It’s not a national but a world-wide issue. Pakistan’s location makes it vulnerable to the vagaries of annual monsoon. Its economic system can be affected by the failure of monsoon or the floods, by exceptional monsoon rainfall.

It’s about the right trees in the right places:

Eucalyptus should not be set on the farmlands if its returns are less than the reduction in the crop yield but if the return from its wood compensates the reduction in crop yield and gives extra profit then it can be planted on farm lands. It is likewise true that eucalyptus takes shallow groundwater, but does not affect deep groundwater that has more than 25ft depth. Since it has a spreading root system and tape root is not deeper than 20ft it does not regard the deep water table.

Studies have indicated that the eucalyptus’s annual water consumption is about 1000 mm and if the rainfall is more than 1000 mm it will not affect the water table. Growing Eucalyptus in low rainfall areas may have adverse environmental impacts due to competition for water with other species and an increased incidence of allelopathy. Generally, the fields which receive an annual rainfall of less than about 400 mm are less suitable for Eucalyptus wood production purposes due to this reason. Peshawar is not located in the monsoon region, unlike the other northern parts of Pakistan. Based on a 30-year record, the average 30-year annual precipitation has been recorded as 400 millimetres.

This is not simply about planting trees but about changing attitudes. If the course continues, there will be more birds, there will be more microbes, and there will be more insects, more animals, and more habitats. There will be more rains. Hence it’s not all bad news; Pakistan is heading for a green future. The provincial and federal governments are seems to be trusted for their part, we as individual must play our part to save the future and provide a healthy environment for the coming generation by planting at least one tree or plant each.

“Logic tells us to respect nature because it’s the source of our food, health, and livelihood. It’s our planet.”

Published in Daily Times, January 19th 2018.