“I lost my house in a land slide followed by floods; it took away my assets but not my courage,” says Fareeda Bibi, whose eyes shine with hope. She is working on a big saw, cutting a log into small pieces that will be used to build a house. She lives in Mastoj, an area of Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that is considered deprived. Her life changed after the death of her father as she had to assume new roles and responsibilities.
Fareeda took the responsibility of bringing up her younger brother and sister and looked up for options to generate resources for this purpose. She needed a regular income to fulfil this responsibility. Luckily for her, the Agha Khan Foundation had recently set up a training centre in the area to teach women without any resources to earn their bread and butter. She joined one of the courses on offer and became a qualified carpenter. Today, it is a pleasant surprise for one to see a young girl working on heavy machinery, dealing with the large wooden logs and cutting and shaping these into different furniture items.
“We do not use timber wood for this purpose as being the resident of this lush green area we very well know that a tree in here sometimes takes more than a hundred years to grow up. These trees are important for us, so we grow our own softwood tree called poplar and use it as a raw material,” says Fareeda.
It is heartening to note that she has sufficient knowledge about the reasons and impacts of climate and the negative impacts of deforestation. She attributes this knowledge to her trainers who developed a sense of responsibility in her regarding protection of nature. She says she plays her role and also convinces others to develop environment-friendly measures.
The weather conditions and the scenic beauty that would attract hordes of tourists here a decade ago have changed a lot. Tree felling by timber mafia and excessive burning of wood for heat and cooking have done the most damage. Fareeda is also taking care of these issues. She is working on building a wooden model house that will soon be introduced to the locals of the area. These would not only be cost effective but also help keep people safe to a great extent from the deadly cold in winters, and reduce the need for burning wood to generate heat.
This is just one example of how the country is losing its forest cover, which is hardly 2 to 2.5 per cent of the total land at the moment. The scenic beauty and weather of once lush green valleys in the north have also suffered badly due to this phenomenon. However, fortunately, there has been a realisation about the need for increasing forest cover, checking deforestation and countering environmental degradation without taking away livelihood options from the local communities.
This is very much in line with the concept of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) that has great scope in Pakistan. The idea behind REDD is that the countries that are willing and able to reduce emissions from deforestation should be financially compensated for doing so. It also aims to address climate change and rural poverty, while conserving biodiversity and sustaining vital ecosystem services.
Zubair Torwali, Executive Director, Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT), ie Institute for Education and Development based in Bahrain, Swat that they are directly dealing with the village communities to look after trees like their offspring. He says, the IBT tells them that these trees provide them oxygen that is necessary for life and therefore must be protected. He tells Money Matters that the forest department has launched plantation drive and planted millions of saplings in the valley. Now, he says, there is a need to give training and support to the locals to make their living from trade of herbs, mushrooms, honey and other non-timber forest products. Once the dependence on timber for livelihood ends, nobody will be compelled to cut and sell it illegally.
He points out that immense potential for REDD related activities exists in upper Swat areas like Bahrain, Kalam and Malam Jabba where people use jungle wood for heating and cooking in extremely cold temperatures. There is a suggestion that the government must set up micro-hydropower plants to generate energy that can be used for heating and cooking, he adds.
Against this backdrop, the “Billion Tree Tsunami Project” (BTTP) by the KP government has assumed great importance and if executed completely will be a major achievement of Pakistan. In the words of Malik Amin Aslam, a member of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and an office bearer of IUCN, the government has planted 115 million saplings and allocated Rs9.83 billion for phase II of the project which was launched last year and would conclude in 2018 with the targeted plantation of one billion saplings. The best part is that local communities in different areas have been involved and supported in setting up nurseries so that they can sell their produce to the government and earn livelihood as well.
Similarly, the donor-funded Participatory Forest Management Project (PFMP) carried out by local development organisation Lasoona in Shamozai Valley of District Swat provides guidelines to people on how to manage the depleting forest resources with the participation of the locals, with promotion of non-timber forest products as alternative means of income generation. The activities include establishing four nurseries. Planting stock was obtained from these nurseries and communal hillsides were afforested. A total of 700 acres were planted. Most of the interventions were made on cost sharing basis with 80 per cent coming from the project funds and 20 per cent from communities.
In this context, one can say that the potential for REDD initiatives in Pakistan had never been as much as it is now. And luckily there is support available from organisations such as the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) - a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalay. The ICIMOD’s regional REDD+ Initiative is working in four countries (Bhutan, India, Myanmar and Nepal) with some support to the Gilgit-Baltistan Forest Department.
The writer is a staff member