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January 25, 2016

Rs100 bn needed to plant 1.2 billion trees in KP


January 25, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan requires at least Rs100 billion to plant 1.2 billion trees in his party ruled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) for which he launched a campaign last year, estimates, given by reputed forest conservators, show.

Whether or not the cash-starved KP government will be able to spare or mobilise such massive money for three years’ drive is an open question. It has often complained of lack of funds. Imran Khan is not known to have launched a public appeal for donations to finance this otherwise encouraging but ambitious campaign.

If the cost per tree is slightly more than Rs80, according to conservators, around Rs100 billion would be needed to fund the drive. However, the cost of plantation of every pine tree runs between Rs100 and Rs150 because this is expensive compared to others. Thus, the overall cost would go beyond the estimated one.

For such a huge number of plants, 1.2 billion, an minimum area of 2.75 million acres will be required if 436 trees, as recommended by conservators, are planted in one acre with each plant occupying 100 square feet space. However, the KP has sufficient area, some 18.4 million acres or 74,521 kilometers, to accommodate such a phenomenal tally of trees. Among the provinces, it is worst hit by deforestation by the timber mafia, which has earned billions of rupees through the illegality over the past without any check or balance.

Of this extraordinary number of trees, Imran Khan has so far planted 10 million trees as per his claim. At the very outset, he had announced to plant these trees in one year while he recently extended the period to three years.

A conservator, who has done doctorate in forestry, told The News on condition of anonymity that hundreds if not thousands of nurseries would be required to provide such a colossal number of plants for the drive.

He said the nurseries can’t produce such a gigantic number of plants instantly but would take quite a long time to prepare them. Every tree to be purchased from them will cost around Rs30. It will be a big challenge for the KP government to have such a large number of nurseries to provide 1.2 billion trees in three years.

The total area of 2.75 million acres required for 436 trees per acre at the rate of 100 square feet space for every plant will go up considerably if pine trees will be planted because they require more area.

Some trees planted too close engage in a competition to get maximum sunlight, and in the process some become weaker and die, meaning they don’t grow for having been outsmarted by the others.

The ‘thinning operation’ has also to be done after a few years to take out the weak plant, which will strengthen the growth of other trees. This operation is also carried out to provide space for strong trees.

The trees, which are planted afresh, have a big “mortality rate” of 30pc. If 60-70pc survives, it becomes a big achievement.

The conservator said that apart from the expenses incurred on planting the tree, they will have to be looked after later as well.

The job doesn’t come to end by just planting a tree. It has to be saved from the animals and other hazards later. In the mountainous areas, the new plants have no problem in getting water due to rainfalls.

Trees like mangoes and kinnow take more space, usually occupy nearly 200 square feet space. Same is the case with poplar plants.

In KP, conservators said that areas of Dir, Swat, Haripur and Mansehra are suitable for pine tree plantation. They said that it was generally advised that somewhat grown trees should be planted as their growth rate was better.

They said that the KP government has held meetings with the official forestry experts of Punjab and others to have more plants to make the campaign a success.

Farmers in irrigated areas like Mardan, which produce sugarcane and tobacco, the two costly crops that bring instant massive money and are in great demand, are unlikely to encourage any major tree plantation because they want to get maximum yield from their fields.