RIPHAH Institute of Public Policy (RIPP) and PRIME Institute jointly organized a roundtable policy discussion on “Forests Policy” to mark the “International Forest Day” on Monday, 21st March 2016 at the RIPHAH Campus, Rawalpindi.
Guest speakers included DIG Forests, Ministry of Climate Change, Abdul Munaf Qaim Khani; former IG Forests Basheer Wani, Director Bioadversity Ministry of Climate, Naseem Ashraf Raja, Dr. Masood Raja University of North Texas, Ali Salman, Executive Director PRIME and Dr. Rashid Aftab, Director PIPP.
The experts in presentations highlighted the importance of forests in protecting biodiversity and entire ecosystem.
The expressed the concern over dwindling forests of Pakistan and said that by the end of 2015, the country had missed MDG target of achieving 6% forest cover. It will need 15 years (by 2030) to meet the 6% forest cover target. The country theoretically owns 0.033 hectares per capita of natural forest which is just 3% of the worlds average, one hectar. Pakistan loses 27,000 hectares each year due to deforestation. The deforestation rate is 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent annually- which is the highest in the world.
They noted with concern that forests are constantly on the decline mainly due to various factors including harvesting, fuel consumption, timber (construction, furniture and other needs), cooking (82%), water heating (9.8%) and space heating.
In 2015, projected wood consumption was 51.72 million m³, fuel wood consumption is 37.26 million m³ and for timber 14.47 million m³ with forest growth estimated only at 14.4 million m³ creating shortage of approximately 35 million m³.
Approximately, 66% of forests in Pakistan are state-owned and whereas 34% forests are privately owned.
According to the FAO statistics, 85% forests are state owned, and 15% are privately owned. The speakers were very right in saying that the timber business (legal and illegal) is the main reason of forests decline. The government control over the forests meant a re-allocation of forest resources away from the needs of local communities, and towards urban and industrial needs.
The community holds de facto control over most of the forests, they maximize present harvest due to uncertain future. On the other hand, state holds its control through re-plantation and through timber business. This in turn aggravates the fear among locals of losing their property and they increase their harvest. Thus a vicious cycle has been set up threatening the foundations of ecological system.
Some of the experts on the occasion suggested that the state should completely nationalize the forests, start public-private partnership through elaborate agreements on the use of forest land, harvest schedule and marketing of forest products and draft elaborate rules for defining forests as commons property, which is “a way of privatizing the rights to use a resource without having to divide the resource into individual holdings.
The seminar also discussed various options available with the government to conserve the national forests in collaboration with local communities. The audience appreciated Riphah Universitys initiative to facilitate the government and academia to collaborate and find solutions for the most concerning issue of deforestation in country.
Dr. Masood Raja, Professor at University of Texas, responded to the various options discussed in the forum. He emphasized is that privatization is not the solution for the current problems. He was of the opinion that government can significantly make an impact because it doesnt have a profit-motive in its initiatives.
In his remark, A.M. Kaimkhani, DIG Forests, mentioned that deforestation is mainly caused by the four factors including increased adoption of technology, forest fire, trading timber and infrastructure development. However, he asserted that after UN Climate Change Conference 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz has issued several directives to ensure that the government is keenly working to curtail the impact of climate change and deforestation. He further apprised the audience with the fact that though environment is a provincial subject, the central government is actively working in coordination and monitoring of the provinces.
The ceremony was concluded with the remarks of Dr. Rashid Aftab, Director Riphah Institute of Public Policy, that a technical session would be held at the Ministry of Climate Change to discuss the draft forest policy and propose intervention in consultation with Riphah.
During the discussion, the participants were unanimous that further efforts should be made to raise awareness of the importance of forests. They said that the value of this resource becomes much importance as to prevent landslide and erosion.
The percentage of land area in Pakistan is about 5% which is much lower to the regional countries like Bhutan, Nepal and India the cover is 72%, 40% and 24% respectively. There is strong correlation of forest cover with socio-economy fabric of the society. Predominantly environmental values considered under the other themes. The value goods and services from forest and energy supplies as well as international trade are some economic factors rests in the forests while economic benefits are usually measured in monetary terms.
They also said that the economic viability or sustainability of the sector can be assessed by measures such as the profitability of forest enterprises or the level of investment. On the other hand the social benefits and aspects may include the human capital employed forest related activities and to protect; landscapes, preserving cultures and recreational values are immense important for sustainable development and management of forest. Due to recent trend of climate change and the two main variable of the ecosystem rich with biodiversity i.e. temperature and precipitation has increased the vulnerability of the forest hence their preservation, development and stability has to be observed through holistic approach as Pakistan is facing serious challenge with respect to imbalance between loss and gain and this lost is about 90 per cent. The event remained very positive as it play a role in not only in creating awareness about the vitality of forests but also realize the stakeholders to further their efforts for the protection of environment the country.