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When money grows on trees!

When money grows on trees!

Planting trees on farmlands ensure sustainable agricultural production system by conserving soil, reducing evaporation and generating additional farm incomes.Haji Niaz Ali, 50, is a farmer from Gul Bela village in Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). He earns daily bread for his six children by practicing farm forestry on his 120 kanals of land. For him, farm forestry has revolutionized his life due to lucrative profits involved. “For the past 12 years, I have been planting eucalyptus and poplar species of trees and supplying timber to particleboard, matchsticks and shuttering industry. The profits are far more as compared to what I used to earn by growing sugarcane and wheat,” he said.

He explained the mathematics involved too. “The price of sugarcane in the open market is Rs160 per maund (weight equivalent to 40 kg) and one maund of eucalyptus or poplar wood fetches Rs300-400.”

When asked how much he earns after one harvest of poplar or eucalyptus, he informed, “Each plant costs Rs15 which after five to seven years yields Rs2500-3500 per tree. I plant about 1000 trees on one acre, so if eucalyptus or poplar is planted on the entire farm (120 kanals), then after five to seven years, I will earn at least 50 million (5 crores).”

One can find the procurement officers of Medium-Density Fibreboard (MDF), matchstick and shuttering industries always on the lookout for wood. With reference to MDF industry, Mujtaba Zaidi, the focal person for All Pakistan MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) Association (APMA), informed that there is a huge appetite for wood, which has motivated the farming community of KP to plant eucalyptus and poplar trees.

Mujtaba Zaidi informed that due to high demand for wood, the price of eucalyptus and popular has skyrocketed from Rs25-30 per maund in 2001 to more than Rs325 per maund in 2017. When asked to bust the myth that whether the MDF industry is procuring wood from the natural forests, Zaidi dispelled such misperceptions and informed that the cost of procuring wood from natural forests is extremely high, such as the wood of Shisham and Deodar trees ranges from Rs400-900/Kg, whereas the wood procured by MDF industry varies somewhere between Rs6-9 kg.

Another species, Sesbania is being tried by one of the MDF industries in KP, as it can be harvested in only two and a half years. Sesbania is a leguminous species, as it helps to fix nitrogen and improve the soil content.

“The MDF is a good alternative to be used as a construction material instead of precious wood of Deodar, Shisham or Pine. People are now switching to MDF due to its competitiveness and its increased usage is directly contributing to saving the natural forests of Pakistan,” explained Mujtaba.

It is important for Pakistan to support such initiatives that can help meet domestic wood requirements and relieve pressure on the natural forests. Not to forget that Pakistan is left with only 1.9 percent of the forest cover, as confirmed by Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Statistics reveal that only in KP, up to 80,000 acres of land is forested under the concept of farm forestry. By calculating the amount of CO2 these 80,000 acres under farm forestry will sequester, it will create a carbon sink of 80,000 tons. Thus the role of farm forestry in mitigating the impacts of climate change by carbon sequestration is immense.

One can find poplar growing on both sides of Peshawar-Charsadda road, showing bright perspectives of commercial forestry.

When asked to compare this forest crop with agriculture, Mujtaba Zaidi said, “Tree plantations are the only agricultural produce generating stable economic returns to farmers for a considerable period of time.” Zaidi further explained, “On any farmland, all the trees are not planted at the same time. Therefore, at any given point in time, there are few trees maturing and getting ready for harvest. So most of the farmlands, if not all, have some of the harvestable trees available every year.”

Though agriculture contributes 19.5 per cent of the GDP in Pakistan, the output of wheat, cotton, sugarcane, maize and rice as compared to global standards is 36, 52, 51, 41 and 29 per cent respectively, thus calling for measures to increase crop productivity to generate food surplus for exports and aiming to accomplish proximity to global productivity benchmarks.

Is it not reducing food production? Mostly, forestry is being practiced on agricultural land which is not suitable for high yielding progressive agriculture due to water shortages. Tree plantations successfully grow in locations such as waterlogged, saline, undulating and gullied areas, encouraging farmers to grow trees. So trees as a substitute for agriculture does not impact food production.

As a matter of fact, if agro-forestry is promoted by planting trees on the field margins, along with the water channels, trees help reduce seepage losses and protect the soil from becoming waterlogged. Further, the trees on the sides of the land act as windbreaks and protect the crops from lodging, and they also reduce soil erosion and increase water infiltration capacity, thus adding to groundwater recharge.

Pakistan’s water drainage system is poor due to the low natural gradient, unlevelled fields, and flood irrigation system. In a nutshell, planting trees on farmlands ensure sustainable agricultural production system by conserving soil, reducing evaporation and generating additional farm incomes.

Furthermore in KP, the massive afforestation project ‘Billion Trees Tsunami Afforestation Project’ which successfully met its afforestation target of one billion trees in just three years’ time also aspires to promote commercial forestry in Pakistan.

Malik Amin Aslam Khan, Chairman KP’s Green Growth Initiative, said, “Almost 60 percent of the BTTAP target is through community-managed Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) which has taken place mostly on government-owned land (mostly reserve forests); so tree cutting is not allowed. Whereas on the remaining 40 percent, the target is achieved through plantations on new land which is mostly private land. The majority of this 40 percent area was a waterlogged wasteland and the landowners have allowed the Forest Department to carry out the plantations and also nurture it for three years under an agreement. The revenues from sustainable harvesting can be earned by the private sector and the economic incentives of cyclical afforestation will ensure the sustainability of these planted forests.”

In Punjab, an effort is already underway by the provincial government to promote afforestation and range management in South Punjab. A section 42 company under the umbrella of Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries Department is known as South Punjab Forest Company (SPFC) has been established. SPFC has offered 99,077 acres to the private sector in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh and D.G. Khan, where more than 78,000 acres have been specified for afforestation on produce sharing basis with minimum 15 percent share reserved for the government.

The company plans to engage the private sector in promotion of commercial forestry which will provide sustainable farm wood to the wood-based industry and also offer numerous ecological benefits including reducing logging pressure on the natural forests of Pakistan, creation of more than 15,000 green jobs in South Punjab, carbon sequestration of 35 million tons and plantation of approximately 40 million trees during the 15 years project duration.

It is important for Pakistan to support such initiatives that can help meet domestic wood requirements and relieve pressure on the natural forests. Not to forget that Pakistan is left with only 1.9 percent of the forest cover, as confirmed by Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). With deforestation and forest degradation contributing up to 20 percent of the annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Pakistan should improve its diminishing forest cover if it is serious to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Not to forget that Germanwatch has ranked Pakistan number seven in the list of top ten countries most vulnerable to climate change in the long-run and that the vulnerability can increase if deforestation goes unabated.

The national forest policy(URL: http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/pak149130.pdf) which was recently approved by the Council of Common Interests (CCI) also acknowledges that Pakistan has a low forest cover and that the demand for wood is almost three times higher than the potential sustainable supply. The forest policy cautions that the existing forest resources are insufficient to meet the wood demand of the entire country, thus signaling to promote commercial forestry to meet domestic wood requirements.

Pakistan’s population has witnessed 146.6 percent increase since the 1981 census and now stands at 207 million. This surge has especially taken a toll on our forest resources which is evident with a national deforestation rate of 2.1 percent (1990-2015) according to FAO and this time if we fail to sustain them, we shall completely lose our forests in a matter of decades. In this battle to save forests, commercial forestry proves to be a vital ally. This should be taken strategically by the policy-makers if Pakistan is to achieve its long-term objectives of sustainable development.

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