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Privatisation of Forests




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    The community of plants, predominantly of trees, shrubs and herbs, occupying an extensive area of land is called forest. The forests are classified into seven general types recognised from the nine major ecological zones.These general types include: Alpine forests (northern districts of Chitral, Swat, Dir and Kohistan), coniferous forests (Swat, Dir, Malakand, Mansehra, Abbottabad, and Rawalpindi districts and Balochistan hills), …

     

    The community of plants, predominantly of trees, shrubs and herbs, occupying an extensive area of land is called forest. The forests are classified into seven general types recognised from the nine major ecological zones. These general types include: Alpine forests (northern districts of Chitral, Swat, Dir and Kohistan), coniferous forests (Swat, Dir, Malakand, Mansehra, Abbottabad, and Rawalpindi districts and Balochistan hills), sub-tropical forests (Attock, Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Gujrat, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Mardan, Peshawar and Kohat districts, and the Sulaiman mountains), tropical thorn forests (Panjab plains, southern Sindh and western Balochistan), irrigated plantations (artificial: Changa Manga), riverain forests (Sindh and to some extent in the Punjab) and mangrove/coastal forests (Indus delta). Most of the forests are in the northern part of the country.

    Forests are rich sources of timber and other products. In timber products lumber and plywood are the most widely used materials in the construction industry and furniture. Timber provides raw material for paper, sports goods and match industry. Similarly a lot of product can be obtained from forests like honey, mushroom, pine nut, walnut, mulberry fruits, silk cocoon and medicinal products etc. Forests are also rich source of chemicals produced by trees, which are used in tanning leather and in the manufacture of inks, medicines, dyes, and wood alcohol. In addition, forests protect the land against erosion, hurricanes, floods and subsequent drought. They also play a key role in regulating the global climate and ecosystem.

    About 4.2 million hectares are covered with forests, equivalent to 4.8 per cent of the total land area, which is very small when compared with 30 per cent of the world land cover. Deforestation and changing land use pattern has resulted in the loss of precious forests. Protected forests of northern Balochistan are reported to have been harvested for timber and energy purposes. Due to over-grazing, natural reforestation of the forests has been hindered. Large areas of riverain forests have been cleared for agriculture. Illegal and uncontrolled cutting of trees has further resulted in deforestation.
    Similarly other forests are also under danger due to clearing he land for farming.. Due to the menace of deforestation, world wide 976 tree species are facing extinction. The species facing extinction in Malaysia are 197, in Indonesia 121, in India 48, in Brazil 38 and in Pakistan two tree species are facing extinction. This is in addition to loss of thousands of hectares of forests. The major threat to the country?s forests is uncontrolled and unsustainable cutting. Reasons for unsustainable commercial harvesting in state forests are: lack of political will and commitment, unrealistic forest working plans and weak implementation of forest protection laws. Between 1990 and 2005, Pakistan lost 625,000 hectares of forests which constitute 24.7 per cent of its total forest cover. This deforestation rate is four to six per cent per annum; the second highest reduction rate in the world. At this rate, the forecast is that the country?s entire woody biomass stock would be consumed by 2020.
    Honey, collected from traditional domestic bee hives, is an important source of income of local people. In addition to this, people also extract honey from the forests. Livestock keeping is an important income generating activity for the local people as they harvest fodder from the forests. People also collect edible mushrooms and morals for market purpose. Similarly they collect nuts and fruits to sale out, as an additional source of income. People also collect valuable medicinal plants from the forests for the cure of many diseases by ethno-botanic methods or sell them in the market.
    From the branches of trees, the artisans make a number of valuable household items and various types of products, like baskets, trays, grain bins and decoration items, which are attractive to national and international tourists. These economic activities depict miserable living standards of the people living nearby forests. Therefore, forests are in urgent need of protection, not only to secure the livelihood assets of the indigenous people but also to explore the resources to improve their living standards. Forest related activities have been supervised and monitored under the umbrella of public sector. In 1955, the government declared the first national forest policy followed by the national forest policies of 1962, 1975, 1980, 1988 as part of the National Agricultural Policy, 1991, and later on the latest one in 2001.
    The central concern of these policies was to extend, protect, conserve and explore the potential of forest on sustainable basis. But the picture of last decades poses a very disappointed picture as it exposes the failure of ?forest reforms? to produce desired outcome, On December 7, 2007, the World Forest Day was observed and an international call was given to foster public-private partnership in the forest sector. All international donor agencies and policy maker institutions envisaged the partnership as a tool, for efficient and sustainable utilisation of the forests. In the country, the issue is also being debated.. The NWFP Forest Policy 1999 has focused on the need to encourage the private sector. The NWFP Ordinance 2002, specifically, mentions the power to lease out to the private sector the reserved and protected forest as well as waste lands for plantations, agro-forestry and soil forestry.
    Scientists, experts and policy makers are speaking and writing about public-private partnership as a suggested remedy. A policy is likely to be formulated which, in near future, would ensure the participation of private agencies in forest sector. No doubt, there are great business opportunities in the forests which have never been fully exploited, and private sector may have lucrative offer from government side for investment. But the benefits should also be extended to the local people who are living in a miserable condition and have ancestral rights over these resources. The private sector is profit-driven and works for more and more benefits. In privatisation, it should be ensured that private sector does not deplete the forest resources in the name of sustainable utilisation of forests and does not further marginalise the local communities in the name of development.
    One has to look at the experience of the privatisation of agricultural advisory services. A recent study shows that private sector provides agricultural advisory services to the big farmers and landlords and leaves the small farmers ignorant about the latest agricultural technologies. So in privatisation of the forest sector, it is important see whether it is designed to help the commercial enterprises or to help the indigenous communities for their better living standards.
    By :Shoukat Ali, M. Arif Wattoo and Mazhar H. Ranjha

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