Combating twin challenges of desertification, food security through whopping plantation

By Fakhar Alam

PESHAWAR, Oct 31 (APP): Desertification, land degradation and drought are some of the most enduring challenges being faced by the world as it cause a substantial economic loss of about $42 billion and making around six million hectares’ productive land barren every year.Pakistan is among 110 countries in world where about two-third of agricultural land and around 80 percent of arid and semi-arid lands were directly and indirectly affected by desertification, land degradation and drought. Experts feared that the country may face starvation and hunger like situation by 2040 if forests were not raised, population was not controlled and dams were not constructed.

The Sustainable Land Management Program (SLMP-Phase II), a joint project of the Ministry of Climate Change and UNDP statistical data has revealed that around 1.5 to 2.5 million hectares of irrigated land, 3.5 to 4 million hectares of rain-fed agricultural, and 35 million hectares of range lands were either becoming barren or non-productive due to desertification, land degradation and drought per year. The program has further disclosed that the underground water resources in the western dry mountains of Sindh and Balochistan were shrinking due to heavy exploitation of aquifer without any natural recharge.

Dr Muhammad Naeem, Professor Economics, University of Swabi told APP that Pakistan was among 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change and desertification and if these challenges were not tackled on priority basis the country may face hunger like situation after a few decades due to rapid population growth. He said the dry-lands of Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab are facing increased problems of desertification due to climate change impacts, improper land use practices, over-grazing, deforestation and excessive removal of vegetation for fuel. “The damages of desertification could be seen in Swabi, Mardan and Nowshera districts on Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway and Kohat, Karak, Lakki Marwat and DI Khan districts on Indus Highway”, he added.

Dr Naeem said the unlawful cuttings of forests by local communities for domestic consumption, timber mafia and conversion of agriculture land into residential colonies had aggravated the problem of desertification and land degradation.

He said the National Forests Policy 2015 has revealed that the rate of deforestation in national level was about 27,000 hectare per year especially in community owned natural forests of KP and Gilgit Baltistan, resulting an increase in dry-land areas and conversion of agricultural lands into deserts.

In order to combat desertification, land degradation and drought, the Federal Government had launched SLMP Phase-I in nine dry-land districts of Pakistan in 2007-2014 where over 12,000 hectares of degraded rangeland were rehabilitated though reseeding and community based restoration of the grazing management system. Similarly, around 8,000 hectares of additional land were brought under sustainable rain-fed agriculture and water conservation measures.

Following successful implementation of the SLMP Phase-I, the government had extended the project to 14 desertification prone districts under SLMP Phase-II in 2015 that would continue in 2021 in order to protect the fertile land from being converted into deserts. The project was implemented in high desertification prone areas of Chakwal, Bhakkar, Khushab, Layyah in Punjab, Tharparkar, Omarkot, Sanghar in Sindh, DI Khan, Lakki Marwat in KP, Pashin, Kila Saifullah, Mastung, Katch and Lasbella in Balochistan.

Gulzar Rehman, Conservator Forest, Southern Circle, KP Forest Department told APP that the southern districts of KP were prone to desertification and drought. To counter desertification and drought on basis of scientific management, he said KP’s first Range Management Policy “REDD+” (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) strategy and Green Growth Initiative (GGI) has been implemented, which are showing tangible results. He said the country’s largest “billion trees afforestation project (BTAP), was launched in KP under which about 1,208 million saplings were planted during 2014-17.

As result, 10 big and small jungles were raised in KP including Ghari Chandan in Peshawar where 3.2 million saplings were planted, registering an increase of forest covered areas to 26.3pc in 2018 from 20.3pc in 2013 besides protecting soil from erosion and agriculture lands from deserts.

Keeping in view of BTAP’s success in KP, Prime Minister Imran Khan had launched 10BTAP across the country on September 2, 2018 under which 10 billion plants would be planted in Pakistan including additional one billion saplings by 2023. Under 10 BTAP, he said that 392 million saplings were planted during the last two-year in KP. The project has been extended to merged areas where its vast land is being utilized to achieve the set target.

He said 94.31 million saplings were planted through plantation campaigns, 18.79 million saplings under seeds sowing method, 18.82 saplings through natural regeneration and 91.15 million through farm forestry in KP.

Gulzar Rehman said BTAP was the world’s fourth biggest plantation project after China, India and Ethiopia that helped Pakistan to easily surpassed the BONN Challenge’s commitment of restoring and rehabilitating degraded forests and raising new plantation on over 3,48,000 hectares.

He said additionally 252,000 hectares forest restoration’s pledge of KP government has officially been accepted by BONN Challenge in its meeting held in Brazil in March 2018. He said PC1 has been approved to convert Ghari Chandan Peshawar as ecotourism resort.

Syed Muhammad Ishtiq Urmar, Provincial Minister for Environment, Forest and Wildlife said Pakistan was among the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change and desertification and solid efforts were underway to mitigate it.

The Minister while referring to the recent landmark address of Prime Minister Imran at Middle East Green Summit in Saudi Arabia said Pakistan had faced about 152 extreme weather events over the past 10 years, which had triggered an economic loss of over $3.8 billion and the country’s future climate adaption costs were estimated at between $6billion and $14billion.

The Minister said, “Pakistan is emerged as a global leader by providing nature based solutions to all key environmental challenges of desertification, global warming and climatic changes after successful completion of first phase of billion trees project in KP.”

Besides formulation of KP’s first ever policy to combat climate change and desertification, over 593,292 hectare land was treated and about 4,509 enclosures on 306,983 hectares established under the mega project and additional one million hectares would be rehabilitated and improved across the country under 10BTAP. To combat climate change and desertification, over 2.5 billion saplings were planted in the country under 10 billion trees afforstration project including 392 million in KP.

The Minister said record Rs 3717 million were allocated for 38 forestry related projects including Rs 3581.798 million for 31 ongoing projects and Rs 135.202 million for seven new projects in budget 2021-22 with special schemes to combat desertification.

He said 85,000 jobs had been created under the billion trees project by facilitating labourers during COVID-19 pandemic and the number of jobs was expected to rise to 200,000 by next year.

He said Rs 543.985 million were earmarked for BTAP Phase-III, Rs 50 million for establishment of Forest Knowledge Parks and Rs 1542.634 million for 10BTAP’s Upscalling Green Pakistan program amounting to Rs 13,669.850 million. He said that Rs 100 million would be spent on Billion Trees Afforestation Support Project (BTASP) to be completed with assistance from KFW, adding KP government would contribute Rs462 million while KFW to provide Rs2362 million for BTASP under the Prime Minister Clean and Green Pakistan.