ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has a variety of forests which contribute 0.43% to the gross domestic product (GDP) and keep the environment clean and healthy.
Chief Conservator from North Punjab Forest Department Shahid Rasheed Awan said while talking to WealthPK that apart from regular forest management and operational machinery, local communities also get sustainable livelihood from forests.
People from local communities are hired to look after and protect forests. The same practice is also followed in Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
Sericulture promotion as a cottage industry is another segment of Forest Department of Punjab province. For this purpose, every year, seed is provided to farmers and they are also granted with permit against the minimum amount of Rs200 to pick the maple leaves from forest.
“Our sericulture department has specified places in the forests to cultivate hybrid maple trees which bear abundant leaves. These leaves are provided to farmers for silkworms. Honeybee farmers are also allowed to keep their bee hives along with the forest.
This trend is mostly found in the areas attached to the forests of Chakwal, Jhelum and Attock in Punjab,” Shahid Rasheed said.
To prevent deforestation, cutting forest trees in the tourist resort of Murree is banned since 1986. Cutting forest wood is also banned in Changa Manga, Kamalia, and Peerowal since 2014. In other forests too, the Forest Department jurisdictions are protected under different cautions.
Work on developing new national parks is in progress in Khairi Murat in Attock, Tilla Jogian in Jhelum, Ara Nature Reserve in Chakwal, and Salt Range near Lillah.
Shahid Rasheed said that Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) and Punjab Forest Department have inked an agreement to promote eco-tourism. According to the agreement, the PTDC will construct resorts, rest houses, picnic sheds in the forests. They will also be responsible for establishing appropriate infrastructure and board walks to view the flora and fauna. They will also train the forest guides from local communities.
Punjab Forest Department has also granted the full charge of Danoi and Patriata to PTDC.
Talking to WealthPK, Divisional Forest officer for Planning and Development Abdul Haq Sheikh from Sindh Forest Department said properly managed forests bring socio-economic benefits. He said many sustainable projects to support and train the local communities are also planned by the Forest Department on a regular basis.
Recently, Sindh forestry section introduced a few economically and health-wise beneficial plans. Farmers or other community members were provided with training to craft and use the biogas plants. As it is a costly project, the government funded 80% of total cost and the remaining 20% was paid by the beneficiary persons.
Women were provided with the earthen stoves especially designed to avoid the smoke causing health hazards.
The interesting side is that women were also trained to prepare this type of stoves. Free training to keep honeybees was also provided to farmers and other community members. Sometimes Sindh Forests Department also provides free kitchen gardening plants to farmers and other members of local communities. Now, the replication of these projects is carried on for better socio-economic benefits.
Sindh Forest Department has also developed its own eco-tourism plan with the coordination of Sindh Cultural Development Department. Trained guides from local communities are provided to local and foreign visitors. Sufi Anwar Shah Safari Park in Mirpur Mathelo and wetland parks are among the tourist places in the jurisdiction of Forest Department.
Zaigham Ali, Chief Forest Conservator of North Balochistan, told WealthPK that diversified forests of Balochistan are its pride.
Forest Department in Balochistan plays an active role in providing sustainable ways of livelihood to local communities and farmers. Mostly, farmers are provided with plants to care and grow. After one year, farmers are paid Rs100 for each surviving plant. Farmers are free to get as much plants as they can grow and care.
Balochistan Forest Department is also taking initiatives to promote the eco-tourism for socio-economic benefits in Pakistan. For forest visitors, rest houses are established and trained guides are provided to venture the jungles.
A plan to install a chairlift in Ziarat under the supervision of the divisional forest officer is in the pipeline. Hingol, Hazarganji, and Chiltan national parks are the famous and busiest tourist sites.
Aitezaz Mahfooz, Forest Conservator from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told WealthPK that the natural forests of KP are a worthy asset of Pakistan providing green cover to landscape and sustainable livelihood to communities as well.
The Billion Tree Tsunami Project has supported a good number of families due to the hiring on daily wages to perform multiple tasks in forests, such as grazing prevention, cutting/fire prevention, weeding, plantation, caring of regeneration etc. They are too helpful for forest rangers and guards. “Women nurseries” and “youth nurseries” are also economic support projects but not at a large scale at present.
Sometimes, the Forest Department also allows honeybee farmers to keep their hives at certain places. To increase the economic value of forests in Pakistan, Forest
Department of KP has addressed the departmental conflicts positively, and now the mutual understanding of departments is proving itself to get the benefits of eco-tourism.
“Departments like PTDC are sharing expertise and knowledge regarding this aspect,” said the official.