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2 million trees destroyed every year

Hundreds of thousands of wooden boxes are used for fruits and vegetable exports

June 11 -17, 2001

Environment still much remains a topic good only to evince intellectual prowess, win academic discussions and organise walks which have become so vogue in Pakistan. However, even these feel-good activities, with added attraction of self-promotion thrown-in, failed to elicit an appropriate response from powers-that-be to celebrate June 5 as the World Environment Day, which has come and gone without making the least stir.

With an apathy running so deep and an indifference bordering on callousness it would not come as surprise to many to learn that an estimated 2 million trees are destroyed with complete impunity in Pakistan. In last five years some 10 million, repeat ten millions trees, have been destroyed to manufacture wooden fruits and vegetables boxes, not only from farm to markets within the country but also for export purposes.

The degradation of environment with complete impunity such as above is not only self-orchestrated it also spells doom for a country like Pakistan reeling from an already acute shortage of forest cover about 5 per cent compared to the internationally accepted standard of 25 per cent.

Using wood for fruits and vegetables has been banned in many countries around the world. In fact, wood crates have become passe' across the world. And yet the practice goes on unabetted in Pakistan destroying whatever little trees we are left with amidst an already precarious forest-cover ratio.

The theme of this year's World Environment Day was 'Connect with the World Wide Web of Life.' The silence with which June 5 was unceremoniously come and go speaks volumes about the importance which we attaches to environment as a nation and the fact that environment in practical term means nothing at all to us. Again, what do you expect from the government and a people which fails to take notice of massive slaughter of trees for petty economic gains at the cost of irreversible environmental damage.

Driven by economics

Chairman of Fruits, Vegetables Processors and Exporters Association, Mateen Siddiqui, confirmed that hundreds of thousands of wooden boxes are used for fruits and vegetable exports. Though exports of fresh fruits in wooden crates have never been subjected to governmental ban, five years ago the exports of fruits, particularly Pakistan's signature citrus fruit 'Kino', was done in paperboard cartons. At present, fruits are exported to all destinations including some of the major markets like UK, Singapore, Dubai in the crude wood cartons. He said that previously wood cartons were made of kekar wood. However, the acceptance of wood cartons by the importers in the international markets was made possible by the increased use of eucalyptus wood, which unlike kekar, is fungus-resistant even when moisture seeps in.

Just as there is no restriction to export fruits in wood cartons from Pakistan there is no restriction to import it in these major markets. However, the things would not remain so easy in the near future if Sri Lanka is any indication. Till recently Sri Lanka like all other fruit importing countries had no qualms to accept delivery in wood cartons. However, today it only imports fruits from Pakistan in paper cartons. Mateen told PAGE that Singapore which at present still imports fruits in wood cartons from Pakistan may prefer to go the Sri Lankan way as wood carton unlike its paper counterpart is not bio decomposable and as the only decomposing method, burning, causes air pollution.

Mateen said that the widespread use of environmentally unfriendly wood cartons is driven more by economics than anything else. For instance, a wood carton which can carry as much as 10 kilogram weight costs just Rs 11-12 compared to Rs 55-60 for the same-strength paperboard carton. Hundreds of thousands of wood cartons are used to export fruits, including high volume kino as well as mango, just to Dubai, the biggest dumping market of fresh Pakistani produce.

Mateen said that exports of fruits in wood cartons should be banned for another reason the crudely made fixtures diminishes the value due to their repulsive looks. It also dimishes the value of fruits irrespective of quality. On the other hand, the paperboard boxes though a bit expensive, can help fetch far better prices, he added.

Environmental impact

Forest, the collective habitat of trees, copse and plantations, supports human and animal life in many beneficial ways. They release the most vital ingredient of life, oxygen, into the air. Without trees, the quality of the air that we breathe would not be as healthy to take an immensely unhealthy toll on our lives.

Forests, and for that matter trees, also help cool the land to enhance rainfall. They also slow down wind evaporation. Absence of forests, or trees, render atmosphere much more drier to cause respiratory problems, a problem not unfamiliar to tree-lacked urban populace of the country.

Forests help prevent erosion of land to act as a barrage against flood and rainfall. Without forests the rain and snow melting during summer would result in droughts on one hand and floods on the other as the soil is stripped of nutrients. In addition, deforestation results in washing the silt down to canals which not only adversely affects the agricultural production but also burdens the economy with substantial sums for canal cleaning.