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Environment

Growing multiple tree species in Pakistan

A campaign should be launched for tree planting in the land available

By S.M.Alam
NIA, Tandojam
Jan-14 - 20, 2002

Trees can play a vital role in lowering groundwater levels. They draw water out of the soil from depth and stop groundwater rising to the surface lower down in the catchment. In saline areas, salt tolerant trees, grasses and shrubs can be planted to improve productivity and reduce the risk of erosion. Trees and forests render the earth's surface habitable, they determine the aspects and the climate of vast regions, and they also have other significant natural and economical functions. Living trees on earth are important source of oxygen. They prevent soil erosion and help to maintain the circulation of water on earth. They can also purify the air, dust particles, aerosols and also gases are trapped on the surface of their leaves. Primarily, they are a vital source of timber, and they occupy a vantage position in the economy of a country.

Pakistan is a developing country of South Asia spreading over an area of 80.0 million hectares (mha). The country is situated between latitude 23 and 37 and longitude 61 and 76 east. The annual rainfall ranges from 125 mm in south to 975 mm in sub mountainous and northern plains. Most of the rainfall (about 70 per cent) is received in monsoon season (July-September), however, occasional showers are also received during winter. The summer months, except in mountainous areas, are very hot with a maximum temperature of more than 40C (average) and 53C (maximum) and the winter months are mild in plains having as low temperature as 2-5C and extremely severe in hilly regions, where mercury falls below zero oftenly. Pakistan is mainly a dry country, about 51% of its land is in arid zone, 37% is in semi-arid, and 12% is sub-humid zone. Agriculture is the backbone in the economy of Pakistan. It is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings and provides food, fiber and raw material for major industries like cotton, sugarcane etc. The total area of Pakistan is 79.61 million hectares, out of which 30.37 million hectares or 38% can be used for cultivation, but presently only 19.44 million hectares or 24% is being cultivated. In Pakistan about two third of cultivated area is irrigated (75%) and one third depends upon tube wells and rain (25%).

Pakistan is the ninth most densely populated country in the world. According to latest estimates, the population of the country is over 150 million. Nearly 70 per cent of the total population of the country lives in 45167 villages spread over the length and breadth of the country. About 50 per cent of the rural population is engaged in farming, livestock and agro-based pursuits. About 80 per cent of the rural population consists of small farmers and landless people. The State-owned forest area under the control of forest departments in the country is only 458 mha, which is nearly 5 per cent of the total area of Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Annual production of timber and fuelwood is 0.482 million m3 and 0.234 million m3, respectively against a total demand of 2.65 million m3 and 22.15 million m3 or timber and firewood, respectively. Out of this demand the farmlands contribute 0.922 million m3 for timber and 19.94 million m3 for firewood, while rest of the demand is met out of state owned forests and from imports.

Because of low forest area and wood production, per capita wood consumption is also very low. It is estimated to be only 0.024 m3 of timber and 0.2 m3 of firewood per annum. Moreover, on the basis of these estimates, 35 per cent of timber requirements and 90 per cent of firewood needs are met from tree growth on farmlands. Due to shortage of local wood resources, substitute wood materials are being increasingly used in place of wood in many sectors of economy. Forestry in Pakistan has a checkered history. Pakistan falls on the route of scores of invasions and migrations, which took place during the course of couple of centuries from its western borders. The people settled in valleys and plains as a result of battles and wars, where they made their dwellings and converted the forest lands to agricultural fields after heavy destruction of natural vegetation. Again at the time of independence in 1947, the country did not inherit rich forest lands. The total afforested area excluding the forests in the states, which had not yet acceded to Pakistan was only 1.4 million hectares.

The situation was further aggravated by mass migration of the Muslims from across the border. A construction boom was inevitable to meet the requirements of the people. The development of modern infrastructure reduced the distance between the consumer markets and the hinterland. Axe fell more heavily on the private forests. The forests left in the remote covers, which were saved due to inaccessibility and trees planted during the last forty years are; now meeting the ever increasing annual needs of more than 145 million people of Pakistan. Due to merger of the states into Pakistan, take over of some unclassed forests, establishment of irrigated plantations in new barrage zones and extensive planting of avenues, the forest area grew to 2.9 mha in 1975. Now out of the total land area of 79.61 mha, 4.58 mha or 5 per cent of total area are covered with forests. This compares quite unfavourably with several other countries of the region: Malaysia 64.5 per cent; Sri Lanka 42.48 per cent; India 23.7 per cent, China 17.7 per cent and Bangladesh 15.3 per cent.

The other indicator of forest resource adequacy is the per capita forest area. In Pakistan, the per capita forest area is hardly 0.05 ha, which is far less than the world average of about 1.0 ha. It is, however, worthwhile to mention here that the scientific management of the forests and raising of plantations was started just over a century ago. The emphasis on conservation was totally disregarded during the first and second world wars, which took a heavy toll of existing forests to feed and fuel the machines. This resulted in over-exploitation of the accumulated forest growth in the accessible areas. Also at the time of land settlement certain rights of the local people were admitted for timber, fuelwood, grazing and grass cutting. There are a number of factors responsible for low wood production in the country. Firstly, Pakistan inherited a very small forest area at the time of independence. Secondly, most of the land area in the country is arid and receives too low precipitation to support tree growth.

Moreover, in view of the importance of agriculture, forestry sector was given low priority despite the fact that the population has increased three-fold with the concomitant rise in living standards of the people during this period. Lack of awareness regarding importance of forests in the agricultural sector economy has also been responsible for forest devastation and low priority given to the development of this resource. There is a growing awareness that woody perennials can and must play a prominent role not only in maintaining the sustainability of many land-use systems, but in meeting the farm-fuelwood needs. In Pakistan, the farmers have been raising and maintaining trees on their farmlands for a number of purposes. In this regard, examples could be quoted from lower Sindh, where Acacia nilotica (Babul) is raised by farmers on saline soils in the form of block plantations locally "Hurries", Poplar in Mardan district of NWFP in the form of boundary planting, Eleagnus hortensis (Sinjad) in Mastung valley of Balochistan and in the form of windbreaks and scattered trees of Acacia nilotica and Zizyphus mauritiana in agricultural fields are retained in throughout the Pothwar plateau.

All the species described above have been selected by farmers themselves for a variety of uses, but the main idea behind this tree growth is not to promote forestry, but to sustain agriculture. Whatever, the idea behind tree growth on farms may be, farmers would have to be encourages for planting trees on their farmlands in order to release state forests from the existing pressure on one hand and to generate additional income for poor farmers on the other. Our farmlands are already contributing significantly in the supply of wood in the country, e.g. 34.8 per cent of timber and 90 per cent of firewood requirements are met by farmlands. Farmers in our country are market oriented, they are ready to accept trees particularly fast growing species that could be harvested in 3-5 years, as a source of income. Farmers are less interested to see the trees as a source of ecological stability. One way to ensure that farmers commit themselves to long-term tree care and protection is to choose species that can be interplanted with food crops.

Moreover, while recommending species for intercropping one should also keep in mind the general belief of the farming community that trees harm their crops through shade, competition for food and moisture and they harbour birds, which damage the crops. Such negative thinking could only be nullified if prototype experimental trials are carried out on farmers fields. Such demonstrations would enhance the interest among farmers and minimize their negative attitude towards tree planting. However, criteria for selection of right type of species will vary accordance with the ecological conditions of the area as well as needs of the farmers. Besides, the following points will also have to be considered for site selection and ultimate objective of such planting. Alignment and spacing will also vary with the objective of planting. In alignment, one will have to keep in mind the direction of sun and wind while for spacing the requirements of crop growing alongwith trees and tillage requirement would also be considered.

Planting of tree species may or may not be suitable on a particular piece of land. In this case, the best and productive land-use will have to be considered. Considering the important and varied roles that tree can, and are expected to play it becomes imperative that the trees be multipurpose ones. Vergara, 1984 enumerated the following desirable characteristics of multiple trees: i) Multiplicity of uses for the leaves, flowers, fruits, and woody parts of the tree; ii) rapid rate of growth to reduce the waiting period for the products; iii) nitrogen-fixer so that it can contribute much to the rehabilitation/improvement of the soil; iv) deep rooted so that it can effectively stabilize slopes, so its roots do not compete for nutrients and moisture with the shallow roots of annual-food crops, and so it can reach lower water tables and survive during dry periods; v) light-crowned so it does not totally shade the intercropped food plants; vi) not aggressive colonizer so that it does not dominate the whole area and push out the desired annual food crops, vii) coppicer so that it can regrow after periodic cutting without requiring replanting.

Some of the multipurpose tree species of Pakistan are: Acacia catechu (Katha); Acacia modesta (Phulai); Acacia nilotica (Babul, Kikar); Aesculus indica (Ban khor); Ailanthus altissima (Asmani); albizia lebbek (Siris); Acacia procera (White Siris); Azadirachta indica (Neem); Bauhinia variegata (Kachnar); Casuarina equisetifolia; Cassia fistula (Amaltas); Cedrela toona (Tun); Dalbergia sissoo (Shisham); Eucalyptus carnaldulensis (Safeda); Eucalyptus citriodora; Eucalyptus tereticornis (Safeda); Eucalyptus microtheca (Safeda); Grevillea robusta (Shah Baloot); Juglans regia (Akhrot); Leucaena leucocephala (IPLE-IPLE); Mangifera indica; Melia azedirachta (Bakain); Morus alba (Toot); Prosopis cineraria (Jand); Robinia pseudoacacia (Wallayti kikar); Salmalia malabarica (Simal); Sapindus makurossi (Retha); Sapium sebiferum (Mom cherbi); Sesbania sesban (Jantar); Schinus molle (Kali Mirch); Tamarix aphylla (Farash); Zizyphus mauritiana (Ber); Hybrid poplar (Poplar), etc.

Adequate tree growth exists on private and communal lands, in public sector areas and on farmlands but still a considerable potential remains untapped. MPTS can be raised on farmlands in the form of shelterbelts and wind breaks, road and canal sides, on village common land and waste lands, on saline and water logged areas, in urban areas, in schools and cantonments and also for the sake of establishing woodlots near urban and rural centres. MPTS plantations have innumerable benefits such as: i) Betterment of environment; ii) reduction of pollution; providing the basic needs of rural and urban people for fuel, small timber, manure, leaf and other economic products near to home; iii) providing shelter for insectivorous birds in the farms; iv) protection from wind; v) conservation of moisture; vi) prevention of soil erosion; vii) full utilization of land unsuitable for cultivation, employment opportunities in rural and urban areas; viii) reduction of noise, ix) reduction of pressure on state forests. These benefits alongwith others could be obtained successfully and to be raised on scientific techniques and necessary attention is paid to the following points:

A campaign should be launched for tree planting in the land available with schools, hospitals, colleges, universities and other public buildings. To accelerate the pace of planting in these institutions following measures are suggested: i) Training of teachers both in service and pre-service in forest conservation problems and the practices and methods of teaching them, inclusion of tree planting in established courses, development of forest conservation units, improved and simplified text books, and supplementary teaching aids, written and audio-visual; ii) assisting schools and colleges in preparing conservation programmes, distribution of planting stock and teaching proper planting methods; iii) formzation of nature appreciation, landscape improvement and afforestation clubs in the schools and colleges would go a long way to insulate love for trees amongst the youth.

The establishment of farm plantations is being encouraged within Pakistan in order to supplement or replace the supply of hardwood timber and pulpwood from native forests, at the same the diversifying farming operations and providing additional farm income. The area and quality of land available for plantation establishment are often limited by a reductance among land owners to commit substantial areas of productive agricultural land to tree growing for periods of one to several decades, with relatively uncertain returns. Commercial forestry in Pakistan has traditionally been centered in the higher rainfall, coastal and mountain forests, while slower growing, drought-tolerance tree species of lower commercial value are typical of the drier inland areas.