IMPORTANCE OF FORESTS IN ECONOMY

M.R. CHAUDHRY
May 19 - 25, 2008

Forestry is one of the most neglected sub-sectors of Agriculture in Pakistan. Pakistan is thus a forest deficient country, with 4.2. million hectares (4.8 percent) of forest area out of 87.98 million hectares of total land mass. Though the forest source is scanty, it still plays an important role in Pakistan's economy, providing employment to half a million people, supplying 3.5 million cubic meters of wood and catering for one third of nation's energy needs. Besides, forests and range lands support about 30 million herds of livestock. During the year, 2002-03 forests have contributed 298.79 thousand cubic meters of timber and 490.95 thousand cubic meters of fire wood.

Here it would be interesting to give some account of forests in Canada. According to a Forest General, forests cover an area of almost 10 million kilometers in Canada despite it has the lowest population density in the world. Half of its total landscape is covered by forests. As a whole the forests of Canada contain 140,000 species of plants, animals and micro-organisms. Their ecosystems offer habitat for wildlife, restock the earth's atmosphere with fresh air, produce oxygen and store and absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, and help to clean water from pollution, provide protection against flood, mudslides, land erosion, supply timber, medicines, food and jobs for a good number of people.

Most of its forests are the public ownership. Only 6 percent are privately owned. Only 8 percent of these forests are legally protected from large scale industrial development. Canada leads the world as the largest timber exporter. Forests play an important role in the socio-economic life of Canadians. Among several benefits, Canada's forests provide aesthetic, economic, environmental, historical and recreational advantage.

Reverting to the position of forests in Pakistan, a national document has identified different strategies and programmes for the conservation of national resources on the basis of eco-system management project through the participation of local communities at all levels of planning and implementation of master plan.

The Ministry of Environment, Local Government and Rural Development organizes tree plantation campaign twice a year at the spring and monsoon seasons. The Federal and Provincial Governments are implementing a number of forestry projects at a cost of Rs.6.9 billion under the umbrella of Forestry Master Plan.

According to Pakistan Agricultural Statistic Book 2002-03, the position of forestry in Pakistan (2002-03) was as under:

Total land mass:

87.9 million hectares

Forest area:

4.2 million hectares

Punjab :

3.7 million hectares 

N.W.F.P.

1.3 million hectares

Balochistan

1.1 million hectares

A.K. :

0.567 million hectares

Northern Areas:

3.616 million hectares

Sindh :

1.16 million hectares


Employment: contribution:

0.5 million people

Wood :

3.5 million cubic meters

Livestock support :

30 million cubic meters

Timber :

298.79 thousand cubic meters

Fire wood :

490.50 thousand cubic meters

Wood forest export :

US$ 1.5 billion

Wood products :

US$ 7.5 billion

The World Forest Day, as in other parts of the world, was celebrated on March 21, 2008 in Pakistan in order to create awareness among the people about the importance and benefits of forests including ecological balance, environmental safety, bio-diversity, controlling desertification, land erosion, land sliding, increasing soil organic matter etc.

Pakistan, being a signatory of the United Nations convention on climate change, Kyoto Protocol, is endeavouring to enforce the provisions of these conventions with the spirit of the UN's theme for the year, 2008: "Biodiversity and Climatic Change" with an objective to alleviate the threats and possible adverse effects of climate change and safeguard biodiversity.

According to a Forests Department's sources, the government of Punjab is going to launch a mega project worth Rs.3.67 billion for the expansion of forests and protection of wildlife. The area of forests will be expanded over 100,000 acres in Punjab by planting 22 million trees under a 6-year programme. Besides, the governments has set new targets for increasing forest cover from the existing 4.8 percent to 6 percent by 2015 under the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and increasing the existing protected area by 11 to 12 percent.

Trees keep the climate moderate, clean and pleasant. One mature tree emits 4.6 tons oxygen and simultaneously absorbs 6.3 tons carbon dioxide, provides 55 kg organic matter to the soil and retains 30,000 liters of water annually. These figures are based on research carried out in Germany. It is further pointed that one fully grown tree gives off oxygen sufficient for 36 infants and 10 trees are adequate to provide cooling effect equal to one ton Air Conditioner. By increasing the population of trees in the country, we can contribute a lot to the upkeep of health of our population, ease the adverse effect of extreme climatic conditions and can save a substantial amount of money which otherwise is spent on health-care of our people affected by atmospheric pollution.

An approximate area of 1.69 million acres in Punjab is covered by forests, out of which:

0.17 million acres have coniferous forest
0.64 million acres have Scrub forest
0.37 million acres bear irrigated plantations
0.15 million acres are Riverine forest
0.32 million acres are Range land
47,307 KM linear plantation on canals, roads and rail-sides.

According to an estimate there are 17 trees per acre. Late Mr. Wyne, when he was the Chief Minister, had offered some incentives to farmers engaged in increasing number of trees at their lands but on his death the scheme remained no more operative. The provincial governments should make such schemes, tempting and motivating farmers to expand agriculture forestry particularly on lands, which are not so productive for major crops.

In all progressive countries including China environmental protection is an important subject taught in their schools, colleges and universities. The scribe understands that this subject has been recently introduced in our colleges and universities. The need is that it should be taught right from its grass root level i.e. from the primary level to the university level so that our young ones become environment friendly and may not hesitate to promote forestry especially in rural areas, mountainous areas, in their home gardens and lawns.

Agriculture, Canals, Highways and Forests Departments, Extension Service of Forests and Environmental Protection Cell should work together in unison for tree plantation, especially during the two tree plantation seasons and their post-plantation care till they mature. Print and electronic media can play a very important role in creating interests amongst the masses in this regard. The will of the government is the first and foremost needed.

It is sincerely suggested that environmentalists, NGO's and Forests Officers should personally give briefing to students at all levels from schools to colleges, universities and to rural communities to create amongst them interest and awareness. If consistent and constant efforts are made, with devotion and dedication, in a systematic and result-oriented way, much better results can be achieved in increasing and expanding our forests and tree population. Religious scholars can also be included in persuading the masses for the purpose as planting a tree in this world is considered good for both the worlds.

Simultaneously, standard nurseries should be promoted in urban and rural areas, where all types of plants, saplings including horticultural plants, shady trees and plants for decoration may be available at affordable prices. These nurseries can work efficiently if all the concerned departments facilitate their establishments and help them in the procurement of inputs including seeds, seedlings, medicines, fertilizers and irrigation water. Such ventures will increase employment opportunities, reduce poverty and will go a long way in socio-economic development of our people.