Cutting disgrace

Increased demand for timber in Pakistan has prompted poor tribals to sell their trees as a means of generating income

 
Published: Monday 31 March 1997

DEFORESTATION in Pakistan has increased manifold in recent years. Over-grazing, taking over of forest land for cultivation and the increased demand for timber, have led to an increase in logging operations, which has resulted in the forest cover decreasing from 14 per cent to 5.2 per cent of the total land area of the country.

Pakistan's forests can be divided into four categories - alpine forests in the mountain ranges, sub-alpine forests in the foothills of the mountains, riverine forests located in the Indus plains and mangrove forests along the coast and in river estuaries. Though these forests are mostly state-owned, better access to the forests due to more roads has led to heavy deforestation. Besides, the state forest department issues permits for their exploitation in return for a royalty on felled trees. And, while there is a rule that felled trees must be replaced with seedlings of the same variety, it is seldom observed.

Local tribes have ownership rights to the forests, mostly in the mountain regions that they inhabit. The communities have a right to decide, on the basis of a 60 per cent majority vote, how these tribal forests can be exploited. Even in these forests, for every tree felled, the forest department is to be given a royalty, which is paid by the contractors who enter into an agreement with the community. The current demand for timber has been a godsend for these tribes, who have been living amidst poverty for years. They sell their trees to contractors for substantial and quick returns.

Alarming levels of deforestation occurred in the past when cultivation along the canals in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab was accompanied by the clearing of hundreds of thousands of hectares of riverine scrub and thorn forests in the Indus plains. Livestock population has also increased sharply; between 1976 and 1986, livestock increased from 66.1 million to 87.23 million. And the numbers are increasing steadily. The over-grazing not only results in the loss of vegetative soil cover but also affects new tree growth.

Another fall-out of deforestation is the increasing price of timber. Between 1970 and 1980, fuelwood prices have increased more than four-fold. Fuelwood provides 50 per cent of the domestic sector's total energy requirements and by AD 2000, Pakistan's fuelwood needs are expected to shoot up by 100 per cent.

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