KARACHI: Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah directed the forest department on Tuesday to make a scientific inventory of state forests in Sindh to ascertain the land under forest cover, including riverine and irrigated forests. The decision was taken during a meeting at the CM House, which was attended by CM's Adviser on Climate Change Barrister Murtaza Wahab, Principal Secretary Sajid Jamal Abro, Forest Secretary Raheem Soomro and officers of the planning and development department.
The CM was informed that the first inventory of state forests in Sindh was conducted with the assistance of the Asian Bank in 1994. The inventory indicated that 21 per cent area or 43,000 hectares were riverine forests and 17 per cent or 13,000 hectares were of irrigated plantation which was under cover of commercial tree species while the remaining forest area was degraded and occupied by non-commercial woody vegetation. In 2007, an in-house study of the forest department found that the state land covered by forests was 2.5 per cent of the total area. Sindh spans over 34.84 million acres, of which eight per cent or 2,789, 875 acres are designated as state forest lands and range lands.
The chief minister attributed the decline in forest cover to multiple factors such as poor governance, weak law enforcement capacity of the forest department, the decline in river flow and low priority given to the forestry sector while allocating financial resources. According to him, other factors include demographic and hydrological changes, market forces and lack of alternatives to forest products.
The CM said that forestry and forest management globally have undergone a paradigm shift. Forests are now principally conserved for the provision of environmental science such as climate regulation, soil and water conservation, biodiversity conservation, pollution control and protection against natural disasters. "Providing timber, fuel wood and fodder is no longer considered the key objective of managing forests," he said.
New forest policy
Forest Secretary Raheem Soomro told the CM that his department had presented the 'Sindh Sustainable Forest Management Policy 2019' in the last cabinet meeting and the cabinet has constituted a committee under Forest Minister Nasir Shah to give recommendations for the implementation of the said policy.
The main objectives of the proposed forest policy include the governance of forests, climate change mitigation and ecosystem service and riverine forests and irrigation plantation under which investment in environmental forestry areas would be encouraged. Mangrove forests and range lands enhancement, demarcation and re-notification of state forest lands, social forestry- this forestry would be made on private, community and municipal lands - were included in the policy as well.
The CM said that the most important objective of the forest policy should be `Forestry Research and Education'. He said that scientific research and education in forestry of non-timber forestry produce and wildlife must be promoted for pragmatic conservation planning and to generate career opportunities for graduate students and researchers. The CM was told that the new forest policy was aimed at raising a 100 per cent plantation area under forest in a phased-approach to be opted by local planting partners through a transparent process. During the next 15 years,Riverine and Irrigated plantations would be restored by 100 percent.
Under the new policy, assets of the forest department such as forest land in reserve forest areas of riverine and irrigated plantation areas would be made available after a transparent process to develop forests with local investment and expertise. Advertisements would be published in local newspapers for maximum competition and strict enforcement of policy provisions
The bidding process would be managed at the division office level and the highest bidder would choose the afforestation plan (one to five year afforestation options with maximum reward for early afforestation option) and the planting partner would be paying the land rent or tariff as well as a security deposit.
The CM directed the forest department to prepare a plan to build a scientific inventory of state forests and get his approval to start the work. The new forest policy would be implemented when the sub-committee of the cabinet submits its recommendations.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2019.