Forest Policies of Pakistan – A Critical Analysis, Suggestions & Recommendations

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Last Updated on May 7, 2021 by Naeem Javid Muhammad Hassani

The term “forest policy” is used in many different contexts, from a general statement of overall aim, goal or general objective of forest resource management for a country, to a fairly detailed prescription of a course of action with specified objectives for a rather narrowly defined field (Fraser 2002). In this paper, the title “forest policy” is used as a specific forest policy promulgated by the Government of Pakistan from time to time.

Introduction to Forest Policies of Pakistan

Pakistan has very low forest cover, but these forests are very diverse in nature and of significant importance for the livelihood security of millions of rural people who live in and around these forests.

Policies, institutions and processes form the context within which individuals and households construct and adapt livelihood strategies, on the other hand, these institutionally shaped livelihood strategies may have an impact on the sustainability of natural resource use. Here we will critically analyse the forest policies of Pakistan. Implications for sustainable forest management and livelihood security of forest-dependent people are also given.

The first forest policy of Pakistan was announced in 1955 followed by the forest policies of 1962, 1975, 1980, 1988 as part of the National Agricultural Policy, 1991, and the latest in 2001.

Most of the forest policies were associated with the change of government. There was much rhetoric in some recent policies regarding the concept of “participation” and “sustainable livelihoods” but in practice, these policies are also a replica of the previously top-down, autocratic and non-participatory forest policies. Pakistan needs to develop a sustainable, workable, research-based, and people-friendly

Forest Policies of Pakistan

A brief review of the past forest policies is given here:

FOREST POLICY 1894

Pakistan emerged as an independent country in 1947 and after independence timber supply was cut off from India and pressure on Pakistani forests for timber supply was increased. Pakistan inherited the prevalent forest policy made by the Government of British India in 1894. The management of forests in the Indian subcontinent was a critical issue for the British colonial government, which recognised the importance of forests as a resource with the potential to yield significant economic returns (Ahmed and Mahmood 1998; Qazi 1994).

After the colonisation of the Indian subcontinent, around the middle of the nineteenth century, the British started with their land settlement process. The state extended its control over forests through the Indian Forest Act of 1878, and as such nationalised one-fifth of India’s land area. Under this legislation punitive sanctions were introduced against transgressors, and a forest department was set up to police the forests in addition to regulating tree felling
in the areas brought under government supervision (Banuri and Marglin 1993; Hassan 2001) The spirit of that act continued in the Indian Forest Policy of 1894.

The forest service traditionally placed greater emphasis on holding of government control and the enforcement of edicts then on the needs of the communities who lived in and around forests (ICIMOD 1998). As a result, existing community rights to forest resources became proscribed. The then existing Indian Forest Policy of 1894, setting guidelines for forest conservancy, was adopted and continued to be implemented by the Government of Pakistan until 1955.

This policy resulted in a small, well-preserved public forest estate, but provided nothing for improving and extending forests. It also lacked the participation of forest communities and allowed forest rights and concessions to multiply to the point where right holders’ demands could not be satisfied without damaging forest growth. Ahmed and Mahmood (1998) assumed that this policy was an outcome of the normative-autocratic approach of the administrators and foresters trained and experienced in colonial tradition. While Khan and Naqvi (2000) commented “this form of colonial governance was effective only so far as the administration did not misuse its power and community needs for forest products were relatively limited.

In a more fundamental sense, it was flawed. The top-down, non-participatory approach drove a wedge between communities and their birthright by denying them to say in its management and subjecting them to legal process, which was often arbitrary. The unprecedented levels of degradation that country is witnessing currently, partly have their roots in it. Alienated from their resource base, communities are becoming profligate in its use.”

NATIONAL FOREST POLICY 1955

The first forest policy agenda of the Government of Pakistan was issued in 1955. The guidelines for the first policy were provided by the then Central Board of Forestry constituted in 1952. This policy aimed at increasing the area under forests.

With the introduction of the canal irrigation system, the land (closer to the canals) was reserved for raising plantations. Unused government lands were given to the provincial forest departments to grow forests. Extensive linear plantations were to be established along roads, canals and railways. Some new irrigated and linear plantations were established (FSMP 2003). But as the policy had not addressed the problems of hill and scrub forests, these continued to deteriorate.

Forests could hardly meet right holders demands for timber and livestock grazing. The policy also ignored the pressing need to afforest denuded hills and to manage watersheds and rangelands. Forest resources, particularly in the uplands, became rapidly depleted and the policy was realised to be inadequate. Ahmed and Mahmood (1998) wrote “this policy failed to play an effective role in monitoring the policy process and policy implementation. The professional norms of elite foresters trained in the British tradition continued to mould forest policies. The consultation process, if any, remained confined to professional and administrative circles.”

In 1958 the first martial law in Pakistan was imposed. The then army chief took over the control of the government and started the process of reviewing and updating the previous policies including forest policy. Thus the prevalent forest policy of 1955 was revised and replaced by a new forest policy in 1962.

NATIONAL FOREST POLICY 1962

The National Forest Policy 1962 (like the forest policy of 1955) was formulated entirely by representatives from federal and provincial governments. In this policy, some unconventional suggestions were made. These included: shifting population out of the hills, acquisition of rights of tree removal and grazing from pubic forests, compulsory growing of a minimum number of trees on private lands, encouraging farm forestry by the Agriculture Department through research, and imposing a tax on highly eroded private lands. To boost forest production, it encouraged fast-growing species and shortened rotations.

This policy went on to recommend moving people from mountains to plains in the critical watershed areas and elsewhere consolidation of scattered homesteads to currently located villages. While some suggestions were implemented, others such as the shifting of populations were found to be impractical, as it would have adversely affected the livelihood of local communities. There was no substantial increase in forest area or production and
forests continued to deteriorate as demand for wood and other products continued to increase (Ahmed and Mehmood 1998; ICIMOD 1998).

This policy also emphasised the management of public forests and was particularly concerned with the expansion of area under forests. The primary objectives of forest management, as envisaged in this policy were a generation of revenue and maximisation of yield from the forest. These forest policies served to set the tone for a top-down approach towards forest management and reinforced the notion that communities had no interest in forest management and no stake in the preservation of the public forests in particular.

NATIONAL FOREST POLICY, 1975

In 1971 the East wing of Pakistan was separated (which is now Bangladesh) and a new (democratic) government took over the control of Pakistan, in this background the new forest policy was formulated in 1975. The policy marked an important departure from the first two policies in that the drafting committee for the policy included representatives from both governmental and non-governmental institutions.

This policy was somewhat “people-friendly” policy, in that it recognised that the management of guzara forests (private forests which are managed by the state for the owners) should be entrusted to owners themselves, with the state taking only supervisory responsibilities (Hassan 2001; ICIMOD 1998). The policy recommended the formation of owners’ cooperative societies but recommended that forest harvesting should be carried out entirely by public sector corporations.

According to Ahmed and Mehmood (1998), “the only policy that has been people-friendly is that of 1975, which emphasized awareness-raising and recommended use of negative legal measures as a last resort.”

In 1977 the then government was overthrown by the military, and the new (martial law) government started the procedure of analyzing the conditions of forests, rangelands and other natural resources. As a result, the new forest policy was promulgated in Pakistan in 1980.

NATIONAL POLICY ON FORESTRY AND WILDLIFE 1980

The National Policy on Forestry and Wildlife 1980 was formed as a part of the 1980 National Agricultural Policy. After stressing the inadequacy of forest area, shortage of fuel-wood and timber, and the deplorable condition of watersheds and rangelands, it provided a listing of general statements on future forestry; suggested improvement measures included; planting of fast-growing species and fuel- wood plantations outside public forests, involvement of people for tree plantation and nature conservation through motivation, coordinated development at provincial and national levels, creation of national parks, departmental forest harvesting on scientific lines and production of medicinal herbs on wildlands (FSMP 2003).

Reasons for and approaches to achieve these objectives were never given and the policy lacked proper incentives. Resources continued to deteriorate under increasing population pressure and insufficient reforestation efforts.

In 1988, the new (democratic) government constituted a National Commission on Agriculture, which also made some recommendations on forestry. Most of the recommendation of the Commission was finally incorporated in the 1991 Forest Policy.

PAKISTAN FOREST POLICY 1991

The revival of interest in forestry as a distinct discipline has much to do with the influence of donor agencies who had become prominent players in the development initiatives in Pakistan in the eighties.

The policy of 1991 was influenced to a considerable extent by donor agencies involved in implementing forestry programmes at the grassroots level without necessarily relying on any support from the forest departments. This policy emerged after a consultative workshop of various stakeholders. It called for multiple uses and the consideration of social and (particularly) environmental objectives, although it remained vague about the means for
achieving those objectives (Ahmed and Mehmood 1998).

The main objectives of this policy, which was announced as part of the National Agricultural Policy were; to meet the country’s environmental needs and requirements of timber, fuel wood, fodder and other products by raising the afforested area from 5.4 per cent to 10 percent by 2006; to promote social forestry programmes; and conserving biological diversity and maintain ecological balance through conservation of natural forests, reforestation and wildlife habitat improvement (FSMP 2003).

This policy contained guidelines for forest conservancy. While providing for government ownership of forest lands and thereby creating a small area of public forests under the provincial Forest Department, the policy gave vast discretionary powers to the officials of Forest Departments in determining what they deemed “reasonable forest requirement.” This policy was also perceived as reflecting “the colonial form of governance these laws and institutional structures are meant to increasing the government’s income, depriving people of their rights on natural resources, and suppressing the people’s aspirations through centralization of bureaucratic powers.” (SAFI 2000).

In October 1999, the military once again took over the control of the government and General Musharraf became the new chief executive of the country. Immediately after the coup, the General announces his 7-point-programme. The devolution of power to the grass-root level was one such point.

According to Geiser (2000) “the military coup led by General Musharraf added an additional dimension to the already complex forestry reforms.” The new government again reviewed the forest policy and the outcome of this process is the new National Forest Policy of 2001.

NATIONAL FOREST POLICY (DRAFT) 2001

The new Forest Policy of Pakistan was prepared in 2001, but it is still waiting its formal approval from the parliament. This policy covers the renewable natural resources (RNR) of Pakistan i.e. forests, watersheds, rangelands, wildlife, biodiversity and their habitats. The policy seeks to launch a process for eliminating the fundamental causes of the depletion of RNR through the active participation of all the concerned agencies and stakeholders, to realise the sustainable development of the resources. It is an umbrella policy providing guidelines to the federal government, provincial governments and territories for the management of their RNR.

In consonance with it, the provincial and district governments may devise their own policies in accordance with their circumstances. The goal of this policy is to foster the sustainable development of the RNR of Pakistan, for the maintenance and rehabilitation of its environment and the enhancement of the sustainable livelihoods of its rural masses especially women, children and other deprived groups.

This policy also stressed stricter control over the public forests. According to the Government of Pakistan (2001), “this policy shall encourage the provincial governments to create, effectively managed protected area networks in areas under their control seeking the needed financial and technical assistance from the federal government.” But at the same time, this policy recognised the importance of community involvement in resource management. “Appropriate institutional mechanisms shall be devised for the collaborative management of such protected areas with the local communities in order to give them an economic and environmental stake in the endeavour” and “in the poverty alleviation and other development programmes, high priority shall be given to integrated land-use projects for the sustainable rehabilitation of RNR with the participation of organized local communities.

Such projects not only provide employment to the rural poor but also improve the environment and increase the supply of firewood and fodder” Government of Pakistan (2001).

PROVINCIAL FOREST POLICY 2001

According to the constitution of Pakistan, forestry is a provincial mandate and the provinces can make and implement their own forest policies within the framework of the national forest policy. In this context, the new forest policy of the North-West Frontier Province (which contains more than 40 per cent of the country’s remaining forests) was announced in 2001, in which the new participatory approach in forest management finally achieved legalised status.

Participation of local communities, promotion of private sector investment, and recommendations for the revision of the forestry legislation has been included. Illegal harvesting and the local need for fuelwood and construction timber have been recognised as core problems. The policy for the first time not only addressed the traditional forests but also the management of rangelands, wastelands, watersheds and farm forestry.

In this regard, the document can be seen as a trendsetter in Asia (Suleri 2002a). Nevertheless, a non-governmental organisation Sarhad Awami Forestry Ittehad (SAFI) criticised the new policy as a completely donor-driven document, giving no more than lip service to real issues, and as such that would not lead to a real change in the forest department’s attitude towards local people (Steimann 2003).

PROVINCIAL FOREST ORDINANCE 2002

It is a proven fact that none of the policy initiative or the policy in itself can be successful and effective without a legal basis. The North-West Frontier Province forest ordinance, which was promulgated on June 10, 2002, defines the institutional details for forestry in the province, following the guidelines given by the Forest Policy 2001.

The territorial staff of the forest department can now carry weapons on duty for self-defence, although only range officers are allowed to open fire. It is
interesting to see that the ordinance also provides a legal cover for the participatory approach of village land use planning and joint forest management and describes the staff’s involvement in the work with communities. For many observers, this is a serious contradiction that will result in a status quo of the present situation.

Several civil society organisations unanimously rejected the ordinance and held public protests against it. SAFI even announced to observe June 10 as a “black day” (Steimann 2003; Suleri 2002a).

It is pertinent to mention here that so far the existing laws (including the North-West Frontier Province Forest Ordinance) are punitive in nature. They provide only penalties for contravention of their provisions but do not contain incentives for compliance, as had been recommended in the National Conservation Strategy, Forestry Sector Master Plan, and forest policies of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province. According to Ahmed and Mehmood (1998), “most forest policies, until recently, have viewed people as the prime threat to the forests, and have attempted to exclude groups other than the government from decision making.”

This approach did not only affect the sustainability of the livelihood strategies of the local people but also increased the vulnerability of the marginalised sections of the communities. It ultimately led to unsustainable management of natural resources and forest depletion. Suleri (2002a) writes “the Forest Ordinance of NWFP contradicts the spirit of different policy measures. It is punitive in nature and tends to increase the policing role of forest departments.” For instance, the proposed NWFP forest ordinance designates forest department staff a uniform force bearing arms and also enhances their police powers, which go against the intent of the forest policy that enshrines the principles of participatory social forestry.

Similarly, the discretionary powers of forest officers to revoke a community-based organisation (CBO)/Joint Forest Management Committee (JFMC) agreement as suggested in this ordinance would result in uncertainty and insecurity among different JFMCs/CBOs.

Critical Analysis of the Forest Policies of Pakistan

Analysing the forest policies of Pakistan, it is found that, most of the policy initiatives, until recently, were aimed at forest conservation and ignored the livelihood provisions for local communities. However, even the conservation aspect of those policies was never implemented effectively. People’s participation in plantation and management of forests was not given sufficient attention and social and cultural aspects of forest management were ignored. The roots of this approach can be traced back to the colonial era.

Till 1975 all previous forest policies (1894, 1955 and 1962) were top-down, autocratic, aimed at saving public forests, increasing forest area by acquiring the land under the control of the forest department, enhancing public forest yield and creating more revenues from the forests. The policy resolution of 1894 depicted the sole objective of managing state-owned forests for the public benefit which meant restriction and regulation of rights and privileges of the local forest-dependent population.

The top-down (colonial) approach of governance was also reflected in the first national forest policies of 1955 and 1962. These policies recommended
greater powers to the forest department. The policy of 1962 recommended not only the enhancement of penalties under the Forest Act but also demanded magisterial powers to the forest officers. The 1975 forest policy was the first policy that recognised the people living in and around forest areas as stakeholders. However, this policy was more political in nature than being public service-oriented.

This policy remained theoretical whereas practically the attitude of an average official of the forest department remained the same as set by previous policies. He liked to exhibit more authoritarian and possessive behaviour, quite similar to a policeman. There were fewer checks and balances on the officials of the forest department regarding their own illegal actions.

The 1980 forest policy was developed under the umbrella of the military government. This policy also recognised the importance of the involvement of local people in tree plantation but at the same time, it limited the rights of local people by bringing more land under the control of the state and establishment national parks.

In 1991 there was again a democratic government in the country and it presented a “donor-driven” policy. Its focus was on meeting the environmental needs of the country in a sustainable manner. Quite similar to some previous policies it was also targeted to increase forest production and area. This policy generated concepts like forestry extension and appointment of green man (forest extensionist) who was entrusted to educate farmers to develop farm forestry and involvement of local people in the forest management.

The draft forest policy of 2001 provided the concepts such as active participation of stakeholders, sustainable forest management, sustainable
livelihoods etc. But this policy continued negative aspects such as encouraging the police like the behaviour of the forest department.

The analysis also depicts that the past forest policies (1955, 1962, 1975 and 1980) were associated more or less with the change of the governments to meet the government’s political objectives. However, the policies of 1991 and 2001, are claimed to be participatory, but the civil society organisations blamed these to be “donor-driven” policies, ignoring the ground level realities and needs of the local population

In fact, policy initiatives cannot achieve their objectives unless and until the sustainable livelihood of stakeholders is not taken care of. According to Geiser (2000), “in practice, forest resources are made inaccessible for the poor and marginalised sections of the communities, whereas the influential along with members of the timbre mafia consumed these resources at their own sweet will.”

This dichotomy created a sense of lack of ownership among the marginalised sections not only adding to their miseries but also encouraged them to adapt illegal means to meet their needs from forest resources.

The dilemma with most of the natural resources management policies in Pakistan in the recent past has been the absence of attention to human dimension aspects and a focus on a “pro-conservation” approach even at the cost of local livelihoods.

Part of the problem stemmed from the non-participatory culture that prevailed in Pakistan. The trends are changing now and today the world is no longer tied up in the “conservation” versus “development” debate. Rather a new approach “conservation as well as development” has now emerged (FAO 2001; Shackleton et al. 2002; Wily 1997).

The proponents of this approach include many governments, international donors and international lending agencies that are revisiting their “vision and mission statements” to reposition themselves in a scenario that leads to development without distorting the conservation of natural resources.

On the face of it, this trend seems very good and in this context, the journey of forest policies in Pakistan that started from The Forest Policy of 1894 to the draft National Forest Policy of 2001 (at federal) and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) Forest Policy 2001 (at the provincial level) is a giant leap. However, for any development effort to be pro-poor, good governance is a must.

Unfortunately, Pakistan (like other developing countries) lacks good governance. Although during the formulation of new policies, consultation with a group of experts has become a common practice in the recent past, yet the consultation process remains confined to the folds of professional circles.

Thus, the policies become stronger on technical consideration but lacking the required flexibility to make them work in real-life situations, presenting multiple sets of actors and factors.

Consequently, the stakeholders often find themselves in a situation where state policies either do not support or have harmful effects on their livelihood strategies.

It is in this scenario that policies do not meet the expectations of people who in turn are forced to utilise the natural resources unsustainably to secure their livelihoods. Consequently neither the developmental nor the conservational objectives are met.

Suggestion and Recommendations

The following suggestions are made regarding the forest policy for sustainable forest management and livelihoods security of forest-dependent people:

  • The forest policy should have a foundation of carefully organised policy research studies conducted by the academia of both forestry and social science disciplines. These studies will ensure the involvement of grass root level people and civil society organisations.
  • There is a need to put people at the centre of development. This focus on people is equally important at higher levels (when thinking about the achievement of objectives such as poverty reduction, economic reform or sustainable development) as it is at the micro or community level. The forest policy should ensure poverty alleviation of forest dwellers through the utilisation of a systematic approach of development i.e. training in alternate vocations (non-timber forest products), providing education, health and infrastructure development etc.
  • Provision for the identification, training and involvement of volunteer forest managers, who should join hands with the government for the management of forests may be incorporated in future policy.
  • Forestry is a provincial responsibility in Pakistan with the planning, execution and implementation of forests and range management programmes vested in provincial forest departments. Yet policy is a federal responsibility. The lack of coordination between federal and provinces leads to a fragmented forestry sector, with provinces having autonomy in forestry matters, the sector as a whole lacks cohesion and unity of efforts. It is therefore suggested that measures should be taken to improve coordination between federal and provincial governments.
  • Frequent change of forest policies indicates the lack of political will. The policies are framed by the government officials or some selected “government-friendly” NGOs without taking care of the local population. Such policies are changed with the change of governments. If the policy is not sustainable in itself then how can it ensure sustainable forest management? It is not advisable to change horses in the midstream.
  • The forest policy should be flexible enough to be adopted according to the local situation. It is therefore suggested that the management of state forests should be decentralised at the district level so that the forest management can be done according to the prevailing local condition.
  • Livelihood would be secured only if policies work with people in a way that is congruent with their current livelihood strategies, social environment and ability to adapt. People, rather than the resources they use or governments that serve them, are the priority concern. Adhering to this principle would not only ensure the provision of sustainable livelihood but would also enhance the involvement of all sections of society in sustainable natural resources management.
  • In this context, it should be realised that generation of income and employment is as important as generating government revenue alone, and forestry should be an instrument of sustainable forest management policy rather than its object, otherwise, the poor will remain mired in poverty pushing us into a spiral of overexploitation in the wake of all forest policy failures.

Corrections and Suggestions are most welcome. Please use the comment section for feedback.

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Courtesy & Credits to:

  • BABAR SHAHBAZ (Department of Agricultural Extension, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan)
  • TANVIR ALI (Department of Agricultural Extension, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan)
  • ABID QAIYUM SULERI (Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad, Pakistan)

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Naeem Javid Muhammad Hassani

NJMH is working as Deputy Conservator of Forests in Balochistan Forest & Wildlife Department (BFWD). He is the CEO of Tech Urdu (techurdu.net) Forestrypedia (forestrypedia.com), Majestic Pakistan (majesticpakistan.pk), All Pak Notifications (allpaknotifications.com), Essayspedia, etc & their YouTube Channels). He is an Environmentalist, Blogger, YouTuber, Developer & Vlogger.

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