KARACHI - Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has directed the Forests Department to conduct scientific inventory of state forests in the province to ascertain the land under forests, including riverine and irrigated forests.

He took this decision on Thursday while presiding over a meeting of the Forests Department at Chief Minister’s House. The meeting was attended by Adviser to CM on Climate Change Murtaza Wahab, Principal Secretary to CM Sajid Jamal Abro, Forests Secretary Raheem Soomro and officials of the P&D.

The chief minister was informed that the first ever inventory of state forests in Sindh was conducted with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank in 1994. The inventory indicated that 21 percent area or 43,000 hectares of riverine forests and 17 percent area or 13,000 hectares of irrigated plantation were under cover of productive/commercial tree species and the remaining forest area was degraded and occupied by non-commercial woody vegetation. In 2007, the Forests Department’s in-house study found that the state land covered by forests was 2.5 percent of the total area.

It may be noted that Sindh spans over 34.84 million acres, of which eight per cent (2,789,875 acres) are designated state forest land and rangeland.

The chief minister attributed decline in forest cover to multiple factors such as poor governance, weak law enforcement capacity of the fires department, decline in river flow and low priority assigned to forestry sector in financial resources allocation. He said that other factors include demographic changes, hydrological changes, market forces, a lack of alternatives of forest products and land hunger.

He said that forestry and forest management have undergone a paradigm shift globally. “Forests are now principally conserved for provision of environmental service 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 key objective of managing forests.”

Forests Secretary Raheem Soomro told the chief minister that his department had presented `Sindh Sustainable Forest Management Policy 20 19’ in the last cabinet meeting. The cabinet has constituted a committee under Forests Minister Syed Nasir Shah to give recommendations for implementation of the policy.

The main objectives of the proposed forests policy are governance of the forestry, 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 rangelands enhancement, demarcation and re-notification of state forest land and social forestry would be made on private, community and municipal land.

The chief minister said the most important objective of the forests policy should be forestry research and education. He said that scientific research and education in forestry and non-timber forestry produce and wildlife was promoted for pragmatic conservation planning and creation of jobs for graduating students and researchers.

The chief minister was told in the meeting that the new forest policy was aimed at raising 100 percent plantable area under forests in a phased manner to be opted by the local planting partners through a transparent process. During the next 15 years, riverine and irrigated plantations would be restored by 100 percent.

PLANTING PARTNERS: Under the new policy, the assets of forests department such as forest land in reserve forest areas of riverine and irrigated plantation areas would be made available after transparent process to develop forests with local people investment and expertise. Under the policy, advertisement would be published in local newspapers for maximum competition and strict enforcement of policy provisions.

The bidding process would be managed at division office level and highest bidder would choose the afforestation plan (one to five year afforestation options with maximum reward for early afforestation option) and planting partners would be paying the land rent/tariff and security deposit.

The chief minister directed the forests department to prepare a plan for conducting scientific inventory of the state forests and get his approval to start the work. The new forests policy would be implemented when sub-committee of the cabinet submits its recommendations.