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Green Innovation: Revitalizing Pakistan’s Forests

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In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly declared March 21 as the International Day of Forests to raise awareness about the importance of all types of forests. March 21 is celebrated as Forest Day all over the world. It encourages people at the individual, societal, national, and global levels to participate in plantation activities and awareness campaigns to promote and protect forests. In 2024, the International Day of Forests will be celebrated under the theme ‘Forests and Innovation. By applying this, we can unlock the full potential of forests as valuable resources for biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development. 

Forests purify the air we breathe, filter water, prevent soil erosion, and act as an essential buffer against climate change. It provides a home for the world’s diverse flora and fauna and offers vital natural resources, from timber and food to medicinal plants. Forests contain many plants and trees, which help maintain the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. According to the US Department of Agriculture, it has been suggested that one large tree can provide oxygen for four people a day, and a tree can absorb 48 pounds of CO2 per year. Trees also store carbon dioxide in their fibres, which helps clean the air and reduce the negative impact this CO2 has on our environment. So, forests are the best source of carbon dioxide to absorb through photosynthesis.

More than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for food or fuel, and around 70 million people worldwide, including many indigenous communities, call forests home. Forests provide us with oxygen, water, nutrition, shelter, jobs, fuel, and security. Forests are vital to life on Earth, as ninety per cent of rural and sixty per cent of urban households use fuelwood, with other types of biomass as the primary energy source. These are also some of the most essential solutions to combating the effects of climate change. About 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, a third of which is emitted from burning fossil fuels, are absorbed by forests yearly. In this case, forests filter out air, water, and soil, reducing floods and other climate hazards.

According to FAO, forests cover over four billion hectares of land, about 31 per cent of the total land area, and 80% of terrestrial species live in forests. Russia, which has the largest forest area, accounts for one-fifth of the world’s forest area. Brazil is the only country with over 10% of the world’s forests. Forests provide an economy worth trillions of dollars through timber, tourism, cultural heritage, and trade. Pakistan has 4.2 million hectares of forests and trees, equivalent to 4.8% of the total land area. It is declining and decreasing day by day. According to Pakistan Forest Information and Data and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations FAO, 2.2% of Pakistan, or about 1,687,000 hectares, is covered by forests. Pakistan had 340,000 hectares of planted forests. Pakistan lost 33.2 per cent of its forests from the 1990s to 2010. Also, forests provide 32 per cent of Pakistan’s total energy requirements in the form of fuel wood.

In the past, the government has conducted plantation drives at various levels. In this context, most departments are working on it at the national and provincial levels. It is time to involve all stakeholders, specifically local governments, and private and public partnerships have become the need of the hour. Along with the Forest Department, the largest department known as the Mother of Institutions, the Education Department always plays an important role every year in creating awareness about plantations and providing awareness to citizens on forest conservation from the primary schools to the college level. In this case, it is the start of the spring season, and the education ministry has announced a plantation drive. Last year, in the case study of the Education Department of District Haripur, which effectively started a plantation campaign and played a meaningful role from the management cadre to the teaching cadre, students also participated in this activity, and the teaching staff also emphasized the importance and protection of plants and their fruitful results daily.

The new cadre of school leaders played an influential role, as they were recruited in 2023 by the education department to improve the quality of education in the primary sector. In this context, during this spring in March, they are again highlighting the significance of forests, the conservation of forests, and the plantation activities in schools and society during enrollment campaigns. As one school leader has 10 to 15 schools, they visit villages and towns twice a month. The plantation campaign has been started in more than 400 primary schools across the district, and the same activities are also being started in other districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They highlight the theme of forests and innovation and impart the significance of forests to kids’ minds. As they play their role at the individual and societal level, it will bring a positive change in the mindset and behaviour of citizens. However, afforestation and deforestation are the main concerns of governments at the provincial and national levels, and they need investment and the implementation of forest laws.

Plantations are the easiest way to mitigate climate change threats, which is Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 13, named Climate Action. Plantation campaigns can ensure social, economic, cultural, and environmental improvement in our society. Protecting the forest by planting new trees and providing water and protection are the duties of all citizens. Utilizing the “forest and innovation” theme offers many opportunities to explore creative solutions for sustainable forest management, conservation, and ecosystem restoration. Also, the government of Pakistan has to act according to the 2024 theme and apply modern technology to sustainable forest management practices and green technologies, promote eco-tourism, and reduce consumption. Stopping illegal logging, implementing forest laws and policies, expanding protected areas, and collaborating with international agreements like the Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC are the ways forward. Islam also emphasizes the importance of planting trees, as narrated by Sahih Muslim, ‘it is a charitable donation when a Muslim plants a tree or grows crops and a bird, human beings, or cattle eat from it’. The plantation drive will increase the forest cover, and it will be successful with the participation of all stakeholders.

In a nutshell, March 21 is the World Day of Forests, and all citizens need to play a positive role in saving Pakistan from the non-traditional security threat of climate change, which creates food insecurity, hunger, health crises, loss of biodiversity, and many more harmful impacts. It is the right time to adopt modern techniques to apply technology-driven forest monitoring, bio-based materials and products, forest afforestation and reforestation, innovative forest management systems, forest-based eco-tourism and recreation, community-based forest management, ، forest education, outreach, and cross-sector collaborations. It is time for the religious clergy to play their role, media awareness, and educational institutions to educate and enlighten the public and implement policies with innovation on a priority basis.

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