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Rising threat of deforestation

Pakistan’s rangelands covering 52.3m hectares, or about 60pc of the country’s total geographical area, are faced with the threat of desertification, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned in a just published report.

The report deals with the current status, threat and potential of the rangelands. It estimates that more than 60pc of the rangelands are considered degraded, reverting towards desert due to excess grazing.

Over the past two decades, according to the report, the proportion of palatable species has decreased by up to 30pc, foliar cover of grass and forage by up to 40pc. Owing to climate change and other biotic factors, desertification is happening at an alarming rate, especially in the arid and semi-arid zones, affecting a total of 43.4m hectares of rangelands.

“It is a tragedy of the commons in that no one is responsible and everyone uses it to their maximum benefit”, says FAO Representative in Pakistan Patrick Evans

The report published in cooperation of Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (Parc), emphasised comprehensive rangeland policies both at national and provincial levels in order to protect and properly manage the rangelands. This should be then followed with government commitment and proper budgeting to support implementation with a focus on community empowerment and community based management.

Commenting on the alarming situation, FAO Representative in Pakistan, Patrick Evans said “it is a tragedy of the commons” in that no one is responsible and everyone uses it to their maximum benefit. Management responsibility has been entrusted to the Department of Forestry whose main focus is on trees,” Evan said.

FAO official regretted that in spite of the high value of rangelands, there is nearly a total lack of proper management. Over-grazing is a major issue, which deteriorates the range condition in terms of the foliar cover, species composition, palatability and over productivity, he said.

On his part, Minister for National Food Security and Research, Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan said rangeland improvement will require targeting and addressing the needs of nomads and transhumant that are not often well catered to by provincial livestock services due to their lower social status, as well as technical difficulties of providing services to a transient group.

The rangelands spread across various ecological zones, from tropical to alpine and sub-alpine zones. Around 60pc of the total feed for the entirety of the country’s 181.2m head of livestock is contributed by these zones.

The current productivity of rangelands is low, with most attaining less than 40pc of their potential output. Such low productivity naturally has adverse effects on the health of livestock, resulting in huge economic losses. Low productivity is mainly caused by mismanagement of rangelands, overstocking, over-grazing, and desertification. The livestock provides food security, nutrition, and livelihoods for 8m poor and vulnerable people in the rural areas.

In addition to producing fodder, the rangelands also perform a number of important functions including the regulation of water flow, conservation of biodiversity and the provision of income generation opportunities in the form of non-timber forest products for local people.

Balochistan: In Balochistan, rangelands attain on average, 28pc of their total productive potential, and the report finds there is immense scope to increase production through employing improved practices.

The inescapable fact of the matter is that the rangelands in Balochistan are deteriorating and at an accelerated rate. They are overstocked by six to seven times over their carrying capacity.

The share of rangelands in Balochsitan amounts to Rs327.09bn or 68.5pc of the total monetary value. Should they be improved to meet their potential, there is a possibility that they could support a livestock population of up to 90.5m head and the monetary value, based on the current market prices, could be raised by up to Rs1,300bn, while the share of rangelands in monetary terms could rise to Rs890.8bn.

Sindh: Sindh’s rangelands are not balanced; they are either under the control of communal heads or the government. The government-owned lands suffer from mismanagement resulting from vulnerability to adverse forces and unjustified influence from private individuals, either legally or illegally. An area of 7.79m hectares lying on both the eastern and western borders of Sindh is designated as rangeland.

The 2010 rains and floods, and 2011 rainfall are the most recent incidences of the climate change pattern which has adversely affected the people, yet they had a positive impact on the rangelands. There is no concrete government policy to manage these rangelands through the adoption of an integrated and co-managed system to enhance the productivity of range resources for the benefit of the society and the government.

The rangeland zones in Sindh include Kohistan, Thar and Nara with areas of 4.3, 2.3 and 2.2m hectares respectively, and the condition and productivity has also been declining at an alarming rate due to natural, environmental, and anthropogenic factors.

Punjab: Punjab’s rangelands cover nearly 8.28m hectares. Potentially the richest rangelands are in the Himalayan forest grazing areas of Pothwar scrub, Thal desert, Cholistan and Dera Ghazi Khan. It indicates that the rangeland management situation in Punjab is comparatively better than other provinces. However, sustainable rangeland management faces multiple constraints and bottlenecks including policy impediments and limited land use, insufficient financial resources for monitoring, lack of baseline data and absence of a sectoral and awareness policy especially for nomads and communities situated there.

Khyber-pakhtunkhwa: In KP, 4,639m hectares are under rangeland and pastures, which constitutes more than 50pc area of the province. Unfortunately, at present the range management sector is not getting its fair share in the development programme. The focus of the Livestock Department is only on livestock, health and breeding.

FATA, the range and pasture resources amount to about 1.4m hectares. Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber and Orakzai agencies, lower part of Kurram, north and south Waziristan agencies, fall within the arid and semi-arid rangelands. The majority of the mountains are extremely degraded, with barren rocks and without prominent vegetation.

Continuous overgrazing and mismanagement has resulted in the desertification of these ranges, which has negative implications on its overall production, functions and services. The frequent and prolonged drought has also badly affected the whole ecosystem. No proper survey of the vegetation has ever been conducted in these agencies, thus production of cereals from existing farmlands is meagre and local communities mostly depend upon income from livestock.

Forests and rangelands constitute about 4.1pc and 33pc of the land area of Gilgit-Baltistan and 42.6pc and 43pc of AJK respectively. They are rich in biodiversity and rare and endangered species, some of which are endemic to the region. ?

By: Amin Ahmed

Source: Dawn

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