Agro-Foresters of Gilgit-Baltistan (IV)

ACCORDING top priority to agro-forestry in Gilgit-Baltistan and launching of a comprehensive afforestation campaign all across the barren landscape in line with and attuned to what was coined as the ‘tree-tsunami’ in KPK is the need of the hour. The horrific impact of climate change in G-B is such that glaciers and snowfields are melting fast which necessitates addressing the environmental issues holistically being a national issue. Implementation of such a gigantic project here by the relevant federal ministry in collaboration with respective regional institutions alone could help raise the potential of this region to fight the ubiquitous climate change effects. Replication of the KPK model here in toto and in an undelayed manner would go a long way to enhance the region’s potential to come to grips with climate change on one hand whilst ushering in greenery to the barren landscape thereby making the area all the more stunningly idyllic in terms of tourism. This is also given the fact that currently, the tourist-trail or the corridor via Naran-Kaghan through undulating lush-green areas ends gradually once the this particular tour d’horizon or to put it the particular vista diminishes abruptly when visitors may cross into G-B via Babubar pass. The latter offers an experience akin to that at Khunjrab pass where the crossing from Pakistan into China leads to verdantly widening parts that too unfolding steadily.

By Syed Jamil Uddin

QUITE PROPITIOUSLY, the massive afforestation program called the ‘tree-tsunami’ already experimented successfully in the adjoining KPK province reportedly yielded unprecedented outcomes and ipso facto, needs be followed in letter and spirit in G-B and extended to this region which facing the worst environmental problems due obviously to the worldwide climate change phenomenon thawing vast  frozen snowfields and immeasurable glacial stocks here shrinking alarmingly in an absolutely monotonous barren landscape literally shorn of vegetation that radiates in consequence thereof. There remains only the scant greenery offered in the valley beds whilst the rest of the extensive area offers a mere fraction of it being under forest cover as against the 28000 sq miles that too remained subject to unhealthy practices all along in the past.

It then becomes a national responsibility to take care of the pernicious effects of the climate change in order to save the gigantic resources here from further depletion.

As oft-quoted forest cover here is horrifically sparse viewed in terms of and in juxtaposition to a mere fraction of it remaining under vegetation. It is to be seen that there is comparatively far less aridity of land or barren landscape in KPK than is in G-B. The massive tree-plantation campaign in KPK ass reportedly yielded very much tangible results in that they successfully turned the previously ‘burnt land’ into what is genuinely called ‘green gold in hand’ by planting hundreds of millions of trees all along the hilly parts previously going altogether arid – now covered by geometrically grown tress as far as the horizon – in their bid to fight deforestation and for that matter raising that region’s potential to combat climate change.

In short, the scheme is said to have transformed the whole landscape in KPK so majestically that places heretofore having sparse blades of tall grass interrupting the monotonous landscape while Gilgit-Baltistan – the principal contributor to the Indus river host to innumerable majestic tourist destinations and trails, loftiest of peaks and amazing snowfields, lags far behind with an alarmingly sparse forest cover that too has all along the past remained subject to horrific denudation. In addition, barely one percent of the total here is reportedly under agriculture whilst hardly another one it is worth rendering arduously irrigable by use of modern mountain technology alone.


To be precise, a prudent strategizing in the circumstances at the national level becomes imperative in keeping with the changing times and climes and attuned to the acceptable standards requiring an area to be under forest cover. This calls for a mechanism to remain on the anvil with the principal focus on how to turn the barren landscape of G-B maximally verdant by planting drought-resistant and resilient indigenous tree-species in simultaneous with assiduous researches in the matter of introducing exotic plants as well in conformity with the harsh climatic conditions obtaining in each here. This is primarily given the fact that the region geographically gets categorized into the upper, middle and lower zones elevationwise and topographically which calls for a campaign with a view to go ahead with the proposed tree plantation selectively. Thus the changed scenario places a great premium on and underscores afforestation and massive tree plantation for the respective regional institutions have to be appropriately strengthened and manned in to make them very well poised to work in close collaboration with the department of biological sciences KIU for efficacious and tangible results on the ground.

True, there is a litany  of complaint against the departments of agriculture and forest, fisheries and animal husbandry included, terming them to have literally gone dysfunctional with absolutely no significant results whatsoever. But nevertheless, the working of all these departments can ameliorate provided they are fittingly strengthened for giving desired results as each attaches great importance in the scheme of mountain farming here provided they are activated on scientific lines to play their crucial role acting on research-based work. The working of forest and the agriculture departments in the present landscape has become all the more crucial as afore-said insofar as mountain-farming and agro-forestry here are concerned. To begin with, myriad forest nurseries have to be established while activating those if any already in existence. There is also dire need of specifically employing plant pathologists to secure and sustain the proposed campaign by offering unhindered employment opportunities to agriculture and forest graduates – the number of the former is put at around some three hundred – sadly all of them currently going unemployed despite a vast scope in sight. Ironically, many are forced to carry out menial tasks – still a number embarked on scant business ventures to make ends meet thereby their professional studies and consequent ingenuity and innovativeness fritters away with their potential going untapped.  How much ironical it is that one such agriculture graduate hailing from Majinee mohellah in a quite dismal state, is engaged in steel work in the central Gilgit bazaar while yet another known to this scribe specializing in plant pathology is constrained to run a mobile shop obviously to eke out livelihood being the bread-winner of his family.

The sad plight of these professional degree-holders points to an alarming nonchalance and apparent apathy of those responsible for planning in the context of mountain agriculture and agro-forestry in this area where the entire population is squarely dependent and is engaged in scant agriculture for mere subsistence with a fraction of it luckily finding an job opportunity in both and private sectors – something remains elusive in this region because san any industry or other alternate opportunities compatibly available.

Reverting to agriculture and agro-forestry again, it would transpire that there has been a complete lack of concern all along in the past and this sort of lackadaisical approach which overtime resulted into innumerable problems. It may incidentally be referred to a new mechanism to giving a genuine boost to mountain agriculture id est by broadening the initiative of ‘greenhouses’ – reportedly undertaken but symbolically i.e, on a very modest scale by the concerned department – something otherwise requiring a replication in seeing that the scant agricultural land getting further fragmented with eventual decrease in per capita landholdings as a result of immense demographic pressures witnessed can be better utilized by way of innovative means by employing human ingenuity. There is therefore little land left for mountain agriculture which too remains subject to and plagued by the vagaries of wind and weather in the face of climate change phenomena. The popularization of the proposed green houses in the circumstances can help the poor farmers to a great extent, to have a perennial yield from small pieces of agrarian land in possession. As emphasized earlier, the specifically zonal plant species have to be separately and selectively be grown but massively in the proposed nurseries for their transplantation in the respective identified areas strictly in keeping with the topographic zones – lower middle and the upper. The expertise the grandiose IFAD project offers can readily and fittingly be pressed into service whilst the colossal funds available there can be pumped into the proposed gigantic scheme as well in addition to addressing IFAD’s original objective of giving a boost to agriculture by bringing the remnant one percent land under irrigation, easing marketability of the agricultural produce etc., at this juncture. It is noteworthy that given its difficult terrain in terms geography, only one percent of G-B’s land as afore-said is reportedly under cultivation while there is barely still another one percent of the total area is considered irrigable.

IFAD is reportedly pumping funds into such identifiable irrigation schemes which is so far so good but nonetheless, the gigantic task of planting drought-resistant trees massively across the barren and non-irrigable extensive area in G-B to enhance potential in fighting climate change makes a national project to be dealt with as such and monitored directly by the federal government unfailingly. True, the grand IFAD project in terms of its envisagement, is committed to bring the remaining one irrigable land under cultivation besides easing marketability of the yield but nevertheless, there is still no specific program of tree-plantation along th barren landscape akin to and like the titanic initiative undertaken by the Khyber Pakhtun Khawa (KPK) province envisaging plantation of hundreds of millions of trees all along the arid hilly tracts as far as horizon there which is said to have yielded very tangible results. The extensive monotonous barrenlandscape in G-B needs a comprehensive strategy to turn the same into green by first establishing innumerable nurseries to grow saplings of indigenous trees and shrubs suited to each zone as the area can be zoned lower, middle and the upper for the purpose. There is no dearth of drought-resistant as the species can be found in each zone which can first be grown in the proposed nurseries for transplanting them a year or so later, in the respective zone(s) albeit with the cooperation of the respective inhabitants of these areas.

To Dr. Sher Wali Khan of the department of biological sciences, Karakoram International University (KIU) – a scholar of undoubted erudition insofar as his extensive researches from botanical point of view, whose papers have by now, been published both nationally and internationally, there are innumerable indigenous plant species which can be massively grown in nurseries for supplanting a year or so later, along the given topographic zones in this region. It is nonetheless quite heartening that Pakistan Tehreek –e-Insaf (PTI) having emerged as the single largest party in the recent elections, has unveiled the program on the eve of assuming power in the centre and the province – of what they call it the ‘one billion tree-tsunami’ to be undertaken during the next five years to tackle climate change all across the country. The announcement gives great hope to the people of G-B believing sanguinely that G-B would get prioritised atop the agenda with this scheme ushering in a positive transformation soon in terms of agro-forestry across G-B where the land is almost entirely going arid with no efforts remaining afoot to turn it partially verdant. This is disregarding the fact that the climate change phenomena have worst affected this region host to innumerable glacial deposits, water-towers, snowfields which are melting faster than ever before, not boding well for the future of the country. These principal water resources need be guarded nationally with extreme care by way of beefing up the regions potential to fight climate change. On visiting the Khama glacier in the upper Bagrote in close contiguity to Gilgit city would be surprised to see the glacier having terribly shrunken or receded abnormally. This could generally be the case with all glacial deposits of varying magnitude across this region.

A senior leader of PTI and Malik Amin Aslam Global Vice President IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) are referred to as saying that PTI in its manifesto had promised to expand and restore the fractured forests of the country through a “10 Billion Tree Tsunami” spread over 5 years under principles of true forest valuation, community stewardship as well as public-private partnerships.

A top PTI stalwart was recently referred to as having divulged that unlike other political parties, his party took pride in its being the only political party holding ‘Green Promise’ in their party’s manifesto. Reportedly, the “PTI has come up with th envisagement in its 100 days agenda to launch 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Programme countrywide to tackle climate change and in order to make Pakistan greener under their Green Growth Agenda by investing in long-term adaptation to climate change, addressing the root causes of environmental pollution, strengthening institutions, planting 10 billion trees in 5 years, and by improving our disaster relief management and risk reduction etc. Thus, to them, the environmental conservation will be at the core of governance. Pakistan ranks 7th on the most adversely affected countries due to climate change. Both, climate change and environmental pollution pose a grave threat to Pakistan’s sustainable future.

Let it be hope that the new central government accords top priority to Gilgit-Baltistan in the above scheme and directs the respective federal ministry to start its flagship project in this region.


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