The number of trees on the planet has nearly halved since the dawn of human civilization. Today deforestation continues at the rate of around 15 billion trees per year. This is despite the importance of trees for society and the environment: trees keep soils moist, prevent floods and provide shelter, store carbon, beautify landscapes, protect water sources, increase biodiversity, improve conservation and induce human wellbeing. With this in mind, efforts are being undertaken around the globe to slow and reverse deforestation, and encourage afforestation as well as the protection of the existing forest resource.
The Billion Tree Project was established in 2014 by the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the four administrative provinces of Pakistan. The project aimed to rehabilitate and expand the forested areas in the region, setting up synergies to unlock green growth within the forestry sector.
A central tenet of the project is the establishment of tree nurseries throughout the territory. Here seedlings were raised in preparation for plantation. Initially a number of publicly funded nurseries were opened by the 28 ‘Forest Divisions’ in the province. Private persons were then encouraged to replicate this model and set up their own nurseries. In the first phases of the project over 13,000 Private Forest Nurseries were established.
Within the plantation phase, Forest Division staff and community organisations jointly selected suitable areas of land and choice of species. Priority was given to sites where the land needed to be rehabilitated, such as areas suffering accelerated soil erosion, water logging and salinity. Areas located alongside roads, canals and railway tracks were also identified for planting, transforming them from wastelands into productive sites for timber, fuel wood and fodder.
Extensive block planting also took place in and around existing forested areas. Within the broader strategy of improving the health of forest areas, a number of forests were enclosed in order to prevent grazing, fire hazard and trespassing to promote and assist natural regeneration.
Regarding capacity building, the province conducted a series of trainings which were attended by over 7500 farmers, community members and local staff. The project succeeded in providing support (advice/consultancy) and new revenue opportunities to farmers in agro forestry or nursery management and also engaged hundreds of thousands of people in plantations and carrying out enclosures, and soil conservation.
Between 2014 and 2017 in total over 200,000 hectares were treated and over 1.183 billion tree seedlings were planted and grown in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
The Billion Tree Afforestation Project was initiated as part of the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s ‘Green Growth Initiative’. A Task Force arranges policies for Green Growth within six priority/focus areas: Forestry, Protected Areas, Clean Energy, Climate Resilience, Water/Sanitation and Waste Management.
The Project has been recognised by the BONN Challenge, World Economic Forum, COP21, Asian Protected Areas Partnership, IUCN and the WWF for its successful implementation.
According to the third party monitoring, the project made ‘excellent’ progress, in the face of very ambitious targets. After the second of three project phases, the project was on track to hit or go beyond most targets related to trees planted, assisted natural regeneration and jobs.
The project was able to roll-out very quickly across a large and diverse province. The implementation itself was generally successful with high survival rates for trees in the plantations.
Given the speed and scale of the project it is perhaps unsurprising that limitations of skills and expert knowledge was noticed, especially in more advanced practices such as integrated watershed management, bioengineering techniques and social mobilisation.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has set solid precedent for how such large scale Afforestation projects can be implemented, and planning is underway for another project (through a web based ‘Fund A Tree’ campaign under which a ‘Tree for a Dollar’ will be planted) in the near future. GML 7.