Pakistan’s flagship conservation project, Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme (TBTTP), restores its ecosystem as well as creates livelihoods.
Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme (TBTTP), the flagship initiative of the Government of Pakistan aimed at harnessing the rapidly depleting natural resources and wildlife habitats, has gathered global acclaim.
When launched on 2 September 2018, the TBTTP was perceived by many as merely an expanded version of Billion Tree Tsunami (BTT) – also known as Billion Trees Afforestation Project (BTAP) – initiated in 2014 in Khyber Paktunkhwa (KP) province. However, it was not true. The TBTTP Initiative focused on the entire country – from the reducing forests of hilly regions of KP province to the cold Katpana desert in Gilgit Baltistan range and scrub forests of the Punjab and coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan that equally participated in achieving the ambitious target of the country’s largest-ever plantation.
Tasked by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Ministry of Climate Change devised a multifaceted strategy under the leadership of the special assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam that united all the federating units and stakeholders under the umbrella of TBTTP for a unanimous and coordinated effort to plant ten billion trees successfully.
Pakistan embraced the ambitious environmental conservation policy after the dwindling forest and wildlife reserves of the country reached to a disastrous level and one after the other catastrophes played destruction causing heavy economic losses as well as loss of human lives. The policy turned the nature, pace and style of conservation in the country.
Indeed, the BTAP was the first strategy devised to stem galloping deforestation resulting in land degradation after Khan’s party Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came to power in KP province in 2013. The work on BTAP was formally started after the inauguration of Green Growth Initiative (GGI) on 9 February 2014 by Khan on the recommendations of task force chaired by former chief minister Pervez Khatak in KP province of Pakistan, which is a typically hilly region with forest terrain once having thriving green cover.[i] KP province faced the worst conflict during war on terror that not only affected its human resource, economy and infrastructure but also destroyed a huge number of trees, particularly in the newly merged tribal districts. The tribal districts during the Taliban regime faced unbridled tree cutting without any conservation effort. BTAP project director Mohammad Tamasib said that due to insurgency, the forest department of KP was not able to intervene and assess the extensive damage in the forest rich region.
The challenge of planting one billion trees not only helped revive the tree cover but also opened new vistas of ensuring human development focusing on youth and women.
The target of one billion trees plantation under BTAP from 2014 to 2018 was achieved through forest regeneration where 40 per cent of the total target saplings were planted and the remaining plants grew automatically through natural restoration of trees. According to the forest department of KP, around 1.02 billion plants were successfully grown in the entire province with 20 million additional plants being planted beyond the Bonn Challenge target. The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares (ha) of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million ha by 2030. KP is the first sub-national entity to register with the Bonn Challenge for the restoration of forest in the province, and it is also the first entity in the world to complete the challenge and that too in half the planned time.[ii]
BTAP in itself was an unprecedented programme that required a huge response in terms of administrative, financial and human resource needs to achieve the plantation target in record time.
Realising the mammoth task of planting one billion trees, the forest department of KP devised a hybrid approach channellising both indigenous and private sources, comprising local nurseries raised by entrepreneurs and unemployed individuals including impoverished women.
The total share of women raised nurseries in the BTAP was 20 per cent whereas the rest of the plantation saplings were managed through public and private nurseries. In order to extend an innovative opportunity to women, the department mobilised its women guide teams that conducted door to door awareness and educational campaigns for interested communities on how to raise plant saplings.
After the successful implementation of BTAP in KP, the PTI government set an ambitious plantation target of ten billion tree tsunami plantation, which was later replicated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the similar name. The TBTTP also has the similar share of 20 per cent women raised nurseries in the overall saplings being provided for the gigantic plantation. It is a huge target keeping in view the capacity and potential of female plant growers ranging from province to province and nurseries along with total area used to raise plant saplings.
Economic share of the TBTTP is just one aspect of the national effort aimed at increasing the dwindling forest cover and wildlife species. Many of the wildlife species were at the brink of extinction, especially the snow leopard that was facing habitat loss due to rapid glacial melting and hunting. One of the components of the TBTTP is preservation and development of wildlife sanctuaries. Also referred to as ‘Wildlife Component’ of the project, it includes setting up of protected areas, habitat restoration through plantation and nature conservation, which will be initiated in the next phase of the project.
The TBTTP has ensured forest cover revival through multifaceted and diverse initiatives conforming to the local environment and forestry culture as Billion Tree Olives plantation, Billion Tree Honey and Protected Areas Initiative all are interconnected. Pakistan’s unique environment and terrain enables it to cultivate every kind of crop and tree cultivatable in the region. The massive olives plantation would help Pakistan become self-sufficient in producing olive oil and a potential exporter in the region. Interestingly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has expressed its interest in buying Billion Tree Honey, which will be produced following honey bee farming at BTAP and BTTP sites; it has pre-booked the honey to be raised under Billion Tree Honey project.
Amid increasing trend of developing housing societies on arid lands across the country, the trend of raising nurseries among the middle and lower middle class masses in the rural areas of the country is gaining momentum where both men and women are sharing the burden of running sapling nurseries with limited available resources with firm commitment and untiring efforts[iii].
The project, aimed at converging the spirit and vision of the communities ardently supporting plantation initiatives, has also helped emergence of green entrepreneurs promoting eco-friendly businesses that are lucrative but free of emissions.
Other than plantation, TBTTP, like BTAP, has created 85,000[iv] green jobs in the form of sapling growers, neghabans or guards preventing forest fires, tree cutting and protecting massive plantation enclosures that also created a sense of ownership among local communities to protect the plantation as a precious asset in bringing change and prosperity to their lives. The local masses are responsible for protecting and looking after the nurseries where the forest departments of respective provinces provide technical assistance through their field staff.
Women empowerment through green entrepreneurship
Gilgit Baltistan lies in the North of the country. Three of the longest glaciers of the world outside Earth’s Polar Regions, referred to as the “Third Pole”, are found in the province. A tourist destination, it has one of the world’s best picturesque landscapes. But the region is under serious threat due to increasing melting of the glaciers causing glacial lakes and their outbursts flooding inundating villages, crops, orchards and critical infrastructure resulting in losses of life, property and biodiversity on a huge scale.
The region’s economic activity relies only on tourism as for most of the time it remains submerged under heavy snowfalls with a few months of mobility after the revival of spring. The Northern Areas, due to their extreme vulnerability to climate change and natural catastrophes, needed BTTP-like conservation initiatives the most[v].
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan recently inaugurated two new high-altitude national parks of Nanga Parbat and Himalaya National Parks under the Protected Areas Initiatives. Moreover, under BTTP many wild species including pine tree, pistachio, Russian olive and Indian willow tree among others have been planted in various plantation sites of Gilgit Baltistan.
Gilgit Baltistan has the highest literacy rate in the country with over 80 per cent of its population being educated. Maryum, a school teacher by profession, has become an eco-leader in Ghizer, a far-flung district of Gilgit Baltistan having a hilly terrain with limited cultivable land like the rest of the federating unit.
Apart from teaching, Maryum has a personal aptitude and interest in raising plants, which she developed as her hobby, and the BTTP initiative provided her the opportunity to develop her hobby into another source of income.
She initiated raising a nursery of local wild plant species in an area of 6-kanal (32,670 square feet) and has planted around 32,000 saplings, which will be bought by the forest department of the district. The district officials not only provided her an income opportunity but also extended technical assistance in raising saplings on her land.
The teacher-cum-nursery owner has a firm belief in working hard and setting up higher goals in life for a dignified life and the peace of mind. Maryum takes her job seriously doing it with full devotion and commitment to reap desired outcomes and make every effort fruitful. “Our Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H) has said the person earning his livelihood through labour and hard work is God’s friend,” she said.
The women in Gilgit Baltistan have proved their mettle as educationists, doctors, social activists and mountaineers. They are known for producing fine handicrafts. However, growing plants has been a new challenge and a blessing in disguise that elevates their social status from workers or toiling human beings to entrepreneurs not only earning income but also generating environment friendly employment opportunities for others.
As a successful green entrepreneur, Maryum’s message to other women: “I would like to ask all women to work on any of their ambitions or tasks with all spirits and keen interest and God will become their helper in every endeavour.”
Maryum started her journey as an ambitious plant raising farmer but exhibited immense confidence in leading and supporting her household by acquiring different and challenging skills. That transformed her from a common woman to an inspiration for other women belonging to middle class and lower social strata many of whom felt confident to take up the challenge. She advocates the role of women as drivers of change in every venture of human development and sustainable growth with their abilities of perseverance, confidence, commitment and desire to create a better life for their families.
TBTTP has become Pakistan’s identity as a leader in climate action globally due to its outreach that opened up new vistas of economic opportunities, ecological conservation, social and human development that touched the neglected and marginalised groups of society.
Community development through nurseries
Khalid Hussain, an unemployed labourer repatriated to his homeland Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) – a land of mountains and scenic pastures with breathtaking views of nature and exotic wildlife – after serving 25 years in Saudi Arabia. He established a community nursery in Kaladhab after getting registered with the AJK forest department’s revalidation division Kotli under the TBTTP project. He is now supporting the entire community around him by providing daily wage employment opportunities.
Khalid was spending an idle life after coming back from the Kingdom and had very few resources to meet his family expenses. As he was looking for opportunities to earn a decent livelihood, he came to know about the TBTTP advertisement calling for applications from interested individuals to seek assistance for raising plant nursery under the mega plantation campaign. The nursery raising initiative was launched to join hands with local communities and private partners to meet the increasing demand of saplings required to plant huge number of trees across the country and also to give a sense of ownership to indigenous masses through green employment for the flagship project. The forest department, for instance, in KP have a proper mechanism of manual record keeping of saplings bought from private partners and those managed through public nurseries as the payments were made to the local masses through the department’s system[vi].
Khalid applied for it and soon started working in the nursery. Initially it was not an easy task and he was facing little problems in tackling with saplings packaging, watering and management. However, the forest department officials helped him get experience to develop saplings successfully. As work sphere expanded, Khalid involved his three unemployed sons in raising large number of plant saplings without any hurdles.
“We equally divided tasks among ourselves and supported each other after completing individual tasks. During this we learnt from each other’s experience, for instance my eldest son was good at preparing sand and tackling sapling covers. He also gained expertise in preparing exact moisture required to sow a seed in the sand pocket and required amount of water at proper timings,” he said.
“Today, besides my sons, unemployed boys of the neighborhood also work in my nursery with the help of the forest department team and by the grace of God Almighty we all are earning our livelihood while staying at home.”
Khalid also grew walnuts and roses and distributed them free to the people to highlight the importance of plants. He also distributed free sapling in graveyards and schools. He is optimistic and passionate enough to take the mission of TBTTP further by encouraging the local people to protect trees as an invaluable natural reserve providing oxygen to keep the environment clean and cool.
Mangroves, saviour of coastal communities
The Coronavirus pandemic across the globe left disastrous impacts on all social groups and sectors of international economy where massive layoffs of daily wage workers in almost every industrial or semi industrial unit took place leaving many families in utter deprivation and poverty. Similar impacts were observed in Pakistan that was striving hard to come out of the turmoil. However, conservation efforts helped communities sail through the time of economic adversity.
The creeks of Keti Bundar Coastal Area of Indus Delta in Thatta district of Sindh province have one of the densest mangroves in the world since 1992. It has been duly acknowledged by leading international NGOs and environmental conservation organisations. The main reason behind the increasing number of once rapidly depleting mangroves was the role of local communities who assisted the Sindh forest department for planting more mangroves and protect them from deforestation and other risks.
Abdul Ghafoor, a local resident of Keti Bundar’s creek area earned a sustainable monthly income despite COVID-19 lockdown by working with the Sindh forest department in growing mangroves (locally known as ‘teemar’ tree). Not just Gafoor but also his wife worked along with him in the conservation effort.
Gafoor’s eco-friendly job kept his family out of economic worries during Eid-ul-Fitr (a religious festivity celebrated by Muslims all over the world) even as many of his friend remained jobless and lived in a miserable condition.
The Billion Tree Honey under the TBTTP has encouraged bee flora plantation to enhance production with modern techniques. It has shown gradual increase of 60 per cent per hive on average yield within six months’ pilot phase[vii].
Under TBTTP project, the focus has been on improving existing honey farming and bee keeping practices scientifically for enhanced honey production to benefit from the increasing forest cover under the massive afforestation efforts.
Pakistan’s normal honey harvest potential was of 7,500 metric tonnes (MT) per annum produced by some 10,000 bee keepers using 300,000 colonies. It could be enhanced to 70,000 MT produced from the same harvest by using modern bee keeping gears, latest techniques, standardisation/ certification of the product and intensive marketing. As per the estimates, the marketing of 70,000 MT of honey would generate an income of around Rs 20-25 billion and 87,000 green jobs.
The Billion Tree Honey pilot phase started on 16 March 2021. The objectives were improvement in production capacity, quality and earnings of selected beekeepers, training of 35 beekeepers and follow up services till honey harvest and organising the apiculture chain-specific networks to collaborate with Billion Tree Honey. By the end of the pilot project period, the beekeepers were knowledgeable enough to offer their earned expertise to their fellow beekeepers.
The assisted natural regeneration (ANR) has been managed, through encircling a degraded forest, with some availability of mother species that provide sizeable amount of seeds for rebirth of new seedlings through natural process of seed shedding in monsoon and spring seasons. The encircled area is declared as an enclosure or a protected area, which is not allowed for grazing, tree cutting or any other human activity for a particular time. Many of the indigenous species like chir pine drop their needles and seeds at various occasions and due to favourable soil conditions swathes of new seedlings pop out during revival season.
The Ministry of Climate Change, keeping in view the declining green cover in the urban centers of the country, has also devised plantation plans accordingly to create green and eco-friendly city landscapes. The Japanese Miyawaki technique[viii] has been adopted for raising ten times faster and 30 times denser forests to cope with the increasing risk of air pollution and temperature rise. In Islamabad alone, some 20 sites in various sectors of the metropolis have been selected and plantations have been carried out to develop those Miyawaki forests, which have been replicated by the provinces as well.
Following public protests in the wake of massive tree cutting in the name of development projects and road construction, tree transplantation mechanism[ix] was adopted for the first time and pine trees and other local species were relocated to other places with the help of transplanting machines to preserve the old trees. Transplantation is only possible for mature trees having a tree girth of more than 80 centimetres. The survival of such trees is ensured through proper management of the soil pit where the tree would be transplanted to provide conducive environment for survival. Therefore, all trees at a place cannot be transplanted as some of them might not fulfill the set criteria.
At least 90 per cent survival rate has been recorded at 72 per cent sites, 85 per cent at 24 sites and 75 per cent at 4 per cent sites, according to Malik Amin Aslam, special assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change; Aslam cites the finding of third party assessment of planted trees across the country under the federal government’s projects.[x] The third party evaluation was carried out by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that took detailed analysis of the plantation sites of TBTTP.
According to TBTTP project officials, there has been no water shortage or pests issue reported for the saplings due to strict monitoring from the highest authorities of the forest department to ensure the success of the massive afforestation initiative. The forest department is also ensuring water availability through solar power generated water drilling pumps and artificial water tanks set up at the plantation sites. The water tanks are refilled through water tankers and water supply is done manually through buckets or pipelines installed in the areas.
Pakistan’s rapidly changing landscape and unbridled development has put huge pressure on its natural reserves. Apart from plantation, sustainable growth through eco-friendly initiatives, steps to reduce climate induced migration, improved climate adaptation and resilience of agriculture sector already facing impacts of climate degradation are also necessary measures required to protect ecosystems. The Ministry of Climate Change has also planned Recharge Pakistan project to create wetlands along the banks of the Indus river to store flood water wasted every year, to revive aquifer and utilise the floodwater for agriculture and other human needs.
[viii] Miyawaki forests are raised by planting 15 different species of trees and shrubs together at a very close distance in a limited area as per demand and available land. The technique works well all over the world, irrespective of the soil and environment type. It takes 20 years for an Urban Miyawaki Forest to grow into a natural forest, which in case of conventional plantation takes 200 years. It is a multi-storey forest with different sizes of plants growing at 10 times faster pace and as many thick density.
[ix] Tree transplantation is done very meticulously and with great expertise for a successful relocation. The survival ratio as per botanists is 50 per cent but proper methodology and care helps in achieving more promising results. The transplantation machines have been exclusively employed for the task. It was recommended after huge pressure from civil society and rights activists, environmentalists and Environmental Protection Agency to protect greenery of Islamabad during mega urbanisation projects. A tree of its trunk girth not more than 90 cm has been suggested for transplantation as mature old trees could not bear the shock during relocation process and subsequently die. Only mature trees can be transplanted and so is the procedure adopted here by the authorities.
[x] The survival rate recorded by the Ministry of Climate Change under TBTTP is based on the growth size of the tube saplings or 6-7 feet bigger seedlings of different tree's species to a growing plant. The plantation under TBTTP is based on native species and the sites selected for plantation have been chosen keeping in view the environment and suitability of a particular species. That's how increased growth rate has been reported with successful outcomes.