By Fakhar Alam

PESHAWAR, Aug 28 (APP):An APP Feature Un-seemingly million hectares of productive land are gradually being lost to desertification world over either due to mismanagement or climate change which greatly affects economy, agricultural productivity and food security.

More than 110 countries including Pakistan and two-third of agricultural land of the world are being faced with the challenge of desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD).

Every year, an estimated $42 billion of economic loss and six million hectares of productive land is lost due to land degradation and desertification by affecting overall agricultural productivity across the globe.

According to the data of Sustainable Land Management Program (SLMP-Phase II), around 1.5 to 2.5 million hectares of irrigated land, 3.5 to 4 million hectares of rain-fed agricultural, and 35 million hectares of rangelands are either becoming barren or non-productive annually due to DLDD causes.

The SLMP-Phase II is a partnership programme to address land degradation and desertification challenges with government through the ministry of climate change and provincial governments with financial assistance of UNDP and Global Environment Facility (GEF).

According to the national program, Pakistan is being confronted with massive challenge of desertification where more than 80 percent of arid and semi-arid landscapes have been severely affected by DLDD.

The dry-lands of Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab are facing increased problems of land desertification due to climate change impacts, improper land use practices, over-grazing, deforestation and excessive removal of vegetation for fuel.

The programme revealed that the underground water resources in the western dry mountains of Sindh and Balochistan were shrinking due to heavy exploitation of aquifer without any natural recharge.

Talking to APP, Hamid Marwat, National Coordinator SLMP-II said, “The shrinking of forest resources due to rapid increase of population and climate change vulnerabilities have made Pakistan most prone to desertification, drought and land-degradation and if solid measures were not taken, the people would face starvation like situation by 2040.”

He said that Pakistan’s forest cover has been reduced to only 5pc of its total area against 25 percent as per international standard. The indiscriminate cuttings of forest by local communities, timber mafia and property builders in the country, especially in KP and Gilgit Baltistan in the past had aggravated the problem of desertification, he added.

The National Forests Policy 2015 has disclosed that rate of deforestation at national level was 27,000 hectare per year, mainly due to private and community owned natural forests in Kohistan and Diamair districts.

Hamid Marwat said that the damages of desertification could also be seen in Swabi, Mardan and Nowshera districts on M-1 Motorway and Kohat, Karak, Lakki Marwat and DI Khan districts on Indus Highway. He said that thousand acres of fertile lands were degraded due to overgrazing, erratic pattern of weather and climate change. Taking cognizance of desertification, the government has launched first phase of SLMP in nine dry land districts in 2007 and continued it till 2014.

The Coordinator said during the first phase, over 12,000 hectares of degraded rangeland was rehabilitated though reseeding and community based restrotation grazing management system. Around 8,000 hectares of additional land were brought under sustainable rain-fed agriculture and water conservation measures, he added.

Niaz Ali Khan, Chief Conservator of Forest-I of the KP Forest Department said that first ever Range Management Policy “REDD+” (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) strategy and Green Growth Initiative (GGI) were formulated and implemented in KP mainly to deal with DLDD. He said the flagship project of PTI billion trees project was launched in 2014 with a total cost of Rs19.4486 billion out of which Rs14 billion were so far spent to increase forest land and protect soils from further erosion.

Following successful implementation of first phase of SLMP, he said the government had extended the project to 14 districts in second phase with more than 200 villages in 2015 that would continue up-to June 2020. He said the project was currently being implemented in desertification prone areas of Chakwal, Bhakkar, Khushab, Layyah in Punjab, Tharparkar, Omarkot, Sanghar in Sindh, DI Khan, Lakki Marwat in KP, Pashin, Kila Saifullah, Mastung, Katch and Lasbella in Balochistan.

As many as 1208 million plants were added to forest resources over an area of 230,000 hectares besides establishment of 4509 forests enclosures, increasing forest cover of KP to 26.3pc in 2018 from 20.3pc in 2013, registering a record 6pc increase, he maintained.

Niaz Khan said forest change detection via interpretation of satellite images through SUPARCO by assessing 1496 enclosures and 2069 afforestration sites were under taken under BTAP, reflecting positive change of 60.13pc and 70.81pc respectively. Keeping in view of BTAP success in KP, he said 10BTAP were launched across the country under which 10billion plants would be planted in Pakistan.

He said 10BTAP were also extended to erstwhile Fata with a target of raising 215,000 hectares block plantations, 10,000hectares saline and waterlogged, 1200 hectares on marginalized lands, 900hectares Avenue plantations, 6760 hectares dry plantation and 3200 hectares wood lots.