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Agro-Foresters of Gilgit-Baltistan – I


Originally published on Pamir Times

THE UNPREDICTABLY mercurial climate change phenomena being witnessed all across Gilgit-Baltistan today as elsewhere, indeed points to grim prospects. At the same time, it leads one to musings on environment and the fragile mountain ecosystem here in juxtaposition to the human activity to take stock of what remains on the anvil to steer clear of the final irony and awful future possibility. A study of environmental or to put it, the climate change phenomena brings it to the fore that vegetation plays a very much significant role in the health of ecosystem. Thus, reducing deforestation and giving a boost to afforestation and reforestation is said to be instrumental in about 30 percent of cost-effective global mitigation potential. Given this, forests and concomitant vegetation make a very vital treasure in economic aspect of any region on which the respective populace largely depends in meeting its needs of fuelwood as well as timber, meeting grazing requirements, whilst being greatly instrumental in soil erosion and the soil’s exposure to flooding etc. In short, the worsening state being wrought by climate change in G-B reminds one of the exemplary services in the field rendered by great agro-foresters of this region long ago which if continued by their successors would, for sure, have enabled grappling effectively with the horrific situation facing this region by meeting the barest minimum scientific standards of direly needed forest cover here long ago. But quite sadly, the legacy left by them in the form of their excellent striving in the field went altogether unheeded to during the course eventually leading to the doldrums the region is currently in environmentally and the sorry state which has befallen the denizens of this area continually threatened natural catastrophes like GLOF etc.

One is constrained to observe that rather than valuing and following this legacy, it seems to have callously been frittered away and as such the legendary foresters must be turning in their graves at the turn events and grave situations lurking ahead at the distance which could otherwise, have been averted to greater extent by way of sustained and continuing efforts by massive plantation. Admittedly, their successors seemingly constituted the very antithesis allowing deforestation let alone taking steps for adequate reforestation or afforestation whatsoever.

Going by the compendium on afforestation “Darakht Oogayain” (Grow Trees) authored by the prolific writer late Haji Ghulam Rasul exhibitive it is of the author’s great erudition – one is really amazed to find therein all-encompassing and holistic approaches in the seemingly a compendium brings to the fore the invaluable contributions of the eminent agro-foresters of this region. As a famed botanist and forester par excellence, he is very ably exhortative of and advocate massive afforestation, reforestation and avoiding deforestation. The clarion call he gives aims at conservation of the fragile mountain ecosystem of Gilgit-Baltistan – one is bound to gets drawn to the emphatic and fervent appeal encapsulated in the very title which is prima facie, immensely inspiring given the ineffability of the subject matter which in fact, is the zeit geist in the present era of horrific climate change phenomena bearing down on the planet. This prodigious output and trailblazing effort is dedicated to late Raja Mahboob Wali Khan – the pioneering forester and environmentalist of great fame is to be held in high acclaim. The latter comprehending magnitude of the issue fururistically, first launched an innovative tree-plantation and afforestation in Gilgit-Baltistan. As is evidenced by the lucid and very well-arranged guidebook “Grow Trees”, the author is highly appreciative of and takes pride in the great mentoric and inspiring role of late Raja Mahboob Wali Khan as referred to intermittently, the lasting contribution of the latter in the field of agro-forestry – divulging therein the outstanding innovative tree-plantation campaign kick-started and set into motion so hectically by late Raja here in this region which was then ensued by unremitting efforts geared towards maximal agro-forestry years on during the entire period he remained associated with the forest department of Gilgit-Baltistan – something that can hardly be exaggerated because it marked the beginning of innovative agro-forestry as he was an agro-forester of outstanding ability and great vision having introduced an exemplary experimental research in the field whose name will go down in regional history. Himself a botanist and an agro-forester par excellence, Haji Ghulam Rasul dedicated his entire life with a missionary zeal and spirit not only during his lifelong assiduous service and sedulous working in the region’s forest department, but that he chose not to lose touch with his profession even after his retirement and established Belore Advisory and Social Development Organisation (BASDO) at Gilgit.

Haji Ghulam Rasul oft-quotes the mavellous ingenuity of late Raja Mahboob Wali Khan putting it quite unequivocally that he owed a great deal to his mentoric role of the latter.

IT is profitable to refer specifically to the experiential methodology adopted by the learned forester who, in the year 1941, procured seeds of Robinia or False acacia from Abbottabad and wee sown at Jutial forest nursery in March which sprouted a month later. Likewise, seeds of Ailanthus altissima were procured from Abbotabad in 1938 and sown at the same Nursery in the month of April that year. Another milestone was procurement of Chirpine (Pinus roxburghii) seed from Abbottabad in 1941, successfully experimented and popularized. The pine grove at Jutial standing tall today is the outcome of this fruitful experiement. In short, there are innumerable success stories associated with this great agro-forester who is also proudly called the father of forestry in this region.

It is noteworthy that a token plantation reminiscent of those days still gets underway as an annual feature in February each year but nevertheless, gets reckoned with as a mere symbolic gesture in that it still fails to be compatible with the sustained massive campaign zestfully remaining underway during Raja Mahboob Wali Khan’s era where the Jutial forest nursery was established for proper and systematic experimentation. The grove pines existing today at Jutial cantonment owes to him while the vast acreage brought so assiduously under acacia (keekar) plantation in the same locality seems have mercilessly been denuded during the course of urbanization.

It is profitable to refer to yet nother book from Haji GhulamRasul tiled “Medicinal Plants of Northern Areas” in which he has extensively discussed the efficacy of about 61 plant species of Gilgit-Baltistan and their advantages hence this book is, in a way, a pharmacopeia. Gilgit-Baltistan is plenteous in medicinal herbs with this region’s environment pyramiding to the top because of innumerable glaciers, lakes, snowfields on which the ebbs and flows of the Indus depend squarely.

There is unanimity of views among all environmentalists that there is dire need of afforestation of atleast 25 percent of the total land of a country in order to balance its economy unharming the particular ecosystem. But, unfortunately, Pakistan is said to have a mere 4 percent forested area while the situation that persists in Gilgit-Baltistan is still more alarming with a mere fraction of land being under forest which is by all counts, far below 4 percent. Seventy percent of this thin forest cover is lying in the Diamir district bordering KPK. However, the author has reflected the forest cover of Gilgit-Baltistan as follows:

Chilas, Darel-Tangir 848 sq mile

Astore 120 sq mile

Gilgit, Punyal, Nagar 96 sq mile

Baltistan 36 sq mile

Given the fore-going, the forests in G-B are slightly below four percent while a recent report brought out by VOA in league with Radio News Network, painted a gloomy picture of the forest cover in Pakistan obviously because of uncheckable deforestation. It refers to the Pakistan Forest Research Institute Peshawar contending that in nineties, Pakistan had a forest cover over an area of 35 lac 90 thousand hectares which, according to them, came down to 33 lac, 20 thousand hectares in the year 2000. However, the report claimed that the forest cover stupendously increased to 45 lac hectares during 2002 – a figure contested by the United Nation’s Institution FAO and others. It is said that Pakistan in the current scenario, get reckoned with number two among countries where forest are depleting fast due to ruthless felling during the preceding one decade as a result of which total forest cover of the country is now constricted to barely 3 percent while this figure is progressively declining. In the case of G-B, barely 2.5% land of the total is now said to be under forests which does not bode well in terms of the fragile mountain ecosystem.

Trees or to put it vegetation, play a crucial role in the ecosystem for purifying the air, hosting the feathered and the furry coupled with multiple other advantages while the damage caused by deforestation is put at 17% of the global emissions.

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