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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Guzara Forests: Local communities to have ownership rights

The KP Government's Forest Department has taken the initiative of categorizing the forests in former FATA under the Guzara Forests, which will allow local tribes and communities to retain full ownership of harvesting, plantation and maintenance of the forest lands.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Forest Department has undertaken the initiative of designating the natural forest areas in the merged tribal districts, formerly referred to as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

These forests, designated as the Guzara Forests, will be owned by their respective communities, however, the Forest Department will be responsible for their management and overseeing.

Guzara Forests in Former FATA

Reports reveal that forests in other districts of KP, particularly Hazara and Malakand, have been divided across three categories, which include protected forests, where local communities have maximum rights, forests belonging to the government, and Guzara Forests, which are owned 100% by the local communities.

Sources reveal that the Forest Department has suggested the provincial government to place all forests in tribal districts under the category of Guzara Forests. The PC-I of the initiative has been forwarded for the approval of the Provincial Development Working Party.

As per the proposed plan, the Forest Department will be responsible for conducting the ecological classification and the designation of the forests. Sources reveal that the Forest Department seeks joint-forest management for the tribal districts in order to directly involve the local tribes and communities in the protection of the forests.

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Sources further add that the Forest Department intends to collaborate with owners, community elders, and parliamentarians before categorizing the Guzara Forests. The project is expected to be a multi-billion rupees venture, under the Accelerated Implementation Programme, a collaboration of the federal and KP government to ensure that the tribal districts witness a wave of socio-economic development in the next ten years.

As per the agenda, the experts will fist conduct the ecological classification to categorize all the existing forests. Sources added that the department will finalize the official categorization of the forests to establish the ownership and rights of the local communities.

Rights of Local Communities

The natural forest preserves and areas in former FATA belong to local tribes and communities, and therefore, the conservation, protection and harvesting rights of the forest lands also lie with these tribes and the government will not play a role in these matters.

The officer of the conservator for the tribal districts held a very limited role in carrying out black plantation on main roads and private lands. Sources reveal that the Kurram tribal district was the only region in Former FATA with a documented history of forests.

Under British rule, the forests in Kurram valley had been divided into 42 categories and were extensively documented. Presently, former FATA consists of 2,700,000 hectares, and officials from the Forest Department reveal that the forest-covered regions comprise 3-4% of the tribal districts. However, the department does not have accurate information.

Read More: PM Khan launches countrywide tree plantation drive

Under the five-year Billion Tree Afforestation Programme, the KP government intends to undertake an extensive tree plantation drive in the newly merged tribal districts. As per official records, the forest covered areas account for around 20% of former FATA.

As per the Programme, the newly merged tribal districts will obtain an allocation of Rs.9.07 billion for the five-year plantation drive. Officials from the forest department revealed that 1,800,000 hectares of the total 2,700,000 area of the merged tribal districts consists of mountain ranges, communities, and rangelands, and observed that the lands of Bajaur, Kurram and South Waziristan are highly suitable for plantation.