Afghanistan: initiating participatory forestry for sustainable livelihoods

The increasing demand for woods and the inadequate management and control over natural resources during the 20-year war in Afghanistan has led to over-exploitation of forests. Increasing demography, rapid development and urbanization after return of peace also contribute to growing pressure on forests. The forests and fruit trees have been contributing to the livelihood of the rural poor in terms of food security and income generation. The extraction of timber and fuel wood generate incomes for rural families to supplement agricultural food production or to cope with food shortages. However, the meagre forest resources are now unable to afford further losses and meet the needs of its users.

The Government of Afghanistan showed its concerns about the depletion of forests and range lands and has endorsed a new forest and range land policy with provision of responsible involvement of the local communities to use and protect the forests and other natural resources. A new legal framework providing access and rights to the local communities has been formulated and a draft Forest Law is now available. However to be really effective, the new proposed forest policy and legislation have to be tested in the field.

The participatory forestry project was thus formulated to pilot participatory forest management practices in three provinces of Northern and Eastern Afghanistan where security conditions are satisfactory. The project approach emphasizes human rights principles such as empowerment, non-discrimination, transparency and accountability in order to contribute to further strengthening the present policy and legal frameworks.

The project is part of an umbrella programme coordinating complementary development activities in selected provinces, promoting food security, nutrition and livelihoods with a strong focus on sustainable management of natural resources and biodiversity. It is contributing to existing decentralised planning and program development by enabling key stakeholders to participate in the elaboration, improvement and implementation of relevant provincial, district and community development plans.

A three year (2009-2011) forestry project led by FAO Afghanistan titled "Initiating Participatory Forestry for Sustainable Livelihoods in Afghanistan" aims to demonstrate that the adoption of participatory forestry approaches can set trends to improve the status of forests and the livelihood of rural communities.

The project has been designed in the light of experiences gained during the implementation of projects by FAO Afghanistan on the components of natural resources, livelihood and food security. Aiming to contribute to improved food security and sustainable livelihoods development, the project is demonstrating participatory forestry models and approaches that are relevant, sustainable and rewarding for the rural poor in Afghanistan.

The participatory forestry project has initiated a process which is leading the communities, Government and Research Institutions to work in a unique partnership on various components of collaborative forest management. The project is implementing social forestry, agro-forestry and joint forest management models in 12 pilot sites falling in 3 provinces of Afghanistan.

The major achievements of the project is the establishment of community based forest plantations (over 105.7 hectares in 12 sites) and capacity building of over 2687 (54% females and 46% males) individuals from partner organizations and beneficiary communities in various expertise related to participatory forestry.

The project has a livelihood component that provides training and material support to 665 women to raise home based nurseries and sell forest saplings. This activity has todate resulted in production of 170,000 saplings out of which 43471 saplings which were ready for planting were sold by 419 female nursery owners and earned an average of 60 dollars. A considerable number of females have invested this money to purchase livestock or assets for their shops or deposited in their bank accounts. It is expected that another stock of 70,000 saplings will be available for sale in these nurseries by March 2011.

On the front of policy support to the department of forestry the project along with its partners has contributed in developing and reviewing the participatory forest law and mobilizing the relevant government departments and the technical group of lower house in the parliament on the essence and importance of having the forestry law embracing the concept of participation. The development of a regulatory framework based on the existing law and experiences gained through piloting of participatory forestry project is also on the project menu and it is expected that this framework will be made available to the government by June 2011.

The project is focusing more on the capacity building of project stakeholders and beneficiaries considering it is the most effective tool for long term sustainability of successfully test participatory forestry models. The planning and management capacities of the stakeholders were built in the Participatory Rural Appraisal, development of forest management plans and participatory strengthening. The project has planned to initiate collaborative research with the Agricultural Universities which will start in 2011. Under the action research the final year students will be provided internships and technical supervision to conduct field research in the project area on themes related to natural resources management.

Now when the project is entering its third and final year, it will be gearing up the process on consolidation of lessons learned and establishment of mechanism for continuation of participatory forestry approaches. In crux, the project is well on the track and optimistic to achieve the desired outcomes through finalization of participatory forest management plans and creating conducive environment that supports participatory forestry.

For more information, please contact:
Athar Ali Khan
Chief Technical Advisor / Participatory Forestry Expert
FAO Afghanistan 

last updated:  Monday, June 27, 2011