FAO in Afghanistan

Afforestation, key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in southeast Afghanistan

687.5 hectares have been afforested in Paktia province thanks to the GEF-funded FAO project. ©FAO

FAO is promoting high conservation value forest species to help contain deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Paktia province

Situated in eastern Afghanistan, Paktia province used to be renowned by its pine nut forests. But since the outbreak of the war with the Soviet Union in 1979, illegal logging has almost devastated them.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and livestock (MAIL) together with the technical support of FAO, have been working to reverse this worrying deforestation. Since 2019, MAIL and FAO have initiated the reforestation of 687.5 hectares of deforested pine nut and walnut forests in Said Karam and Ahmad Aba districts, with the financial support from Global Environment Facility (GEF).

“Sustainable forest management plays a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while it contributes to mitigate climate change because of their great capacity to sequestrate carbon dioxide. Afforestation brings back to life lost livelihoods, and it therefore improves food security. I would like to sincerely thank the GEF for supporting such an important project in Afghanistan,” says Rajendra Aryal, FAO Representative in Afghanistan.

Pollution and deforestation

According to the datapublished by the NGO The Liaison Office (TLO), Paktia’s annual deforestation rate ranges between 2 to 3 percent of the forest area. In the same survey report, Root Causes of Deforestation in the Southeast Region of Afghanistan, Summary, Conclusions and Action Outline, TLO signals overgrazing, unsustainable collection of fodder and lack of proper afforestation, as the main causes behind forest degradation and deforestation. The NGO also points out that timber loggers surveyed are forced into this activity by poverty (49 percent), encouraged by the lack of law enforcement (22 percent), or simply unaware of the environmental consequences (6 percent).

“Pollution linked to greenhouse gas emissions in Paktia, and all over the country, has been increasing over the last few years. In order to sequestrate these emissions, we need to focus on afforestation and plantation, and implement projects like this, which have a positive impact in the environment and people’s livelihoods. In addition, the plantation areas are regularly monitored by province-level staff of the National Environment and Protection Agency (NEPA) of Afghanistan, in order to ensure saplings’ expected fertility rate, as well as proper irrigation for them to grow safely,” says Bahir Gul Sabiry, NEPA Director.

Managing the forest together

This GEF-funded project has also supported the establishment of Forest Management Associations (FMA) in collaboration with the provincial offices of MAIL. Haji Nabi Jan, 57, is the Head of the Mansor Khail FMA in Ahmad Aba district. He works to motivate locals to sustainably manage forests. He also encourages local people to sign commitment letters to avoid cutting trees in the forest area.

“It has been first time that we are establishing FMAs in order to sustainably manage our own forests with the support of FAO. We appreciate FAO’s commitment towards sustainable management of forest,” says Haji Nabi Jan.

“Despite the fact that we had developed several plans to establish communication with forest and mountain dwellers in order to reduce and stop deforestation, we had not been successful due to insecurity and the lack of an adequate mechanism as the FMAs,” says Mohammad Den Momand, Paktia PAIL director.

“Establishing FMAs has enabled direct communication with forest and mountain dwellers in order to build their capacity to manage the forests. As a result, deforestation has been slowed down, and forest dwellers have shifted their approach towards sustainable forest management,” adds Mohammad Den Momand.

687.5 hectares of almond, pine nut and walnut trees

As a result of these efforts, 65 home-based walnut and pine nut nurseries have been established across the province of Paktia. 107 000 walnut trees, 6 100 pine nut trees and 5 000 almond saplings have been planted as an alternative livelihood option by FMAs across the 687.5 hectares of deforested area.

“I couldn’t even dream of planting one single pine nut sapling in this deforested area. Since 1980 neither governmental nor non-governmental organizations had worked on it in our area due to the slow growing rate of the species. Therefore, we appreciate FAO and GEF’s support to do so,” said Gul Sheerin, Head of Taro Khail FMA.

Community-based natural resources management plan

FMAs also received support to apply a ‘Community-based natural resources management plan (CBNRM)’. Capacity development workshops are being organized by the project for FMA members and other people from the communities with the aim to develop the CBNRM.

“The skills we learned at the training will definitely help us develop a comprehensive plan for managing natural resources. We identified and prioritized the needs of targeted communities through separate consultation meetings or gatherings with men and women,” said Muqbil “Haqbeen” member of the FMA, who participated in a three-day workshop back in Ahmad Aba district in 2019.