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Competing for Access to the Forests of Pakistan
By: SDPI

Partners: The National Centre for Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South & Zurich University (Switzerland), Development Study Group at the Department of Geography, University of Agriculture Faisalabad (Pakistan)

Year: 2008-09

Background:
The NCCR Pakistan Research Group analyzed forest management in Pakistan, having a very high deforestation rate. The common assumption is that this is the result of forest overuse by the local population. In Pakistan’s mountain regions, people indeed are dependent on forests as their main source of fuel, as pasture areas for livestock, and for timber to construct houses. In addition, farmers at-tempting to increase their cultivable land are often tempted to push back the edges of forests. In order to counter these practices, and influenced by global development discourses, the government of Pakistan has adopted the strategy of joint forest management (JFM) in view of ensuring sustainable forest management.

Output:
The NCCR/SDPI research highlighted two crucial issues. First, it showed that the basic assumption underlying the new state policy is erroneous. In fact, the most important factor currently contributing to deforestation in Pakistan is the organised, illegal exploitation of forests by a “timber mafia”. Secondly, though well intended, the donor supported JFM continues to replicate the policing attitude of state official towards local forest users: very often, JFM committees are controlled by local elites, are fully depending on the authority of the Forest Department staff, and do not take up problems and issues raised at the local level. As a matter of fact, the JFM initiative so far has not been able to overcome the mistrust between state officials and local forest users at the detriment of forests.

Finding:
NCCR/SDPI researchers in Pakistan have communicated their research findings not only to the academic world, but to state officials or local stakeholders as well (e.g. through workshops, newspapers, etc.). In addition, realising the lack of trust and communication between state officials and common people as a core problem hindering the effectiveness of JFM, they launched a pilot project in which independent persons (such as researchers and local NGOs) attempt to mediate between the two. Though demanding a lot of patience and mediating skill, results indicated that a breakthrough is possible especially when addressing the difficulties of local level state officials as well.