As Trees Rot, Why Pakistan Is Key to Global Hardwood Crisis!

Pakistani government officals urge government to remove "red tape" and practice "scientific management of forests".

Tue 09 Jan 24


More than 6 million square metres of timber, worth billions of dollars in one of the world’s most productive forests, is decaying due to mismanagement, with Pakistani officials caving to external pressure and failing to “execute scientific management of forests.” 

The concerns relate to forests once ruled by Alexander the Great in the Hazara and Malakand regions in Pakistan’s northwest, which borders Tailban-controlled Afghanistan.

The area in question covers a forest area, “roughly equivalent to Austria” in size, and could add up to US $10 billion in exports to Pakistan’s terms of trade over the next decade.

The region produces a range of quality timber of hardwood species, including shisha, walnut, oak and ash, with the decision not to exercise “sustainable forest management”, resulting in up to 3.7 million cubic metres of valuable timber rotting in forests.

Last October, Wood Central revealed that forests located in the Afghan-Pakistan corridor were fueling a booming trade in conflict timber for decades – with smuggled timber railway ‘sleepers’ exported from Pakistan and funding terror across the region.

Now, officials from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – close to the region – are concerned about the decomposition of a large quantity of timber – which they claim is fuelled by climate change. 

Like Afghanistan, Pakistan participates in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, with regional exports ending up in Chinese supply chains and exported into global markets.

As reported by Pakistan-based Dawn, “up to 80% of the income generated from selling timber went into the pockets of locals, whilst the remaining 20% went into the provincial kitty.”

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Pakistan, like Afghanistan, is a member of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. By the numbers, the total forest area of BRI countries represents 30.5% of the global forest area, with total forest product trade between the countries growing from US $48 billion in 2013 to US $72 billion in 2021.

The problems arise from a 1993 ban pushed by the former Pakistani government to stop the scientific management of forests, originally a two-year stop-gap “to enhance the capacity of the forest department personnel as well as organisational structure and mechanised harvesting.”

However, the ban – intended to expire in 1995 was not lifted for the next 22 years, according to officials, “owing to the government’s indifference towards harvesting the “dead, dying, diseased or wind-felled” trees from forests in the province.

Finally, in 2015, the ban was lifted, with the Climate Change and Forest Department on Scientific Lines approved working plans for each forest. Under the working plans, officials marked dead, dying, diseased or wind-felled trees and matured trees for harvest. 

However, the officials said the department failed to execute the working plan due to “green and red tape” from anti-deforestation environmental groups and wavering support from the government.

Wood Central understands the department has failed to execute the working plans owing to the ‘pressure’ from social media. Now, officials have expressed concerns that by caving” into external pressures, the government is promoting an environment where the scientific management of forests is questioned.

They said some social media users even showed the “legitimate felling of trees as the handiwork of timber mafia”.

When contacted, the Secretary of the Climate Change and Forest Department, Nazar Hussain Shah, said that the skills of forest employees regarding scientific management were affected owing to the ban on forest harvesting since 1992.

He said that the harvest of forests on scientific lines was going on worldwide, which was good for forests’ health: “The majority of the developed countries, including Germany and Canada, were earning billions of dollars annually by exporting timber.”

“If the timber is not exported, then it will get rotten, which has been happening for the last 22 years since the ban imposed on harvest,” Secretary Shah said.

In Malakand alone, 34,000 cubic metres of timber, with a market value of about US $7 million, are wasted in the forest and are in dire need of transportation. “Another 70,000 cubic timber is also located in the Malakand region-III, which can generate US $17.7 million at minimum price,” according to an official who spoke to Dawn overnight. 

Besides marked timber in the region, the official said, an additional millions of cubic metres of timber was matured and ready for harvest. 

Still, they could not harvest it as the provincial government was not supporting them due to pressure from organisations working against deforestation.

He said the scientific management of forests was “only limited to paper,” with “practically no scientific management” across the total forest cover.

This decision has had significant implications for not only the sustainable production of timber, firewood, and other minor forest products but also for better health and hygiene of forests to reduce fire hazards and flood disasters.

“Harvesting of such timber will not only improve the health and hygiene of forests but will also enhance their production,” he said, before adding that the province produced the best quality timber in the world, including deodar, kail, fir/spruce, and chir, which were all softwood timber of pine species.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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