Problems

Afghanistan has two basic forest types: closed forest of oak and conifer in the monsoon-influenced areas of eastern Afghanistan and savannah-like, open pistachio woodlands originally located in an arc around the mountains [1].

A few centuries ago, deciduous and evergreen forests covered about 5% of the country’s total land area, including one million hectares of oak and two million hectares of pine and cedar growing mostly in the eastern part of the country. Additionally, open woodland dominated by pistachios, almonds and junipers occupied an additional 33% of land area [2].

Unfortunately, this is not the situation today, with natural forests now occupying less than one million hectares (less than 2% of Afghanistan’s total area) [2]. During the last 40 years, about 70% of the country’s forests have disappeared [3]. From 2000 to 2005, the forest declined at an approximate rate of 3%, or 30,000 hectares a year [2]. Additionally, Afghan forest trees grow very slowly, and the present rate of deforestation could result in the complete destruction of the forest within 25 years [3].

After water, forests may be Afghanistan’s most important renewable resource, as forest products (firewood, timber, animal fodder and tree crops) contribute to the livelihoods of millions. Forests provide a range of important ecosystem services and are a critical source of rural energy. They also reduce the risk of soil erosion, land degradation and landslides [4]. Forest decline in Afghanistan has had implications for groundwater tables which appear to be precipitously declining, and for soil erosion, which currently affects over 80% of Afghanistan’s land [2].

Causes

Deforestation appears to continue unabated today [1]. The primary factors causing forest and woody cover loss are overgrazing and the unsustainable collection of fuelwood [2]. Wingard et al. (2008) estimated that firewood harvest for the Kabul market alone results in the destruction of 10,000 ha of oak forest and 15,000 ha of juniper forest each year in Paktiya and Khost Provinces [1].

Illegal export of timber to Pakistan through the lawless tribal areas is also a significant cause of deforestation in Afghanistan, but unquantifiable because of security concerns. The Presidential Decree banning forest harvest is unfamiliar to most Afghans, or is simply ignored [1].

Responses

Key policies and governance approach

A number of forest policies have been adopted in recent years in the country. In 2006, an executive order that was issued by then President Hamid Karzai banned illegal logging and felling of trees and shrubs in natural forests in Afghanistan. Following this executive order, Afghanistan’s Forest Management Law was passed in 2012, which declared natural forests and woodlands as public property owned by the national government. However, the law also promotes community-based forest management and allows indigenous communities to utilize and manage the forest in collaboration with the Department of Natural Resources [5].

In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) issued a National Natural Resource Management Strategy (2017-2021), promoting the concept of Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) [2]. While restoring the resource base (rangelands and forest resources), is important for the rural economy, the Strategy also aims to generate employment to the tune of around 16.7 million man-days of unskilled labor and 1,500 skilled jobs over the course of 5 years, thus benefitting more than a million households [6]. In support of the Natural Resource Management Strategy, MAIL implemented several projects, including the ‘Forest restoration and protection’ project, which was implemented across 20 provinces in Afghanistan and aimed to improve conservation and management of forest ecosystems [2].

In 2021, the Taliban Council of Ministers made the decision that deforestation, and the selling and transferring of timber are extremely prohibited like in the past, according to Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban and Deputy Minister of Information and Culture [7].

 

SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES

In spite of its promise for promoting decentralized forest management, the Forest Law has only been partially implemented by the national government due to a number of constraints, including the unstable social and political situation stemming from the country’s longstanding violent conflicts. In addition, logging restrictions in the absence of adequate law enforcement have contributed to the emergence of a smuggling economy in the country for the illicit export of economically valuable timber resources [5].

Illegal deforestation and smuggling of timber continues throughout the country. Recently, NEPA expressed particular concern about illegal deforestation in the Nuristan province, where in 2020, the forests had been declared as protected areas and/or national parks [8].

 

Initiatives and Development Plans

NEPA and MAIL had been promoting tree planting with provincial authorities under the banner of "a tree for yourself, a tree for the homeland." In the Paktia and Paktika provinces, the Government planted 8.2 million pine trees and worked with local elders to educate communities and give people a chance to benefit from forests by, for example, using their fruits, rather than cutting wood [9]

 

Goals and Ambitions

By 2025, the previous Government had hoped to increase forest cover to 1.9 million hectares, which had been its size before 2000 [10].

Opportunities
  • If managed responsibly and sustainably, the forestry industry in the eastern part of the country has the potential to generate much needed revenue for the Government as well as “green” jobs for the local population [4].
  • The forestry sector has significant potential to play a larger role in the country's climate change mitigation efforts. Updating the Forest Law to include specific references to climate change, such as identifying climate risks to the forestry sector and appropriate adaptation techniques to be used, will provide the legal backing for REDD+ and future carbon trading under the Paris Agreement.
  • A comprehensive survey of forest and rangeland species (flora and fauna) is needed to determine which species are most threatened by and resilient to climate change, and these findings should then be incorporated into national forestry and rangeland management policies.
Sources

[1] National Environmental Protection Agency of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2014). National Biodiversity Strategy & Action Plan. Framework for Implementation 2014 – 2017.

[2] Global Environment Facility (GEF) (2019). Combating land degradation and biodiversity loss by promoting sustainable rangeland management and biodiversity conservation in Afghanistan.

[3] Delegation of the European Union to Afghanistan (2017). Specific Contract No . 2016 / 377924 COUNTRY ENVIRONMENT PROFILE FOR AFGHANISTAN.

[4] United Nations Environment Programme (2013). Natural Resource Management and Peacebuilding in Afghanistan.

[5] Shalizi, M.N., Khurram, S., Groninger, J.W., Akamani, K. and Morrissey, R.C., (2020). Redbud woodlands conservation status in Afghanistan: Implications for sustaining vulnerable ecosystems under multiple drivers of change. Global Ecology and Conservation22, p.e00942. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e00942.

[6] World Bank. 2018. Managing Afghanistan’s Rangelands and Forest Resources: An Assessment of Institutional and Technical Capacity Constraints. © World Bank.

[7] Mohammad Shaker Rasa (2021). [Online]. Available: https://8am.af/eng/deforestation-is-utterly-prohibited-taliban-council-says/.

[8] Hashte Subh (2021). [Online]. Available: https://8am.af/eng/the-taliban-must-stop-deforestation-in-nuristan-province-afghanistan/.

[9] Shadi Khan Saif (2021). [Online]. Available: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/afghanistan-inching-closer-to-revive-forest-cover/2183048.

[10] Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska (2019). [Online]. Available: https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2019/7/4/were-in-crisis-the-high-price-of-deforestation-in-afghanistan.