ISLAMABAD (IPS): Pakistan has framed a biodiversity conservation and protection plan aimed at stemming biodiversity loss, restoring ecosystems and promoting sustainable use of natural resources for the wellbeing of the present and the future generations.

For farmers Zainb Samo and Aziz Hingorjo, who lost their rich arable land to desertification in the southern district of Tharparkar, any national blueprint that aims to secure lives and livelihoods by controlling the loss of biodiversity and protecting and conserving it through sustainable use is euphoric.

They say they hope the plan would mean not only protection of biodiversity from degradation or loss but also sustainability of the lives and livelihoods that depend on it, particularly water, soil, and vegetation for grazing and fruit trees.

“We understand that rapid loss of trees and vegetation cover in our desert district of Tharparkar of over 1.6 million people has become a key cause of the desert’s advance, which has been slowly and steadily devouring scattered pockets of arable soil and natural rainwater harvesting ponds. This grim situation has already forced many families migrate to urban and barrage areas in search of livelihood opportunities and where they can find abundant availability of water and fodder for their cattle,” Aziz Hingorjo said.

Approval of the draft National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) on November 6 by all four federating units (provinces) and the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region has paved the way for its implementation early next year, said Raja Naeem Ashraf, the Director of Biodiversity at the Climate Change Ministry.

Environmental protection, ecosystem conservation and sustainable use of natural resources and protection of wildlife were outlined as key goals of NBSAP, the plan aims to stem the loss of biodiversity, restoration ecosystem goods and services, and promote sustainable use for the wellbeing of the present and future generations.

It outlines measures for tackling the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming it across government and society at large, cutting the direct pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use.

Also it includes ways of improving the biodiversity’s status by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity, enhancing the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services and boosting its implementation..

“We are also looking at the NBSAP and how we can use it to achieve sustainable food security while engaging with all natural resource users for durable exploitation of the resources to address the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, and while maintaining the ability of natural systems to continue to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon, which the country’s economy and society depend,” Ashraf told IPS.

Hammered out by the Pakistani Ministry of Climate Change’s forestry wing in collaboration with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the country’s provincial forest, water, environment and wildlife experts, the biodiversity conservation strategy and plan is a well thought-out ambitious framework.

Javed Ahmed, biodiversity expert at IUCN in Islamabad and one of the NBSAP’s authors, says the NBSAP was prepared to meet international obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and to achieve 20 targets. called “Aichi Biodiversity Targets” agreed during the Conference of the Parties (COP) held in Japan 2010, which adopted a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

“At least halving and where feasible, bringing close to zero the rate of loss of natural habitats, including forests; establishing a conservation target of 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas; restoring at least 15 per cent of degraded areas through conservation and restoration activities and making special efforts to reduce the pressures faced by coral reefs are among the 20 targets that NBSAP would strive to achieve,” Ahmed said.

Seerat Asghar, Federal Secretary for Food Security and Research says that limited knowledge about the consequences of biodiversity loss and inadequate institutional capacity to control it, large-scale use of chemical fertilisers in the agriculture sector and unsustainable use of natural resources and massive tree-cutting have made checking environmental degradation worse.

This has resulted in decreased soil infertility, deforestation, and a loss of crop productivity and biodiversity, which is gradually escalating poverty and hunger, he highlighted.

Asghar hopes given the perspective of the state of biodiversity loss in the country, the emergence of NBSAP is a welcome move and that it would help address pressing causes of biodiversity loss in the country.

Zainab Samo and her son spend eight hours every day at three-acre family farm in Nagarparkar town, where they cultivate onion, tomato, chilli crops that earn Samo enough to support herself and her two children.

But another key crop also dots the boundary lines of her dry farmland: over 250 indigenous trees, planted as a part of an agro-forestry for food security initiative aimed at fighting back advancing desertification as well as tackling food insecurity in the arid town of nearly half a million people.

Some of the trees, such as the lemons, planted three years ago now also provide her with a source of income.

As a widow, Samo was among lucky women nominated as beneficiaries of a five-year agro-forestry project launched in 2011 by a community-based organization Baanh Beli in financial support with the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

She was assisted in 2012 financially and technically with planting indigenous trees on the edges of her farmland and looking after them until they fully grew as a part of protection of nutrient-rich soil from expanding desertification and aridity effects in the desert town, said Hanif Samo, coordinator of the local NGO Baanh Beli, told IPS.

She said, “Few weeks back I harvested some 9,600 kilos of onion, which earned me around 60,000 Pakistani rupees or 572 dollars. Total cost of onion plantation stood at around Pakistani rupees 38,000 or 362 dollars.”

That same philosophy drives another agro-forestry and sustainable grazing project in Tharparker backed by Drynet International, Catholic Relief Services and the World Food Programme. The project, started in 2003 and has led to the establishment of about 35 small demonstration agro-pastoral farms as a part of the Tharparkar district’s biodiversity conservation from desert’s advance.

Hingorjo, a 43-year old livestock farmer says he was extremely worried over depleting natural resources including underground water and vegetation.

“But, economic support in shape of agro-pastoral farming, help in managing it and capacity building for better and efficient use of depleting water resources for livestock and the agriculture saved me and my family from slipping into a trap of hunger and poverty,” he said.

He now looks after 3,300 indigenous trees of different species provided to him under the project. His pastoral farm over 2.5 hectares now provides grown fodder enough for his 21 cattle.

“The trees have helped check desertification by stablising moving sand dunes in and around the pastoral farm. Besides, my livestock has grown healthy and multiplied due to continuous supply of fodder from the pastoral farm,” he said.

As many as 15 agro-pastoral farms have been established in the Tharparkar district by the Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) in support with the Drynet international, each covering 2-3 hectares. These farms combine food crops, agro-forestry and managed grazing, set up both as productive units and demonstration farms. Other farmers visit from different parts of the country’s arid or semi-arid zones and learn techniques of combating desertification.

“Approximately less than one fourth of the country’s some 180 million population, is poor and directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, whether agriculture, hunting, forestry, fisheries, etc. Poverty combined with a rapidly increasing population and growing urbanization, is leading to intense pressures on the land. However, Pakistan like many other places in the world faces grave challenges of land degradation and desertification,” Said Tanveer Arif, CEO of SCOPE, a non-governmental rights-based advocacy organization.

He pointed out that over a quarter of 26 million hectares of agricultural land is vulnerable to wind and water erosion, salinity, and water logging. Unsustainable land management practices in the country are causing significant environmental problems, including soil erosion, loss of soil fertility and associated crop productivity, flash floods, sedimentation of water courses, and deforestation and the associated loss of soil carbon and biodiversity.

“The solution, however, lies in improving ecosystem resilience, land productivity through sustainable natural resources management, awareness, protecting habitats of globally important species, mitigating and adapting to desertification and drought effects through boosting vegetation and tree cover, reducing poverty and promoting agro-forestry, agro-pastoral farming sustainable land grazing, alternative and renewable energy technologies,” the biodiversity director Ashraf stressed.