Supporting sustainable forest management in the Palas Valley, Pakistan
Location and biodiversity importance
The Palas Valley lies within the Western Himalayas Endemic Bird Area (EBA), a priority area for the conservation of global biodiversity. This EBA extends from northern Pakistan and adjacent parts of Afghanistan to western Nepal, and supports 11 bird species which are found nowhere else in the world.
The most important habitat for these birds is West Himalayan temperate forest; the Palas Valley includes the largest single tract of this habitat in Pakistan, much of which is relatively undisturbed. Eight of the 11 characteristic species of the Western Himalayas EBA occur in the Palas valley, and the population of Western Tragopan in the Palas valley is believed to be the largest remaining in the world. Palas also contains many rare and/or threatened mammal species, and is a centre of plant endemism and diversity.
Although relatively little of Palas is cultivated, about 40,000 people live in the valley, and these people depend almost entirely on the resources of the valley.
Livestock rearing is an important part of most households' livelihoods and the traditional Palasi lifestyle involves most of the population moving with their livestock between winter villages and summer pastures, to make best use of the forest resources.
Non-timber products, such as the morel mushroom, are crucial for local consumption and for sale. But despite its biological richness, Palas is one of the least developed and poorest parts of Pakistan, and poverty is a root cause of some of the threats that the area now faces. Agricultural production is poor, cultivable land is scarce, and development is hindered by poor infrastructure.
BirdLife International began working in the Palas Valley in 1991, with the inception of the Himalayan Jungle Project (HJP), and continues to work for conservation and development in the valley.
The future of the biodiversity of the Palas Valley depends on the relevance of conservation to the everyday lives of the valley's inhabitants. Between 2001 and 2005 BirdLife supported the Wildlife Department of the Government of North West Frontier Province to implement a project which had as its goal to safeguard the biodiversity of the Palas Valley by enabling local communities to tackle the linked causes of poverty and natural resource degradation. The emphasis was on enabling people to take action for their perceived needs, and the project crystallised around six main programmes: social organisation and participation; infrastructure rehabilitation (of bridges, water mills and irrigation channels); natural resource management (an agricultural development programme that focused on introduction of improved varieties of maize and on production of orchard fruits such as apples, plums, pears and cherries); biodiversity survey and monitoring; forest management; as well as activities for the improvement of health, nutrition and sanitation. Its objectives were:
- to catalyse and facilitate the establishment and/or strengthening of viable community organisations that sustain participation in conservation and development.
- to safeguard biodiversity and optimise the flow of local, national and global benefits from the management and sustainable use of natural resources through: conservation and environmental awareness; participatory forest management; sustainable agricultural development for improved nutrition and income generation; and improved animal husbandry and rangeland management.
- to foster the local economy and facilitate natural resource management through the rehabilitation and development of basic infrastructure.
- to develop and sustain improvements in health, nutrition and sanitation, particularly among women and children.
Strengthening social organisation and community participation
Communities in Palas need the institutional capacity to manage their natural resources sustainably and holistically, to claim their rights to development, and to work with agencies and government to identify and implement projects which will deliver social and economic benefits in the long-term. Whilst the EU-funded initiative in the Palas Valley assisted with institutional development, the CBOs are still in their infancy and need continued support and strengthening to allow them to reach the ‘maturity’ required to have a voice in the planning that affects their lives. BirdLife believes that strong community-based organisations, the revenue derived from sustainable use of the forests, and improved systems for access to service-delivery agencies, will empower people of Palas to begin to address poverty in the Valley.
In partnership with the Wildlife Department of North West Frontier Province and WWF-Pakistan, BirdLife is currently (2005-2008) implementing a project titled “Deconcentration of power to the local level in Pakistan: empowering for change in a tribal society of North West Frontier Province”. The project will:
build capacity in newly formed Community Based Organisations (CBOs) so that they can become effective institutions for local decision-making and self-help development;
network CBOs at Valley level to form an ‘All-Palas’ Federation for coordinated decision-making and enhanced bargaining power;
raise awareness among people of the Palas Valley of the rights and opportunities for development provided through government policy on local council development funding;
support a process through which CBOs work effectively with key government departments to enhance service delivery and to best manage the development of natural resources of the Palas Valley for social and economic benefit (poverty alleviation);
build capacity in the Forest Department and the Wildlife Department to support participatory, integrated development based on the sustainable use of the Palas Valley’s natural resources.
Earthquake relief and reconstruction in the Palas valley
In September 1992, catastrophic rainfall (half the annual rainfall in 4 days) led to disastrous flooding in Palas. The floods destroyed over 50 foot-bridges and many sections of the main Bar Palas footpath, cutting off access to the Karakoram Highway and seasonal migration routes. The floods also destroyed or damaged almost every irrigation channel in Bar Palas - irrigation is essential for production of the staple maize crop - and destroyed 28 of the valley's 40 watermills. The damage to communications and food production and processing systems threatened to lead to food shortages and increased impoverishment of Palas communities.
Responding to these development needs, BirdLife has been supporting implementation of a rehabilitation and improvement programme, building suspension foot-bridges, improving the main Bar Palas footpath, renovating irrigation channels, and reconstructing watermills. This involvement of BirdLife supports biodiversity conservation by helping to build credibility and goodwill among forest owners; providing activities which can be used to catalyse Community-Based Organisations; and assisting the project in the mediation of a local agreement on forest conservation.
In October 2005, much of the efforts at improving this infrastructure were reversed in a matter of seconds when a massive earthquake struck parts of northern Pakistan. BirdLife responded immediately to this catastrophe, helping to coordinate the relief effort in the valley, and raising funds to repair some of the infrastructure (see BirdLife News: 'Palas relief effort shifts to shelters and roads' 25-11-2005, 'As winter ends, Palas reconstruction begins' 09-03-2006, 'Road to recovery for Palas Valley' 06-10-2006). This experience has shown the value of an approach focused on empowering community institutions. The Palas Conservation and Development Federation proved to be an effective organisation for assessing the impact of the earthquake, identifying the specific needs for emergency relief, and ensuring a fair and efficient distribution of relief supplies.
Donors and project partners
BirdLife’s current activities in Palas are funded by the UK Department for International Development through their Civil Society Challenge Fund. The project is implemented in partnership with the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Wildlife Department and World Wildlife Fund Pakistan.
For further details contact:
The Chief Technical Advisor,
Palas Conservation Programme (DPLL project),
Hs. 419, Street 3, Jinnahabad,
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Tel: (+92) 992 380567. Fax: (+92) 992 380258.