Story | 06 Dec, 2022

The Restoration Initiative: A Pakistan story

A pine nut value chain is saving threatened chilgoza forests in Pakistan

The TRI Pakistan project is building capacity for local processing of chilgoza pine nuts in the country’s northern regions. These actions are helping revitalize these cherished forests while protecting livelihoods.

The chilgoza pine forests of Pakistan span the dry temperate forests near the base of the Himalayan mountains. The trees produce an edible nut known for its creamy flavour that is highly valued and an important source of income for local communities. In recent years, demand for pine nuts has skyrocketed both locally and internationally, and Pakistan is now the third largest producer of pine nuts in the world after China and the Russian Federation. Unfortunately, this growing demand is coupled with poor forest management practices, which threaten the sustainability of the chilgoza forests of Pakistan, the production of pine nuts and community livelihoods.

Left unchecked, unsustainable harvesting feeds into a vicious cycle that keeps pine trees and other plant populations from recovering on their own – a process called natural regeneration. This in turn impacts the entire forest ecosystem and reduces the locals’ ability to rely on the forest as a source of food for grazing livestock, fuel and other products, such as medicinal plants, mushrooms and honey. To address these challenges in a way that balances the well-being of local communities, the TRI Pakistan project is strengthening the pine nut value chain across four districts: Sherani in the Balochistan Province, Chillas in the Gilgit Baltistan Region, and Chitral and South Waziristan in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. This improved value chain better accounts for the harms of deforestation while reflecting the benefits of restoration. It also incentivizes improved management of these ecologically and socially important forests.

Creating economic opportunities

The TRI Pakistan project together with the Pakistan Forest Department is promoting an integrated management approach that teaches and enforces science-based management practices, the use of sustainable harvesting techniques and improved post-harvesting methods, which safeguard dwindling numbers of healthy pine trees. In 2020, the 14 CFPCCs – where communities play a participatory role in supporting the local management, protection and restoration of the forests – adopted measures that formed the foundation for the project’s successes in 2021. The measures outlined sustainable amounts of pine cone harvesting within permitted seasons, banned large-scale commercial harvesting and established community monitoring and enforcement of regulations with fines for violations, such as the collection of unripe cones.

With a framework of good practices and enforcement in place, the TRI Pakistan project was able to establish two pine nut processing units in Sherani and Chitral in 2021, bringing the total to four installed by the project since inception. The processing units enable more efficient cleaning, grading, washing, drying, roasting and packing of pine nuts, which increase the overall shelf-life of the pine nuts. They also empower forest users, create new job opportunities, especially for women, and incorporate more communities in chilgoza related opportunities and trade. Ultimately, this self-sufficiency in the harvesting and post harvesting process provides communities with long-term assurance regarding income and employment while incentivizing better management and protection of resources. It enables the communities to not only sustainably collect, roast, sort and pack pine nuts, but also build their capacity to access the national market directly. Direct access ensures locals capture a more substantial share of the revenue generated from pine nut sales than what has previously been possible.

The project’s four processing units have been met with resounding support with just under 60 000 kg of pine nuts being processed in 2021. This production amounts to PKR 90 million (USD 513 000) earned across the districts, and due to high demand, the TRI Pakistan project now aims to establish four additional units. This acceptance highlights the potential for small-scale processing enterprises to play a larger role in the country’s economic development.

Embedding regeneration into the value chain

In addition to enabling independent postprocessing, the TRI Pakistan project is supporting natural regeneration by improving the management and collection of pine nuts. In the past, the chilgoza pine cones which house the pine nuts were crudely collected. Collectors would strip trees of entire branches or even worse, fell an entire tree to ensure every single cone was collected. This type of harvesting not only injures the tree, making natural regeneration more difficult, but it also impacts birds, pollinators, and unique plants and animals, including the rare and endangered snow leopard (Panthera uncia), the Himalayan lynx (Lynx lynx) and the Kashmir markhor (Capra falconeri) – also known as the screw-horned goat – which rely on the forests for shelter and food.

In 2021, the TRI Pakistan project provided training and supplied 300 harvesting toolkits to promote less damaging cone collection at the earliest stages of the value chain. Each toolkit included a high-quality cone pruner, a safety belt, a helmet, gloves, hard-toe boots, climbing spikes, cone pickers and gum remover waxes. Using this equipment saves trees and branches from harm as the cones can be more easily detached. Importantly, these kits also make harvesting safer and have significantly reduced the number of human injuries and casualties. In 2018, 26 people were injured and five were killed harvesting chilgoza cones across all the districts. In 2021, only three injuries and one death were reported. Other support interventions included providing farmers with cone-cracking machines and the distribution of 1 000 fuel-efficient stoves and 200 gasifiers – low-cost stoves that produce fuel from agrowaste. The impact of these stoves and gasifiers in reducing demand for firewood harvested from the forest will be assessed in 2022.

Even with these improvements, many uncertainties remain that could endanger the progress made in strengthening the pine nut value chain and restoring the chilgoza pine forests of Pakistan. These uncertainties include a poorly performing economy, limited research and technical advice, as well as inadequate marketing and an unreliable market. Additionally, moving beyond small-scale processing will require government support for improved infrastructure that alleviates constraints felt by farmers, equipment manufacturers and processors across the value chain. However, even with these unknowns, the TRI Pakistan project is proving an excellent example of how enhancing people’s well-being by supporting local livelihoods and providing a regular, continuous source of income creates interest to conserve and restore treasured landscapes. The continued empowerment of local communities remains the crux of the project’s success and is key to reviving the chilgoza pine forest ecosystems for generations to come.

TRI Pakistan project is proving an excellent example of how enhancing people’s well-being by supporting local livelihoods and providing a regular, continuous source of income creates interest to conserve and restore treasured landscapes.

This story is from TRI Year in Review 2021