MoU between Forest department and Merlyn Woods rejected
Sarhad Awami Forestry Ittehad (SAFI), an alliance of private forests' stakeholders of Malakand and Hazara divisions, has unanimously rejected the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Forest Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Merlyn Woods, London and called for the immediate cancellation of the agreement.The meeting of the SAFI was held here with Mohammad Riaz, chairman SAFI in the chair was attended by forests' owners from Malakand and Hazara divisions.
The Department of Forest, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has signed an MoU with Merlyn Woods Company Pvt (London UK) for leasing out in excess of 300,000 hectares for 40 years with grant in aid of Pound Sterling 12 million at a ratio of 20:80 of Pakistan's most important tracts of forests for carbon credit sales/purchase under the Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Programme.Citing grounds for unanimous rejection of the MoU between KP Forest Department and Merlyn Woods, it said that forests in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are being managed under the NWFP Forest Ordinance 2002 and the Forest Department is not the sole owner of forests in the province.
Those forests which the KP Forest Department claims to own and attempts to assert direct control over is highly disputed with a history of many decades.Even in Reserve Forests (Forest Department owned forests), which are a meager 7 per cent of the total forested area in the province, forest dependent peoples living in the vicinity of these forests have legitimate and extensive rights.
Guzara Forest or privately owned forests (38% of KP's forests), comprise of most of the forests in the districts of Haripur, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Kohistan and Batagram.
There is no provision in the NWFP Forest Ordinance 2002 that allows the Forest Department to lease out Guzara Forests.In the Guzara Forest, the Forest Department retains 20% managerial charges and 80% is distributed among the owners.
Protected Forests in Malakand Division are 35% of KPK's forests and the Forest Department shares profit incurring from these forests on a ratio of 60:40 in most areas and 80:20 in other areas.
This means that the Forest Department is not the real owner of most of the forests' of KPK as by law it is simply a custodian/manager of the people's forests.
As a custodian/manager, the Forest Department takes 20-40% of the profit, which is to be deposited in the Forest Development Fund as per law.The primary question that thus arises is how the KPK Forest Department was able to sign a MOU with Merlyn Woods to lease out for 40 years 300,000 hectares of rich and diverse forests in the province which are mostly the direct ownership of the people without taking the free, prior and informed consent of all the owners, right holders and forest dependent peoples.According to SAFI under the Forest Ordinance 2002, this agreement is illegal because there is no provision in the Ordinance 2002 which allows forest department to lease out forests for the Sale/Purchase of Carbon Credits, which is the main objective of the Merlyn Woods agreement with KPK Forest Department.
According to Section 105 of the Ordinance, the Forest Department can lease out the Reserve Forests and Protected Forests only for 1) planting trees 2) implementing agro forestry and social forestry, and 3) operating farms for breeding wildlife and biodiversity conservation provided for the achievement of said purposes.
No activities shall be allowed which are inconsistent with the principles of Sustainable Forest Management or prejudicial to the rights and concessions of the local communities.The SAFI further said that the agreement does not protect the rights of forest owners, forest dependent people or royalty holders - small or large holders.
Irrespective of the fact that the Forest Ordinance 2002 is not a solution to the tenure issues, but it has laid certain laws down.
It said that according to Section 39 of the Ordinance 2002, the net profit, if any, arising from the management of Guzara Forests shall be paid to Guzara Owners after deducting at source the harvesting or any other charges incurred in connection with the management of such land, timber surcharges, other charges/surcharges as well as managerial charges on the profit.Contrarily all the profit generated from the carbon credits is divided between the KP Forest Department and Merlyn-Wood with 20:80 ratio.
Under the constitution, the protection of the legal rights of the citizens is the prime responsibility of the State.
However, the agreement between KP Government and Merlyn-wood has been signed in a way that the meager rights given by Forest Ordinance 2002 to the already marginalized owners, residents and right-holders have been ignored.