Nieuws - 7 februari 2013

Woman are the real foresters in Pakistan

Joris Tielens

Disputes about forest fires in Pakistan.
Only women are above suspicion.

Forest fires in Pakistan are often started deliberately. But who does it?
Fires are frequently started in the forests of the Pakistan province of Haripur. The government forest service blames the arson on livestock holders who are thought to start the fires in order to obtain grass for their stock. But sociologist Arjumand Nizami thinks otherwise. Nizami worked for years for NGOs in the field of forest management and got his PhD last week in the Rural Development Sociology chair group at Wageningen University.  
Trying to get to the bottom of the fires is a complicated business, says Nizami. 'Everyone points to someone else as the culprit.' Livestock holders deny all involvement and say they only start fires on open ground. The landless poor point the finger at forest owners, who are forbidden by Pakistani law to fell young trees on their land. After a forest fire, however, the owner is allowed to sell the wood from the now dead trees. So fire can be lucrative for him. Corrupt government foresters could be implicated in the fires too.
According to Nizami, there is only one group that is above suspicion: women. Women also stand to benefit the most from the forests, the sociologist explains. All the firewood needed for cooking is collected by women. The forest also provides food in times of scarcity, when the women pick wild vegetables and herbs there.  The forest also produces wild pomegranates, the seeds of which bring in an income as an ingredient in Asian spices.
So women are really the most important forest managers, concludes Nizami. 'I have seen them with my own eyes, putting out forest fires by hitting them with branches.' He therefore advises Pakistani foresters to improve their collaboration with women. But there is a very long way to go, he admits. 'In rural Pakistan, women hardly have a say in anything.'