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Foreign and domestic government agencies and other international organizations pursue reforestation programs in rural upper watershed areas of Afghanistan over the past decade to alleviate poverty, combat the insurgency and rehabilitate a depleted forest resource base. Popular programs incorporate cash-for-work to conduct hillside terracing, check dam construction and tree-planting for nut production, fuel wood, timber, dune stabilization, and erosion abatement. Programmatic approaches have varied as a function of accessibility, security and local objectives. Uncertain land tenure and use rights, weak local environmental management capacity, and a focus on agricultural production to meet immediate needs limit interest, nationally and locally. Unreliable security, a lack of high quality tree planting stock, limited technical knowledge and coordination among government agencies, and poor security hamper program expansion. Reforestation success would be most likely where these issues are least acute. The Afghan government should focus on supporting community based natural resource management, developing and disseminating improved conservation tree nursery strategies, and promoting watershed management schemes that incorporate forestry, range management and agronomic production. Reforestation practitioners could benefit from the human and material resources now present as part of the international war effort. Successes and failures encountered in Afghanistan should be considered in order to address similar problems in insecure regions elsewhere when reforestation may help reverse environmental degradation and contribute to broader social stabilization efforts.
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Environmental Management
ISSN 0364-152X
Volume 49
Number 4
Environmental Management (2012)
DOI 10.1007/s00267-012-9817-6
Reforestation Strategies Amid Social
Instability: Lessons from Afghanistan
John W.Groninger
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Reforestation Strategies Amid Social Instability: Lessons
from Afghanistan
John W. Groninger
Received: 15 August 2011 / Accepted: 16 January 2012 / Published online: 8 February 2012
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012
Abstract Foreign and domestic government agencies and
other international organizations pursue reforestation pro-
grams in rural upper watershed areas of Afghanistan over
the past decade to alleviate poverty, combat the insurgency
and rehabilitate a depleted forest resource base. Popular
programs incorporate cash-for-work to conduct hillside
terracing, check dam construction and tree-planting for nut
production, fuel wood, timber, dune stabilization, and
erosion abatement. Programmatic approaches have varied
as a function of accessibility, security and local objectives.
Uncertain land tenure and use rights, weak local environ-
mental management capacity, and a focus on agricultural
production to meet immediate needs limit interest,
nationally and locally. Unreliable security, a lack of high
quality tree planting stock, limited technical knowledge
and coordination among government agencies, and poor
security hamper program expansion. Reforestation success
would be most likely where these issues are least acute.
The Afghan government should focus on supporting
community based natural resource management, develop-
ing and disseminating improved conservation tree nursery
strategies, and promoting watershed management schemes
that incorporate forestry, range management and agro-
nomic production. Reforestation practitioners could benefit
from the human and material resources now present as part
of the international war effort. Successes and failures
encountered in Afghanistan should be considered in order
to address similar problems in insecure regions elsewhere
when reforestation may help reverse environmental
degradation and contribute to broader social stabilization
Keywords Counterinsurgency Deforestation
Ecosystem restoration Pakistan Pistacea vera
Persistent national instability and sporadic local warfare
have led to the degradation, and in many instances, dev-
astation of Afghanistan’s forest environments. Common
signs are overgrazing, deforestation, timber high-grading,
indiscriminate fuel wood harvesting, and root excavation
(Saba 2001; Shimizu 2006). Total forest cover has
decreased drastically from an early 1980’s era estimate of
2.2 million ha (3.4% of the land area) with estimates of
remaining forest ranging from 60 to 20% of that value
(Azimi 2007; Anonymous 2010,2011). These conditions
are bemoaned by local people and Afghan government
officials alike, particularly those who witnessed the rapid
landscape deterioration beginning with the Soviet invasion
in the late 1970’s (Formoli 1995). However, despite
continuing conflict and poor security in nearly all candidate
areas, reforestation has been occurring since the 2001
ouster of the Taliban.
Reforestation is supported by many stakeholders, but
motivations differ among international donors, the central
Afghan government, and local peoples. Most Afghans are
directly dependent on irrigation agriculture for their live-
lihoods and water management is universally recognized
to be the most critical environmental and agricultural
issue (Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock
2009). Water infrastructure development and maintenance
J. W. Groninger (&)
Department of Forestry, Southern Illinois University,
Mailcode 4411, Carbondale 62901-4411, IL, USA
Environmental Management (2012) 49:833–845
DOI 10.1007/s00267-012-9817-6
Author's personal copy
problems have been attributed at least in part to recent
deforestation (Mahmoodi 2008). These include dam failure
due to sedimentation and devastating floods, exemplified
by the 2010 disaster in the Indus watershed of Afghanistan
and Pakistan. The specter of regional water wars across
central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, spawned in part
from dramatic watershed degradation, could motivate
watershed rehabilitation efforts (Qasim and others 2011;
United States Senate Majority Staff 2011). From this
international perspective, protecting the dams and reser-
voirs, in part through reforestation efforts, would be in the
best interest of Afghanistan, its instability-prone neighbors,
and the world at large. In many forested areas of Afghan-
istan, water is abundant and local motivation for refores-
tation is focused on more direct benefits. Nationally, the
most prevalent goals are pistachio (Pistacea vera) pro-
duction in the north and cash-for-work programs every-
where. Other topics mentioned by local people
incorporating tree planting include timber-based economic
development and ecotourism. In all cases, extensive
reforestation would be needed, even if deforestation ceased
Since the original ouster of the Taliban in 2001, refor-
estation has been limited to small-scale projects in rela-
tively secure areas. Because these are uncoordinated, no
reliable estimates regarding number, size or success rates
are available. However, based on informal surveys
including an inventory of perhaps a half million conser-
vation seedlings in government nurseries, a planting rate of
at least one thousand hectares per year is plausible (cf.
Harrington 2011). In most other areas, insurgents and their
local cooperators restrict access, precluding effective pro-
ject administration. There, anyone suspected of working
for the Kabul-based government or its allies are in direct
conflict with these local power brokers. Across much of the
rural landscape, anything beyond a single visit by a non-
local representing the government or its allies may provoke
a violent response. In particular, the forest regions near the
eastern Pakistan border have always been and continue to
be particularly dangerous for non-indigenous personnel due
to the presence of organized insurgents and outlaws
expelled from the more settled agricultural areas (Saba
2001). Despite these problems, some progress has been
made in Afghanistan to set the stage for an expansion of
reforestation efforts.
The objective of this paper is to evaluate recent refor-
estation efforts in Afghanistan in anticipation of the larger
scale programs needed to meaningfully address watershed-
scale degradation. The status of Afghan forest resources
and recent pilot scale reforestation efforts are reviewed.
Based on this experience, social and biophysical consid-
erations for program expansion and the Afghan forest
institutions needed to sustain these efforts are identified.
The paper concludes with a discussion of the persistent
challenges likely to be encountered by large-scale refor-
estation projects in Afghanistan and similarly insecure
settings elsewhere.
This paper is based on the author’s experience gained
primarily through nine temporary duty assignments to
address deforestation/reforestation issues in Afghanistan’s
forest regions spanning the period October 2005–March
2011. Eight of these assignments (beginning August 2008)
were directed by United States Agency for International
Development’s Afghanistan Water Agriculture and Tech-
nology Transfer Project. Assigned activities included
planning, assessment, and trouble-shooting pilot scale
reforestation and other watershed rehabilitation projects.
Field and nursery site visits were conducted within eight
provinces in northern, eastern and southern Afghanistan
across the major forest types. This information was sup-
plemented by the review of numerous reports, briefings,
and individual discussions with current and former Afghan
government forestry professionals as well as in-country
international civilian and military development personnel
engaged in forestry and related natural resource manage-
ment planning and implementation at the national, regio-
nal, provincial, and district levels.
Deforestation and its Drivers
Identifying the specific causes of deforestation is critical to
determining the sustainability of reforestation projects. Past
and present deforestation has been directly linked to
political turmoil both from within and outside Afghanistan
(Groninger 2006). Those frequently mentioned by forestry
advocates span a wide range of causes and ecosystems
(Table 1). Accordingly, strategies for addressing these vary
Destruction of the pistachio resource, scattered across
the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains in the northern
half of the country (FAO 2011), occurred during a short
period following expulsion of the Soviets. Amidst gov-
ernment collapse, a widely reported rumor that was initi-
ated to benefit foreign producers convinced local Afghans
desperate for cash to excavate pistachio roots (Saba 2001).
The landscapes dominated by pistachio were stripped bare
and often subjected to overgrazing. Quickly realizing their
mistake, local people and the Afghan government are eager
to restore and protect this resource so replanted trees are
likely to be maintained under the relatively much improved
social and economic conditions of the present time.
Fuel wood removal (for heating and cooking) occurs
across much of the Afghan landscape. In and near popu-
lated areas, children cut and excavate trees and shrubs for
home use. This practice, along with grazing, devastates
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vegetation near inhabited areas. In some more remote
areas, massive fuel wood cutting and timber smuggling is
driven by regional warlords, individuals who sometimes
are affiliated with insurgent organizations (Bader and oth-
ers 2010,2011). Extensive road system improvements
since 2001 appear to be expanding fuel wood cutting and
root excavation for marketing in cities. Oak (Quercus spp.)
is the most valuable wood for fuel and cooking. However,
Afghan forestry professionals consider the genus too slow
growing to address the short term needs that are the typical
focus of reforestation programs. Therefore, net loss of this
resource is likely to continue since local people and offi-
cials have shown little interest in restoring heavily
exploited native upper watershed species. When consider-
ing faster growing species, sustainability of fuel wood
planting would vary tremendously from one area to the
next depending on land tenure considerations and could
provide promising opportunities for agroforestry on irri-
gated or semi-irrigated land, provided this does not inter-
fere with food production.
Selective cutting of the highest quality cedar (Cedrus
deodara) and smuggling logs into Pakistan from the far
eastern Afghan provinces extending from Nurestan to
Paktika has occurred for many decades with both Afghan
and non-Afghan drivers (Saba 2001; Bader and others
2010). Also within the eastern monsoonal forest region,
unsustainable nut harvesting, as evidenced by heavy branch
removal, is common in Chilgoza pine (Pinus gerardiana).
Both the cedar and pine nut resources are concentrated in
some of the most insecure portions of Afghanistan.
Destruction of the pine resource is especially associated
with trees in areas where adjacent tribes or sub-tribes are
fighting and there is no clear resource ownership or outside
authority to mediate differences (Anonymous 2007). In
these cases, barriers to sustainability remain that could
prevent reforestation projects from being initiated, let alone
surviving beyond the establishment phase.
Reforestation Programs
Reforestation must address the short term needs of
impoverished and often insecure local people while pro-
viding time for the forest resource to become established.
Recent experience indicates that local cooperation and
participation requires a cash-for-work component, regard-
less of project focus (Table 2). The following projects have
been recently implemented:
Pistachio forest restoration has received the most
attention. Pistachio planting produces a familiar and
merchantable crop within 10 years. The relatively good
security and accessibility of pistachio growing regions
have undoubtedly also contributed to the relatively
rapid pace of recovery for this resource.
Locally accepted non-fruit bearing tree species planting
has relied heavily on the widely known non-native Naju
(Pinus halepensis). Naju has long been favored by
Afghan forestry personnel who recommend planting this
species across a wide range of rural and urban forestry
conditions. Good seed availability within Afghanistan
and adaptability to nursery production systems also help
explain the pervasiveness of this species.
Trees planted for fuel production include native and
introduced species (Table 2). Afghan forestry personnel
favor rapid growth and survivability over other traits
(Khaurin 2003). These species are sometimes inter-
spersed with slower growing timber species to provide a
source of fuel wood. Afghan forestry personnel do not
consider invasiveness of non-native species a potential
problem, presumably because all accessible and unpro-
tected organic matter, including potentially unwanted
tree growth, is consumed by animals or used for fuel.
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) planting has been limited
to the warmest areas near Pakistan where it is extensively
used in locations where water availability is adequate. In
Table 1 Degraded forest resources n Afghanistan
Resource (primary value) Degrading force Reforestation status or primary challenges
Pistacea vera (nuts) Rumors of root marketability caused rootstock
Reforestation ongoing
Shrubs and small trees excavated or
severely damaged (fuel and fodder)
Local/needs concentrated around populated areas Planting stock availability. Post-planting
Quercus (Q.baloot,Q.deletata, and
Q.semicarpifolia) and other tree genera
cut and roots excavated (fuel wood
Strongmen generating cash where ownership
is not clearly delineated or poorly defended
Little planting stock available. Little
interest in planting a slow-to-mature
Cedrus deodara (timber) High grading for timber smuggling into Pakistan Poor security
Pinus geradiana (pine nuts) Cone harvesting by heavy pruning where
ownership is not clearly delineated
Planting stock availability.
Limited interest in planting a
slow-to-mature resource
Environmental Management (2012) 49:833–845 835
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contrast to other regions (eg., Duguma and Hager 2011),
potentially negative effects of Eucalyptus on soil prop-
erties do not concern Afghan foresters. This is most likely
because Afghan soils are typically alkaline, the need for
woody materials is acute, and Eucalyptus is not incor-
porated with annual crops.
Terracing has been conducted both with and without
tree planting. Terraces, or similar hand-dug micro-
catchments established prior to planting, increase tree
survival in eroded soils by concentrating fine soil
particles and moisture adjacent to newly established
seedlings. Terracing as a stand-alone practice increases
herbaceous plant growth and satisfies both soil stabil-
ization and range improvement objectives. Further-
more, projects that implement terracing without
planting can be used to multiply the impact of
anticipated tree planting programs as an enduring site
preparation treatment. In this way, local people can
leverage additional support from future tree planting
programs while other benefits of terracing accrue.
Terracing is an easily initiated and remotely monitored
cash-for-work program with little need for advanced
planning and outside input. These are particularly
important considerations in areas where the presence of
an outsider could provoke a violent response.
Reforestation programs have addressed a myriad of
community challenges by operating within recognized
rural social norms (Table 3). Foremost is the recognition
that work is conducted by local people. Within this
framework, several models have been attempted:
Cash-for-work programs are sponsored by several
organizations to support a variety of objectives. Some
simply provide employment to local people and are
coordinated through local government. Others attract
past and potential combatants with opportunities to earn
money while conducting meaningful work within their
skill sets. This requires projects that can be rapidly
initiated when and where workers become available.
Small checkdams and hand dug terrace projects are
easily designed and implemented with minimum train-
ing and independent of planting season. Therefore,
these activities are favored for reintegration and
counterinsurgency. A variant of this program focuses
on also providing leadership and conservation training
to young men thought to be particularly vulnerable to
recruitment by the insurgency (Conniff 2010). These
individuals then serve as trainers for local workers and
as potential leaders for future conservation projects.
Conservation corps projects similarly focus on keeping
community structure intact (Markus and Groninger
2011). Unfortunately, cash-for-work projects run the
risk destabilizing the work force once the program
ends. When programs are linked to anti-insurgency
efforts, resentment may be aroused in neighboring
communities who did not support the insurgency but
see ex-combatants and their families receiving benefits
stemming from their past anti-government activities.
Conservation seedling associations encourage groups of
entrepreneurs to pool resources in order to produce and
market seedlings for reforestation. This organizational
model is widely employed across a variety of agricul-
ture sectors in Afghanistan with some success. Con-
servation tree nursery associations permit existing fruit
tree producers to convert some of their production
capacity to conservation species once more immediate
orchard re-establishment needs are met (Personal
communication, Sgt. Timothy Vermillion, Oklahoma
Agribusiness Development Team, Gardez, August 39,
2010). Fruit tree and conservation tree seedling pro-
duction systems differ and re-training would be neces-
sary in order to produce high quality planting stock
Table 2 Primary participants and post-project benefits associated with common non-farm reforestation and related programs
Project type Primary participants and regions Post-project benefits
Terracing and small check dam construction Locally unemployed in hill and
mountain regions
Watershed stabilization. Appropriate
natural resource management skills
and technologies conveyed
Dune stabilization (Artemesia spp.,
Haloxylon spp., Tamarix spp.)
Locally unemployed in affected areas Shelterbelts that serve a desirable
locations for settlements
Planting fast growing tree species (Acacia
modesta,Ailanthus excelsa,Ailanthus,
glandulosa,Amygdalus communis,Fraxinus
floribunda,Robinia pseudoacacia,
Eucalyptus spp.)
Local community members in the
monsoonal East and elsewhere
where moisture is sufficient
Fodder, fuel wood, range recovery
Planting Pinus halepensis Community members in many
Shade, shelterbelts, fuel, esthetics,
Planting Pistacea vera Community members in portions of
northern Afghanistan
Income from nut production
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(Harrington 2011). In particular, chilgoza pine has
proven especially poorly adapted to overwatering that
pervades nursery production systems.
Foster Mums in-home tree nurseries employs local
women identified by local leaders to be especially in need
of income (Personal communication, Eng. Hazrat.
H. Khaurin, Afghanistan Water Agriculture and Technol-
ogy Transfer Program, Kabul, March 6, 2010). Critical
technical information is transferred to local women
leaders who in turn train other women who produce
seedlings without the need for interaction with outsiders.
Producersare paid for seedlings they raise for reforestation
programs and are given the opportunity to sell excess
production on the open market. Future reforestation
projects can build on a network of in-home nurserywomen
who are already experienced producers of local planting
stock. This model works within the highly restrictive rural
Afghan social structure while producing immediate
income for some of its most vulnerable members. Foster
Mums training increases community capacity to address
reforestation needs and provides the opportunity for future
income. Furthermore, FosterMums facilitates interactions
among program participants that can lead to further
individual and social empowerment, including both
creating awareness of and solutions for local environ-
mental issues.
Considerations for Prioritizing Limited
Reforestation Resources
Afghanistan is diverse physically and culturally. The
interplay among the government, international military,
development organizations, insurgents, and other outside
influences contribute to highly dynamic attitudes and
actions within some rural communities. Afghan history is
full of examples where outsiders have quickly assessed the
situation, pursued actions consistent with prior experiences,
and failed, sometimes tragically. Therefore, all new activ-
ities must carefully consider both social and physical
dimensions to minimize the risks of unintended conse-
quences (Groninger and Lasko 2011). Based on recent
reforestation programs that have shown success of at least
short term duration, the following considerations are
offered for planning future efforts:
Assessing Community Interest
The broadest argument for reforestation invoked by the
Afghan government and its supporters is the connection
between upper watershed forest cover and lower watershed
agricultural development. Accordingly, government docu-
ments addressing watershed rehabilitation in Afghanistan
have focused on restoration of forests over other vegetation
community types on the basis of promoting agricultural
stability (Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock
2009, United States Government Accountability Office
2010). However, in Afghanistan’s upper watershed
reaches, local power prevails and people controlling forest
land are most likely to support reforestation if they can
expect a direct benefit including, but not necessarily lim-
ited to, cash-for-work. In the absence of strong local sup-
port, reforestation will not occur.
A growing problem for development planners is that
previous programs can impact expectations of stakeholders
and potential participants. In the 1960’s German interests
Table 3 Primary participants and post-project benefits of common socially focused reforestation and related programs
Project type Primary participants and accomplishments Post-project outcome
training programs
Young men with leadership potential are identified
by community leaders and implement projects
Local leadership with natural resource
management skills
Conservation corps Young men selected for program participation by
community leaders to provide labor for public
works projects
Labor force with some education and
natural resource work skills
Conservation tree
Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock
produces growing stock
Capacity to produce stock for additional conservation and
tree fruit plantings. Increased confidence in government
Nursery associations Entrepreneurs form associations and hire local
workers to produce growing stock
Capacity to produce growing stock for anticipated
conservation and fruit tree plantings. Economic
Foster mums in-home
Financially vulnerable women, as identified by a
community leaders, produce growing stock
Skills for high intensity nursery production. Economic
development. Empowerment
Forest guards Young men selected by village leaders protect
areas adjacent to the Pakistan border vulnerable
to timber poaching
Local resource protection. Ready-made militia
Reintegration Former insurgents provide labor for public
works projects
Trained workforce. Public works.
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established a highly integrated forest products production
system near the eastern Pakistan border, including har-
vesting crews, sawmill, furniture factory and tree nurseries
(Khan 2002). Additionally, armed rangers (forest guards)
were hired from local villages to protect the timber
resource from timber smugglers operating from Pakistan.
Presently, nothing tangible remains of this scheme, except
a strong desire by local leaders to restore the forest guards
with little interest shown for investing in other projects.
Anti-government elements opposed to any allied-led ini-
tiative, including reforestation, are very strong in this
highly contested area. Conversations with local people
suggest that material improvements would be likely stolen.
Educated people leave the area due to threats by insurgents.
Accordingly, development efforts have been suspended
there beginning in fall 2010. In less extreme cases, local
leaders become increasingly adept at extracting personal
benefits from development projects through their experi-
ences in negotiating with administrators.
Weak central government, strong tribal identity, and
often fluid local authority make local support essential to
the success of any venture. However, rural Afghan com-
munities often seek government support while otherwise
remaining openly defiant of their government (Marsden
2003). There are several communities that want no rela-
tionship with outside entities. However, most are interested
in work programs. More critical is to what extent refores-
tation will be supported once the cash payments cease.
Although controlling interests may change rapidly, local
cultural norms still play a role in explaining landscape
conditions and likely attitudes toward reforestation.
A comprehensive watershed improvement decision
making process would consider why some range and forest
lands are in better condition than others. Incidence of
timber theft and extent of range depredation vary consid-
erably, sometimes on adjacent lands (Bader and others
2010). In many cases, areas are exploited where land
ownership is unknown or poorly defended (Anonymous
2007). Although these lands are physically most in need of
rehabilitation, recent experience suggests that projects will
not be effective unless the conditions that led to the ori-
ginal destruction of the resource have been remedied.
Culture and Land Use Priorities
Valuation of trees versus range resources differ among
communities, as evidenced by varying resource manage-
ment skills and efforts displayed from village to village.
Interest and aptitude could predict the likelihood projects
will be well executed and maintained when allocating
limited resources. A long-term ethnological trend eroding
the prospect for forest recovery includes the rise of pastoral
societies at the expense of those more dependent on forests
(De Planhol 1996). The ascent of these societies, most
notably the Pashtun, has been associated with a gradual
loss of forest cover spanning millennia (De Planhol 1996;
Saba 2001; Miehe and others 2009). Therefore, an
unknown amount of land that is now classified as range had
more tree cover sometime in the past. However it is also
notable that range degradation exceeds forest loss in extent
if not intensity.
Recent migration patterns may also play a role in
explaining land management practices and behaviors. Many
people now living in rural Afghanistan grew up as inter-
national or internal refugees, often in cities. Accordingly,
they lack both the connection to a particular area of land,
commonly assumed in highly tribal societies, and a working
knowledge of land management. The absence of a long-
term perspective is particularly problematic for conserva-
tion advocates hoping to instill an understanding of the
natural vegetation processes. For example, some upper
watershed forests have been so consistently overgrazed that
the absence of seedlings and saplings (Wahab and others
2008) makes natural forest regeneration an abstract concept.
Grazers are ubiquitous. Therefore, an effective refores-
tation program must take domestic and feral livestock into
account. Sedentary and nomadic (Kuchi) grazing patterns
vary greatly by locality and add an additional level of com-
plexity to reforestation programs. In many cases, grazing
agreements exist between sedentary and Kuchi peoples that
can serve as a start for negotiating land protection needed to
allow reforestation and range recovery. However, the func-
tionality of these agreements has also been diminished by
recent rural population and power shifts.
Effective landscape rehabilitation considers the cost-
benefit relationships and relative sustainability of range
versus reforestation land uses, accounting for biophysical
capacity and user interest. In at least some areas of
Afghanistan, range rehabilitation could often be accom-
plished simply by delaying the initiation of seasonal
grazing. In contrast, forest restoration typically requires
tree planting, watering, and constant protection from dep-
redation by wildlife, grazers and feral goats for at least two
years (Personal communication, Eng. Hazrat. H. Khaurin,
Afghanistan Water, Agriculture and Technology Transfer
Program, Kabul, March 6, 2010). International and Kabul-
based institutions appear to be biased toward forest resto-
ration projects over those with an animal agriculture
component. This may be attributable to the greater emo-
tional and visual impact of forest loss versus the more
subtle depletion of range resources. Perhaps, the coupling
of labor-intensive reforestation with cash-for-work or
combatant reintegration programs further favors reforesta-
tion over range-based projects among development per-
sonnel. Programs that coordinated range sciences and
forestry would help determine how both land uses can best
838 Environmental Management (2012) 49:833–845
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be allocated and integrated and where passive or active
restoration would most effectively address management
Control of Land and Trees
Highly dynamic local power structures can make control of
land and vegetation difficult to anticipate. However,
unprotected property is exploited to a much greater extent
than land where an individual or local group has a stake.
The ‘‘tragedy of the commons’’ phenomenon, epitomized
by the Pashto proverb ‘‘The government is blind’’ applies
to any situation where ownership of a resource is ambig-
uous or poorly defended, therefore making it essentially
free for the taking. Over-flights of eastern Afghanistan
reveal adjacent watersheds with highly contrasting intact-
ness of native vegetation, attesting to this principle.
Understanding historic patterns of use and claims to land
is critical for reforestation success. Sadly, the initiation of
reforestation may re-awaken dormant land claims. One
such recent reforestation project resulted in a conflict
between rival groups when terracing rendered once useless
land sufficiently valuable that rivals again considered the
land to be worth fighting for. In this case, the village
adjacent to the site providing the labor was challenged by
claimants living many kilometers away. Both sides sus-
tained fatalities during the ensuing struggle.
Vegetation life form also plays an important role in its
availability for exploitation. Trees are more valued than
grass or scrub and will be defended by owners with greater
vigor. This is unfortunate in the many ecosystems where
maintenance or restoration of native scrub would be more
effective for protecting soils and preventing erosion
(Khaurin 2003). Planted trees are viewed as cultured and
owned by someone as opposed to scrub which is planted by
no person and therefore free for the taking. That the social
value of planted trees trumps ecological partially explains
the desirability of non-native tree silviculture relative to
native vegetation restoration. Accordingly, strongmen
commonly plant tree saplings and pay local people to
protect them on lands with unclear ownership. These will
be used as evidence to support the tree planter’s future land
claims within the corrupt justice system.
Afghan government and foreign development personnel
in Kabul promote Community Based Natural Resource
Management (CBNRM) in areas where community struc-
ture is intact and land claims are unambiguous. In the ideal
situation, people conducting rehabilitation work have
control of the rehabilitated upper watershed land as well as
downstream land that is positively impacted by the project.
The highly hierarchic and tribal nature of rural Afghan
communities makes the decision making process less
participatory than other Asian cultures (Nagendra and
Gokhale 2008). The larger challenge to this model is that
participating community preferences can be damaging to
the interests of adjacent communities. A common example
is the pervasive preference for managing stream bank
erosion rather than addressing the upstream causes of the
problem through reforestation and sustainable range man-
agement. In-stream structures that protect local fields can
destabilize the lands of downstream communities are par-
ticularly popular in the lower watersheds of forested east-
ern Afghanistan (Groninger and Lasko 2011). Natural
resource management meetings highlight differences in
thinking among local Afghans and outsiders hoping to
facilitate and fund these efforts. Here, foreigners suggest
tree planting and upper watershed stabilization practices
while Afghan community leaders counter with a persistent
desire for flood walls to provide immediate protection for
their own fields without regard to downstream or long-term
Despite a stated intention by Afghan government leaders
to support CBNRM, change is occurring very slowly.
Where the national government has control, there appears
to be a reluctance to decentralize influence (Nagendra and
Gokhale 2008). Presently, the government lacks the
resources to increase its capacity to facilitate CBNRM in
most locales (Dong and others 2009; Ali and Nyborg
2010). However, proposed training funded by foreign
governments and replacement of a largely stolid older
generation of government employees are signs of increas-
ing support for the new paradigm.
Local power structure changes have an uncertain impact
on the fate of a national CBNRM initiative. Locally pow-
erful individuals and organizations are asserting them-
selves in many parts of Afghanistan, often facilitated by
self-serving or intimidated government officials (Khanal
2007). In fact, access to tribal elders and other traditional
local decision makers without the blessing of these con-
trolling agents may be impossible in affected locales.
Under these conditions, CBNRM can occur as a decen-
tralized land use designed to benefit local people, but it is
non-democratic, even by rural Afghan standards. This
model may simplify the reforestation process, at least at its
initial stages, provided the strongman provides his support.
In recent years, provinces that have benefitted most from
outside influences have done so under autocratic leaders
who kept workers relatively safe from anti-government
elements. Reforestation efforts aimed toward achieving
upper watershed protection and functioning downstream
agriculture systems may need to embrace this reality in
order to significantly expand programs.
A CBNRM model incorporating agronomic fodder
production, animal health, and tree planting would be
useful for displaying the interconnectivity of integrated
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watershed management while also providing short term
benefits to all stakeholders. In this model, increased forage
production on irrigated land in the lower watershed allows
farmers to supplement livestock feed, delay grazing, and
protect upper watersheds while newly planted tree trees are
most vulnerable. Animal health training and intervention
could increase product yield per unit fodder consumed and
generates a further incentive to keep livestock confined as
range recovery occurs.
Natural resource management built on a foundation of
multiple uses could increase stakeholder numbers and
strengthen interest in programs that include reforestation.
Effective reforestation requires investment and under-
standing of all who can influence the project. An errant
livestock herd or children cutting saplings for fuel wood
can significantly damage a new planting. Natural resource
management training through low-intensity outreach
efforts to all people who could impact the project would
clarify the less obvious benefits of responsible management
and foster more effective land stewardship (Groninger and
Ruffner 2010). Radio is a popular communication medium
among rural Afghans, even in fairly remote areas. Fur-
thermore, requiring local people to invest discretionary
funds in reforestation would increase the likelihood of
enduring project impact. Such people would expect to
improve their livelihood as a result of long-term project
stewardship. A fundamental problem is that people do not
know if they or their descendents will have control of the
land where reforestation is under consideration. Stable
ownership and some measure of effective governance
beyond the village level, conditions that are taken for
granted in most of the developed world, will likely remain
pervasive and persistent challenges to wide scale refores-
tation and other extensive environmental management
Assessing Biophysical Conditions
Though relatively small, Afghanistan’s forest resource is
highly diverse and assessment of forest condition and
regeneration potential is challenging. Forest cover
includes multistoried closed canopy forests in the moist
eastern mountains and hills (De Planhol 1996). Recent
low altitude over flights reveal that tree cover is still
abundant in some parts of the East. However, on the
ground assessments indicate little or no regeneration in
many areas. Most forest stands found elsewhere in the
country have an open structure and grade into scattered
shrubs as water availability decreases. Published vegeta-
tion maps describe extensive forest zones while, on-the-
ground assessments suggest that only a small proportion
of these areas may be able to support reforestation. In
steep areas denuded by goats, physical accessibility to
natural seed distribution or tree planters is another
Although much of Afghanistan can support tree growth,
reforestation programs must invariably consider; what land
was once forest, what land could someday be a forest
again, and at what cost? Differences in forest classification
systems and remote imaging technology have made anal-
ysis of even recent changes in forest conditions very dif-
ficult. Consulting with local people has proven similarly
ineffective, given different local views as to what density
of trees or shrubs constitutes forest and the tendency of
local leaders to exaggerate past forest cover, perceiving
opportunities to lobby for cash-for-work programs or other
resources. Similarly discredited, but still popular, maps
contrasting 1970’s forest cover with more recently col-
lected data, overestimate the extent of Afghanistan’s recent
deforestation. While these have been useful for justifying
reforestation and other beneficial watershed protection
programs, they fuel the false impression that reforestation
alone will undo the damage of the past thirty years and
bring watershed stability.
Regeneration growth is strongly moisture limited and
site preparation focuses on conserving water for seedling
establishment. Afghanistan’s forest region is at the western
edge of the Indian monsoon resulting in high inter-annual
variation in precipitation rate. Accordingly, post-planting
watering is often provided to compensate for delayed or
absent rainfall and is built into tree planting programs. Site
preparation in hilly regions most often consists of hand dug
micro-catchments, including terraces and small check
dams, to conserve moisture, abate erosion, and create moist
microhabitats for herbaceous vegetation.
Resource-intensive reforestation involving planted
seedlings will likely remain limited in scale relative to
actual watershed sustainability needs. However, opportu-
nities for passive restoration are considerable, provided
range rehabilitation programs can be coordinated with
forest restoration. Following well-established silvicultural
principles, active tree planting can be confined to areas
justifying the greatest expense in seedlings and labor while
passive land stabilization could be practiced elsewhere
within target watersheds. In many instances, controlling
grazing by addressing herder shortages in food, fodder, and
fuel, could allow the needed temporary relief of overused
and mismanaged grazing areas, including reforestation
sites, providing sufficient time for vegetation to withstand
managed grazing (Liu and others 2011). To avoid regen-
eration failures, rehabilitation of severely degraded lands
must also account for soil degradation resulting from
overgrazing that may reduce site suitability for pre-distur-
bance species composition.
In many instances, inherent geologic instability, rather
than deforestation and range degradation, drive sedimentation
840 Environmental Management (2012) 49:833–845
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problems in lower watersheds. Although loss of vegetation
cover within forest and range areas contribute to watershed
instability, frequent and deadly floods and failed road and
bridge building projects predate the particularly devastating
post-1970’s era. Significant portions of upper watershed in
the eastern Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan are above their
angle of repose and prone to frequent landslides. This can be
attributed to the ongoing mountain formation process as well
as glacial retreat (Gardelle and others 2011; Lu and others
2011). Sediment loads generated under these conditions can
be expected to overwhelm all but the most extensive of range
and forest management programs. The significance of geo-
logic instability receives little notice from decision makers
who generally lack access to these upper watershed areas.
Furthermore, Afghans and foreigners writing about Afghan
environmental and agricultural issues so strongly emphasize
recent land use and social forces as driving water problems
that insurmountable geomorphologic limitations appear to
be overlooked. If watershed functionality is the primary
driver of forest restoration and vegetation restoration is
inadequate to stabilize these areas, then geologically unsta-
ble watersheds would receive the lowest priority for active
restoration. Limited resources could then be allocated to
stable areas where increased vegetation cover could make a
lasting and significant impact to both local and downstream
Accessibility and Local Knowledge
Secure access is a prerequisite for the delivery of any needed
outside technical support, including planting stock, and for
program monitoring and assessment. This would typically
involve a passable and secure road connection between a
provincial or district center and a reforestation site. Both
conditions can be problematic, particularly in mountainous
forest areas. However, the presently heavy military presence
in some forest regions creates unique transportation oppor-
tunities. Off-road vehicles and rotary wing aircraft can
quickly bring outside experts, local government officials,
and tree planting materials onto otherwise inaccessible
planting sites. Refrigeration facilities are present on many
remote bases within the eastern forest zone, creating
opportunities for seedling storage. Reforestation is supported
in concept by in-theatre U.S. military leaders so it is likely
that vehicles could be made available to support projects
(Groninger and Ruffner 2010). However, refrigeration is
under the control of private companies contracted to pro-
viding food service. Presently, no funding mechanism is in
place to permit matching U.S. military assets with any but
very small scale tree planting projects.
Transporting seedlings intact from nursery to planting
site has so far been a major logistical barrier throughout
much of Afghanistan. Conservation seedling planting stock
appropriate for upper watershed reforestation is now pri-
marily produced using a polybag system with a low organic
matter growth medium consisting primarily of native soil
and perhaps sand (Landis 1990; Harrington 2011).
Although of appropriate size for upper watershed work,
this stock type is easily damaged while in transit over
rough roads from the nursery to planting sites or transfer
points. Sadly, increasing road access appears to have done
more to accelerate deforestation by facilitating fuel wood
removal to markets than it has toward facilitating refores-
tation (Ali and others 2005).
Local Directorate of Agriculture Irrigation and Live-
stock (MAIL a.k.a. DAIL) positions are unfilled in many
forested districts. In many cases where an office is staffed,
the incumbent often lacks the technical expertise in refor-
estation needed to provide support, monitoring, and
assessment (Kock and others 2010). Most personnel are
focused on the immediate agricultural issues that are
foremost on the minds of their clients (Groninger and La-
sko 2011). Given limited staffing opportunities, agricultural
and reforestation expertise will almost certainly need to be
conducted by the same person. A further option is
employed by development personnel in locations where
outside access by outward professional staff is deemed too
dangerous. Two representative leaders per village are
trained in secure locations to transfer natural resource
management techniques without the need for extended
absences from their communities. Also, widespread use of
camera cell phones has made monitoring and assessment
easier by allowing key personnel to avoid complicated and
often dangerous travel to remote locations.
Reforestation Institutions
Afghanistan’s government has not yet developed the
capacity to fully lead the massive influx of development aid
since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban. Understandably,
immediate needs for sanitation and food security have
taken precedence over longer term investments such as
reforestation. However, efforts to document and coordinate
reforestation and other environmental management pro-
jects are underway, despite the persistent disruptions and
dangers of the insurgency. These efforts have been further
complicated by the fragmentation of reforestation capacity
across many institutions (Table 4).
Currently, DAIL officials work cooperatively with for-
eign-based development personnel to coordinate refores-
tation at the provincial and district levels. These
individuals can be valuable facilitators, but instances of
payroll fraud and other forms of corruption have tainted
public perception of these programs both locally and
among foreign supporters. Low public sector salaries
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contribute to an institutionalization of financial impropriety
as viewed by western standards. Local government officials
often lack the technical expertise needed to support or
monitor reforestation. Academic curricula may contain
course titles that appear to provide necessary expertise.
However, graduates appear to lack more than cursory
understanding of the subject matter (Groninger 2006).
When actual reforestation projects are implemented, the
pertinent information is transferred through one-on-one or
small group instruction outside the university or MAIL/
DAIL structure. Wide scale implementation of reforesta-
tion would probably require a cadre of project managers
who can lead the project through its various phases. The
most effective individuals are Afghans having the technical
expertise, communication skills, and social stature to
maintain the respect and attention of all critical parties.
Resources for technical training have been growing
steadily since 2001 as foreign governments and non-gov-
ernmental organizations have developed demonstration
farms and classroom facilities. Although road transporta-
tion connections with Kabul have been created, they are
often too insecure to permit free movement of personnel,
restricting outsiders to air travel among a handful of cities
and military bases. Formal programs for training agricul-
ture extension agents are in the early stages and are largely
supported or managed by foreign civilian and military
organizations. Pending efforts to train employees within
the MAIL/DAIL system are limited to the most accessible
districts with the hope of expanding outward if security
improves. Unfortunately, few of these pilot districts are
candidates for large scale reforestation so this area is likely
to lag behind other aspects of agriculture and environ-
mental development within MAIL.
A persistent limitation for allowing reforestation to be
fully integrated into rural life is that government agricul-
ture officials typically discuss forests as isolated compo-
nents of what is in reality a highly heterogeneous
landscape. Actual rural Afghan land use is in fact highly
integrated and land management programs need to account
for grazing by nomadic, transhumant, and sedentary herd-
ers. Government institutions, forged during the 1970’s, are
compartmentalized into traditional range, forestry, and
agronomy within MAIL and are poorly organized and
equipped to lead an interdependent effort.
Integrated watershed demonstration projects, including
restoration components, play a prominent role in discus-
sions among the Kabul government and international sup-
porters. Implementation of at least one such project could
start the process of merging watershed conservation and
agriculture missions within MAIL. Under present security
limitations, this would restrict project locations to areas
near Kabul or along major transportation routes. These are
the 304 km route from Kabul across the Hindu Kush
Mountains to Mazar-e Sharif in the North, and 220 km
from Kabul eastward to the Torkham/Khyber Pass border
crossing into Pakistan. These restrictions are problematic
Table 4 Institutions playing a significant role in reforestation
Institution Practices Strengths Limitations
Afghan MAIL and its
local Directorates
Nurseries near cities. Some local
project coordination
and support
Supported by foreign governments.
Presence and functionality varies
throughout Afghanistan
Focused primarily on large
agriculture programs
Local government (offices
of provincial governor
and district
Advocate for reforestation
Knowledge of local needs and
social landscape
Lacks technical expertise,
sometimes leading to physically
impractical recommendations
Universities Training future professionals Curricula in forestry fields Actual course content does not
reflect current needs. Poorly
developed public service mission
Foreign government
agriculture and aid
Technical support and funding for
MAIL and DAIL. Implements
reforestation. Provides training
Provides access to international
expertise and funds to implement
pilot projects
Not sustainable
Foreign military Logistical and technical support
and funding for DAIL and
foreign agency initiatives.
Provides training
Transportation and security allowing
short term access to most locations.
Ability to quickly adapt new
strategies and tactics.
Not sustainable.
Especially targeted by insurgents
Non-government aid
Undertakes reforestation Strong local support. Provides
training and development resources
Poorly coordinated with broader
development efforts
Commercial nurseries Capacity to produce
planting stock
Fruit tree nurseries common
throughout the country
Usually lack expertise to produce
good conservation species
planting stock
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from an upper watershed restoration standpoint since these
routes traverse very few of Afghanistan’s native forest
ecosystems. However, several reforestation projects are
established along these routes and are clearly visible to the
passing public.
The several MAIL/DAIL tree nurseries in or near large
cities are the best established government investments in
reforestation. Many are several decades old and are man-
aged by experienced staff. However, production has been
sporadic. Presently, nurseries are heavily supported by
outside organizations. Saplings produced there are used
primarily to address the fuel wood-driven deforestation that
occurred within and around these cities during the civil
wars (Table 5). These trees are used for urban plantings
and, to a lesser extent, for agroforestry within the irrigated
agricultural landscape. In either case, saplings are produced
to a size larger than is practical for typical conservation
tree planting. Furthermore, irrigation regimes and other
cultural techniques presently used in tree nurseries do not
reflect technological improvements developed elsewhere
since the 1970’s (Table 5). Visiting nursery experts have
proposed, and seen adopted, a number of strategies for
improving nursery stock that have undoubtedly already
increased the success rate for reforestation projects (Har-
rington 2011).
Reforestation advocates propose the development of a
research nursery in Kabul. This location would build on
pre-Soviet invasion-era facilities already constructed for
that purpose, and capitalize on Kabul’s relatively good
security and direct access to international commercial air-
line service. Kabul also serves as the hub for commercial
and contract air transportation for the entire country. Here,
new production techniques could be developed and dem-
onstrated to address Afghan-specific problems. Experience
gained here would be transferred to satellite operations
throughout the country. The many private fruit tree nurs-
eries across much of Afghanistan would be natural candi-
dates for conservation seedling production as primary
agricultural reconstruction is completed and fruit tree
demand begins to slacken. However, conservation stock
production would necessitate a series of integrated changes
throughout the production chain. These would include
nursery practices, seedling handling and post-planting
management and associated training of nursery and refor-
estation managers (Table 5).
Persistent Institutional Challenges: Security
and Sustainability
Afghanistan’s often poor security poses challenges beyond
typical development scenarios. However, international
terrorist organizations and their local affiliates are making
this scenario a common concern in other parts of the world
as well. Insecurity has led to physical isolation between
national and foreign planners based in the capital and to
both the locations being restored and the local people
integral to the effort. As a result, there has been a tendency
to work from the planner’s prior experience, often in south
Asia or Africa. Even Afghan agency personnel in Kabul
have had little opportunity to visit areas impacted by their
decisions. As a result, programs often do not address
location-specific physical and social concerns, frustrating
and, sometimes embittering, intended beneficiaries. This
phenomenon is likely to persist as long as serious security
concerns remain.
Reforestation in areas where people are not depended on
cash-for-work programs or do not have an agricultural
livelihood pose a special challenge. Many forested areas
are located within watersheds along supply routes and in
areas that otherwise provide support for the insurgency.
Therefore, the Afghan government must engage and sup-
port people living in these areas as a matter of national
security. For the people potentially most critical to the
success or failure of the insurgency, linking forest vege-
tation maintenance and restoration to continued watershed
stability needed for road accessibility may be the most
convincing argument for watershed protection. This would
speak to their dependence on transportation, often the
Table 5 Practical approaches to increasing tree seedling production and quality (adapted from Harrington 2011)
Challenge Current approach Anticipated approaches
No formal training programs Nursery employees learn
from experience
Formalized training in research-based nursery management
Poorly developed standards for
conservation seedling production
Large saplings that are still
vulnerable to animal damage
Target seedling development to better match seedling
morphology to planting site
Limited water availability Sunken bed and raised furrow Improved water supply and control technology to more
effectively match water supply and seedling demand
Limited organic matter On-site composting facilities Increase availability of soil amendments, including
fertilizers, to address shortfalls
Short growing season Polyethylene high tunnels Greenhouses with electricity and climate control equipment
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traditional livelihood for these communities. The likeli-
hood of expanded mineral extraction in upper watershed
reaches will further strengthen the need for stable water-
sheds to maintain road access (Bhattacharjee 2011). While
mineral extraction may shine a spotlight on upper water-
shed conditions, those with the power to maintain or
degrade these lands must be consistently engaged by site
rehabilitation interests (Zipper and others 2011).
Conflict environments, including Afghanistan, are
clearly unsustainable by any measure, including foreign
investment. However, these unusual circumstances produce
rare opportunities that may have lasting impacts. There-
fore, development personnel may reconsider prevailing
definitions of sustainability. Afghans alive today have
always known instability and are certainly less shocked by
current conditions than westerners visiting their country. In
conversation, it is clear that Afghans do not assume a
typical life circumstance for themselves. Rather they seem
to move from one exceptional episode to the next. Here,
excessive concerns with the institutional sustainability of
an effort may be incongruous with Afghan thinking and
risks squandering opportunities to rapidly address the
exceptionally devastating episodes of damage occurring
since the late 1970’s.
Western notions of environmental management and
military action are clearly evolving as a result of the
Afghan experience. Activities such as reforestation are now
viewed as an integral, albeit small part of a comprehensive
war and reconstruction strategy (Groninger and Ruffner
2010). Military personnel are as involved in reforestation
as are mainline development agencies. Managed properly,
this influx of new personnel and institutional cultures could
produce a broader appreciation for reforestation as a means
of rehabilitating the devastated landscapes wherever poor
security precludes conventional development aid.
Organizations or individuals hoping to positively impact
environmental management through development projects
can expect Afghanistan to remain a challenging venue for
many years to come. Contrasting notions of sustainability
are likely to be a persistent source of tension among
Afghans and outsiders. Fundamental questions remain
among development experts as to how long a flood wall,
reservoir, or other infrastructure can be expected to remain
functional under the typically trying conditions (Lee 2003).
One critical question regards placement of responsibly for
maintaining environmental resources and infrastructure
(Mahmoodi 2008, Groninger and Lasko 2011). This is
superimposed on issues of land tenure, basic environmental
stewardship, and the social influences of insurgents. In light
of these challenges, frustration among donors will be
understandable and less fractious nations will likely be
sought by organizations wishing to show tangible results to
donors. Only a clear appreciation for the costs of failure
can keep resources focused on difficult places like
Reforestation programs require human capacity to both
establish and maintain the maturing forest. Afghanistan, with
its missing decades of forest management and a public often
concerned with day to day survival, may well be a modern
worst case scenario for the conditions associated with forest
sustainability and the likelihood of reforestation project suc-
cess. However, Afghanistan is profoundly diverse in terms of
physical resources as well as attitudes toward forests. Imme-
diate gains can be made by focusing on locations where people
who control the land genuinely want to improve and expand
the forest from its currently degraded condition. Addressing
the technical limitations of conservation tree nursery produc-
tion may be a good start. Here, and in similar social environ-
ments elsewhere, reforestation can only occur where
provisions are made to protect personnel from attack by
insurgents or other outlaws. Perhaps the greatest untapped
opportunity to enact meaningful restoration is through passive
restoration centered on range use and supplemental feeding.
Either way, reconciling stakeholder interests are critical, with a
bias toward those most able to protect the resource. Experi-
ences gained by pursuing reforestation under these profoundly
challenging situations may eventually benefit other regions in
Afghanistan and worldwide where conflict and instability
would otherwise prevent forest recovery.
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of some pine forests of Afghanistan. Pakistan Journal of Botany
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mines. Environment Management 47:751–765
Environmental Management (2012) 49:833–845 845
Author's personal copy
... In developing countries such as Afghanistan, the interaction among multiple drivers of LULC change presents significant challenges to the sustainable management of natural resources (Saba, 2001;McElwee, 2010;Groninger, 2012;Mahapatra et al., 2015). Afghan redbud (Cercis griffithii Boiss.) ...
... Woodlands in secure areas and readily accessible to large population centers by road have also served as popular recreation areas, particularly in the spring and summer, for activities including picnicking, hiking, mountaineering, and small game hunting. Beginning in the early 1980s, in conjunction with the Soviet invasion and its aftermath, accessible stands were subjected to intensive fuelwood collection, including rootstock excavation, suggesting that local capacity for sustainable domestic fuelwood production had been compromised in many regions (Formoli, 1995;Groninger, 2012). After the toppling of the Taliban regime by the International Coalition Forces and establishment of a democratic government in 2002, relative stability in the region has triggered rapid and unregulated urbanization, including forest clearing for new housing construction and intensification of livestock grazing (Groninger et al., 2013). ...
... Given the broad ecological amplitude demonstrated by redbud in the present study, its suitability for planting on rocky steep sites, and resiliency to drought makes the species an excellent candidate for use in restoration projects. However, less resilient species are often favored by Afghan government foresters; for example, Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis Mill.) is heavily favored because of its fast growth and familiarity to nursery producers (Groninger, 2012). Among the roughly one million conservation trees planted annually across Afghanistan from stock produced in government nurseries, most are irrigationdependent exotic species, and, consequently, experience high mortality rates due to drought. ...
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Afghan redbud (Cercis griffithii Boiss.) woodlands near Kabul, Afghanistan face continued impacts from multiple drivers of change, including urban expansion, grazing, illegal cutting, and the implementation of forest policies. In this study, we collected ecological and social data from three sites to assess stand characteristics, as well as community perceptions on the drivers of change impacting them. A survey of community perceptions revealed that while only 24% of respondents perceived that natural regeneration was occurring on redbud forests, only 25% perceived that the forests were declining in status. Respondents perceived that Afghan redbud stands were exposed to multiple proximate and underlying drivers of change, although these perceptions differed across the three sites. Ecological surveys of stand conditions indicated that although all three study sites were exposed to the pressures of urbanization, the intensity of wood collection differed among the sites. Differences in contextual factors, such as the availability of effective traditional institutions, socio-demographic characteristics of residents, and the availability of alternative sources of fuel seem to explain the differences in fuelwood collection among the sites. Following the collapse of the Taliban regime, the heaviest cutting was associated with stands where unauthorized construction of new houses by repatriated populations from Pakistan and Iran was most prevalent, while impacts were lower where alternative fuel sources were available and local institutions were effective. Given the challenges entailed in the enforcement of recent forest protection policies in Afghanistan, our findings suggest that a promising starting point for the sustainable management of Afghan redbud forests is the initiation of a community-based natural resource management approach that addresses local socio-economic concerns while engaging local communities in the decision-making process. Conservation programs in conflict-impacted environments should consider local government capacity and stakeholder motivations to propose practical alternatives to strict forest protection policies. Training local policing authorities to differentiate between destructive and sustainable natural resource management practices and educating local populations on sustainable use could catalyze improved environmental engagement.
... The current forest cover ranges between 20 and 60% of original forest conditions, with decline accelerating since the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s (Formoli, 1995;Azimi, 2007;Reddy and Saranya, 2017). Important factors contributing to this significant loss of forest cover are government instability, unsustainable land management practices, illegal timber harvests, poor security, and limited technical knowledge among user communities (Groninger, 2012;Bader et al., 2013). ...
... Previous reports were very general in describing drivers and incidence of chilgoza pine degradation. These included intense fuelwood and cone collection, poverty, lack of governance, armed conflict, lack of education and awareness, and insufficient access to science and technology (UNEP, 2008;Groninger, 2012). Additionally, our data suggest that vulnerability to damage may specifically relate to forest composition. ...
... The study indicated that traditional natural resource institutions are present and functioning in at least some locations in EFC. The agencies representing the central government in most of the EFC lacks technical expertise, plans or accessibility, thus there is no conventional management of grazing, nut collection, or timber harvesting activities in most of the forest stands (Groninger, 2012;. In places where forests are managed, it is the local council (or shura) composed of community elders and other individuals (all are men) who make decisions. ...
Chilgoza pine (Pinus gerardiana) is an important source of income in forested eastern Afghanistan through the harvest of edible seeds. Since the late 1970s, the resource has been largely inaccessible to researchers and government personnel from outside the region, except for the years 2002–2015, roughly coinciding with Operation Enduring Freedom. We assessed physical and social attributes of chilgoza pine forests and the management capacity of indigenous communities. We employed interviews/questionnaires and field measurements performed by Afghan forest scientists from Kabul, trained local residents, and U.S. forest scientists associated with military operations to examine stakeholder perceptions of chilgoza pine forest resilience, assess forest health, stand structure and natural regeneration status. Intensive cone collection, tree damage caused by cone harvesting, grazing, fuelwood collection, and other biotic/abiotic factors (insects, diseases, and drought) were associated with chilgoza forest degradation. Most interviewees observed natural regeneration in the understory layer of chilgoza forest stands, but perceived the overall rate of natural regeneration to be insufficient. Respondents from villages prohibiting grazing and fuelwood collection reported the greatest regeneration while the converse was associated with the lowest levels of regeneration. Field measurements confirmed the scarcity of natural regeneration of chilgoza pine, portending the further decline of this species in Afghanistan. Field surveys indicated diverse stand conditions, age class structures and land use practices employed by local stakeholders, suggesting the need for situation-specific forest management recommendations. We discuss the opportunities and limitations for forest resources data collection in highly insecure environments.
... Seedlings produced in these nurseries are mostly bare-root, while polybag seedlings are the only containerized stocks and are produced in smaller numbers (Harrington et al. 2012). Forests are established with these seedlings and planting is typically associated with site preparation (planting hole digging) and water harvesting techniques such as terracing, check dams, and micro catchments (Groninger 2012). The arid climate and uneven distribution of precipitation () challenge reforestation or afforestation projects. ...
... The arid climate and uneven distribution of precipitation () challenge reforestation or afforestation projects. The newly planted seedlings are hand watered during dry seasons for at least the first two years after planting, which is highly cost ineffective (Groninger 2012). Successful establishment is related to the survival of planted seedlings. ...
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Growing media and fertilization are important factors in containerized seedling production systems. In developing countries, seedlings are often produced in polybags filled with mixtures of locally available materials. Seedling growth and quality is affected by the type and amount of these substrates used in the mixture. Differences in seedling growth and quality can also be significantly affected when fertilization is employed during the nursery growing period. In this study, we assessed the effects of five different growing media and two fertilization regimes on nursery growth, seedling morphology and early post-planting response to drought of Eucalyptus benthamii Maiden & Cambage seedlings. In the nursery phase, seedlings were raised in 750 ml perforated polybags for 6 months in the greenhouse and in the open. We evaluated the effects of each media by fertilizer treatment combination on morphological attributes during nursery growing period. Fertilized treatments enhanced growth and morphological traits of E. benthamii seedlings. Seedlings raised in fertilized media without rice hulls yielded higher growth, root dry mass, shoot dry mass, total dry mass, Dickson quality index (DQI) scores, first order lateral roots (FOLRs) and sturdiness. Root to shoot ratio (R: S ratio) was, however, greater in non-fertilized media that contained rice hulls. In the drought experiment phase, E. benthamii seedlings were randomly sampled from the nursery experiment and were planted in 3-gallons containers and watered for one month. Shoot height and diameter were then measured and the seedlings were covered with plastic to expose them to drought stress. Seedling resistance to drought was evaluated by counting the number of survival days under drought stress. During this period, seedlings grown in non
... Although our data collection methods cannot rule out sampling bias based on limited access to forest sites and users, the data reveal a diverse range of stand and social conditions along with multiple co-occurring damaging resource use practices among stakeholders throughout the Pistachio Belt. Given the tremendous interest in pistachio forest restoration among communities that have lost their pistachio resource (Groninger, 2012) and limited opportunities for data collection, these data will likely help inform broader policy initiatives. However, we caution policy-makers to fully appreciate the unique history and context of forest stands and communities when pursuing forest restoration or management initiatives. ...
Pistachio (Pistacia vera L.) forests support livelihoods in communities within Afghanistan’s Pistachio Belt, a region characterized by extreme poverty and chronic insecurity. In this study, we used ecological data, as well as survey data to characterize standing attributes and resource user perceptions about local pistachio forests and their management. The survey questionnaire was verbally administered to 507 household representatives in remote communities that were chosen from eight districts in northern and northwestern Afghanistan based on accessibility and their location within the Pistachio Belt. Stand density and tree form varied widely between sites and as a function of elevation. Partial harvesting for fuelwood collection was positively correlated with stand density. The survey data also showed that pistachio forests support a variety of livelihood activities among respondents and their households. However, suboptimal nut collection timing and use of damaging nut harvesting methods were widespread with little effort to accommodate natural regeneration. Forest users typically recognized the degraded condition of the pistachio forest and the negative impacts of grazing and fuelwood collection on forest density. Respondents also recognized the impacts of nut collection practices, fuelwood collection, and grazing on forest regeneration status. These results suggest that efforts to sustainably manage pistachio forests must recognize considerable variation within and between communities regarding forest physical condition, accustomed uses by associated communities, and existing or potential mechanisms regulating forest uses. All of these necessitate context-specific forest management planning. We discuss challenges inherent to collecting baseline data needed for planning multiple-use community-based natural resources management in highly insecure environments.
... In Afghanistan, efforts to rehabilitate depleted watersheds are constrained by poor security, uncertain land tenure and use rights, limited local environmental management capacity and focus on agriculture to meet immediate local economic needs (Groninger 2012). Environmental management is embroiled in cultural, transnational, military, and developmental worldviews and institutions that leave little room for the perspectives of local people. ...
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The governance of environmental resources holds the key to the future of sustainable development in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). 1. Institutional innovation—for landscape level governance, upstream-downstream linkages, and for translating policy goals into action; 2. Upscaling and institutionalizing decentralized and community based resource management practices; 3. Transboundary cooperation for managing connected landscapes; and 4. Science–policy–practice interface for decision making, learning and effective implementation of policies and programs.
... During cone collection, the branches, crown and even bark of trees is damaged by collectors (Akbar et al., 2014, Lakhanpal and Kumar 1996, Urooj and Jabeen 2015. Severe tree damage during cone collection in Afghanistan is reported by Groninger (2012). Most of the time cone bearing branches are broken due to beating, pulling and cutting. ...
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Chilgoza pine nut is an important non-timber forest product (NTFP) of Afghanistan. Chilgoza pine cones reach at maturity in August and cone collection continues until the end of September. Local communities and or contractors harvest pine cones from chilgoza trees every year. Usually, chilgoza pine cones are harvested unsustainably in Afghanistan. People harvest cones from chilgoza trees without considering tree health and natural regeneration. The extraction process of pine nut is also unsustainable and time consuming. In this study, we investigated traditional chilgoza pine cone harvesting and pine nut extraction techniques across the chilgoza pine range in Afghanistan. Our study revealed that mostly chilgoza pine cones are collected by contractors however, this trend is region dependent. In the eastern provinces, cones are predominantly harvested by villagers; while in southern provinces cones are usually harvested by contractors. Cones of chilgoza pine is collected with a sharp hook attached to the end of a long stick and or small axes. The most common method of cone drying is sun and air dry. Once dried, scales of the cones open naturally and pine nuts are extracted by beating the cones with a stick or over a hard surface. Traditional methods can be replaced by use of better harvesting equipment and extraction techniques. With the use of better equipment, damages can be reduced to trees during cone harvesting.
... In many degraded or water-limited ecosystems, the success of an afforestation or reforestation 336 program will be difficult to achieve without other vital measures because of poor existing site 337 conditions and a harsh climateGroninger, 2012). Thus terracing, as an 338 additional measure or approach, can play a key role in re-constructing and improving habitats,339 thus benefiting ecosystem restoration and enhancing biodiversity (Wei et al., 2012; Armitage et al., 340 2014). ...
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For thousands of years, humans have created different types of terraces in different sloping conditions, meant to mitigate flood risks, reduce soil erosion and conserve water. These anthropogenic landscapes can be found in tropical and subtropical rainforests, deserts, arid and semiarid mountains across the globe. Despite the long history, the roles of and the mechanisms by which terracing improves ecosystem services (ES) remain poorly understood. Using literature synthesis and quantitative analysis, the worldwide types, distributions, major benefits and issues of terracing are presented in this review. A key terracing indicator, defined as the ratio of different ES under terraced and non-terraced slopes (δ), was used to quantify the role of terracing in providing ES. Our results indicated that ES provided by terracing was generally positive because the mean values of δ were mostly greater than one. The most prominent role of terracing was found in erosion control (11.46 ± 2.34), followed by runoff reduction (2.60 ± 1.79), biomass accumulation (1.94 ± 0.59), soil water recharge (1.20 ± 0.23), and nutrient enhancement (1.20 ± 0.48). Terracing, to a lesser extent, could also enhance the survival rates of plant seedlings, promote ecosystem restoration, and increase crop yields. While slopes experiencing severe human disturbance (e.g., overgrazing and deforestation) can generally become more stable after terracing, negative effects of terracing may occur in poorly-designed or poorly-managed terraces. Among the reasons are the lack of environmental legislation, changes in traditional concepts and lifestyles of local people, as well as price decreases for agricultural products. All of these can accelerate terrace abandonment and degradation. In light of these findings, possible solutions regarding socio-economic changes and techniques to improve already degraded terraces are discussed.
Pakistan is listed among the countries that are extremely susceptible to climate changes and it has experienced several natural disaster shocks with tremendous impacts. However, post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation is still a major challenge due to difficulty in targeting the right beneficiaries and the effectiveness of post-disaster aid. This study proposes a conceptual framework and rehabilitation measures for the judicious allocation of two post-disaster aid programmes in the context of 2010 super flood disasters in Pakistan. Using primary data sets from the most severely affected district of province Punjab, it employs Probit and Tobit models and empirically investigates the determinants of better targeting and aid allocation. The results show that ‘cash aid’ for house reconstruction was much better targeted than agricultural assistance in compensating the affected households. The targeting and the effectiveness of aid programmes were mainly determined by gender, membership, farmer size and injured members. Finally, this study suggests that for better targeting of post-disaster aid programmes, local governments and international organizations should pay attention to those families with fewer adult females and injured members, and those without CBO membership.
Protected areas constitute central strategies for the conservation of most biodiverse places in the world. These biodiversity hotspots, as well as the protected areas that contribute to their conservation, have been affected by armed conflict since the end of WWII. Yet, the impact of armed conflict on protected area governance along with the type of protected area governance arrangements and institutions that emerge and operate during wartime are still little understood. Building on the literatures on protected area governance and wartime social orders, this research makes a contribution to the protected area governance research agenda by examining how armed conflict impacts and transforms protected area governance. It also identifies the strategies that protected area stakeholders adopt in contexts of violent conflict to be able to continue with conservation efforts. Drawing from a neo-institutionalist understanding of protected area governance, this research develops and applies an analytical framework to examine how the constitutive elements of protected area governance systems (i.e. actors, resource attributes and institutions) are transformed by armed conflict. Using two protected areas in Colombia as case studies, this research argues that protected area governance does not disappear but is transformed by armed conflict. Furthermore, it provides significant evidence on how the transformation of protected area governance systems allows protected area managers to achieve certain conservation results in the midst of armed conflict through the adoption of specific strategies. However, whether the efforts and strategies adopted for the transformation of protected area governance systems during armed conflict open up possibilities for the protected area community to gain a more active role in peace building efforts remains an open question.
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Danny Markus is former Agricultural Advisor with the Nuristan Pro-vincial Reconstruction Team in Nurguram, Nuristan, Afghanistan. He now works with the Afghanistan Water Agriculture and Technology Transfer project in Kabul, Afghanistan. Abstract—Nuristan ranks among the least prosperous and edu-cated provinces of Afghanistan. In 2008, the Nuristan Conservation Corps (NCC) was initiated to provide work, education, and training for 90 fighting-age males. Participants in this 1-year pilot program received basic education and natural resource management job skills training. Irrigation infrastructure was built on 26 ha (64 acres) and 62,500 tree saplings were planted. Successful planning and implementation of this project built trust among local leaders, resulting in the facilitation of further community-based natural resource management projects. The NCC serves as a model for similar conservation and development corps efforts being considered elsewhere in Afghanistan.
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Phytosociological sampling, structure, age and growth rates studies were carried out in 5 places of Dangam District of Afghanistan. Vegetation compositions of non tree species were also presented. On the basis of floristic composition and importance value index of tree species, two monospecific and one bispecific communities were recognized in the study area. It is shown that in Picea smithiana (Wall.) Boiss., Dbh, age and growth rates are not significantly correlated. Lack of tree seedlings indicate poor regeneration status of the forests.
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Afghanistan's agricultural sector is extremely important. It provides livelihoods for almost 80% of the population; however, due to 25 years of conflict, Afghanistan's agricultural sector has been left in ruins. After the fall of the Taliban regime, the world has taken a more proactive approach in rebuilding the country. The Afghan government and NGOs have started to create programs that enhance agricultural production throughout the country. This paper is a synthesis of the literature spanning 2000-2008 pertaining to what has been done thus far in the country and what entities were responsible for those outcomes. This study describes the role of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Land's Division of Extension and how that division has addressed problems in the agricultural sector. The literature suggests that NGOs play a vital role in Extension program implementation, while the Ministry of Agriculture serves primarily as a regulatory body.
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Afghanistan contains diverse natural forests and has a long history of forest utilization, irrigation silviculture, and treeplanting for amenities. Presently, the forest resources and supporting institutions are severely degraded after decades of war. Since the fall of the Taliban, rehabilitation of irrigation systems, nursery development, and treeplanting have been undertaken in support of the government's desire to recreate an agriculture- and natural resources-based economy. Students at five Afghan universities are working toward Bachelor of Science degrees in forestry. Although recovery efforts are still in their early stages and many serious challenges remain, the revitalization of Afghan forestry appears to be taking shape.
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Watershed rehabilitation, including reforestation, is critical to the success of Operation Enduring Freedom and to Afghanistan's development strategy. However, Afghanistan's natural resource management is characterized by weak government authority, little stakeholder input beyond the local level, and poor protection and maintenance of existing natural resources. Grassland and shrub planting, in conjunction with range protection strategies and hillslope terracing, are being planned to provide primary watershed stabilization as a prerequisite to potential irrigation infrastructure improvement. Planting native conifer and oak and other locally available species will also serve to reverse long-term degradation of fuelwood and timber resources. Natural resources improvement work also provides licit employment as a positive alternative to income opportunities sponsored by the Taliban and other antigovernment elements. Additional American foresters and watershed managers working on the ground in Afghanistan will further the efforts of the few professionals already involved in these endeavors.
Afghanistan is relatively rich in water resources and land. However the last 3 decades of war and a series of droughts have caused many problems. These include a shortage of efficient institutions, organizational capabilities of staff and effective rules and regulations in regards to water use. Furthermore, a centralized structure of water management and overlapping mandates between institutions has led to poor coordination within the water sector and a general lack of information and data for planning. In addition, low public awareness among stakeholders' and damage of local traditional institution. The above factors have brought about negative impacts on water resources of the country. For example, in 1980 Afghanistan had a 3.3 million hectares irrigated land which has since been reduced to 1.8 million hectares - this has clearly affected the economy and environment of rural areas. As per the new Water Sector Policy, the Supreme Council for Water Affairs Management has been established. This is chaired by first vice president and its members are from line ministries. This, it is hoped, will improve willimproveiiii coordination between key stakeholders. Moreover, previous Water Law has been revised. River Basin Agencies/ Councils, Sub-basin Councils and Water User Associations will be formed in the five river basins as management institutions. The new Water Law focuses on stakeholders' participation in water management, equitable water allocation, and division of tasks at national, basin and sub-basin level including participation of all stakeholders in decision making. Based on new Water Sector Policy and Water Resources Sub- Sector, Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) is carried out through the river basin approach; the objective of IWRM is to decentralize the activities gradually to river basins and sub basins and considerable use of water resources (Mahmoodi, 2006). Therefore, to achieve an integrated water resources management the following common policy principles are: • Integrated water resources development and management should be undertaken in a holistic and sustainable manner; • Management and development of water resources should be participatory methods by stakeholders; • Planning and development of water resources should be decentralized according to natural river basin boundaries. • Water sector development activities should be participatory and consultative at each level by all stakeholders. Thus, the goal of the Strategy is management and development of water resources, improved livelihood of present and future generation through: • access to safe drinking water supply; • Food security through water security; • Protection of people income sources from negative impacts of droughts and floods; • Access to hydro power in both rural and urban areas; • Water supply for improvement and development of industries (MEW, 2004a). In order to achieve these strategic goals, the following programs have been developed and are ongoing: 1 Institution development program and capacity building. 2 River Basin Management national program for poverty alleviation. 3 Rehabilitation of irrigation schemes program for modernizing of irrigation systems and prevention of water loss. 4 National Program for water resources development for identification of water resources, formation and application of water supply infrastructure. 5 Rural water supply and sanitation system for supply of safe drinking water of rural areas. 6 River bank protection program to control floods. Implementing the above programs, we can achieve our goals which are poverty alleviation and unemployment reduction, socio-economical growth and public welfare; they will result in improved rural development and sustainable environmental protection (ANDS, 2007).
SUMMARY During the last two decades, considerable attention has been paid to the issue of local participation and government involvement in communitybased conservation initiatives. While the main purpose to introduce such measures was to increase transparency and local decision making in resource management, forest services have been sidelined, mainly on the premise that they are too corrupt and ineffective to play a useful role in natural resource management. In this paper, we expose the limitations of conventional ideas of corruption in understanding forestry services. Corruption for personal gains is just one aspect of the issue. We analyze how forest agents, faced with severe shortages of resources, engage in what we call an ‘alternative system’ in order to perform official tasks. We argue that a better understanding of these issues will help to both reform and redefine the role of forest services so that they can become viable actors in community-based conservation.