Sustainability certifications open new markets for Pakistani pine nuts

Dec 9, 2016

For generations, pine nuts harvested from chilghoza forests in northern Pakistan have provided an essential source of livelihoods for communities living on these harsh, arid mountainsides. Yet today, as demand grows, pine nuts are increasing collected unsustainably. Instead of leaving a few cones so new plants can sprout, and thus allow the chilghoza forests to experience natural regrowth, communities gather all the cones they find. This is partly because impoverished, remote communities often lack understanding of markets and quality controls, and thus operate with low returns and tight margins.

This over-exploitation of non-timber forest resources occurs across the mountains covering 175,000 square kilometres of northern Pakistan, despite the fact that 11 percent of the area is protected and 12 percent consists of community co-managed conservancies. As fragile ecosystems dwindle, endangered species such as snow leopards and woolly flying squirrels are threatened communities are deprived of the forest products they depend on.

The Mountains and Markets project supported by UNDP and the Global Environment Facility helps protect the rich biodiversity of the Hindu Kush, Karakorum and western Himalayan mountain ranges, which is threatened by poverty and limited options for livelihoods leading to unsustainable exploitation of natural resources such as pine nuts, medicinal plants and other forest products. The project seeks to provide local communities with sustainable sources of income by using market-based mechanisms to help ensure that communities get a strong return for certified, sustainably harvested, forest products.

As part of this effort, a pilot initiative designed by ProFound, a Dutch sustainable sourcing consultancy, focuses specifically on sustainable harvesting of pine nuts. It has established community biodiversity enterprises in three valleys of Diamer district in Gilgit-Baltistan and provides training and cash grants and facilitates links with investors and buyers. Following extensive research, it is now engaging processing and exporting companies to create a certification tools for sustainable, high quality pine nuts which adhere to organic, Fair for Life and FairWild standards. Once the certification process has been established, it will help communities access the lucrative European market and earn handsome revenues.

“The communities can then source high quality pine nuts from the forests without risking exhaustion of the natural resource. At the same time, conservation efforts are strengthened by linking the community enterprises to ethical buyers to ensure income for the communities,” says Jesse Bloemendaal, senior consultant at ProFound.

The four-year Mountains and Markets project launched in 2013 and operates in Astore and Diamer conservancies in Gilgit-Baltistan, and Dir-Kohistan and Kalam conservancies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where it models community ecosystem-based enterprises as a means of achieving sustainable production of biodiversity goods and services.

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