Sindh Forest Department controls an area of 241,198 hectares in the Riverine tract of the province which are categorized as "Riverine Forests"; locally known as Kacho forests. These forests are located along both the banks of River Indus in Thatta, Hyderabad, Dadu, Larkana, Naushero Feroze, Nawabshah, Khairpur, Sukkur, Shikarpur, Ghotki and Jacobabad Districts and have been declared as “Reserved Forests” under Forests Act, 1927. The rich alluvial soils support crops of Acacia nilotica (Babul), Populus euphratica (bahan), Tamarix aphylla, Tamarix dioca (Lai) and Prosopis cineraria (Kandi). Riverine forests are the most productive forests of Sindh; producing wood material for domestic and commercial purposes. The rotation of various species varies from 6 years to 40 years, depending upon market demand of wood. The average yield estimate per acre at maturity that varies from 1 stack (1,000 cft.) to 5 stacks (5,000 cft.), depending upon soil conditions and silvicultural operations.
Existence of Riverine forests of Sindh is dependent on flooding by the river. They are flooded by the spate of River Indus, on lands and soils over its banks. Floods occur due to the flow of large quantities of water in the river that cannot be accommodated. Both the land configuration and the soils in riverine tract are made by flood waters. The spate was a common summer phenomenon in the past, until such a time that the river water was not diverted and extracted through dams, barrages, head-works and link-canals.
Riverine forests are the mainstay of forestry in Sindh. They provide products and services such as timber, firewood, pit props for mines, forage and browse for livestock; supports biodiversity and game animals. Other non-timber forest products include tannin from bark, gum, honey and even fish from dhands (ponds) and dhoras (depression of old river beds). They act as carbon sinks, moderate climate, stop soil erosion and also protect soils and settlements from the ferocity of flood waters.
The annual inundation of the riverine areas during the monsoon season act as a lifeline for the existence and flourishing of the Riverine forests. There has been large-scale degradation of riverine forests due to severe decrease in flow of freshwater down the Guddu Barrage. The situation has been worsened by the recent drought and lowest ever flow in Indus (0.75 MAF) downstream of Kotri Barrage. Major reason for great depletion of Riverine forests are continuous decrease in quantum of floods due to upper stream storage, diversion and increasing amount of take-off for irrigation/human consumption. Areas frequently flooded before are now flooded only every seven or eight year interval, which is not enough to support lush floodplain forests. Highlying portions of these forests are the worst affected. Reduced frequency of high floods has left these areas in an increasingly dry state. Xerophytic trees and shrubs have replaced thick and profuse growth of Acacia nilotica, which is the main and most important riverine species. The common riverine forests species such as, Bahan (Populus euphratica) and Lao (Tamarix aphylla) are gradually disappearing from the tract. Apart from over all degradation of these forests, there occurred sizeable blanks within them due to which the required forest density has diminished.
The Riverine forests in the past were only developed through the annual regeneration at the time of monsoon floods. Recently, under annual development programme, some areas were developed and planted on the pattern of irrigated plantations by lift irrigation through installation of electric/diesel operated tube wells and diesel operated lift pumps on the river banks and depressions .The underground water in the riverine tract is sweet, available in abundance in the aquifer and is suitable for raising trees and agriculture crops.
Following are the main factors responsible for degradation of Riverine forests:
- Severe reduction in flow of fresh water in Indus through floods.
- Population pressure for meeting the local needs of the people.
- Increase in the highlying areas due to low floods.
Productive potential of these areas can be restored by developing artificial source of irrigation such as installing tube wells and lift pumps and planting suitable tree species for increasing wood production and protection of the environment. These areas are to be developed through intensive management through land levelling and arranging the assured supply of irrigation on high-lying areas. In order to develop these forests, two strategies have been proposed in various projects i.e. departmental forestry or traditional forestry (forestry by the department) and participatory forestry (forestry by the department and local people) with main emphasis on participation of local people, poverty alleviation and combating desertification.