Becoming a “Forest Savior”: Community Participation for Conservation
“The forest is an integral part of my life and only source of income. We exploited it until we saw people killed in landslides in the neighboring areas. Gradually we became aware of the consequences of unplanned felling of trees. Now we protect our forest alongside the Forest Department. I own 2 hectares of forest land and they pay for its maintenance. I have earned a good amount after the first felling”, says a proud Sabbir, participant from social forestry initiative of the Government of Bangladesh, Ukhiarghat, Cox’s Bazar.
Forests are the primary buffer against cyclones, storms and surges for over 16 million coastal people. Over the last three decades, forests in Bangladesh have declined by 2.1 percent annually, due to deforestation, illegal logging and harvesting, slash-and-burn agriculture, conversion into non-forestland for settlement, farming, recreation and industries. With the likely increased incidence and intensity of extreme cyclonic events, efforts must focus on reversing the decline in forests in order to adequately safeguard people against threats induced by climate change.
Afforestation and forest conservation are promising opportunities for adaptation and mitigation efforts. Community engagement, for forest conservation in the coastal and hilly areas, is critical to the sustainability of any afforestation project. The Government of Bangladesh has a number of such successful forestry projects.
The participatory afforestation and reforestation project under the BCCRF is a timely initiative to complement the Government’s commitment towards forest conservation. The Bangladesh Forest Department and Arannayk Foundation will jointly cover 17,000 hectares of land and 2,500 kms of road-side plantation. Following a transparent selection process, local communities will adopt locally tried and tested nursery and plantation techniques with improved forest management practices. Alternative livelihoods will be introduced to conserve the forests and reduce forest dependency. These resilience approaches are cost effective, will provide multiple socio-economic and environmental co-benefits, and enhance carbon stock. “I’m a widow with two children. I had to depend on the forest for a meager living. Then I received training on homestead gardening and am now a regular worker at the forest department’s nursery with a substantial income, both of my children now go to school”, shares a content Rekha, from an alternative livelihood project in Pinijerkul, Cox’s Bazar. Most of the inhabitants of Pinijerkul have similar stories of change in their lives. They are now self-dependent forest-saviors, aware of the issues of soil erosion, biodiversity and climate change.
The direct benefits to one of the communities involved in Forest Department’s social forestry initiative are impressive. An investment of US$4,800 on 100 hectares, allocated to 50 members returned US$16,900. After the final harvest, the participants will receive 45 percent of the revenue, the Government 45 percent and 10 percent will go to the Tree Farming Fund for future plantations. “Without active community participation, forest conservation is almost impossible. People must understand that the forest provides ultimate safety and is a survival mechanism against natural calamities”, said Bipul Krishna Das, Divisional Forest Officer, Cox’s Bazar.
Yet without ensuring continuous investments in afforestation and reforestation, the retention of existing forestlands and the stability of sand bar island would be uncertain. Improved forest management must include participation of forest-dependent communities and provide them with alternative livelihoods to address the challenges of Climate Change.