Coastal afforestation in Bangladesh and its role

--Dewan Zafrul Hassan Consevator of Forest Coastal Circle Department.of Forest

9. Dewan Zafrul Hassan PP

Bangladesh is a low-lying deltaic country at the confluence of mighty river systems, namely the Ganges the Brahmaputra and the Meghna. The land is deep, fertile and flat. Most parts are less than 12 m above the sea level while the highest point is about 1,052 m. Very often the country faces natural disasters, especially cyclones and tidal bores.

Map of Bangladesh showing Location & River Systems.

River Systems of Bangladesh

The delta of Bangladesh is formed by the confluence of the aforesaid mighty rivers and their tributaries. The Ganges unites with the Jamuna (main channel of the Brahmaputra) and later joins the Meghna to eventually empty into the Bay of Bengal.

The alluvial soil deposited by these rivers has created some of the most fertile plains in the world. To stabilize the newly accreted mud flats (locally called ‘Chars’) at the estuaries of Bay of Bengals, Coastal Forest Divisions of Bangladesh Forest Department have been raising mangrove plantations since 1966. These Mangroves serve as protective barrier against cyclones and tidal surges.

Forests: Physiographic Distribution

Topography and climate are responsible to a large extent in producing different forest types. In addition to massive artificial mangrove plantations on the Chars of southern coastal areas raised by Forest Department of Bangladesh, there are three major types of natural vegetation in Bangladesh. Natural and deciduous ‘Plain Land Sal Forests (Shoria robusta)’ distributed in the central and north eastern terraces of Bangladesh mainly on three districts viz., Dhaka, Tangail and Mymensing. The semi evergreen Hill Forests are situated on the north-east and south-east in the districts of Sylhet, Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar and 3 hilly districts – Khagrachhari, Rangamati and Banderbans. On the south-west corner, situated natural mangrove littoral forests known as ‘Sunderbans’ (6017.0 Sq.Km.) facing off the Bay of Bengal. The Sunderbans, the largest single-tract of natural mangrove forests is located in southern portion of Satkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat districts.

Forest Types, Area and Distribution

Though ‘Homestead Forest’ covers an area of 0.77 million ha. (7700 sq. km.), the largest areas of forest are in the Chittagong Hills and the Sunderbans. Approximately 0.73 million ha (7300 sq.km) are depleted and denuded state-owned forests, known as Unclassified State Forests (USF) under the control of the civil administration and subject to various disturbances, particularly through shifting cultivation by tribal people.

Since 1966, Forest Department have been raising mangrove plantations mainly of Keora (Sonneratia apetala) on newly accreted mud flats in the estuaries of the Bay of Bengal that covers an area of 0.20 million hectares.

The evergreen and deciduous forests of the Hills cover 0.7 million ha (6700 square kilometers) and are the source of teak (Tectona grandis) & Garjan (Dipterocarpus turbinatus) for heavy construction and boat building, as well as other forest products. The Sundarbans, a tidal mangrove forest covering nearly 6,017 square kilometers along the Bay of Bengal, is the source of timber used for a variety of purposes, including pulp for the domestic paper industry, poles for electric power distribution, and leaves for thatching for dwellings.

Features of Coastal Zone of Bangladesh

Bangladesh has 710 Kilometer long coast line. The coastal zone covers 19 coastal districts (153 Upozilas) & Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Bay of Bengal. Out of 19 districts, 12 (51 Upozilas) are ‘exposed coast’ subject to natural calamities. The landward distance of the delineated coastal zone from the shore is between 30 and 195 km whereas the exposed coast up to 57 km. Coastal zone constitutes 32 percent of the area and 28 percent of the population of Bangladesh. Land of coastal area is used mainly for agriculture, shrimp and fish farming, forestry, salt production, ship-breaking yards, ports & industries. Land use in the coastal zone is diverse, competitive and often conflicting.

Objectives of Coastal Plantation in Bangladesh

Coastal afforestation initiatives have been started since 1966 after devastating cyclonic storm which took toll of huge human lives & damaged property.

Bangladesh is pioneer in protecting coastal areas from natural disasters and stabilizes land areas by planting Sonneratia apetala (keora) along the coastal belt. The following are the objectives of coastal plantation initiative in Bangladesh:

Objectives:

w         Protect human habitation

w         Protect life, property and agricultural crop from natural disaster

w         Stabilize newly accreted land

w         Increase forest resources of the country

w         Increase & protect fish & other aquatic resources

w         Ameliorate environment from degradation and improve biodiversity

w         Improve resilience through afforestation and community adaptation against adverse impact of climate change

w         Carbon sequestration

Name of Different Projects/Schemes of Coastal plantation in Bangladesh

Through the ‘Pilot Mangrove Afforestation Project’ during the years 1965-66 to 1974-75 artificial mangrove plantation initiative has been taken by Forest Department of Bangladesh. Though major mangrove plantations were undertaken by different projects, small scale mangrove plantations or other types of plantations in coastal areas or in Sundarbans are also carried out by revenue budget. The following are the names of projects and the project period under which coastal plantations mainly of mangroves have been carried out:-

Different Types of Coastal Plantations and their areas in the Coastal Circle, Barisal including Chittagong Coastal Division, Cox’s Bazar (South) & Feni Division upto 2011-2012.

In different forest divisions of Coastal Circle, and in Chittagong Coastal, Cox’s Bazar (south) and Feni Divisions in total 192,395.24 ha of mangrove, 8689.53 ha of non-mangrove, 2872.88 ha Nipa, 10.0 ha coconut, 40.0 ha Arica palm, 280.0 ha Bamboo & Cane and  12127.13 km of strip plantations have been raised up to June 2013. It is noted that ‘Strip Plantations’ of coastal region have been included in homestead forests by National Forests & Tree Resources   Assessment in Bangladesh, 2005-2007. Out of total plantations more than 94% are mangroves (mostly Sonneratia apetala) and rests are negligible. ‘Ditch-dyke’ and ‘Mount’ plantations that are done under ‘Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change through Coastal Afforestation in Bangladesh’ project have been included in ‘Non-mangrove’ plantations. BCCRF funded ‘Climate Resilient Participatory Aforestation and Reforestation (CRPAR) Project that has been started this year (2013), going to implement ‘Enrichment Plantation’ with mangrove species like Kankra (Rhiziphora mucronata), Geoa (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza), Baen (Avicennia marina), Passur (Xylocarpus mekongensis), Sundri (Heritiera fomes), Khalshi (Aegiceras Corniculatum) etc. in the forests that are  comparatively less dense, older and raised sites of different Coastal Divisions that was not tried much in the past. Plantation of Nipa has been also considered in this project which is a species of good soil binder and can effectively resist tidal and storm surges.

The following Table shows types of plantations in different forest divisions under various projects and their implementing periods.

Table 8: Different types of Coastal Plantations

Conclusion:

Mangroves – Plantations or natural, are one of the most productive ecosystems on the earth. They perform a variety of useful ecological, bio-physical, and socio-economic functions, and are the source of a multitude of benefits to coastal populations. The timber from mangrove forests is used for a variety of purposes, including for making houses, boats, to produce charcoal and firewood. There are a number of other non-timber benefits extracted from the range of mangrove forest species, including honey, tannin from bark, thatch material, edible fruits, fodder, and medicinal properties of certain species with potential commercial applications and recreational values.

Mangrove forests play an important role in providing breeding grounds and habitats to a variety of fishes and other marine species of high commercial value, including mud crabs, mollusks, and prawns. Mangroves have been estimated to support 30% of the fish catch and almost 100% of the shrimp catch in South and Southeast Asia.

The capacity of mangroves, sea grasses, and salt marshes to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is becoming increasingly recognized at an international level. Of all the biological carbon, also termed as ‘green carbon’, captured in the world, over half (55%) is captured by mangroves, sea grasses, salt marshes, and other marine living organisms, which are also known more specifically as ‘blue carbon’. Mangroves, salt marshes, and sea grasses form much of the earth’s blue carbon sinks. These coastal vegetations sequester carbon far more effectively (up to 100 times faster) and more permanently than terrestrial forests.

 

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries due to climate change. It is observed that owing to existence of ‘Sunderbans’, losses of lives and properties by cyclones and other natural calamities are remarkably less in comparison to losses in other areas that have no green barrier of coastal zone of Bangladesh. Coastal afforestation initiatives have been started by Forest Department since 1966 after devastating cyclonic storm which took toll of huge human lives & damaged property. It is necessary to raise coastal plantations which will serve as protective barrier against natural disasters. In addition to protection of human habitation and thus minimizing losses of lives and properties, it will accelerate accretion and stabilize newly accreted land. In the estuaries land can be reclaim also by ‘Engineering method’ that accounts for huge investment in comparison to reclamation by artificial plantation.  Coastal plantation increase forest resources of the country, ameliorate environment from degradation and improve biodiversity and added to recreational value of the area.

The mangrove plantations of Bangladesh plays role in creating the ecosystem, trapping sediment and dispersing the energy of storms, tidal bores and winds. It produces nutrients and also provides space for land and aerial fauna. It is a convenient nursery area for shrimps, crabs and fish and is a place for non-destructive aquaculture.

Coastal afforestation also improves resilience and adaptation of coastal community against adverse impact of climate change.