Involving forest dependant local communities: A paradigm shift in the management of the Madhupur sal forest in Bangladesh

--Md. Bashirul-Al-Mamun

The Madhupur Sal Forest, popularly known as Madhupur Garh comprising an area of 45565.18 acres is located at the middle part of Bangladesh. Madhupur Forest is coparatively more biodiverse than other forests of this type and is a valuable terrestrial ecosystem on our planet. This is a historical deciduous forest of Bangladesh. But the forest has been degraded and reshaped with cultivations of pineapple, banana and plantations of commercial tree species. A comparison of the satellite images of 1967 and 2003 clearly shows 85% greenery of the core Area of Madhupur National Park had disappeared in 36 years.

Issues and problems relevant to Madhupur Forest management

Several reasons are attributed to destruction of the Madhuprur Sal Forest. Broadly these are:

(a)        Absolute dependency of local people on Madhupur Forest for firewoods and household implements,

(b)        Uses of firewoods in the Brick kilns,

(c)        Dispute and complicacy over land ownership,

(d)       Encroachment of forest land,

(e)        Absence of political commitment and non-cooperation from the  political figures and local elites,

(f)        Non-pragmatic approach of forest department to address local problems.

Consequently, Madhupur Forest came down from 45565.18 to 10,000 acres. The real causes of destruction of Madhupur Forest had not been rightly diagnosed. Only those who illegally cut down the trees in the forests had been blamed for forest destruction. Numerous cases had been filed in the court against them. But that effort had failed to stop illegal tree felling in the forest. The forest dependency of these people had not been tried to lessen. As a result, traditional approach has failed to address the problem of Madhupur Forest.

A shift in the management of the Madhupur Forest

Considering the causes of depletion, Bangladesh Forest Department has taken fresh initiative to save Madhupur Forest in March 2010. As a new management initiative, a project entitled with “Revegetation of Madhupur Forest through Rehabilitation of Forest Dependant Local and Ethnic communities” has been launched. The visions of the project are chiefly:

(a)        Ensuing that the green coverage of Madhupur Forest is returning back.

(b)        Ensuring that local forest dependant families have better access to and control over forest resources upon which they are dependent.

(c)        Raising awareness among the local people about the importance of trees and to change livelihood patterns.

(d)       Ensuring that forest dependant families are able raise their capacity to generate sustainable income through improving their skills.

(e)        Reducing the dependency of local people by improving their standard of life and enabling them to be self-reliant.

(f)        Ensuring secure habitat for wildlife by planting native tree species.

(g)        Mitigating and adapting to climates change.

The first phase of the project started in April 2010 and ended in June 2014. The components were: 1. Training, 2. Rehabilitation and 3. Revegetation. Under component-1, forest dependant local people had received extensive training of two month duration on different income generating activities including on motivational issues. Specialists of relevant fields had provided lectures and facilitate field demonstrations. After being trained, these forest dependant people are now called “Community Forest Workers (CFWs). These CFWs were involved in illegal felling, encroaching forest land and other illegal activities in the past. Official records shows that forest cases have been filled in the court against 361(66%) of such CFWs.

These participants had also been given uniform, identity card, training completion certificate etc. Each CFW received BDT 200 every week. CFWs had also received grant for involving themselves in income generating activities. CFWs are now acting as local guard of the Madhupur Forest. As a part of component-2, seedlings of 50 fruit bearing trees, 50 timber yeilding trees, 100 fuel wood species; 1 high quqlity fuel wood saving stove and grants for cattle purchasing, composting, vegetable cultivation, altering environment friendly homestead were provided to 5000 families including CFWs’. Such forest dependant each family had received BDT 11,000 for elevating their life standard. Under component-3, the forest land which had been converted into banana and pineapple cultivation field has been brought under plantation coverage.

Photo: Cooking with fuel wood saving stove.

Photo: Platation in the house premise.

1020.0 hectre plantations with mostly native species were established in the forest land which has been encroached before. Moreover, a provision for protecting the forest floor in the dry season was an important feature of the project.

Photo: Plantations established as a component of the project.

On the basis of the successes attained in the first phase, second phase of the project has starded in July 2012 and will end in June 2015. In the second phase, from the beginning to the end of 2013, 252.0 hectre encroached forest land has been brought under plantation coverage. By the end of June 2014, 248.0 hectre encroached forest land will be brought under plantation coverage. Additionally, CFWs’ family members are getting free health services from the project. Their per capita weekly allowance has been raised to BDT 300 from BDT 200. Moreover, provisions of CFWs’ refresher training course of 15 days duration and provisions for protecting the forest floor in the dry season are two important features of second phase.

 

Impact assessment of shifting management

The CFWs are patrolling around Madhupur Forest. Involvement of these people in the conservation of Madhupur Forest has already shown tremendous impact. CFWs have already given up their old profession. CFWs are now committed to protect Madhupur Forest. They vowed not to fell any trees from Madhupur Forest illegally. At the same time, they are committed not to allow anybody to destroy Madhupur Forest. Consequently, number of forest offences has been reduced dramatically. They are now working as firewatcher, day labor, mushroom cultivator, vegetable gardener, van puller, small businessman etc. CFWs are now confident enough to survive without entering into the forest.

45-years-old CFW Nobi Hossain, who used to collect trees illegally from Madhupur Forests for around 30 years told, “Now I want to contribute in protecting the forests which I had been damaging for longtime. No matter how much money it brought to me, but I am now enjoying mental peace. Local influential people provoked me for collecting trees illegally from Madhupur Forest, but I could not realise that it was wrong. I have agreed to the proposal of forest department officials as they have taken responsibly of all my 79 cases”

They have now been merged in the mainstream of the society. Through training, their income generating skill has been developed. Continuous monitoring relived Madhupur Forest from destruction by fire which was a regular phenomenon in the forest during dry season. This effort has aided different species to regenerate and survive naturally. Undisturbed forest floor, rejuvenated with numerous species is a good sign of reviving biodiversity.  Wild lives are getting Madhupur Forest as their secured home. Forest dwelling people are experiencing the increase in number of wildlives.

Five thousands forest dependant families planted 10,00,000 seedlings in their own house premises. This will ensure increase in green coverage of Madhupur. In the long run, when these trees will be established, these forest dependant people will get fruit, timber and fuel wood from their own house premises. Consequently, their dependency on forest will be reduced gradually. They will be self-reliant regarding fruit, timber and fuel wood consumption. Moreover, each of the selected forest dependant family are now enjoying environment friendly home by eliminating all wastes and taking all sanitation measures. They are going to be self dependant by involving themselves in different income generating activities which will gradually eradicate poverty of forest dependent Bengali and Ethnic people. In addition, use of compost fertilizer has reduced the use of chemical fertilizer with retaining the fertility of land. Hence, the rehabilitation effort of “Revegetation of Madhupur Forest through Rehabilitation of Local and Ethnic communities” project has not only ensured better life of forest dependant people but also has secured the forest.

Issues to be addressed to sustain the success

The official record shows that almost 1800 cases have been filled in the court during last 12 years. These cases are under trial. Most of the CFWs are worried about the future of these cases filed against them. Huge costs are involved to deal with these cases. Settlement of these cases are very much imperative to sustain the present situation. Intensive monitoring is essential on CFWs so that their alternative income generating activities are sustainable. Different Government and Non-government organizations should take initiatives to serve family planning, education, heathcare, sanitation and other facilities to the forest dependant families. Especially CFWs should get preference, when the beneficiaries of ‘social safety and security projects’ are selected by any Government Organizations.

Conclusions

The Revegetation of “Madhupur Forest through Rehabilitation of Forest Dependant Local and Ethnic communities” project has built up confidence among the local Ethnic and Bengali communities. Positive attitude has been developed among the people from all corners of Madhupur. Positive mental changes have been observed among Community Forest Workers. Forest floor has been recovered with numerous plant species. The wildlives and birds are finding their home secured. Without any doubt it can be said that this project would be a model for protecting the forests from degradation in the other parts of Bangladesh.