Social forestry for socio-economic and environmental development in the Barind Tract of Bangladesh

--Ajit Kumar Rudra Divisional Forest Officer Social Forest Division, Rajshahi

26. Ajit Kumar Rudra

The Barind Tract- the largest and comperatively elevated pleistocene physiographic unit of the bangal Basin, comprised of old allivium that differs from the sorrounding floodplains, covers an area of about 7,770 sq.km of Chapai-Nawabganj, Rajshahi, Naogaon, Bogra, Joypurhat, Dinajpur, Rangpur and Pabna districts. The area is bounded by the Mahananda in the west, the karatoya in the east, the Padma in the south and the sub-himalayan terai-tista fan in the north. The area is characterized by relatively lower rainfall compared to that of other parts of the country. The weather remains hot by the day time but becomes cooler by late night. Rainwater is the major source of grounwater recharge in this area. But significant drainage avulsion and rapid increase in population along with incremented land use , cultivation pattern and deforestation caused an imbalance in surface and groud water which resulting water shortages, depletion of ground water and soil moisture, wells to dry as well as chages in crop pattern. The withdrawl of more grounwater for irrigation purposes than its recharge causes the successive lowering of ground water table in the region. Drought has become an recurrent natural phenomenon of North Bengal in recent decades. Repeated prolong drought has reduced 50% boro yield due to scarcity of irregation water which turned the rural economy exhausted. With its degraded bio-physical environment, the Barind has become almost an arid region. So in order to reverse the current trend of drought and desertification, there is no other way except carrying out extensive plantation with other land and water management practices as trees and forest helps to keep moisture in the soil surface, increases local humidity levels and reduces evapo-transpiration along with promoting the socio-economic well-being of the local community.

Since 1960 Bangladesh forest department has been statrted its afforestation programme with giving special emphasizes upon this barind tract. Initially it was confined to seedling distributions only but since 1981-82 massive plantation programme involving local people has been undertaken in the northern region of Bangladesh under different projets namely ‘Community forestry project followed by ‘Thana afforestation and nursery development project, Forestry Sector Project and subsequently ‘Poverty alleviation through social forestry project’ for enhancement of forest cover in embankment and all marginal lands . By the time goes, those plantations are gradually grown up and after the end of rotation period matured plantations are being felled. Participants are getting their share by selling forest products in accordance with benefit sharing mechanism under social forestry rules formed in 2004, some participants receiving lac’s of taka which have created tramendous interest among the local people to be a participant of plantation. 10% of the sale proceeds are deposited as tree farming fund (TFF) by which second rotation planatation are raised in the same area.

Railway plantation

Meeting with Beneficiaries

Feeder road plantation

Feeder road plantation

Under Rajshahi Social Forest Division 7083.01 kms of strip plantation and 3678.05 hectares of block plantations are raised till today with which 60,905 nos. of beneficiaries are involved. Till today 15 crores 15 lacs 73 thousands 3 hundreds and 67 takas (15,15,73,367 /-) were distributed among  2799 nos. of participants of Rajshahi, Chapainowabgonj, Natore and Naogaon districts. Even in the current financial year 2013-14 , 5 crores 46 lacs 86 thousands 957 takas are distributed among 619 nos of participants of these districts. With this social forestry beneficiaries are economically benefited and they are becoming self-dependent.

In order to motivate people towards tree plantation and maintenance activities Government has been initiated ‘PM’s National Award in Tree Plantation’ each year. It is matter of joy that every year highest nos. of prizes are received by the peoples of this region. In the current year 2014 three prizes are awarded in this region for holding 1st places in three catagories out of ten catagories -namely  Mrs Saleha khondakar, Upashar, Rajshahi for Roof garden catagory: Mr. Abdul Bari Doublew, Singra, Natore for Individual Plantation catagory and Mr. Laxman Chandra Bhoumik, beat officer, Dhamorhat Beat, Rajshahi Social Forest Division for Govt. institution catatgory. Besides these there is also provision of giving ‘Best beneficiaries award in social forestry’ each year in  Bangladesh.

In the recent yeat Mr. Fazlur Rahman vill. Isobpur, Upazilla- Dhamoirhat,  Dist.- Naogaon  is awarded ‘Best beneficiaries award in social forestry’ who  has received highest cheque of 12,42,900/- Tk. from The Prime Minister on the occasion of National tree planting campain and Tree fair 2014 held at Bangabhandu International Conference Centre. We feel proud of him.

Md. Fazlur Rahman

[Best beneficiary]

Recently several initiaves have been taken by the Government for improving the biodiversity as well as socioeconomic well being of the forest dependent people. Decleration of Dhamoirhat Sal forest of Naogaon district covering an area of about 264.12 ha. as ‘Altadigi National Park’ is one of them.Under the project titled ‘Restoration and conservation of biodiversity of the remaining sal forests and the biodiversity resources of the barind Dhamoirhat Sal forest’ enrichment plantation of about 170 ha. were raised during the period 2012-13 where 850 nos of indigeneous community peoples are engaged using co-management approach. A project proposal titled’Eco-restoration in the Northern region of Bnagladesh’ is submitted to the authority for approval which is designed for the period of 2014-2016 with the prime objective of  creating surface water reservoirs for irrigation potential, establishing plantation for biodiversity enhancement and increased supply of fuel and industrial raw materials and improve economic condition and livlihhod support system. Very recenly lacca extraction programme from lacca host tree ‘Kul’ plantation have been  experimentally undertaken in Rajshahi districts. Twenty one participants are involved in this programme and they are very much inetrested for this economically profitable programme.

In the inauguration ceremony of ‘Divisonal Tree Fair -2014′ held at Rajshahi Town on June 21, 2014 the chief guest Mr. Sahriar Alam, MP  Hon’ble State Minister of Foreign Affairs, The People’s Republic of Bangladesh stated this social forestry movement as’ silent revolution’ in Bangladesh. It is really so.

‘Divisional Tree Fair-2014’ held at RajshahiCity Corporation Premise (Green Plaza).

But still there are some challanges ahead. Interventions made by the Government are not enough. Manpower strength of Forest Deapartment involed in Social forstry programme should be increased upto upazilla level with adequate logistic support. All vacant marginal land, existing vast char land area should be taken under forest cover in a planned way. Mass awareness should be built up regarding planting more trees in all the vacant spaces including around the homestead, all existing pond, lake, dighi, khal should not be filled up, altered, or used otherwise, extraction of ground water  resources should be stopped, using  surface water for irrigation purposes should be ensured to lessen the pressure on ground water, crops that require less water should be introduced and above all forest and pasture land should not be destroyed.