Tree plantation programme takes a turn of sustainable social movement in Bangladesh ……..…………………….……. says Yunus Ali

--Md. Yunus Ali Chief Conservator of Forest Department of Forest

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With sustained political commitment of the government the national tree plantation programme has emerged as a social movement in Bangladesh, said Md. Yunus Ali, Chief Conservator of Forests, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian.

He also informed that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina‘s call to plant at least 3 seedlings i.e. one fruit and one forest seedling and one medicinal plant by every citizen of the country is ever encouraging, that has inspired tree plantation programme into a sustainable social movement across the country.

A crusader against poachers, Md.Yunus Ali  informed that  Bangladesh Forest Depart-ment since independence have been fighting against deforestation and land use change.

He informed that the Hon’ble Minister for Environment & Forest Mr. Anwar Hossain Monju from begining of his office became concerned about overall development of forestry sector.. He wants to stop the deforestation. He is also concerned about land grabbers.

Mr. Yunus Ali, a professional forest officer was asked 14 questions on different aspects of the forestry sector.

He replied all these questions. His answers are highly informative and interesting. His lively deliberations have been a serious reflection on the overall aspects of the forestry sector. The excerpts of his interview are produced here for The Guardian readers at home and abroad.

The Guardian: Please tell us a few words about the background of the Forest Department.

Chief Conservator of Forests: The Forest Department started functioning from 1862 maned by Imperial Forest Service, the Provincial Forest Service and the Subordinate Forest Service. Organizationally, before partition of India in 1947, the forests of present Bangladesh was under a Forest Circle called Assam Bengal Circle. After 1947-1954 it was a Provincial Forest Department (of East Pakistan Province) under a Conservator of Forests. After 1954 it was, the two circles named Eastern Circle and Central Circle, managed of Provincial Chief Forest upto 1971.

After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the responsibility of forestry sector has been given to the Bangladesh Forest Department. Till 1989, it was under the Ministry of Agriculture. With the creation of a new Ministry named Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1989, it was transferred to this new Ministry.

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The Guardian:  In this context, would you discuss the extent of this department and say few words about the work force involved with the overall activities of this Department?

Chief Conservator of Forests:  Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) is headed by Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF). According to existing organizational set-up, there are 4 Wings to carry out the activities of the department. These Wings are Forest Management Wing, Social Forestry Wing, Planning Wing and Education & Training Wing. Each Wing is headed by a Deputy Chief Conservator of Forests (DCCF).

At the Headquarters two Conservator of Forests (CF), namely CF (Administration and Finance) and CF (Wildlife and Nature Conservation) work under the direct control of CCF. Five Assistant Chief Conservator of Forests (ACCF) work as staff officers to the CCF. Forest Department field administration, consisting of 8 circles (3-Social Forestry Circles and 5-Forest Management Circles), each headed by a Conservator of Forests, are entrusted with field administration of Forest Department.

The CF of each Forest Circle supervises few forest divisions under his control, each of which is normally under the control of a Divisional Forest Officer (DFO). There are 44 forest divisions which include 24 Forest Management Divisions, 13 Social Forestry Divisions, 4 Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Divisions and 3 Management Plan Divisions. The Forestry Educational Institutions are under the control of DCCF, Education and Training Wing.

Each division is divided into few ranges which is administered by Forest Range Officers. Each range is sub-divided into several beats, each of which is controlled by a Deputy Ranger or a forester as Beat Officer.

The National Botanical Garden located at Mirpur, headed by a Director with the pay and status of Deputy Conservator of Forests, is one of the seed source and forest genetic reserver in country.  This is the biggest ex-situ conservation  of flora in the country.

The Guardian:  Would you please discuss the training facilities available in the Forest Department and tell what more facilities can be created meeting the needs of the 21st century?

Chief Conservator of Forests:  Bangladesh Forest Department has five institutions offering education and training services on forestry. These are: (1) Bangladesh Forest Academy, Chittagong, (2) Forestry Science and Technology Institute, Sylhet, (3) Forestry Science and Technology Institute, Rajshahi, (4) Forestry Science and Technology Institute, Chittagong and (5) Forestry Development and Training Centre (FDTC), Kaptai. Bangladesh Forest Academy the previous Bangladesh Forest College established in 1964 used to offer a two year B.Sc. course to those recruited as Forest Rangers.

But due to stoppage of direct recruitment in Forest Ranger tier, the college continued to function & organizing in-service courses for officers of Forest Department. Forestry Science and Technology Institute at Sylhet established in 1947 offer certificate course to Foresters. Since 1985, two-year diploma in Forestry program has been introduced duly affiliated by Bangladesh Technical Education Board. Once 3 months training course was organized for Forest Guards. But it has been discontinued now.

Forestry Science and Technology Institute at Rajshahi was established under the first Community Forestry Project of Bangladesh in 1985 to disseminate community forestry knowledge aiming the forestry extension workers. Subsequently it has been organized the training of Foresters leading two years Diploma in Forestry. Forestry Science and Technology Institute , Chittagong offers a three years Diploma course in Forestry under the Bangladesh Technical Education Board.

Forestry Development and Training Centre was established in 1976, as a GOB/SIDA project. In 1986 Forest Department took over the management and control of this institution, primarily to provide vocational training to forestry workers in various fields of forestry practices including the wood processing, such as saw milling etc. The centre imparts training largely in the fields of forest extension, basic logging saw doctoring and saw-milling.

Due to shortage of adequate budget allocation, we cannot organise in service refreshers course for our staffs and officers. It is very important to conduct regular upgrading refresher’s courses for staff members so that forestry development in Bangladesh is capable of keeping in pace with the rest of the world in terms of new concepts, new tools and new technology.

In the recent years, there is a tremendous development of the environmental consciousness among the educated people. This is due to special attention by government to check the deteriorating environment of the country. Therefore, the environmental training should be given as a part of refresher’s courses.

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The Guardian: Would you please tell how much land area is occupied by the forests in Bangladesh? How much area has been decreased due to deforestation? What are the causes of deforestation? Do you have any suggestions to stop it?

Chief Conservator of Forests:   It is about 2.52 million hectares equivalent to 17.49 percent of the country. This includes 1.52 million ha of public forests under Forest Department, 0.73 million ha of Un-classed State Forests is under the direct control of DC of Hill Districts. Out of that 0.67 million ha is hill forest termed as tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, 0.59 million ha. is natural mangrove forests, 0.15 million ha. is mangrove plantations and the rest 0.12 million ha. is plain land Sal Forests. This covers about 10.30 percent of the country.

Deforestation has become a worldwide phenomenon, specially affecting the developing countries. Area affected by deforestation in Bangladesh has not been surveyed or mapped and their exact sizes and locations were never substantially determined. The different estimates of deforestation reported in various sources are not consistent. One of the direct causes of deforestation is land clearances for agriculture (including shifting cultivation). Other causes are land use changes, for settlement, grazing, fire, illegal logging, and fuel wood collection. Among the different causes of deforestation, encroachments and shifting cultivation are probably the most important ones. The practice of Jhooming has denuded a large area of forest in the hill districts, particularly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Realizing the adverse effects of shifting cultivation, Government has undertaken a massive programme to rehabilitate the shifting cultivators through various development projects. While shifting cultivation is practiced predominantly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Encroachment is a serious problem both in the plain land Sal Forests and the Hill Forests. While existing forest cover is being degraded, there is also gain by afforestation of denuded areas, marginal lands and newly accreted lands which are brought under forest cover with massive plantation activities.

The Guardian: Would you please discuss the total projects taken by the Department for afforestation?

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Chief Conservator of Forests:  Bangladesh Forest Department implemented a good number of development projects in the last 4 decades. Bangladesh Forest Department is currently implementing 13 development and TA projects under ADP allocation and 7 climate change related project under Climate Change Trust Fund with a view to increase the overall tree resource base, expanding the tree cover combating deforestation, creating climate resilient environment, capacity building to climate change adaptation and improving the overall environmental conditions of the country.

Forest Department has made significant headway in implementing projects for Conservation and Management of wild animals also.

The outcome of the projects is significant to reduce poverty through creating employment opportunities for the landless poor, marginal farmers and women folk, and improve the adaptive capacity of the vulnerable people to climate change.

The Guardian:  Is there any standard geographical percentage of forest cover required for our country?

Chief Conservator of Forests:  For maintenance of ecological balance and environmental equilibrium, sustained supply of fuel-wood, timber and the host of other forest produces, protection of delicate landscape like catchments areas of rivers, streams and reservoirs, and fragile landmass, providing safe abode for wildlife, the resource utilization experts worldwide prescribe exclusive reservation of one-fourth (25 percent) land area of any country to be under forest. But in the country like Bangladesh can’t afford 25% land for forestry for food security reason.

The Guardian:  Would you please discuss the budget allocated for various activities of the forestry sector and also comment whether the allocated amount is enough to achieve the objective?

Chief Conservator of Forests:   In the revenue budget the fund is exhausted to pay the salary and allowances. The programs under development project are reflected in the Annual Development Program.

The Guardian:  It is observed that a huge number of population of our country is ignorant about the importance of forest. In this regard, would you please tell about the various steps taken by this Department for creating awareness among the masses so that they actively take part in preservation of forests and in afforestation programs also.

Chief Conservator of Forests:   Nation-wide massive tree plantation programme involving people from all walks of life is launched every year in order to increase the tree cover, augment the biomass production. Tree Plantation is no more a departmental programme now. With the strong political support of the government, the national tree plantation programs have emerged as a social movement. The Hon’ble Prime Minister formally inaugurates the national “Tree Plantation Campaign” every year. It continues for three months across the country.

It is worthwhile to mention here that Sheikh Hasina, the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s call to plant at least one fruit, one forest and one medicine seedling by every citizen of the country is very encouraging to transform tree planting into a sustainable social movement. Sheikh Hasina, the Hon’ble Prime Minister is keen to forestry in Bangladesh. She also aware of the challenges of forestry in the country.

The government has introduced “Prime Minister’s Tree Plantation Award” to encourage mass participation in tree plantation. In this respect I would like to mention that Hon’ble Prime Minister distributes the Award every year and it creates nation-wide enthusiasm for tree plantation. Another important aspect in awareness for tree plantation is annual ‘Tree Fairs”. Such “Tree Fairs” is a source of saplings, means of technology transfer  which ensure establishment of private nurseries all over the country.

As a part of national “Tree Planting Campaign” Bangladesh forest Department arranges wide media campaigns, publishes and distributes booklets and posters containing guidelines and important information regarding tree plantations, its subsequent maintenance  and supply of  seedling. It also arranges rallies and meetings at the national, district and upazilla levels with the participation of government officials, public leaders, NGOs, CBOs, environmentalists etc. During the plantation season extensive drives are operated to distribute seedlings/ saplings at nominal price among the people.

The Guardian:  Would you please tell a few words about the activities/programs under taken by the Department so that environmental balance is maintained in our country?

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Chief Conservator of Forests: The new impetus of the current national effort is to put emphasis on maintaining a balance between development and environment. Numerous policy statements, strategies and recommendations have been put forward to commit to action this new emphasis of development in forest management which will help in maintaining the environmental balance in the country.

The tree/green coverage of the country is 13.20%. To increase this coverage massive afforestation of treeless and encroached public forest lands, (2) increase tree resource by expanding afforestation to village areas, newly accreted lands, wetlands, marginal lands, along the roadside and embankment, premises of public and private institutions and homestead, (3) replanting of failed plantations, and (4) increase productivity of plantations. (5) increasing to 10% of the natural forests under the Protected Area System by 2015. (6) ban on conversion of natural forests, and (7) adherence to CITES (on wildlife protection). Poverty Alleviation steps are : (1) encourage and support planting of fruit trees, timber trees, fodder trees, and fuel wood trees in human settlements and  (2) increase role of women in forest development activities. Other measure include: (1) people participation in forest development, (2) inter-sectoral collaboration, (3) integrated environmental planning system (4) integrated multi-resource planning for forest development and (5) effective use of external assistance.

There are challenges also. These are mainly-leasing of forest land for industry, housing and agriculture.

The Guardian: Would you please discuss the multifarious problems prevailing in the forest sector and how to solve them practically?

Chief Conservator of Forests: Development of forestry in Bangladesh especially the Government owned forests is beset with many problems and constraints. Illegal logging is a major forestry problem in Bangladesh. Unemployment, historical dependence on forest produces for livelihood in the forest area are the causes of deforestation. The demand of forest produces is also huge for construction and furniture both in rural and urban area.

This problem is also tied up with the overall socio-economic problems of the country. Forest act regulates the offences in the forests. When an offense is detected a case is filed under the provision of the act in the court of law. In the absence of adequate number of trying magistrates each case takes a long time to dispose. Huge number of forest cases pending in the courts. According to reliable source 59834 nos. are pending in the different court of the country.

Due to the fast growing rate of population in the country, the forest land falls under serious pressure. Failure to complete forest settlement operation in many cases has resulted in extensive encroachment. In many cases local influential people back the encroachers. The Forest Department does not have adequate manpower and logistics to control encroachment. Forest Department only can file eviction cases in the court. These cases take long time to be settled, and in very few cases, result in the eviction of the encroachers.

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Forestry is primarily land oriented. There Landuse Policy-2001 could not make any changes in conflict resolution of tenural disputes. Under such situation various land laws and land reforms formulated mostly with agricultural and industrial bias that contradict forest policy. Coastal forest lands are leased out for fisheries, slopes and hilly tracts are leased out for horticulture and rubber cultivation. Such acts often lead to conflicts with the Forest Department. Many of the forest lands have already gone under non-forestry use which is very much against the enunciation of forest policy.

One of the major constraints to forestry development in Bangladesh is the shortage of adequate manpower, the logistics and infrastructure is also inadequate and old. This has resulted in shortage of accommodation for the field staff and dilapidated the conditions of the existing buildings. Since forestry operations take much longer time to provide return on investment when it is compared to other sectors, investment in this sector does not receive priorities over other sectors of investment. The contribution of forestry sector in the GDP is not determined perfectly.

In order to get rid of the above mentioned problems, I feel that forest conservation should get attention like agriculture, fishery and livestock. The forestry sector should be given due place in the national planning and resource allocation process. Under no circumstances forest land should be relinquished for any non-forestry use. Financial, administrative and other constraints to forestry development should be removed, and provisions should be made for ploughing back a portion of the forest revenue to forestry development activities, the trial of forest cases and forest reservation process should be expedited.

Since the forestry problems are tied up with the socio-economic problems of the rural population, particularly those are living in vicinity of forest, solution of these socio-economic problems can contribute significantly to the protection of the forests. For effective enforcement of regulations related to forest and forestry should be given priority by the relevant agency.

The Guardian: Would you please throw some light on the management and conservation of protected areas?

Chief Conservator of Forests:   MoEF declared 34 notified protected areas covering an area of 2,65,403 ha. The protected Areas are all within the Forest Ecosystem and the lands are all under the management of Forest Department. There are at present 2 categories of protected areas in the country viz. 17 National Parks, 17 Wildlife Sanctuaries.

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The management now in practice focused problems of protection, pilferage and poaching, land breaking and clearing for settlements, lack of adequate personnel, inadequate flow of funding and putting low priorities by the MoEF. The present Government has attached due importance to conserve environment and bio-diversity. Many of the actions have already been taken by the Government. Following the management practices based on participatory forestry, steps can be taken involving local community.

There are some Acts and Legislation is found ineffective which needs reframing to accommodate collaborative management. Policies and legislation having relevance to the conservation and management of forest, environment and protected areas are (1) Forest Act, 1927 (amended in 2000), (2) The Wildlife (preservation and Security) Act, 2012 (3) Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP 2009) (4) National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP 2004) (5) Social Forestry Rules 2004 (6) Environment Conservation Act, 1995 (Amended in 2000).

The Guardian: Would you please throw light on the association of Bangladesh with International Nature Conservation Organizations? How do these help Bangladesh to the conservation of our forests?

Chief Conservator of Forests:   Bangladesh has signed and ratified several multilateral environmental agreements such as Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitats (Ramsar Convention), Convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural and Natural heritage (World• Heritage Convention), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), International Convention to Combat Desertification, Global Tiger Forum, and UNFCCC.

The Sundarbans Mangrove Forests and the Wildlife Sanctuaries of the Sundarban Reserve Forests have been listed respectively in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance under Ramsar Convention and in the list of World Heritage Sites under World Heritage Convention. Being party to these conventions we are committed to implement the conventions so that the areas included in these conventions are conserved at nature state.

The Guardian: Would you please discuss the role of the present Government in sustaining the development of the forestry sectors?

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Chief Conservator of Forests: Forestry plays significant role in country’s economic development, poverty alleviation and food security. Because of worldwide concern of global warming and environment deterioration, the Government imposed moratorium on felling of trees in the natural forests since 1989.

The ultimate goal of forest management is to sustain cultural, spiritual, social environmental and economic benefits of the country and its population. The essentiality of involving the people effectively in the conservation of existing forests and plantation is realised by the government.

During the tenure of last 5 years of the present Government, a total of 71,557 hectares of plantations have been raised in the hills, plain lands and coastal belts. Besides, 13,843 Km. of strip plantations have been raised along roads and high ways, railway tracts and embankments. Moreover, about 2.66 million seedlings have been planted in different institutions of the country and 44.0 million seedlings have been raised in the nurseries for sale and distribution among the people.

Bangladesh has a rich natural heritage of plants and animals. The issues of conservation and protection of biological diversity has received highest attention of the present Government. The ban on felling trees in natural forests until the year 2000 vides Government Order No. Sha2/PaBaMa-192190/580 dated 11.09.1990 has been extended up to 2005 in order to conserve natural forests and bio-diversity.

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The two decades unrest in Chittagong Hill Tracts before the signing of the peace agreement caused serious damage to the forests and depleted the resource. The long standing ethnic problem got due political attention from the present Government and the situation has now improved in the Chittagong Hill Tracts that encourages the  professionals to introduce proper land planning for forest management.

A national forest policy specifies principles regarding the use of a nation’s forest resources. The important forest policy statement is attempts will be taken to bring about 20% of the country’s land under forest cover through the afforestation programs of the Govt. and the private sector by the year 2015.

The potentials of millions of people who live in close association with forests have been realized by the present Government. Recognizing that afforestation and reforestation can contribute to poverty alleviation, the Government has taken up massive afforestation programs where people are getting benefit directly by participating actively in social forestry. Community forestry and Social forestry on benefit sharing mechanism are being promoted by giving priority to poorer communities, landless, distressed and freedom fighters.

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The Guardian: Would you please discuss the future strategy and plans of action of the Department of Forest in fulfilling the needs of the 21st century?

Chief Conservator of Forests:   The forest management strategies are such that these should provide the- needs of today’s generation from existing resources without compromising the next generation needs. Forest management goals and strategies include reduction of the demand-supply gap, improvement of forest management practices, improvement of forest health, reducing deforestation and encroachment, developing people’s participation. Demand-supply gap will be reduced through development of higher yielding timber species, replacement of existing poor quality plantation by high yielding-ones and planting up bare forest land and Un-classified State Forest (USF), land under Forest Department’s control.

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Forest management practices will be improved through preservation of the maximum amount of natural forest consistent with environment, social and economic conditions, introducing and following technically sound silvicultural practices, managing coastal plantations, primarily for protection from cyclone and secondly, for wood production, introducing intensive, high input plantations and managing Non-Wood Forest Produce (NWFP) species in a planned and concerted way. Efforts for reducing deforestation and encroachment will include involvement of local communities in protecting and managing forest resources with provision for reasonable sharing of all forest products, introducing real people oriented forestry programs.

Widespread participation of people in forestry development is considered as the foundation of sustained development and better management of Bangladesh’s forests and her people. Environmental management programs benefit the people and forests through maintaining essential ecological processes, improving environmental resources, restoring plant and animal balances, where necessary, and preserving bio-diversity.

Participatory forestry, wood energy and non-wood products programs will provide increased socio-economic benefits to the general populations by contributing to basic needs, poverty alleviation, employment and income generation. Positive non-wood forest products return are in the form of increased biodiversity, less destructive exploitation and both reduced demand and increased supply of wood fuels. Expanded public participation in forestry programs appears a critical in gradient to sustain the nation’s forests. Forests in turn protect and support soil, water, wildlife and biodiversity, all of which are vital to the general welfare of the present and future generation.