Introducing alternative livelihood options among forest-dependent communities in Cox's Bazar has been proven effective in reducing their forest dependency and restoring forest coverage in the district.
The Forest Department launched projects to introduce different livelihood opportunities in areas close to forests, which not only saw significant reduction in forest resource collection but also an increase in the income generation capacity of the locals.
One such project is Inani Protected Forest Area Co-Management in Cox's Bazar's Ukhiya upazila, where resource collection in around 10,000 hectares of forest decreased by 50% in four years, according to recent data.
The project was implemented in 2009 by the Forest Department in collaboration with Arannayk Foundation, a Bangladesh-US joint initiative that works on the conservation of biodiversity assets in tropical forests, and Society for Health Extension and Development (SHED), an NGO that works on sustainable development of communities through utilisation and mobilisation of local resources and community participation.
Under the project, locals were introduced to vegetable farming, cattle rearing, betel nut production, fruit farming, fishing and other livelihood options.
Since the project was launched, forest resource collection dropped from around Tk16.9 lakh in 2010 to around Tk8.32 lakh in 2014, according to a project evaluation report prepared in 2015.
In addition, the number of trees per hectare area of the forest has also increased in this period.
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Trained in craftsmanship under Inani Protected Forest Area Co-Management project, members of an indigenous family in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar work make cloths to sell them later Abu Siddique/Dhaka Tribune
“This is because people no longer dependent on forest resources such as fuel wood, timber, bamboo, charcoal and stones. They are engaging in other income generating activities that do not cause harm to the forest,” said Farid Uddin Ahmed, executive director of Arannayk Foundation.
How it works
After raising awareness among locals about the importance of protecting the forest and its biodiversity, the project authorities encouraged them to create a community fund where each family was asked to deposit Tk50-100 every month.
Arannayk then donated a good sum of money to the fund so that locals could take loans to kick-start their new livelihood options.
“I took Tk15,000 loan from our common fund three times in the last two years to set up my own grocery shop. The business is going well and I can comfortably support my family of five members,” said Nurul Islam, who lives near the forest and was once entirely dependent on its resources.
“Many people like Nurul have taken up alternative livelihood options, reducing their dependency on forest resources,” said Ali Kabir, divisional forest officer in Cox's Bazar South.
“However, more work is needed as we have yet to include all the people in the community. Bringing everyone under this project is essential, but it also requires huge investment,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Restoring endangered species
In addition to restoring forest coverage, the project is also promoting planting of at least one endangered plant species for every Tk1,000 of a loan taken from the common fund.
The project has identified 27 indigenous flora species which are on the verge of extinction, aiming at reviving them.
Nurul Islam, the grocer, said he planted all 27 species in the forest land.
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In an leisurely afternoon, female members of indigenous community are seen in their traditional dance position Abu Siddique/Dhaka Tribune
Eco-tourism a lucrative option
The project is focusing on developing community-based eco-tourism in the area which can boost the growth of local economy.
On a recent visit, this correspondent learnt that the project is engaging local Chakma community in developing eco-tourism facilities that incorporate different elements of their lifestyle, i.e. food, culture, houses, etc, to enhance tourist experience.
Tour Operators Association of Cox's Bazar (TOAC) has already included community-based eco-tourism in Inani in their tourism products.
“Once the facilities are fully developed, we will start promoting it,” said Asaf Ud Doula, general secretary of the association.
The Chakma community, comprising 82 families, is also hopeful about the initiative, said Krichhadhan Chakma, head of the community. “We hope it will create good job opportunities for us.”