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Bringing people to the front line against deforestation and forest degradation

  • Published at 10:35 pm May 10th, 2017
Bringing people to the front line against deforestation and forest degradation
Our earth is about 4.6 billion years old. If we are scaling it down to 46 years, humans have been here 4 hours ago. The industrial revolution began just 1 minute ago and in that time we have destroyed more than half of the world’s forests. Well, humans are selfish. When they got well furnished luxurious house and modern amenities, they forgot their old friend: The forest, who first provided them shelter and food, even dress and warmth. To get wider road to drive cars freely, to have big cities to enjoy modern life facilities, to establish big industries to meet their daily necessities, and to build large houses to live happily, they did not hesitate to sacrifice their old friend. But since 19th century onward, world leaders have been demanding everyone to help conserve forests and other natural resources to secure life of humans in this Earth in future. Scientists are now talking a lot to help conserve forests. World economists are now calculating the value of “ecosystem service of a forest” by neglecting value of timbers like teak. Though Donald Trump flouted that “climate change” is nothing but politics, most of the world leaders and millions of climate scientists are forcing people to conserve forests to limit the rise of Earth’s temperature. Now most of the world inhabitants know “oxygen-carbon di oxide” affair between human beings and trees. Rich and industrially developed countries are offering bribe to poor countries to conserve their forests. In a nutshell, now all inhabitants understand that they were wrong. Removing most of the forests was the worst deed they carried out. Without ecosystem service of forests and forest biodiversity, most of the earth inhabitants would struggle, even to remain alive. Bangladesh is not exception in this regard. With the promulgation of Forest Policy of 1994, the emphasis of forest management shifted from timber production to ecological requirements, conservation of biological diversity, meeting bonafide consumption needs of local people, and other ecosystem services of forests. In Bangladesh, to address the deforestation and forest degradation, the government has taken alternative forest management strategies; forests or part of forests have been declared as protected areas according to the IUCN categories. In protected areas, every human activity is prohibited, unless permitted by the law. But without ensuring active involvement of forest adjacent communities in management and protection, declaring a forest as a protected area will not bring better conservation -- rather sometimes it might ruin the forest biodiversity. As instance, Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary was destructed by adjacent communities immediately after declaring it a wildlife sanctuary in 1986. People did not know why this forest was declared as protected area and what “wildlife sanctuary” is, rather rumor became popular belief that the forest is going to be given to foreign country and people would not be able enjoy their stake in Chunati forest. As a result, people were in a hurry to gather as much resources as possible before losing their stake in this natural forest. Within a year, Chunati forest lost most of its natural resources and nationally valuable wildlife such as Hollock Gibon; though in early 90s they were huge in number in this forest. Nowadays, conservationists are arguing that, the management of natural forests and protected areas should be to maintain perennial vegetative cover, necessary for various environmental and socio-economic functions and conservation of biodiversity instead of wood production. In that case, people should be the prime player as well as main gainer of forests and its biodiversity conservation. So, without involving surrounded community and stakeholders, no conservation effort would be successful and the conservation effort that does not includes people’s participation can be termed as an indefinite “trial and error method.” Involvement of local people in forest protection was introduced by Bangladesh Forest Department in 1981 through social forestry program. In social forestry, people's involvement was limited to protection and safe guarding the plantation; and the involvement and protection benefit was individual oriented. However, idea of involving whole community in management and conservation of a natural forest was firstly materialised through a donor supported project of Bangladesh Forest Department during 2004 called “Nishorgo Support Project,” in short NSP. The NSP, as pilot initiative, was implemented in five protected areas. Then through another two such projects called Integrated Protected Area Co-management (IPAC) and Climate Resilient Ecosystem and Livelihood (CREL) -- the idea of community and stakeholders' involvement in protected area conservation then expanded to all of the forest protected areas. The authority termed this FD-community management system as Collaborative Management or Co-management. Indeed, it is hard to trace the actual change in forest management during the shift from a command-and–control system implemented by the FD to a co-management approach with representative committees. The change has not occurred spontaneously through local people’s own aspirations, but rather via prescriptions imposed by the donor agencies through the FD in order to promote effective conservation. As a result, the changes that have taken place so far are largely superficial. Through NSP, IPAC, and CREL projects, an era of Co-management has brought limited but some positive changes; mainly in the form of belief and attitude changes of local forest officials and adjacent communities. However, the rate of this attitudinal change is very slow compared to the rate of deforestation and forest degradation. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, between 1990 and 2010, Bangladesh lost 3.5% of its forest cover; which is around 52,000 hectares. The lost was more prominent to our natural or primary forests. Among the forested areas of Bangladesh, only around 30% is classified as primary forests -- the most biodiversity enriched and carbon dense form of forest. However, for protecting our natural forests and forest biodiversity resources, we have to take urgent actions to halt deforestation and forest degradation. Without “active” involvement of forest adjacent communities, co-management will not be able to address deforestation and forest degradation. To materialise co-management in real sense, all stakeholders including adjacent communities should enjoy equitable share in both forest management and benefit, because conceptually collaborative management -- or co-management -- is defined as “a situation in which two or more social actors negotiate, define, and guarantee amongst themselves a fair sharing of the management functions, entitlements, and responsibilities for a given territory, area, or set of natural resources.” Respecting people’s aspiration, perception, and knowledge should be the key strategy of our forest management and that will surely enhance conservation of our valuable forests and forest biodiversity resources by halting “high rate” of deforestation and forest degradation.