When planting trees in a certain area involves the local people, which eventually has an impact on their economic, ecological and social development, it is called social forestry. The purpose of it is not only to plant and take care of the trees but also to ensure that the planters can earn a decent living until the fruits of the planted trees are reaped.
According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), social forestry includes activities based on government efforts to encourage and support group-based afforestation, that support employment and wage-based development.
In Bangladesh, social forestry was introduced with institutional forest extension activities. The tree-planting campaign initially started for one day just after the independence of Bangladesh but later increased to one week, one month and lastly, three months.
The program was initially very limited and did not have much impact on the people. It failed to change the attitude of the extension workers or the minds of the people. Maybe that's the reason the landless people are kept away from the afforestation activities.
Later in 1982, some entrepreneurs like Mahbubul Alam, Dr Muhammad Yunus and Professor Alim took up a social forestry project in Bangladesh. Funded by the Asian Development Bank, the project was designed for two remote hills called Betagi and Pamora in the remote area of Rangunia Upazila of Chittagong district.
The main component of the project was: 1. planting trees alongside roads, railways and embankments, 2. establishment of tree planting and agroforestry demonstration farms in the barren forest lands through initiatives to supply fuelwood, 3. establishment of a Social Forestry Training Institute, 4. provide training and equipment to employees as institutional support, 5. training arrangements to create awareness among different classes of people, and 6. establishment of regional and divisional offices in the project area.
Following the success of the group-based afforestation project, the Asian Development Bank approved the Thana afforestation and nursery development project. The objective of the project was to create a forest by involving the local people in the deforested Shalban, establishing agroforestry farms in the uncovered evicted Shalban, forestation on the lands outside the Water Development Board area, development of former group based forest growth centres, upgrading and maintenance of Forestry Extension Nursery and Training Center (FENTC), production and distribution of saplings during the project period, training of village leaders, local supervisors, thana agricultural officers and planting assistants, gardeners, staff and officers of the forest department, the establishment of more nurseries in Thana Complex, creation of slum forest along roads, railways and canal embankments, production and distribution of saplings in newly formed Thana Nurseries and setting up of private nurseries through training and financial assistance to entrepreneurs.
A pilot project, funded by International Development Association is going to be developed under the Extension Branch of the Forest Department. Under this project, participatory agroforestry activities will be started. The objective of this project is to reduce the loss of life and property due to cyclones by planting more trees in the project area. Green belt construction will be implemented by involving non-governmental organisations and increasing coastal tree planting activities among the local population.
Agroforestry is another good example of social forestry as it includes the community, with the aim of harmonizing agriculture and forest use. Its main purpose is to grow fast-growing plants with crops or fruits. And sustainable land management strategy can be an important step towards this. This is basically simultaneous use of the same land for a variety of agricultural activities, including agroforestry, forest and animal husbandry activities. Although it is a traditional practice, depending on the location of the land, region and environment, this method can be turned into a more realistic and dynamic model.
Although agroforestry is relatively widespread in Bangladesh, its management is very poor. While the tree selection and planting techniques are followed, the problem is- we are largely dependent on the vegetation growing around the homestead. Because of rapid population growth and urbanisation, the agrarian system is rapidly declining. In many cases, about 10% of the home plants are cut down every year without planting new trees. Recently, emphasis has been laid on planting more and more varieties of trees in the vicinity of agricultural lands.
Again, social forestry is supposed to ensure social and economic benefits to the landless, poor, widows and destitute rural people. From the adoption and implementation of afforestation plans and maintenance, control and management of forest resources, to the distribution of dividends and reforestation- they should be actively involved. The main objective of social forestry is to help the poor to become self-reliant by creating employment opportunities and to meet their food, fodder, fuel, furniture and capital needs. But sadly we still do not see any such projects where the underprivileged people of the society are included.
The government brought social forestry into the legal framework with the incorporation of the 1927 Forest Act. To further strengthen social forestry, the government introduced the Social Forestry Rules. Apart from this, investment opportunities have been created for the local people for afforestation in the government forest lands.
However, large scale social forestry in Bangladesh has not yet achieved significant success due to the lack of participation of local people. The active participation of the public, especially women, must be ensured for the management of forest resources. Because, without their participation, the entire idea of social forestry is fruitless.
The author is a columnist andworks as an Assistant Officer at the Career and Professional Development Services Department of the Southeast University. He can be reached email@example.com.