The number of trees in Bangladesh has increased, both inside and outside of the forests. Among the forests, the Sundarbans is in the best condition. People have collected natural resources worth around Tk 200 billion from the forest. These facts appeared in the ‘Report on Bangladesh’s Forest and Tree Resources - 2019’, brought out by the country’s forest department.
According to the report, Bangladesh’s forest areas cover 12.8 per cent of the county’s total area. In a previous report of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), this was 10.9 per cent. This did not take into account trees outside of the forest areas.
The new survey states that outside of the forests, the area covered by trees amounts to 9.7 per cent of the country’s total area. Most of these trees have grown as part of social afforestation. Then there are commercially grown trees, fruit orchards and trees planted as part of various projects on government owned and private land. This means that trees, both in and outside of forests, cover 22 per cent of the land.
The US forest department, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Maryland University, and France’s Agricultural Research Centre for International Development provided technical assistance for the study. The survey was funded by the US government’s international development agency USAID.
Speaking about the findings of the survey, BRAC University’s emeritus professor Ainun Nishat told Prothom Alo, “Tree saplings are now sold in the village markets of Bangladesh along with other essential items. This proves that tree plantation has become a social movement in the country. Along with the government’s coastal afforestation, tree plantation has been added to all infrastructure projects. Space is kept for trees alongside roads, embankments, educational institutions and so on. We now see the successful results of these initiatives. But we should now focus on local fruit and medicinal trees rather than foreign varieties in order to maintain an ecological balance.”
Two and a half per cent shortfall in forest land
The new survey report states that, the trees that have grown outside of the forests are mostly in the homesteads of the village people, fruit orchards set up on commercial and personal initiative, and in social afforestation projects. Trees planted on newly emerging ‘chars’ (shoals) are also increasing the forest area of the country. These stretches of emerging forests are on the island Sonadia, Nijhum Dwip, Bangabandhu’s Char and more.
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require that the countries of the world ensure 25 per cent of their area to be forested.
Secretary of the environment, forest and climate change ministry, Abdullah Al Mohsin Chowdhury, told Prothom Alo, “We are planning to ensure 25 per cent of the country’s area is forested by 2020 in keeping with the SDGs. However, our country is small with a large population and so it will be difficult to meet the UN goal of foresting 25 per cent of the country’s land area. We are taking into account tree areas within and outside of forests and so this now totals 22.5 per cent. We have two and a half per cent shortfall in forests.”
Resources valued at Tk 200 billion
A few million people are dependent on Bangladesh’s forest land. They earn a living from the trees, fruits, fishes and other natural resources. The survey has valued these resources collected annually at over Tk 200 billion. The people living around the Sundarbans earn the most from these natural resources. Around 3.5 million people of Khulna, Bagerhat, Satkhira, Patuakhali and Barisal are dependent on the Sundarban forest. They each earn Tk 28,639 per head from the forest.
Former chief forest conservator Yunus Ali said to Prothom Alo, “The forest department has popularised tree plantation on the emerging shoals along the coast and other vacant stretches of land. The people of the villages look at trees as a form of social insurance. The people are mostly eager to plant trees for the sale value. This is good for environment.”
People were planting trees for timber and fruit, according to the report, and mango and mahogany trees grew the fastest. For commercial purposes, the rural people grew mango, litchi and jackfruit trees.
Sundarban forest sees 30 million tonne carbon increase
The latest method used globally to determine the state of a forest’s tree resources is to determine the amount of carbon in the trees. In Bangladesh, this test was done in the Sundarbans in 2009. The carbon content was 106 million tonnes. This has increased to 136 million tonnes in 2019.
Executive director Farid Uddin Ahmed of forest and environment organisation Aranyak, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “Among all our forests, the Sundarbans has faced the least harm so far. Despite various adverse conditions, trees have increased in the Sundarbans. This is indication of the forest’s strength. However, the rate at which industries are springing up around the forest, it will be hard to maintain this forest’s natural resources for long. The government should stop all activities that are harmful to the Sundarbans.”
* This report appeared in the print version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir