The 2021 International Day of Forests was observed around the world on 21 March to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests for our universe. The theme of the 2021 International Day of Forests was ‘Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being. Like other countries, Bangladesh also observed the day with due importance and highlights.
Forests are closely related to our existence and well-being as they perform three key roles in supporting livelihoods: subsistence, safety nets, and pathways to prosperity reducing poverty and creating livelihoods. It supports the livelihoods of 20% (1.4 billion) of the global population. People, living in or near forests, draw substantial parts of their subsistence needs from forests. It also produces goods and services for sustainable development, fostering an economic activity that creates jobs and improves the lives of marginalised people in Bangladesh.Bangladesh Forest Department has been advocating the necessity of forests for our survival, food, shelter, and safety. They executed a large amount of awareness-building activities across the country during the last ten years and implemented a good number of activities enhancing reforestation, afforestation, and controlling deforestation. As a result, our people now understand that the sustainable management of forests and the use of forest resources are keys to combating climate change and contributing to the prosperity and well-being of current and future generations.
Despite having priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate. However, the case is slightly pleasant in Bangladesh as the forest landscape has been growing continuously every year. Now, the total forest area of Bangladesh is nearly 2.8 million hectares, which is about 17.7% of the total land area of Bangladesh, and it is on the rise to expand. It is hoped that the forest cover may reach up to 20% of our total land by 2030.
Bangladesh is successful in continuously expanding forest covers in spite of having multifarious challenges. The forest land is continuously under threat mainly due to the illegal logging and conversion to non-forestry uses. The country has lost approximately 450,000 acres of forest land since independence in many ways. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has allocated over 150,000 acres of forest land to different entities for various development works. Government organisations as well as non-government organisations receive the allotments for the greater interests of the country. Furthermore, private industrialists and influential people grabbed about 300,000 acres of forest land across the country.
Forest Department educates people to save forestry and generate income from the forest-related occupation which is positively aligned with forest improvement. It provides education and training to nearby people for other jobs which significantly reduces their dependency on forest resources. The Forest Department is highly appreciated for effective forest management policy by educating the forest-dependent people and supporting alternative income generation activities in the community.
The Forest Department planted one crore saplings across the country in 2020 to make the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman memorable. Under the social forestry activities, more than 7 lakh beneficiaries are directly working to manage their living, working with the Forest Department. This allows poor people to support their families and lead a better life. This boosts the local economy.
Currently, Bangladesh Forest Department steadily moves forward with constraints and inadequate manpower to increase forest covers, afforestation, reforestation, and recovering forest lands from land grabbers. Land grabbers are usually influential persons of the society; and therefore, recovering forest land from influential people is difficult and very risky. However, almost every day, new land is being recovered from the land grabbers and illegal encroacher; and, these lands are being converted to forest lands by plantation or reforestation.Reports are found from the newspapers that clashes frequently occurred between the miscreants and forest employees almost every day. Sometimes, forest employees become the personal enemies of land grabbers and influential forest destroyers; as a result, sometimes the forest employees are killed, assaulted, and seriously wounded for the cause of saving forests and forestlands, the national property.
Forest restoration is the key strategy to reduce global warming. Stopping deforestation is really important because about 10% of carbon dioxide emissions come from deforestation. The act of planting must be seen as a continuous process. We need more trees everywhere; no space should remain unused or underused. Every space around our homes, homestead, roads, and streets should be turned green by planting trees.
In Bangladesh, homestead forests are said to play an important economic role in rural livelihoods. So, we need to grow our own forest by planting trees to help save the planet; even our rooftops are being planted with beautiful trees, plants, and herbs to beautify our houses. Besides the decorative benefits, roof plantings provide food, temperature control, hydrological benefits, architectural enhancement, habitats or corridors for wildlife, recreational opportunities, and on large scale, it may even have ecological benefits.
Though Bangladesh Forest Department has some great achievements, the forest men have to work under huge constraints. It has a workforce of only 10,449 persons (with vacant posts) which is barely adequate to manage, protect and look after the huge forestlands spread throughout the country. Different stakeholders opine that in the present needs, the organogram of Forest Department should be reshuffled with a workforce of at least 25,000 employees of different grades proportionately. New posts should be created to face emerging challenges for the national interests, and every employee must have the opportunity to be promoted in due course.
Forest employees help develop, maintain, and protect the forests by growing and planting new seedlings, fighting against insects and diseases that attack trees, and helping control soil erosion. So, sufficient in-service training should be arranged to further increase their efficiency.
A great deal of progress has consequently been made in the forestry sector of Bangladesh. It can be said that there has been a forest revolution in our country. Bangladesh Forest Department has worked hard and campaigned constantly to create awareness among the people, focusing on its environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits. The process should be continued ceaselessly for the great cause of forest expansion, forest well-being and a green Bangladesh.
The writer is an educational researcher and teacher
educator. He can be reached at [email protected]