The history of scientific forest management in Bangladesh dates back to the nineteenth century with defined forest policies and laws. Due to various socio-economic and socio-political factors, forest cover of the country reduced drastically and all such policy initiatives proved ineffective. Although traditional forest management objectives covered a wide range from economic benefit to ecological stability, these have never been attained fully. Huge population and limited land area compelled policy makers to think about alternatives to traditional forest management. One alternative, social forestry, was introduced in Bangladesh in early 1980s and has proved to be extremely successful. While traditional forest management resulted in a net loss of forest resource cover, social forestry on the other hand, is playing a vital role in the expansion of forest cover (40 387 ha of new forest cover and 48 420 km new strip plantation since the mid-1980s) benefiting thousands of poor people. Results show that during the last four years (2000–2003) more than 23 000 individuals benefited from the final felling of different social forestry plantations (woodlot, agroforestry and strip plantation). This generated a total income of US$ 5.6 million for the government and US$ 5.3 million for participants plus US$ 1.2 million for the Tree Farming Fund – a 10 per cent depository reserve to sustain the practice in the long run. Although average individual final returns (US$ 223 person−1) are not so attractive, some people got about US$ 5000 to US$ 8500 from final felling, sufficient to improve their standard of living and social position. Despite the success so far achieved, social forestry in Bangladesh still suffers from various institutional deficiencies like organization, skilled manpower, legitimate usufruct rights, peoples' participation from policy to implementation and clear budgetary arrangements. Besides, until now the role of relevant actors is not well defined in all the steps of social forestry practice in Bangladesh. Unless the participants are given clear legitimate usufruct rights, they will remain sceptical towards this programme. They should have good and meaningful access from planning to implementation. In the context of institutional development, there are governmental policy guidelines and a 20-year Master Plan for Bangladesh. Although some steps have been partially completed, there is still much to do to comply with forest policy guidelines and the Master Plan. It is shown that in the last seven years (1995/96–2001/2002) only US$ 15.41 million a−1 has actually been spent against an allocated sum of US$ 68.37 million a−1. Therefore, if the intention is to institutionalize social forestry in Bangladesh, government and policy makers should actively come forward. Otherwise the full potential of social forestry in Bangladesh will not become a reality.
Journal Article. 5523 words. Illustrated.
Subjects: Conservation of the Environment (Environmental Science) ; Environmental Sustainability ; Plant Sciences and Forestry
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