“The forest is an integral part of my life and only source of income. We exploited it until we saw people killed in landslides in the neighboring areas. Gradually we became aware of the consequences of unplanned felling of trees. Now we protect our forest alongside the Forest Department. I own two hectares of forest land and they pay for its maintenance. I have earned a good amount after the first felling,” says a proud Sabbir, participant from a social forestry initiative of the Government of Bangladesh, Ukhiarghat, Cox’s Bazar.
The Government of Bangladesh initiated the Social Forestry programs with a view to meet the forest product requirements of the local population, reverse the process of ecological and climatic degradation through proper soil and water conservation, and also to improve the socioeconomic condition of the rural people.
Forests are the primary buffer against cyclones, storms and surges for over 16 million people living in the vulnerable coastal zone of Bangladesh. Over the last three decades, forests in Bangladesh have declined by 2.1% annually, accumulating to almost half of all forest cover, due to deforestation, illegal logging and harvesting, slash-and-burn agriculture, conversion into non-forestland for settlement, farming, recreation and industries. With the likely increased incidence and intensity of extreme cyclonic events, efforts must focus on reversing the decline in forests in order to adequately safeguard people against threats induced by climate change.
The Government of Bangladesh has mobilized multiple donors through an innovative institutional arrangement called the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF) . Under BCCRF, the Climate Resilient Participatory Afforestation and Reforestation Project  is a timely initiative to complement Bangladesh’s commitment towards forest conservation.
The project aims to expand climate resilient afforestation and reforestation; build livelihood resilience among the vulnerable communities; and enhance the capacity of the Forest Department. The Bangladesh Forest Department and Arannayk Foundation will jointly work for the afforestation and reforestation of 16,000 hectares of land and 1,672 km of strip plantings.
Realizing that community engagement, for forest conservation in the coastal and hilly areas, is critical to the sustainability of any afforestation project, following a transparent selection process, local communities will adopt locally tried and tested nursery and plantation techniques with improved forest management practices. This will increase household income of beneficiaries participating in alternative income-generating activities, while conserving the forests and reducing forest dependency. The project will reach 46,000 beneficiaries of which at least 30% will be women. These resilience approaches are cost effective, will provide multiple socio-economic and environmental co-benefits, and enhance carbon stock.
The direct benefits to one of the communities involved in Forest Department’s social forestry initiative are impressive. An investment of $4,800 on 100 hectares, allocated to 50 members returned $16,900. After the final harvest, the participants will receive 45%t of the revenue, the government 45%, and 10% will go to the Tree Farming Fund for future plantations.
“I’m a widow with two children. I had to depend on the forest for a meager living. Then I received training on homestead gardening and am now a regular worker at the forest department’s nursery with a substantial income, both of my children now go to school”, shares a content Rekha, from an alternative livelihood project in Pinijerkul, Cox’s Bazar.
Most of the inhabitants of Pinijerkul have similar stories of change in their lives. They are now self-dependent, aware of the issues of soil erosion, biodiversity and climate change. They are our “forest saviors”.