Unearthing the Afforestation Projects of Bangladesh Curse or Blessing? -By Kazi Tafsin


“Let’s go green to get our globe clean.” Why couldn’t we find a mere nest inside such slogans?
There isn’t any doubt that, forestation programs and tree plantation projects have always been reviewed as the most advantageous ways for tackling down issues like climate change and soil erosion. As a result, the hypothesis here is, the greener the earth, better the upturn of the ecological stability is achieved. From 1984, the government has taken such afforestation projects till date. But such insights can make anyone clear how hollow the ring of these ‘go green’ projects is.
On the way to Gazipur Road, a lot of these ‘go green’ projects have taken place for the last 7 years. In the highway from Bogra to Tetulia, rows upon rows of Eucalyptus are the representation of the ‘green’ landscape of the development scheme there. But how is Eucalyptus taking part on the ecological cycle?
The question demands the aftermath of Agro-forest rhetoric in Bangladesh. As this plant was originally from Australia, several encounters have already taken part in affecting the groundwater level, as it can absorb about 90 liters of water in every 24 hours. Moreover, the normal rainfall in our country is not more than 203 Centimeters. However, at least 700-800 cm of rainfall is required for this species of trees. As a result, drying up of the nearby lands and farms and a possibility of desertification is prevailing. Due to the toxic level in the leaves of the Eucalyptus, no other species can survive as well.
Afforestation with inconvenient species has decreased soil moisture levels while the focus of most of the project was to support the domestic wood production only. According to Dr. Yang X’s article, which was published on Environmental Science & Technology Journal (2004) shows that, the monoculture planting of European aspen (Populus tremula L.) with low water efficiency decreased the number of other local species at several afforestration sites by 52% in Northern China. As we know that, water-stressed trees are very vulnerable to disease and insects; 1,20,000 trees died as a result of infestations by some wood-boring beetles.
Sonjoy Ghosh who is working along with an Environmental Activist group said, “While asking a farmer who was buying a seedling of Eucalyptus, he confessed frankly that just because his crops were affected after his neighbor planted it beside his paddy field, he also had decided to plant this alien species that made him helpless in all parts.”
Since 2008, Bangladeshi government banned the plantation of this species, but still now Eucalyptus plantation remains the same as before.
Scientifically named species like Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Acacia mangium, Auriculaeformis etc have become notable in this unsecured monoculture plantation trends in North Bengal since 1984. Even in 1992, ADB had put pressure on the countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and India regarding the plantation. As the timeline of monoculture plantation went ahead, several local communities or villagers reported and protested against this kind of industrial fuelwood production.
Phillip Gain noted in a Dhaka Courier article on February 2, 1989 that besides the loss of biodiversity and wildlife consequences, ethnic communities also have a large history of exploitation. The rubber plantation program continued to threaten the natural habitat of thousands of the Mandis (also known as the Garos) and some Bengali families in 1986 and initially 15,000 acres of forest land of Modhupur was targeted. Proposed neo-liberal afforestation programs like rubber plantation cruelly replaced Sal trees (Shorea robusta). On this issue, anthropologist Robbins Burling linked endangered Mandi language with the vulnerable situation of environment and said, “I do not want the whole world to speak English. I think it would then be very dull. I am concerned about the survival of the Mandis and the Mandi language. If their economy is too badly undercut, if their ecosystem is changed, if they become bi-lingual… then their own language and values will get severely affected.”
That’s why there is a question that, if it is really a social forestry then why the local people ended it up with such conflicts with the authorities and the forest department?
Why rubber plantation is being named as afforestation? And finally, what are the possible solutions of it?
Pholod Bangladesh is an activist group still working at root level of Bangladesh, where they have already planted 30,000 fruit tree plants within 6 years. So, instead of getting only fuel woods, fruit trees will provide fruits, green fodder and fruits also. Such think tanks like The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) are also trying to solve those ever-known problems of customary land rights on such projects around the world. Instead of doing such government interventions, contemporary advisors prefer to cope up and conserve the area-specific traditional property rights for the local community by using ‘Learning group approach.’
Overall, ensuring the right environmental investment and locally controlled forestry governance became the newer approach worldwide. So, why shouldn’t we give more importance on finding the linkage between trees and communities who are preserving the forest and finding new pathways to leave behind the fraudulent history of agro-forest interventions worldwide?

The writer is a student of Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh at the Department of Anthropology.

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