Towards co-management of forests

| Updated: October 24, 2017 22:09:09

Towards co-management of forests
There is a proverbial story that once a woodcutter went to the forest with an axe when a tree told him, “the handle of your axe is one of us”. Truly, this was an utter disgust for the woodcutter. There is an obvious relation between man and trees. We may be hostile to trees but they are always kind to us.
Trees provide us with vital elements for our living. They give us shade, fruits, food, timber for our houses and most importantly, oxygen for our life. Trees are the key supporters of nature, balancing the ecological equilibrium on earth and extending sanctuary to animals. Even during natural calamities, they shield us from different vagaries. 
Population increase and settlement, industrialisation and economic development have dwindled the assemblage of trees everywhere. And this is a continuing story with pressures mounting on forests including the protected ones. 
Forests have been subjected to widespread onslaught by livelihood seekers, illegal loggers and economic activities. In Bangladesh, the situation is quite grave as the per capita forest is around 0.02 hectare, already one of the lowest in the world. With continued deforestation and degraded forests, vulnerability of the country keeps on increasing particularly to climate change impacts.
There has been a good deal of efforts to safeguard the forest resources in the country. These included checking deforestation, restoration, afforestation, social forestry and developing protected forests. Though social forestry has grown far and wide, no good results could come up for forest protection. The causes were lack of appropriate measures to deal with the forest-dependent communities, ensuring their access to forest resource benefits and above all, motivating them to keep away from deforestation and enabling them with sustainable livelihood options. The fault line was obviously the non-involvement of the local communities.
Against that backdrop, initiatives were taken for co-management of forest resources. This started showing positive results as the local communities started feeling empowered. The ministry of environment and forest along with some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) launched the co-management initiatives through setting up 27 community based organisations to protect the valuable forests across the country. However, the good intent faced a lot of hiccups, mostly sustainable financing and ensuring proper capacity of those involved. 
At a day-long workshop organised by the USAID Climate Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods project in conjunction with the relevant departments of the ministry of environment and forest in Cox’s Bazar last week, it was re-stressed that co-management can be instrumental in protecting and improving our forest resources while at the same time ensuring socio-economic security of the local communities. All it needs is proper patronage which can stem from effective governance, opportunities for developing adaptive capacity and leveraging sustainable livelihood improvement options. 
As the task looks onerous but sustainability oriented, the private sector can play a daunting role through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. After all, efficient conservation of forest resources through co-management would not only empower the local communities to be the able guardians but that the beneficiaries will be all of us.  
(The writer is a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) consultant & broadcaster.  [email protected])

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