The State Of Forestry In Bangladesh:

Homegardens are more reliable than crops fields for growing trees

Two parallel systems of production forestry exist in Bangladesh: government forests managed by the Forest Department (FD) and privately owned homegardens. Of the country’s total land area, about 1.48 million hectares (ha) are designated as government forest land that covers both natural and plantation forests. About 0.72 million ha of land are disignated as unclassified state forests under the control of the Ministry of Land. Homegardens constitute 0.27 ma he and are scattered all over the country. The public forest land, un-classed state forests and homegardens together make up about 17% (2.46 million hectares) of the potential tree growing area of the country the lowest figure of any South Asian country. Recent studies further estimate that the actual forest cover is approximately one m ha or only 6% of the total land area. On the basis of geographical location, climate, topography and management principles. the forests of Bangladesh can broadly be classified into Hill forests, UN-classed state forests, Plain land Sal forests, Mangrove forests, Coastal forests and Homegardens .

Forest type Area million ha (% of total land) Growing stock million m3 (stock ling m3/ha++)
Hill forests 0.67 (4.65) 0.72 (5.00) 28.32 (42.3) Negligible (denuded)
Plain land Sal forests 0.12 (0.83) 1.13 (0.94)
Mangrove forests 0.57 (4.0) 13.19 (23.1)
Coastal plantations 0.11 (0.76) 5.05 (45.9)
Homegardens 0.27 (1.87) 54.68 (202.5)
Total Forests 2.48 (17.11)

Note:+ rounding prevent figures from adding up exactly. ++ refers to wood volume, not total biomass.

Hill Forests

The hill forests of Bangladesh are located in the mountanous tracts of the greater Chittagong. Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) and Sylhet districts. The forest are covers about 0.67 ma ha of land, which is 27% of the total forest land of Bangladesh. The forests consist of a mixture of many tropical evergreen and tropical deciduous species (over 400 tree species) occurring in association with each other and with bamboo Garjan is the dominant species along with tall canopy of other woody species such as Chapalish, Civit,, Champa, Telsur, Gamar, Dhakijam, Teak, and Toon. The upper stratum reaches about 45-60 m height. Bamboo’s, canes and evergreen herbs and shrubs occur as undergrowth in these forests. The low yielding heterogeneous forests are reforested artificially with high yielding indigenous and exotic species. About 75% of the growing stock of these forests is located in natural forests and 25% in plantations (Ali 1994).

Although these forests are categorized in public documents as ‘closed multi-storied high forests’, large areas have recently been degraded owing mainly to such reasons as illegal commercial logging (especially on steep slope), organized encroachment and conversion of forest lands for agriculture and homestead purposes, and attack of Gamar and Teak by Loranthus. In several parts of CHT, soil erosion is also on the increase, which in turn contributes to the problem of silting in the Kaptai Lake. Present productivity of the forests has declined to a range of m3 per hectare per annum from 7-8 m3 twenty years ago. The forests supply around 40 per cent of the commercial timber production.

Un-classed State Forests (USF)

These forest, concentrated in CHT, covers about 0.72 m ha of land, which is about 29% of the total forest land of Bangladesh. The land is controlled by the Ministry of Land, while FD manages the forestry activities therein. Garjan, Chapalish, Koroi and Chandal are some of the commercially important timer species found in these forests.

USF lands have lately been subjected to heavy commercial exploitation in connivance with and collaboration of unscrupulous staff of the concerned public agencies including forest, land revenue and police departments. Besides sharing the same problems as those of the hill forests, the forest management system here suffers from a serious lack of interagency coordination (especially between the forest and land revenue departments). There has been a decline in the resource base of these forests of 17 per cent over the last 25 years.

Plain Land Sal Forests

madhupur sal forestThe plain land Sal (Shorea robusta) covers about 0.12 ma ha of land, which is about 5% of the total forests are located mostly in patches in the greater districts of Dhaka, Mymensingh, Comilla, Tangail, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Dinajpur. The main species is Sal. The canopy is 10-25 m in height. This is a coppicing, deciduous species: but coppice shools generally lack vigour because of the age of the stumps and maltreatment due to repeated, and too frequest cutting Koroi, Haldu, Bazna, Kumbi, Sheora, Hargaza, Amloki also occur in these forests.

This is the only forest type available to the greater majority population of the country. However owing to such factors as over exploitation, conversion of forest lands into agriculture, fire and grazing, the productivity of the forests has reduced to an alarmingly low level. Most parts of the Sal forests are now sub lands with only 25% tree cover. The Sal forest of Tangail is one of the most hard hit areas: declining from 8060 ha in 1970 to 403 ha in 1990. Most of the remaining Sal forests are located in the highlands of the Madhupur Track. The northwestern part of the country is practically devoid of any major stock of forests.

Mangrove Forests

mangroveBangladesh has the largest single tract of mangrove forests of the world. The forests are found in the south and southwestern deltaic zones. The forest area covers about 0.57 m ha of land, which accounts for nearly 23% of the total forest land of Bangladesh. This is an important natural resources, comprised of 60% of the commercially productive forests, including plantations, which provides timber, pulpwood, fuelwood, fish, thatching materials, honey, bees, walk and shells (Tabassum and Andaleeb 1998). It houses unique flora and fauna, and acts as a natural barrier against cyclones and tidal surges. The height of this forest is moderate, varying from 5 to 15 m. Sundri and Gewa are the dominant species. The former makes good quality timber, while the latter provides raw material for a newsprint mill and some smaller enterprises including match factories. Other notable species include Keora, Goran and Pasur. Golpata and ferns from the undergrowth. Between 0.5 and 0.6 ma people directly depend on the Sunderbans for their livelihood.

The Sundarbans forests support numerous and diverse animals, including the famous Royal Bengal Tigers, birds, amphibians and reptiles of commercial and conservation importance. The fauna includes 120 commercially important fish species, 270 species of birds (including 95 types of water fowl), 50 species of reptiles, and 42 species of mammals like tigers, rhesus monkeys, spotted deer and wild boars.

sunderbanThe Sundarbans, categorized as ‘Reserved Forest’, has been managed as a productive forest since the late 18th century. the forests are managed, on principle, on a ‘sustained yield basis with a 20 years cutting cycle. ‘Nevertheless, the forests are in a state of decline due to a combination of causes, some of which are man-made including, unsustainable forestry management. After the construction of the Farkka Barrage in the Indian state of West Bengal (Bangla), the fresh water flow through the Sundarbans has been reduced due to drastic changes in biotic and edaphic factors. The other major threats to the Sundarbans ecosystem include shrimp farming, indiscriminate felling, unplanned polder construction and water development projects, and diseases especially the ‘top dying of Sundri trees’. The forests depleted in growing stock 35% over 25 years to 1985.

There are remnants of some 9000 ha of forests in the greater Chittagong districts known as Chakaria Sundarbans. According to the Department of Environment, these forests have been almost completely destroyed in the last 12 years shrimp culture having devoured most of the forestland there.

Coastal Plantations

These forests are found in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. The forest covers about 0.11 ma ha of land, which is nearly 4.5% of the total forest land of Bangladesh Governmental coastal plantations were initiated in 1961 with a view to providing protection against natural calamities. Subsequently, since 1966 afforestation activities in the coastal areas have been intensified for (i) stabilization of coastal land, (ii) acceleration of acceleration of accretion and (stabilization of the same for agriculture) and (iii) meeting the demands for fuelwood and industrial raw materials. The main species are Keora, Baen and Golpata, Shrimp culture, salt manufacturing, grazing fishing, erosion and stem borer infection are the major problems in these forests.


homegarden - papayaHomegardens are well established traditional land use systems in Bangladesh. These are a particularly appropriate form of agroforestry, being operational units for subsistence in which different crops including perennial plants are grown in mixture with livestock and /or fish. Homegardens cover about 0.27 ma ha of land, which is nearly 11% of the total forest land of Bangladesh.

A wide variety of trees, shrubs and vegetables are grown in the Bangladesh homegardens. Millat-e-Mustafa et al. (1996) recorded 92 perennial species in the set of 80 homegardens surveyed in four physiographic regions (20 form each region) of Bangladesh. The common trees and shrubs are Coconut, Betel nut, Mango, Jackfruit, Lichi, Guava, Lemon, Jujube, Papaya, Banana, Koroi, Rain tree, Mahogany, Neem, Kadam and Banjo.

bambooIn typical Bangladeshi homegarden, the vertical stratification of vegetation has long been recognized as one of its characteristic features, though the variation of height within any one stratum has led to some arguments as to the distinctness of the various strata. Millat-e, Mustafa provides a useful general summary of strata (these strata are dynamic and there is constant recruitment from one stratum to another).

1. Bamboo the life blood of the people
2. Papaya farming proves a boon to farmers

  • less than 1m: Vegetables, spices, tubers, roots, pineapple
  • 1-3m: Food plants e.g. lemon, banana, papaya, guava
  • 3-5m: Saplings of fruit/timber trees all growing taller
  • 5-7m: Fruit/timber trees, some growing taller
  • 7-9m: A few fruit/timber trees
  • >9m: Timber trees, Bamboo
  • From the physical and socio economic points of view, homegardens are more reliable than crops fields for growing trees and vegetables and are important sources of income for the farmers of Bangladesh. It is observed that farmers tend to sell cropland to fight against pauperization, but retain their homegardens unless absolutely unavoidable: Even functionally landless farmers have their own homegardens, where they grow the essential commodies for subsistanc. It is observed that over half of the fruits, vegetables and spices grown in the homegardens are sold to meet family expenses. In Bangladesh farmers spent only 4.8-12.2% of their total labour. In homegarden management, but 26% to 47% of the total family expenses are met from selling homegarden products. During the last 40 years. the relative importance has shifted from the traditional forestry (in the government managed forests) to homegardens in such a way that today about 55% of requirement of timber, fuelwood and bamboo are met from the homegarden sources.

    An estimate shows that homegardens have a growth rate of 5 percent while the rate of removal stands at 10 per cent per annum. However, the productivity in homestead forests in 7 to 8 times higher than in government owned forests.

    Selected Features and Issues of Bangladesh Forestry

    Forestry sector contributes only 3 per cent of the nation’s GDP, which is insignificant in highlighting the real importance of the sectors. Country’s major source of energy and rural house and furniture construction materials are still the out product of forest department. Forest also plays the vital role of protecting the watersheds, irrigation structure, coastal areas and above all the environment itself.

    The forests on state lands have been subjected to organized illicit commercial logging, unplanned and abrupt conversion to agriculture and other non forestry uses, fire, gracing and other anthropogenic influences. Northwest Bangladeshi has only about 2 per cent tree cover. In 1980s, the rate of forest destruction was 8,000 hectares and the annual deforestation rate is estimated to be 3.3. Consequently, per capita forestland has declined from 0.035 ha in 1969 to 0.02 ha in 1990.

    The impact and manifestation of such alarming rate of deforestation are multifaceted. Deforestation causes decrease in water holding capacity, increased soil erosion and loss of habitat and biodiversity. The cost of these impacts on the economy was estimated to be 1% GDP in 1990. Decrease in timber and other forest products incur direct economic loss. People living in the rural and hilly areas who depend on first for subsistance are affected. Many of the plants and animals that once inhabited have either quietly vanished or have been on their way to extinction.

    During the last century, such animals as Rhinos, Bisons, and Gaur have slowly disappeared. So did a number of bird species including the famous pink headed wood ducks, which were only available in Bangladesh and Assam. A considerable number of different species of snakes and reptiles has northeast and southeastern forests of CHT has been drastically reduced over the last three decades. Leopards, bears, deer and other animals, which were found in abundance in the plain land Sal forests, have disappeared with the denundtation of the forest trees.

    FD, as an integral part of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF-formed in 1989), administers the country’s forest resources and manages the public forest lands. The department operates with the policies, procedures and methodologies which reflect the previous situation under which the country’s land to population ratio justifies a custodial forestry approach (keeping people out of the forest).

    Slow pace of institutional reform and bureaucratic re-orientation, shortage of technical and skilled staff, poor enforcement of policies and programmes, and weak environment monitoring tend to be the major constraints of this department. However, the government in its determination to expand and conserve natural forests has lately recognized the need for developing adequate policy and planning framework, including appropriate institutional reforms to promote people’s involvement in the forest management and conservation.

    The ever increasing population of Bangladesh is imparting pressure on existing forests for more food, fuel wood, timber, fodder and other forest products and is resulting in the over exploitation of government managed forest resources. The current population is about 126 ma and is estimated to reach 177.3 ma by 2025 and 210.8 million by 2050.

    About 70% of the plain land Sal forests are encroched. Other forest lands are also degarded, and as a result, their productivity of mangrove forest lands are also degarded, and as a result, their productivity is unacceptably low. ODA estimates that the productivity of mangrove forest has declined by 25% over a period of 25 years. Similarly, the yield of hill forests has declined at the same rate. Present productivity of forests has declined to a range of 1.5-2.5 m3 twenty years ago.

    The recuperative capacity of the natural growth of plants has failed to keep pace with the increasing level of demand. In 1984, the estimated per capita consumption of fuelwood and timber was only 0.08 m3 and 0.00 m3, respectively. It was perhaps the lowest level of consumption in the world. Even if the consumption level would remain the same, the projected supply would be able to satisfy only 26% of fuelwood and 41% of timber requirement in the year 1995, and 20% of the projected demand of fuel wood and 33% of timber respectively of the year 2000. The rate of forest resources depletion is much faster than that of the contemporary attempts in afforestation and the rehabilitation of denuded resource base.

    This dismal forestry situation of the country is further exacerbated by the eccentric spatial distribution of the existing government forest areas. Almost 48% of the government forests are located in the eastern region of the country along the international frontiers (hill forests). Another 23% is on the southwestern corner along the Bay of Bengal (mangrove forests). The vast flat countryside where almost the whole population live has only 0.12 million ha of plain land Sal forests. Out of the 64 districts of the country, 28 districts have no public forest at all. While major portions of the natural hill forests are inaccessible and, hence, either under utilized., the accessible forests have been over utilised or denuded and in parts encroached. Furthermore, there is very little scope to expand forest areas horizontally.

    In view of the above problems limitations and challenges of the Bangladesh forestry sector, community based participatory afforestation practices have been increasingly felt to be the most feasible strategy for the long term sustainability of the forest. Experts suggest that there is significant scope for vertical expansion of forests through multiple forestry practices.

    It is estimated that some 1.51 ma ha (or 10.4% of the total land area) of marginal and fallow land can potentially be made available and brought under forestry and environmental improvement project through participatory forestry programmes facilitated by the government and NGOs. Such programmes also make a judicious use of the disadvantaged sections of country’s human resources including 48% women and nearly 10 m educated unemployed youth (Dr. Niaz Ahmed Khan and Dr. Mohammed Millate-e-Mustafa, The Bangladesh Observer,September 16, 2001 .

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