Forest management in large areas of Cox's Bazar and Rangamati districts sees positive changes following initiative for alternative employment of people dependent on forest resources and participation of locals in the programme to protect forests.
Five 'co-management committees' (CMC), formed under a project funded by Integrated Protected Area Co-Management (IPAC), are jointly working with the forest department to protect 14,925 hectares of endangered forests in the two districts.
During recent visits to the forests in Medhakacchhapia, Fashiakhali and Chunati in Cox's Bazar and Kaptai in Rangamati, this correspondent saw that the people who once engaged in illegal felling of trees in the forests for livelihood are now contributing to protection of forest resources.
“It is easy to convince local people about the importance of forests for their survival. Now we are trying to arrange alternative livelihood for them with the help of the co-management committee,” said Md Mahbubul Alam, range officer of Chunati.
“Illegal felling of trees by loggers and locals turned once dense Chunati forest bare. Now patrol groups administered by the co-management committee are checking the illegal felling, helping regeneration of several varieties of trees for the last few years,” he said.
Twenty-eight women wearing green sarees and holding sticks in their hands work in groups of four to patrol an area of 7,764 hectares of forest land at Chunati Range to check illegal felling of trees.
The co-management committee in Chunati Range has arranged training on boutique for the local young girls.
Each of the co-management committees comprising 29 members, mostly local people, meet every month to chalk out ways of forest protection and creating alternative employment. Range officer of the respective forest range plays the role of member secretary of the committee.
The CMCs in the forests of Medhakacchhapia, Fashiakhali and Kaptai arranged training on making kharang (a basket made of bamboo) for the local women who used to collect wood from the forest.
IPAC provides the local women with necessary raw materials to make the baskets that they sell in the local markets.
Over a hundred women in Medhakacchhapia forest, most of whom once depended on collecting wood from the forest, are now engaged in making the baskets, said Mir Ahmed, president of the co-management committee in the area.
"Some of us used to make such baskets at home but now we make it collectively and sell in the market. It has added to our income. Earlier I got about Tk 300 a week now it has increased to around one thousand a week,” said Gulzar, a woman in Medhakacchhapia.
Moktar Ahmed Chowdhury, president of the CMC in Fashiakhali Wildlife Sanctuary, said they have made significant progress in checking destruction of forests with the help of the committee.