Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


Bangladesh

Shafique A. Khan
Deputy Conservator of Forests
Forest Utilization Division

Introduction
Major NWFPs
Collection and processing of NWFPs
Economic and social benefits from NWFPs
Promoting NWFPs
References

Introduction

In a developing country like Bangladesh, non-wood forest products (NWFPs) play a vital role in the economic and socio-political arenas of the country. Though branded as "minor forest products" in old forestry literature and departmental records, they are certainly not "minor" products in the context of the feeble Bangladeshi economy. They deserve to be given due attention in their own right.

Major NWFPs

Bamboo (Melocanna baccifera, Bambusa tulda, etc.) is often called the "poor man's timber" in Bangladesh and in other Southeast Asian countries. Although officially grouped as a minor forest product, it plays a crucial role in the rural economy of Bangladesh. It earns a handsome revenue for the Forest Directorate at home and abroad, but also is an essential material for construction of temporary housing for the rural people, especially the hill tribe people.

The qualities of bamboo can not be overemphasized. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world, and grows well on a variety of sites. Over 20 species of bamboo grow in Bangladesh's natural forests and village homesteads. Bamboo is used for hundreds of purposes. It can honestly be said that bamboo is required from the cradle to the coffin in parts of Bangladesh and other developing countries.

Table 1. Production of bamboo in Bangladesh

Year

Quantity (1,000 culms)

1975-76

47,268

1976-77

62,579

1977-78

73,586

1978-79

60,135

1979-80

78,115

1980-81

74,028

1981-82

77,865

1982-83

92,335

1983-84

92,061

1984-85

76,989

1985-86

75,786

1986-87

92,616

Source: Statistical Year Book of Bangladesh 1989

Sungrass (Imperata spp.) is the most common roofing and thatching material for temporary low-cost housing in the villages and forests of Bangladesh.

Sungrass grows naturally, especially in the forests of low-lying areas, or around the denuded and barren hills unfit for growing high-quality timber trees. Table 2 summarizes the production of sungrass in Bangladesh during the years 1975-76 to 1986-87.

Stone is one of the most important NWFPs, available only in some areas of Bangladesh, such as Sylhet, Hill Tracts, and Dinajpur. Stone is required for construction of highways, buildings and other infrastructural needs.

Table 2. Production of sungrass in Bangladesh

Year

Quantity (1,000 bundles)

1975-76

1,772

1976-77

6,831

1977-78

1,784

1978-79

1,534

1979-80

3,795

1980-81

6,706

1981-82

2,432

1982-83

1,390

1983-84

1,279

1984-85

1,295

1985-86

859

1986-87

1,710

Source: Statistical Year Beak or Bangladesh 1989.

In Dinajpur alone, there is said to be a deposit of 115 million cubic feet of hardstone. The Government of Bangladesh earns substantial revenue from the sale of stone.

Sand is also an essential material for all major construction, found in large quantities in forest areas.

Medicinal plants: The leaves, bark, and fruit of many plants are commonly used as medicines in Bangladesh. Among the most common are: kurus pata (Holarrhene antidysonberica), horitaka (Terminalia chebula), amlaki (Phyllauthus emblica) and bohera (Terminalia belerica).

Cane (Calamus viminalis, C. guruba) is a climbing plant, mostly grown in homesteads and the low-lying areas of reserved forests. Canes are used for domestic purposes by the rural population, and for sophisticated furniture and luxury souvenirs suitable for export. Recently, attempts have been made to grow these species from seed imported from Malaysia. In some areas of Sylhet, Chittagong Hill Tracts and Chittagong, domestic varieties of canes are grown.

Pati pata or Murta (Clinogynae dichotoma) grows naturally in the low-lying areas of Sylhet and also in rural areas of Tagail and Dhaka districts. It can be grown artificially in other areas of the country using suitable planting material. Pati-pata is an excellent material for floor mats, and is extensively used by rich and poor alike. Finished products are commonly exported.

Honey occupies an important position as a foreign exchange earner. It is internationally known and is used as food, drink, and medicine in many parts of the world. Honey is produced naturally in the beehives of the Sundarbans forest where it is collected in large quantities every year (Table 3).

Honey is also grown in the forest regions of Chittagong, Sylhet, Cox's Bazar, and Mymensingh.

Recently, apiculture (artificial bee-keeping) has been introduced in some areas of North Bengal and Mymensingh district with considerable success. Honey is probably the most promising NWFP in Bangladesh in terms of export potential, provided its production can be better organized.

Table 3. Honey production in Bangladesh

Year

Quantity (1,000 tons)

1975-76

156.02

1976-77

239.78

1877-78

228.47

1978-79

176.33

1979-80

213.36

1980-81

310.93

1981-82

225.26

1982-83

232.65

1983-84

260.35

1984-85

255.80

1985-86

224.52

1986-87

229.11

Shells, Conch Shells, Oysters, etc. are collected in large numbers in the coastal forest belts of Cox's Bazar, Teknaf, Moheskhali, Barisal, Patuakhali, and Sundarbans. This activity provides income to local inhabitants who sell them to tourists as souvenirs. Some are also exported. Although the Forest Department has no effective control on processing and export of these products, it is indirectly supporting the growth and expansion of this cottage industry. If the Government promotes it with proper incentives, this industry has considerable export potential. No statistics are available for these products.

Gol-patta (Nipa fruticans) is one of the most abundant NWFPs in Bangladesh, growing naturally throughout the Sundarbans forest and in other coastal areas. Made from the leaves of nipa, gol-patta thatching and roofing is very common in Khulna, Bagerhat, and Sarkhira districts. It provides considerable revenue for the Forest Department. Production figures are shown in Table 4.

Table 4. Production of Gol-patta in Bangladesh

Year

Quantity (1,000 tons)

1975-76

75.29

1976-77

70.59

1977-78

67.49

1978-79

83.72

1979-80

69.87

1980-81

67.97

1981-82

68.61

1982-83

64.05

1983-84

63.38

1984-85

61.44

1985-86

61.96

1986-87

70.77

Fish resources: In rivers within forest areas (Sundarbans, Chittagong Hill Tracts, and Sylhet), as well as in the coastal belts and off-shore islands under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department, a large quantity of fish (both fresh-water and saline fish), are collected by local fishermen, for which the Forest Department earns a good deal of revenue.

Recently, shrimp cultivation has been initiated in the coastal belts and off-shore islands of Bangladesh. Although offering attractive export potential, such shrimp production causes severe damage to the mangrove and coastal forest plantations, which have been felled to accommodate ponds.

Wildlife resources: Bangladesh has tremendous potential for breeding and export of a number of wildlife species and wildlife products.

About 20 years ago, large number of Rhesus monkeys were exported from Bangladesh in to the United States for medical research. Similarly, lizard skins were exported to different countries until recently. However, because of poaching of valuable wildlife species, all exports of wildlife are now banned. If regulations were changed, however, good prospects exist for exports of captive-bred deer, crocodile, snakes, lizards, and other animals.

Famous for Royal Bengal tigers, the Sundarbans forest offers high potential for tourism and organized safaris for incoming visitors, provided the wildlife can be significantly increased through scientific management.

Collection and processing of NWFPs

Collection and processing are the weakest links in the NWFPs sector in Bangladesh, needing special attention from the concerned authorities. The collection and processing arrangements are primarily carried out by two sectors - the Government, through the Forest Department, and small-scale entrepreneurs.

The Forest Department has no specialized division for processing or collecting NWFPs. It is done as an additional responsibility.

Some major departmental initiatives for collecting and processing of NWFPs include:

· Collection of honey from the Sundarbans by the Sundarban Forest Division.

· Collection of gol patta/thatching material by local cutters (bawalis) under the issuance of Forest Department permits and supervision of the Sundarbans Forest Division staff.

· Collection, extraction and transportation of bamboo from large bamboo brakes (mohals), especially in the Sylhet Forest Division and, to a lesser extent, in Chittagong Hill Tract, Cox's Bazar and Chittagong Forest Division.

· Collection of cane and pati pata (murta) by local people on payment of royalties, mainly to the Forest Department.

A look into the nature of departmental and governmental efforts for the collection of NWFPs indicates that:

i) There is no specialized or professional body for this purpose.

ii) Governmental action aims primarily at the collection of revenue and policing the resource. Planned efforts development have yet to be carried out.

iii) Management and monitoring of NWFP are carried out in addition to routine departmental functions.

iv) NWFP management lacks professionalism and high technical standards.

v) The country lacks a detailed inventory of NWFP resources.

Some steps are being taken by the private sector on a very small scale and on purely commercial basis. For example, there are a number of cane and bamboo processing units in Sylhet and Chittagong which are engaged in manufacturing furniture and souvenirs to be offered in the local market. Though this has the potential to become a booming industry, it remains suppressed because of the lack of professionalism and technically sound project planning. Similarly, the collection and processing of shells in the coastal belts of Cox's Bazar and Chittagong has become a cottage industry that has attracted many private entrepreneurs. So far, however, hardly any scientifically trained professional body has emerged to deal with the collection, processing and export of NWFPs.

Economic and social benefits from NWFPs

Though described as "minor" forest products, NWFPs have made major contributions to the Bangladesh agrarian economy. A critical review of the contributions of NWFPs would reveal numerous economic and socio-psychological benefits.

Macro-Economic Benefits

The Government of Bangladesh collects significant earnings from the royalties, taxes, and other charges on NWFPs. Modest export earnings are derived from the sale of bamboo and shells.

Sophisticated finished articles and souvenirs made from NWFPs are major exportable items of the country which often carry with them the aesthetic cultural dignity of the nation.

Micro-Level Economic Benefits

The collection, processing, and marketing of NWFPs provides employment to thousands of rural Bangladeshis.

NWFP homestead or mini industries use local labor and raw materials, which are crucial importance to the otherwise rather stagnant rural economy of Bangladesh.

Socio-Psychological Benefits

With the employment generators and security of regular earning (through NWFPs), there is a recognizable growth in the quality of socio-psychological life of the involved population. Though there is virtually no study on this social aspect, this becomes evident from the behavior patterns of the people. The Chakmas (bamboo collectors of the Chittagong Hill Tracts regions), honey collectors of the Sundarbans, stone merchants and murta workers of Sylhet forests are a few of these groups who are in close contact with the foresters. It has been observed that a distinct change has emerged in their sense of values and views of the world. They have grown more conscious of their rights, more abiding of state laws pertaining to forest resources, and more cooperative with officials of the Forestry Department, the police and local civil administrations. This phenomenon needs to be addressed more thoroughly by social scientists.

Promoting NWFPs

Recent Strategies for Promotion:

On the face of the utter degradation of state forests, renewed emphasis has been attached to NWFPs. Some significant steps have been taken by the Forest Directorate to conserve, regenerate and propagate some of the major NWFPs. These steps include:

· Artificial planting of bamboo using improved planting materials (offset, branch-cutting and tissue culture) at selected sites by the Forest Department and the Bangladesh Forest Research Institute (BFRI).

· Regeneration of cane through improved high-quality imported seeds in the state forests, and in homestead agroforestry areas.

· Promotion and improvement of pati pata/murta in Sylhet by restricting indiscriminate cutting and by enforcing rules for regeneration.

Bottlenecks:

In spite of all limitations, cottage industries making products of bamboo, cane, shells, oysters honey, bees wax, lemon grass etc. have made notable progress in recent years.

The status of NWFPs in Bangladesh is far from satisfactory. However, the following are the primary bottlenecks:

· Trained personnel and efficient management have not yet been developed for dealing with NW FP collection, processing and export.

· Good marketing facilities have not been developed mainly due to lack of awareness at the level of the entrepreneurs as well as the buyers.

· Incentives and inputs from the Government private and entrepreneurs for promoting NWFP development are lacking.

· Infrastructure, institutional support and logistics for collection, processing and transport of NWFPs are lacking.

· Technical know-low is lacking at every level.

Looking Ahead:

NWFP development in Bangladesh should be dealt with on two broad levels.

Policy Issues:

· A clear-cut national policy on NWFP promotion and development has to be established now. The policy should contribute to the harmonious functioning of all public and private sectors concerned.

· A broad-range inventory has to be made regarding the avail ability of NWFPs and their potential used.

· To raise the technical standards of the public and private workers (related to collection and processing of NWFP) a condensed technical or vocational training package should be devised. There are a number of forestry and agricultural research institutions in the country which are capable of developing such a programme.

· With the inception of a new democratic regime in the country, a strong political commitment at the macro level for the promotion and harvesting of NWFPs is optimistically expected.

· Private entrepreneurs should be encouraged by sufficient incentives and policy protection to take up NWFPs development, as the Government is over burdened with its other major obligations. Moreover, if there is a liberal policy on NWFP development, it might attract the attention of foreign investors.

· Government could also link the trade and processing of NWFPs with the flourishing Export Processing Zone now established in the country.

Functional Issues:

· The potential of NWFPs can not be fully realized because of the lack of a sound marketing policy. The government should initially organize markets for NWFPs until such time as the private investors are fully established and the markets have matured.

· Coordination among the different public and private agencies involved in the collection and processing of NWFPs is badly needed.

· An incentive welfare scheme should be launched for the forest staff working in remote areas (associated with NWFPs), until a separate professional body for handling the matters relating to NWFPs is introduced.

· A Government sponsored programme should immediately be taken up for the development of modern apicultural techniques to improve honey production in the country, especially in the Sundarbans and Chittagong areas, where the potential for producing high-quality Sundarbans honey is greatest.

· NWFP development should be linked up with the country's Participatory Forestry projects which have achieved notable success in motivating and mobilizing local inhabitants and resources.

References

Asian Wetlands Bureau and BCAS. 1991. Bangladesh Forestry III Project: Environment Component. Project Preparation Report.

Forest Directorate, 1991. The management plan of Sylhet Forest Division. Government of Bangladesh, Forest Directorate, Inventory Division.

Forest Directorate. 1991. The management plan of Sundarbans Forest Division. Government of Bangladesh, Forest Directorate, Inventory Division.

Government of Bangladesh. 1982. Proceedings of 2nd National Forestry Conference.

Khan, N. A. 1991. Education and training in forest sector: Bangladesh. (Unpublished dissertation).

Khan, N.A. Democracy and bureaucratic behavior: a quest for concerns: Weekly Deshkal. June, 1991.

Khan, S.A. 1980. Working plans for the forests of Chittagong Division for the period of 1978-79 to 1987-88, Government of Bangladesh.

Khan, S.A. 1969. The forest resources of East Pakistan. Government of Pakistan.

Khan, S.A. 1984. Problems of bamboo seeds in Bangladesh. Seminar Paper ASEAN/IDRC, Thailand.

Mango V.C. 1986. Community forestry hand book. FAO/UNDP Field document-1

Mushrooms are prized forest foods with increasing commercial value.


Previous Page Top of Page Next Page