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Non-wood forest products from the mangrove forests of Bangladesh


Golpatta
Hantal
Honey and beeswax
Hogla
Fish, prawn and shells
Miscellaneous NWFPS
Tourism in the Sundarbans


M.A. Basit
Conservator of Forests
Monitoring and Evaluation
Forest Department

The Sundarbans, a cluster of islands with an approximate area of 3,600 square kilometers, is the largest mangrove forest in the world. It is located at the southern extremity of the Ganges delta bordering the Bay of Bengal in the southwest of Bangladesh, in the district of greater Khulua.

Non-wood forest products (NWFPs) provide employment to about 299,000 people in Bangladesh. Much of this employment continues throughout the year, or at least during the agricultural off-season. NWFPs from mangrove forests contribute an estimated Tk. 717 million (US$ 17.9 million) annually to the Bangladesh economy, directly or indirectly. For most mangrove NWFPs, there are no policies, rules or regulations applicable to their growth or harvesting. Processing of most NWFPs in the mangroves is still primitive. Product quality is low and, therefore, less accepted by international markets.

Golpatta

Golpatta (Nipa fruticans) is one of the valuable NWFPs of Bangladesh's mangroves. It is common in tidal channels, rivers, low salinity estuaries and in swampy localities in the interior of the mangrove forests. The plant has a variety of uses. The leaves are principally used as thatching material, but they can also be made into bags, baskets, hats, mats, raincoats and wrappers. The leaf mid-ribs can be made into brooms. The petioles are cut as firewood after sun-drying. Fresh petioles are used as tying materials and coarse brushes. From the cut stalk, sap can be extracted from which alcohol, wine, sugar and vinegar can be obtained. Ripe fruits can be eaten raw.

Harvesting and utilization

Golpatta is sold on a permit basis. Holders of permits from the Forest Department cut golpatta under the following rules, prescribed to sustain production.

1. Exploitation should be by sequential felling. This means that harvesting will not be allowed in any area more than once a year. Moreover, cutting is not allowed during the growing season from June to September.

2. The unopened frond, or the central leaf and the leaf next to it, must be retained in each plant.

3. All dead and dry leaves should be cut when the clump is cleared.

4. Flowers and fruits should in no way be disturbed at the time of cutting the leaves.

5. Collectors are not allowed to cut leaves which they don't intend to utilise. In this way, the maximum leaf surface possible will be left on each rhizome after it has been cut and the maximum energy will be left for the plant.

6. Young plants with only one usable leaf should not be cut.

The usual season for golpatta collection, transport and trading has been fixed from October to March. After being cut, the golpatta is loaded into boats and transported for marketing in the surrounding districts. The prevailing price of golpatta is Tk. 480 US$ 12) per tonne. This includes the costs of collection, transport, royalties and other expenses.

Economic importance and social benefits

Golpatta is not only a source of inexpensive construction material for the poor, but also a valuable material for commerce. It provides a livelihood for the people and revenue for the government. Golpatta is the source of income and employment for a considerable number of people residing in and around the Sundarbans. Annually, about 19,200 people go to the Sundarbans to cut and collect golpatta fronds and market them in the nearby communities. Each person owning a boat engages about three to five people.

Over the last 11 years, government revenue from golpatta increased an average 18 percent annually (table 1), although this was less due to increasing production than to increasing prices (US$ 1 = Tk. 40.00).

Cultural aspects

Traditionally, golpatta is a common material for building walls around the Sundarbans. A study on rural housing shows that the percentage of households using leaves in walling materials in Barisal is 25 percent, or 173,910 house holds, in Khulna 9 percent, or 72,861 households, and in Jessore 4 percent, or 33,828 households. There is also a small demand for golpatta for the traditional construction of animal shelters and other uses, especially in rural areas adjoining the Sundarbans. Total annual demand is likely to be about 75,000 tonnes (see table 2). Future demand will depend on changes in requirements for construction materials in Bangladesh, and on the increasing population.

Table 1. Golpatta production and revenue

Year

Production (million kg)

Production (% change)

Revenue (million Tk.)

Revenue (% change)

1990-91

2.63

+6

5.8

+13

1989-90

2.48

0

6.7

+67

1988-89

2.48

-14

4.0

-4

1987-88

2.89

+10

4.2

+10

1986-87

2.63

+13

3.8

0

1985-86

2.33

+5

3.8

+72

1984-85

2.22

-5

2.2

+3

1983-84

2.33

0

2.1

+10

1982-83

2.33

-6

1.9

-9

1981-82

2.48

0

2.1

+5

1980-81

2.48

-

2.0

-

Source: Bangladesh Forest Department

Table 2. Total annual demand for golpatta

Uses

Annual demand (tonnes)

Roofing material

68,800

Walling material

4,400

Animal shelter

1,900

Total

75,100

Conclusion

The present estimated productive area of golpatta in the Sundarbans forest is about 595,739 hectares. Golpatta stands are not in large contiguous areas, but are widely scattered all over the Sundarbans. There are only a few continuous blocks or strips along the sides of tidal estuaries, khals, rivers and creeks. To ensure a sustained yield, it is recommended that the rules and regulations for cutting golpatta are strictly adhered to.

Hantal

Hantal (Phoenix paludosa) is a small, clump-forming erect palm. It is distributed throughout the Sundarbans, particularly in dry banks of khals, rivers and creeks. It sometimes appears as the dominant undergrowth and is ecologically important in the mangrove forests. It is a valuable material to villagers near the Sundarbans. Stems are harvested and used as purlins and rafters for village houses, as posts for trellises for growing betel leaf, and for animal shelters and fencing. The leaves are used in making walls for houses and other shelters.

Harvesting and utilization

While hantal harvesting is done by permit holders, there are no set rules for harvesting. Collection is allowed throughout the year.

There is no indication whether harvesting is done on a rotation basis or not, and there is no limit on the number of stems that can be collected from each clump. Hantal collectors cut the whole stem, including the leaves. Often only the stems are transported and marketed. Permittees generally use a small boat which can easily reach the small khals where hantal grows. After cutting, the hantal is loaded onto boats for transport and marketing. Most hantal stems produced from the mangrove forests are sold in local markets surrounding the Sundarbans. There are thousands of households in need of cheap but durable purlins and rafters for their houses.

Table 3 shows the quantity of hantal produced from 1980-81 to 1990-91. There has been a slight increase in production over the past 11 years. This is likely to be due to increased harvesting rather than because of any improvement of existing stands or the establishment of new areas.

Economic and social factors

Like other forest products, the value of hantal has increased considerably. Hantal contributes a handsome revenue to the Forest Department. Table 3 shows that from 1980-81 to 1990-91, hantal revenue increased from Tk 24,700 (US$ 617) to Tk 334,400 (US$ 8,370), representing a 1,253 percent increase. Again, this increase seems due to increasing prices (and higher royalties) rather than to improved production. The present rate of royalties is 12.5 percent of the actual market price. Extraction, transport and trading of hantal products provide job opportunities and are a good source of income for the poor people. Forest Department records show that the number of permitters collecting hantal each year ranges from 900 to 1,000, each employing two to three collectors. Approximately 2,400 people are so engaged annually.

Table 3. Hantal production and revenue

Year

Production (tonnes)

Production (% change)

Revenue (Tk.)

Revenue (% change)

1990-91

6.7

-6

334,400

-I

1989-90

7.2

-13

339,100

+57

1988-89

8.3

+5

223,400

+6

1987-88

7.8

+27

210,200

+23

1986-87

6.1

+12

170,200

+19

1985-86

5.4

-39

142,400

+268

1984-85

8.9

+30

38,700

+16

1983-84

6.8

+19

33,100

+36

1982-83

5.7

+21

24,200

+12

1981-82

4.7

-24

21,500

-12

1980-81

6.2

-

24,700

-

Source: Divisional Forest Office, Sundarbans, Forest Department

In order to ensure a sustained yield, cutting rules should be introduced and enforced immediately for hantal.

Honey and beeswax

Honey and beeswax are important NWFPs in the mangrove forests. Honey and the pollen in it are used as medicines, high energy food, and as a source of vitamins and minerals.

Harvesting and utilisation

Harvesting of honey is open to the public from April to May. The floristic composition of the Sundarbans is very favourable for honey collection. Table 4 shows the main species and their flowering times.

Table 4. Important Sundarbans' plant flowering times

Common name

Botanical name

Flowering time

Kulshi

Aegicerus majus

Feb to Mar

Amur

Amoora cucullata

Feb to Mar

Goran

Ceriops decandra

Mar to Apr

Keora

Sonneratia apetala

Mar to Apr

Passur

Xylocarpus mekingensis

Mar to Apr

Sundri

Heritera fomes

Apr to May

Gewa

Excoecaria agallocha

Apr to May

Kakra

Brugiera gymnorrhiza

Apr to May

Baen

Avicennia officinalis

May to June

Collection permits are issued in the first week of April. They can be valid from one week to 15 days, depending on the size of the area, number of collectors employed, and the amount of honey to be collected. There are no prescribed rules for the collection of honey and beeswax. Usually a group of six to eight people work in the designated area. They divide the area into 50-foot-wide strips, with each member assigned to a strip. They move cautiously because of the risk of tiger attacks. Collection of honey is done by the traditional method, which uses fire or smoke to drive away the bees, and in the process destroys the queen and the brood.

Immediately after collection, the permitters report back to the place where the permit was originally issued to surrender the permit and measure the collection. If more honey is collected than indicated in the permit, an additional royalty is charged.

No processing is done in the field. The honey, still in the comb, is sold to processors in nearby communities easily reached by water transport. In some cases, traders come and buy the unprocessed honey. Some collectors have prior arrangements with traders and get cash advances.

Economic importance and social benefits

The collector's selling price is Tk. 20 (US$ 0.50) per kilogramme, while the processor's buying price is Tk. 50 (US$ 1.25) per kilogramme. Processed honey sells for Tk. 80 (US$ 2.00) per kilogramme. In 1990-91, 211.71 tonnes of honey were collected from the Sundarbans. Production over recent years and revenues accruing to the government can be seen in table 5. Between 1980-81 and 90-91, the amount realised increased by 33 percent for honey and 23 percent for beeswax. This increase in revenue is mainly attributed to increases in royalties.

Honey and beeswax collection, though a very risky job, continues to provide a seasonal source of income. An average of 350 permittees, employing 2,640 collectors, collect honey and beeswax from the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. There are good prospects for the export of both honey and beeswax if quality and quantity can be maintained.

Conclusion

Bangladesh has a large population, with a significant percentage suffering from malnutrition. It needs a multipurpose resource like honey, which provides both food and an economic stimulus. Important plants producing honey flowers in the Sundarbans should be scientifically managed to ensure better yields, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Table 5. Sundarbans honey products and revenues

Year

Honey (tonnes)

Honey revenue (Tk.)

Beeswax (tonnes)

Beeswax revenue (Tk.)

1990-91

211.27

536,400

52.8

211,200

1989-90

146.55

620,280

36.5

195,400

1988-89

99.45

84,560

24.9

39,840

1987-88

223.31

178,650

55.8

89,280

1986-87

229.11

183,930

57.5

92,040

1985-86

224.52

180,450

56.4

89.220

1984-85

255.80

102,800

64.2

51,390

1983-84

260.35

114,610

65.4

52,360

1982-83

232.65

93,460

58.12

46,730

1981-82

225.26

107,050

53.92

53,520

1980-81

310.93

120,450

75.03

60,030

Source: Divisional Forest Office, Sundarbans, Forest Department.

Hogla

Hogla (Typha elephantina Roxb) is an abundant NWFP species found in the mangroves and tidal forests of coastal belts adjoining the Sundarbans. Hogla leaves are woven into mats used for beds, to dry crop on and for prayer mats. They are also used for making storage containers and hut walls. Young succulent leaves are a forage crop palatable to animals. Hogla pollen grains are collected and sold in the markets or used to make home-made cakes.

There are no specific rules for cutting hogla. After harvesting, hogla leaves are gathered, bundled and transported by head load or by boat. Standing hogla leaves are not purchased by the weavers, but by traders. The traders then harvest, transport, and dry the leaves and sell them in the local market. Consequently, weavers buy the raw materials from the market at higher prices. Weaving is mainly done by women. Men purchase the raw materials, splitting and extracting the mid-rib and selling the finished product in the local market. Hogla collection, transport, trading, weaving and the marketing of finished products provide a source of income and livelihood to the poor people in and around the Sundarbans.

A systematic study of hogla should be undertaken, examining its production, cultivation and management, in order to ensure a sustained yield sufficient to support the rural cottage industries dependent on it.

Fish, prawn and shells

Fish, prawn, shells and other fishery resources abound in the rivers and water systems within the Sundarbans. They serve as a major source of food and employment for the people of Bangladesh, as well as providing revenue for the government. There is an increasing international demand for these resources, particularly if the quality and the quantity can be maintained. The present harvesting and management of these resources seems to threaten the sustained fish production in the Sundarbans. A current intensive study of integrated resource management will produce guidelines on how to manage sustained yields.

Harvesting and utilization

Fishing and shell collection within the mangroves are controlled by the Forest Department. Only B.L.C. holders can apply for fishing and shell collection permits. The permits are valid for seven days and a fine is levied against anyone over-staying in the permit areas. Permits stipulate the specific stretch of water and the duration of stay allowed. Fishermen must report back to the Forest Station for measurement of the catch and to surrender the permit.

Fishing and shell collection permits are issued throughout the year. However, the main season is from mid-October to the end of March. During this time many fishermen from outside the area make temporary camps on the chars along the Sundarbans coast and fish in the open sea and the coastal waters. There are about 36 chars in the Sundarbans where fisherman set up their camps. The greatest concentration is on Dubla Island.

Fishing techniques are traditional and not up to the latest standards. Fin fish, other than hilsa, are mainly sun-dried on the chars. Dried fish are then cleaned, packed in jute bags and transported to traders and commission agents, located mainly at Chittagong. Sometimes, the traders and commission agents send their own vessels and charge, by weight, for transport and commission for selling the products by auction in Chittagong. Sharks are either bought dried or fresh by traders who visit the chars. Prawn and shrimps are sold through middlemen to traders at base camps on the chars. Jhongra shells are collected off the mud banks of the rivers and khals and burned into lime to be used with pan (betel leaf). The shells of jhinook, an estuarine bivalve, are also collected.

Economic importance and social benefits

Assuming that the royalty rate is only 12.5 percent of the gross value of the products, it can be calculated that the gross value of the fish products in 1990-91 was Tk. 112 million (US$ 2.8 million). In addition, the value of 60 million shrimp, mainly tiger prawns, produced annually from the Sundarbans and other mangrove forests of the adjoining coast is Tk. 30 million (US$ 750,000). The government revenue from fish and shell products, can be seen from table 6.

The revenue generated from fish products increased from Tk. 1.04 million (US$ 26,000) in 1980-81 to Tk. 14.3 million (US$ 357,000) in 1990-91. An average of 67,195 boats with 165,270 fishermen annually visit the Sundarbans and fish for their livelihood. Recent data reveals that the collection of "seed" prawns involves about 25,000 men, women and children. Shell collection also contributes to the employment of young boys and girls (with about 550 permit tees each engaging three or four people each year). The number of shell collectors increases during the winter tourist season.

Miscellaneous NWFPS

Several miscellaneous NWFPs warrant a brief discussion.

The bark of goran, garjan (Rhizophora conjugata), dbundul (Canapa obovata), passur and kankra are rich in tannin. Tannin extracted by traditional methods, particularly from goran, is used in fisherman's nets.

Table 6. Sundarbans fish and shell production and revenue

Year

Fish production (tonnes)

Fish revenue (million Tk.)

Shell production (tonnes)

Shell revenue (million Tk.)

1990-91

4.82

14.03

2.44

65.52

1989-90

5.07

11.51

2.85

65.43

1988-89

7.20

7.50

3.64

48.76

1987-88

6.22

8.47

3.60

48.21

1986-87

6.80

7.07

3.18

42.65

1985-86

8.01

5.13

2.66

15.78

1984-85

8.04

3.54

2.27

9.47

1983-84

9.17

4.03

2.43

10.51

1982-83

9.19

3.83

2.17

7.44

1981-82

9.33

1.04

3.33

12.28

Source: Forest Department.

Ullu grass (Saccharum cylindricum) and Nal grass (Orundo Karka) are two important grass species of the Sundarbans. The former makes the most durable type of local thatching, but its supply is limited to the sandy open land in the mangroves. Nal grass is a tall reed-like grass belonging to the family Graminae. It is used extensively to make matting, called "dharma," which is used for walls of houses, boat coverings and floor mats.

Bhola (Hibisens timaceous), a semiclimbing liana belonging to the family Malvaceae, may also be treated as a NWFP. Its exploitation for fuel or for other purposes is permitted without restriction or payment of royalties.

Tourism in the Sundarbans

For miles and miles, the lofty treetops of the Sundarbans form an unbroken canopy, while nearer the ground, the effects of high and ebb tides are marked on the soil and tree trunks. The variety of the natural mangrove forest has much to offer an inquisitive visitor. Land and water meet in many novel ways. The Sundarbans is the natural habitat of the world-famous Bengal tiger, spotted deer, crocodiles, jungle fowl, wild boar, lizards, Rhesus monkeys and an innumerable variety of beautiful birds.

For the botanist, the lover of nature, the poet and the painter, this land provides a variety of wonders. Thousands of meandering streams, creeks, rivers and estuaries add charm. The many sail boats loaded with timber, golpatta, fuel-wood, honey, shells and fish add to the serene natural beauty of the Sundarbans.

The main attractions of this area for tourists include wildlife photography, viewing and studying the world's largest mangrove forest, boating, and meeting local fishermen, woodcutters and honey-collectors. Also of great importance are the peace and tranquility of the wilderness.

Boats are the only means of transportation inside the forest. There are no roads or paths. Wood-cutters make temporary dwellings at the edge of the forest 8 to 10 feet off the ground for fear of wild animals. In the Chandpai region it is fascinating to see the nomadic fishermen (living with their families on boats) catching fish with the help of trained otters. Exciting activities take place in Dublar Char in the forest where fishermen from Chittagong gather for four months (midOctober to mid-February) to catch and dry fish. But the most daring and exciting of all activities involve the honey-collectors who work in groups for just two months (April to May): it is interesting to see how they locate a hive and collect the honey.

Famous spots include Hiron Point (Nilkamal) for observing tiger, deer, monkey, crocodiles, birds and natural beauty. Katka is another spot for deer, tiger, crocodiles, varieties of birds and monkeys, and a morning and evening symphony of wild fowls. The vast grassy meadows running from Katka to Kachikhali (Tiger Point) provide opportunities for wild tracking. Tin Kona Island has tiger and deer. Dublar Char (Island) is interesting for its fishermen and its herds of spotted deer.


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