Participatory Forestry Approaches in Bangladesh: The Perspective of Mymensingh Forest Division

Abdul Latif Mia[1]


Bangladesh is one of the least developed countries in the world, with a high population density. Forest land occupies 16.85% of the total land of the country and per capita forest area is 0.022 ha - the lowest in the world. The deforestation rate is also alarming, i.e. 3.3% per year. The main causes of deforestation are population pressure, extensive land use patterns, encroachment of forest land, illegal felling, turning of forest land into agricultural land and fuelwood collection.

In Mymensingh Forest Division (MFD), immediately after liberation in 1971, a moratorium was imposed on sal forest harvesting as a means of checking illicit felling. This met with serious resistance among the rural population and as a result, forest resources were seriously damaged and forest lands were encroached. To improve the situation, the government has introduced participatory forestry approaches involving local poor people. The MFD started implementing participatory programmes in 1988 under a project financed by the Asian Development Bank. The main activities were raising woodlot and agroforestry in government forest land and strip plantations in marginal government lands. The plantations were raised with fast-growing species with rotation periods of seven to ten years. The participants were allowed to grow agricultural crops in plantations as intermediate crops. The participants’ benefits included all the intermediate products and 45% of the final harvest. At the end of rotation, these plantations were sold and the benefits were shared among the participants. Participatory forestry spread rapidly among the rural communities in the forest areas and most of them wanted to be involved. A very small-scale and segmented benefit share of the participatory forests was distributed among the participants during the study period, which has no published documents. As the benefit share distribution of participatory forestry is still in nursery stage in Bangladesh, wide publication of any success story is urgently needed for its further replication. The present study evaluated the benefit share distribution of participatory forestry in MFD and its positive impacts on further extension of the approaches in other areas of the country.

1. Introduction

Rural development in general and women in development in particular are now very important issues in Bangladesh. Every Government attached highest priority for rural development by involving poorer section of people, especially women. Participatory forestry or community forestry approaches by making involved landless people including women in forest land, marginal government land or strips is a very priority program of Forest Department (FD) in present time.

Bangladesh being a deltaic small country, had never huge forest resources. According to Forestry Master Plan (FMP) 1993, the total forestlands managed by the FD, Land Ministry and private individuals are 2,460 thousand (thou) hectares (ha) only, which covers 16.85% of the total land area of the country and the actual forest cover of the country does not exceed 6%. Per capita forestland in Bangladesh is 0.022 ha, which is lowest in the world. Deforestation rate in Bangladesh is 3.3% per year, the rate of which is 0.6% in South Asia (Gain, P 1995).

The forest of the MFD is ‘tropical moist deciduous forests’ with sal (Shorea robusta) as a predominant species (Champion et al, 1965). The associates of sal include Terminalia belerica, Dillenia pentagyna, Lagerstroemia perviflora, Albizzia sp., Adina cardifolia and Bauhinia sp. The sal forests of Bangladesh can be classified as a sub-climax type characterized by forest fires, grazing and canopy disturbances. Sal forests were first brought under scientific management when coppice (subsequently coppice with standards) silvicultural system was adopted for sal regeneration and meeting local consumption needs (Champion e. al. 1965).

The MFD has a total of 28,740 ha forestland out of total 120 thousand (thou) ha sal forest in other forest divisions of the country (Forestry Master plan, 1993). Only 10% of total sal forest areas were truly covered with vegetation. Out of the total 28,740 ha forest area, 9465 ha is under encroachment, which is 32.93%. Degraded and blank area was 16,400 ha, which is 57.05%, out of which 7,704 ha (26.80%) have been brought under participatory woodlot and agro-forestry plantations (Ghani et. al, 1990 and MFD statistics, 2002). Immediately after liberation of the country in 1971, a moratorium was imposed on sal forests harvesting as a means of checking illicit felling. This in effect resulted no benefit to forests. Because her people had a tremendous need of wood especially to rebuild their damaged houses. This caused an annoyance among the general mass towards the government forest resource management. Such a situation caused serious damage to forests, encroachment and forest management in this division.

Prior to eighties of last century, the forest department practically had no orientation to involve the people around forests in forest resources management or development. It was suggested by many studies that the deterioration of the situation could be halted by ensuring peoples participation in forest management Accordingly, the provision of people’s participation in protecting the natural stands and afforesting the degraded and encroached forestlands with benefit-sharing mechanism was developed and people’s participation was ensured. The government prepared a Forestry Master Plan (1993) to be carried out over 20 years and a timely needed participatory forest policy was promulgated in 1994, wherein, special emphasis was attached to involve poor people, especially women in forestry activities.

The experiences of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded Community Forestry Project (CFP) implemented in seven northern districts from 1981 to 1987 replicated the concept of participatory forestry in Bangladesh. The FD implemented the Thana Aforestation and Nursery Development Project (TANDP) which was again funded by ADB throughout the country including the sal forests of MFD and excluding 3 hill districts from 1988 to 1996. In both the projects, objectives were to increase the production of biomass fuels and enhance the institutional capacity of the FD.

A number of research works have been made on participatory afforestation approaches in Bangladesh. Though only a very small scale and segmented benefit share of the participatory forests were distributed among the participants yet no documents on this benefit share distribution was published. As the participatory forestry approaches are still in nursing stage in Bangladesh, wide publication of any success story is urgently needed for its further replication. The present study takes the opportunity to evaluate particularly the benefit share distribution of participatory forestry among the participants in MFD for further extension of this kind of approaches in other parts of the country.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1 Participatory forestry activities in brief

The MFD started implementing the participatory forestry programs from 1988 under ADB financed TANDP. The project was completed in 1996. Major components of the project were raising woodlot and agroforestry plantation in degraded and encroached forestland, raising of strip plantation, institutional planting, raising of seedling for sale/distribution, training of participants, village leaders, NGO workers, teachers, and establishment of thana nurseries and private nurseries (FD and UNDP/FAO. 1996). As per the provision of the project each participant was to get a plot of maximum one-hectare of land for woodlot and agroforestry plantation. As a special incentive, the project participants were temporarily allowed to grow food and agricultural crops on unutilized parts of the agroforestry/woodlot plots for two to three years until the area was fully covered by tree shade. Maintenance of the plantations was done by the project participants on payment of wages. The benefits that the participants received included all the intermediate products, i.e. leaves, twigs, branches, fruits and seeds, by-products of thinning and about 45% of the wood harvested at the end of the rotation period 7-10 years. The FD would get 45% of final product and the rest 10% was deposited to Tree Farming Fund (TFF) for future plantation raising and management purposes. These benefits were stipulated by special formula in a contract/agreement between the FD and the project participants. Only the rotation matured woodlot and agroforestry plantations were sold in open auction and the benefit shares of the plantations were distributed among the participants in 2001 and 2002. So the main focus was on these participatory woodlot and agroforestry plantations in the present study.

The MFD has 6 forest ranges and 23 forest beats in 5 civil districts (map 1). In all the ranges and beats, plantations were raised within the stipulated project period. Initially, plantations of 21 forest beats of 5 ranges were sold. MFD raised a total of 5901 ha woodlot and 1800 ha agroforestry plantations, whereas in total project area, 19335 ha woodlot and 5111 ha agroforestry were raised in project period. Different categories of plantations and participants are shown in table 1, 2 and photo 1. A continuation project named Sector Forestry Project (FSP) funded by ADB starts functioning, wherein addition to other similar works of TANDP, selling of plantations, distribution of benefits and replanting provisions have been incorporated.

2.2 Data collection and analysis

For the present study, data were collected from both the primary and secondary sources. As primary data, volume of forest production, sale value of the forest products and number of participants of the year 2001 and 2002 were collected by field survey by using interview schedule from 21 forest beats under 5 forest ranges of MFD purposively. Data on total plantation areas of the MFD and TANDP areas were collected from secondary sources like MFD office and ADB appraisal published and unpublished documents. These data collected were analyzed by simple arithmetic means and presented in tables. Data for the present study contained the plantations of 1463.63 ha woodlot and 675.00 ha agroforestry plantations sold in the year 2001and 2002.

3. Results

FD started selling the plantations sequentially in the year 2001 with the assistance of FSP and due shares of benefits was distributed among the participants. Similarly, in the year 2002, plantations were sold out and benefit-share was distributed among the participants (photo 2). Year-wise plantations sold with their selling prices and participant’s share prices of woodlot and agroforestry plantations are shown in table 3.

A total of 513 participants received the benefit share of taka 7,705.01 thou in the 2001. Out of them 19 were women, who got taka 321.00 thou´ as their share price. In the year 2002, there were 739 participants, who have got their benefit share of taka 17,369.53 thou. Out of them 25 were women, who got taka 514.07 thou as their share price.

Table 1. Comparative Plantation statement in total TANDP Areas and Mymensingh Forest Division raised during project period.

Plantation type

Total TANDP Plantation area

Mymensingh FD plantation area

% of plantation


19,335 ha

6097.10 ha




1819.58 ha


Source: PPAR, ADB. 2001 and MFD, 2002

Table 2. Plantation types and number of participants of TANDP in Mymensingh forest division.

Types of Plantation

Area under Plantation

Number of Participants under each type of ptn.





6097.10 ha





1819.68 ha








Source: MFD, 2002

Table 3. Benefit-share of woodlot and agroforestry plantation.


Plantation type

Area of Plantation

Total sale value (Taka.)

No. of participants

Govt. revenue (Taka)

Share of participants (Taka)

Tree farming Fund (Taka)










Ptn of 1988-90









Ptn of 1990









Ptn of 1991& 92









Ptn of 1993

Source: MFD, 2002.(Note: 1US dollar = 60.00 taka)

In benefit share, average share price was taka 15.05 thou in the year 2001. But individual share price varied from taka 0.050 thou to taka 93.00 thou. In the year 2002, average share price was taka 23.04 thou while the individual share price varied from 0.035 thou to 110.00 thou. In addition to this every family in an average earned taka 8.46 thou from agricultural crops in the rotation period (MFD. 2002).

In both the years, major areas of the plantations were woodlot plantations and a few portions were agroforestry plantations. In woodlot and agroforestry plantation, per ha seedlings planted were 1667 and 1111 in numbers respectively. Comparative studies showed that per ha timber production was 311.82 cft/ha and 453.15 cft/ha respectively in woodlot and agroforestry plantations. Similarly, in both the plantations, firewood production was 463.51 cft/ha and 515.78 cft/ha respectively. It is interesting to note that, though fewer seedlings were planted in agroforestry plots compared to woodlot plots both the timber and firewood production was higher in agroforestry. This is due to the fact that no thinning or any other cultural operations were carried out in any plantations during the rotation period.

4. Discussion

Forest product gains- By imposing moratorium on natural sal forest, legal extraction of timber and other minor forest produces was completely banned. Only forest production source was the timber goods seized during trespassing from the forest. Average annual seized timber was 272.28 thou cft timber and 664.73 thou cft fuelwood from the whole of 28,740 ha of forestland. By introducing participatory forestry approach in the study areas, a good number of local people’s hands they (FD) made active in protecting the forest resources. And by selling rotation matured participatory plantation in 2001 and 2002 in 1,483.63 ha only MFD produced 3,592.33 thou cft timber, 4,965.79 thou cft fuelwood and 1,766.05 thou number poles.

Economic gains- In moratorium period, average annual revenue was taka only 1,598.87 thou and by selling forest produces of 1483.63 ha participatory forest total sale price were taka. 61,178.00 thou. Of this 25,073.00 thou taka was distributed among the 1252 participants and FD earned revenue of total taka 29,988.00 thou. On an average, per participant got taka 20.03 thou though a very high fluctuation of individual share price was observed in participant’s share. The range was.035 thou to 110.00 thou. This variation was absolutely depending on the stock of forest vegetation in individual participant’s plots. Besides, every family on an average earned taka 8.46 thou from agricultural crops in the rotation period.

People’s acceptance and participation - A tremendous sensation was observed among the participants after getting their due shares. It was hardly believed even by the participants that they would get a share of 45% of the plantations raised in government forestland by spending government money. By getting a share of tk. 93.00 thou, a participant named Abdul Mannaf of Rasulpur range became spell bound to express his feelings of being a member of a participatory forestry.

The participants have also doubt about the success of exotic species in the both the woodlot and agroforestry plantations but they were happy with the growth performance and outturn from the final felling of the plantations. Though there had rumor about the negative environmental impacts of Acacia (Acacia auriculiformis) and Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) in recent time (without any scientific basis) all the participants were convinced about the survival, growth and market demand of the planted species, especially Akashmoni. Participants suggested to plant again this species which indicates that they are participating not only in plantations but also in forest management in this division.

Impacts of benefit-share distribution of participatory forestry is substantial and it spread tremendously among the rural communities as most of them showed interest on getting involved in the participatory forestry mechanism either in woodlot or agroforestry. It was reported that in first rotation none was interested in the participatory forestry without repeated motivational approaches by FD personnel to them. Many of them were even confused to be victims of forest cases rather to be benefited in participatory forestry activities.

As the people were initially less interested in participatory forestry programs, the forest officers as per the criteria of the project selected the beneficiaries. After the result demonstration of first rotation, there were high competition among the participants and many local people wanted to be newly recruited as participants in second rotation or new plantations. The people around the participatory forest were so interested that many of them even run to political leaders to make pressure on us so that we include them in participatory forestry. As a result, in present time, a fair selection of participants was very crucial job for forest officials.

Involvement of women- The scenario in MFD was different from other non-forest areas in regards to women participation. In forestry activities, a large number of women participated in nursery raising, agroforestry activities, vegetable gardening and watching the plantations in addition to their household works. Participatory forestry mechanism brought significant change in decision-making role of women in production system. About one third portion of women of the project area could sell the products and control the sale proceeds by themselves without the consent of their male partners or jointly with their male partners.. Independently many women were participants. A total of 44 women got share of taka 835.00 thou in 2001 and 2002 in woodlot and agro-forestry plantations.

Ecological gain- In order to achieve the objective of bringing back the vegetation cover in the barren and encroached forest lands by fast growing species like Acacia, Eucalyptus etc the participatory aforestation has transformed denuded land into green land. The vegetation cover increased more nutrient cycling and biological nitrogen fixation than before. The system also increased organic matter content. Moreover due to their fast growing nature, the plantations have covered the naked forestland within 2 to 3 years. This attracted the participants to provide protection to their agreed plantations. FD also got extra-advantage with fast growing species than sal coppice to keep the blank and encroached forestland under forest cover with the help of participants.

Saving sal forest- participatory forestry has increased overall tree coverage in the MFD especially on degraded and encroached forest land and marginal land. This in turn provided fuelwood, timber, fodder and agricultural residues as a source of manure in the agricultural field. This reduces the pressure on remaining natural sal forests and its diverse biological and ecological components.

Applicability of result demonstration - All the plantations raised under TANDP were not equally successful plantations. A few of the plantations initial after raising failed due to non confidence of the participants by the provocation of antisocial elements for pineapple cultivation or any other agriculture purposes. A few plantations failed at the very close of rotation due to non-availability of fund for replantation. FD tried to convince the participants to wait for one or two years, as the FSP was under process to support the second rotation plantation. But unfortunately, they could not keep confidence on forest department and the plantations were damaged in two/three years. This happened only in a very few offence-areas of MFD. These areas should be reconsidered for next rotation preferably with the previous as well as new energetic participants to make further the area successful showing the result demonstration of other area’s success.

Conflict management- There prevailed few conflicts between participants and FD and others especially on participant selection, benefit share distribution, agricultural crop cultivation procedure, protection and prosecution measures etc. There is need to develop a system of addressing the underlying causes of the conflict and mechanism of resolving them. So in the participatory forestry, there should exist a procedure for managing conflicts arose. In TANDP, to resolve conflicts between participants and FD and other agencies Local Community Organization (LCO), Thana Co-ordination Committee (TCC), District Co-ordination Committee (DCC) and at the national level Apex Body were been created. The committees resolved conflicts like selection of participants, encroachment and prosecution at different levels.

5. Conclusion

This study presented the success of distribution of benefit share among the beneficiary participants in quickest time and this success should be replicated in other parts of the country where the similar situation prevails. Moreover participants should be brought in the management of participatory forest. Though their participation in management would be a little complicated than simple benefit sharing implemented by FD these could be resolved through discussions and training to the participants.

The FD had so far been distributed the share benefits to the participants on the basis of some government letters and orders only issued by the ministry of forest and environment. These are irregular in the context of present accounting, financial and treasury rules of the government. These need to be regularized by revising the accounting, financial and treasury rules.

Evidence showed that the benefits received are not properly utilized by most of the participants. A proper utilization of their benefits is needed to be invested in some productive enterprises. Formation of groups and co-operatives of the participants are suggested for proper utilization of their funds.

A steering committee exists to run the TFF for the next rotation plantation and to ensure the welfare of the beneficiary groups and also to decide the future destiny of the participants. The steering committee should properly implement their assigned task.

FD is badly suffering from the shortage of trained and professional manpower. Well-organized and trained forestry professionals are urgently needed to run the countrywide social forestry activities. Government should take care of the matter to strengthen the forestry activities to build an environment friendly and prosperous Bangladesh.

6. References

1. Forest Department, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of Bangladesh Bangladesh Country Paper on National Forest Policy Review.. For presentation in the 19th Session of The Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, August 26 to 30, 2002, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

2. Bangladesh Forest Policy 1994

3. Champion H.G., Seth, S.k. and Khatak, G.M. (1965) Forests Types of Pakistan.

4. Forestry Master Plan. 1993. Environment and Land Use: Asian Development Bank (TA. No. 1355.BAN) UNDP/FAO, BGD/88/025.

5. Feasibility Study for Mymensingh Division 1999. Forestry Sector Project (1997/8-2003/4). Forest Department, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Dhaka. ADB Project BAN No. 1488. TECSULT in association with SODEV, NRP, HCL and EPC.

6. Gain, P. 1995. Forest and Forest People of Bangladesh. Bangladesh, Land, Forest and Forest People. Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD).

7. Ghani, Q., Alim, A. and Stevent, P.R. (1990) Rehabilitation of land-use planning of sal forests. FAO/UNDP Project. BGD/85/085, Working Paper No. 39, Dhaka.

8. Mymensingh Forest Division Office, 2002.

9. Project Performance Audit Report, 2001. ADB, PRA:BAN 16087, Upazilla Afforestation and Nursery Development Project (Loan 956-BAN), Bangladesh.

10. Thana Afforestation and Nursery Development Project, Bangladesh terminal report, Project Findings and Recommendations 1996: FD and UNDP/FAO, p 20-24.

[1] Divisional Forest officer, Mymensingh Forest Division, Kanchijhuli Mymensingh, Bangladesh. Tel: 8809154321; Email: [email protected]