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5 Factors Affecting Forest Resources

The forest mosaic over the landscape is defined by nature and modified by mankind and its associates. The forest pattern dynamics is, therefore, outcome of the use regime and contextual conditions in which forests reside. This chapter describes human population, agriculture, livestock, economic development and inter-linkages etc. to provide an idea of direction and intensity with which these factors affect the forest resources in Bangladesh.

5.1 General

Population and poverty in rural Bangladesh is widespread and is increasing. High population density of poor people coupled with their high dependence on natural resources has led to over exploitation of these resources. The realized growth rates of economic development are lower than planned and provide fewer opportunities for poor to utilize their capacities and diversify their needs.

5.2 Human Population

Last census in 1991 recorded 111.4 million people in Bangladesh growing at about 2.1% per annum with about 80% of them living in rural areas in 59, 990 villages having average household size of 5.3 persons. A majority (88.3%) of population is muslim and the balance belongs to other religions. The overall literacy rate is 32.4% but the literacy rate of women is very low (about 50% of men). Average population density is about 750/km2, reaching some 1,300/km2 near Dhaka, Chittagong and other population centers. The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) has the least population reflecting the lower carrying capacity of the land and lack of infrastructure and its social (tribal) nature (SYB, 1997).

Fig.16. Population Growth in Bangladesh during last century

High population base and its exponential growth (Fig. 16) present very serious problem to Bangladesh. This is inhibiting its economic growth and sustained resource management and use. Very high ratio of "man to available land area" has accelerated the competition for using limited land resources for different purposes. Lower and slower improvements in agriculture productivity have further intensified the competition for the arable land. The demographic pattern (54% of population below 15 years of age residing in agricultural dependent rural areas) is likely to worsen this scenario in the near future.

The poverty in rural Bangladesh is widespread and increasing. About 50 million people residing in about half of the total households consume less than the minimum diet level of 2,122 calories. Further, half of the above (25 million) people are hard core poor who consume even less than 1,805 calories. About 90% of the above poor reside in rural areas. Various studies indicate continual rise in poverty in rural areas of Bangladesh (BBS 1996, CSO 1995, Woden 1997 and WFP 1997, WFP 1998). Among the rural poor, condition of women is precarious in respect of income and fuelwood security. Income and fuelwood insecurity, coupled with social - cultural factors, makes the poor, especially women and children, most vulnerable in rural Bangladesh. Women headed households are few and their income are about 40% less than male headed households.

5.3 Agriculture

Bangladesh has very fertile lands but the agricultural system is inhibited with poor level and growth of productivity (Fig 17). Increase in productivity is minimal. About 8.84 million hectare is the net cropped area and most (49%) of it is cropped once, and only about 42% is cropped twice. The area "cropped thrice" in a year is limited to only 9%.

Fig. 17. Per capita agriculture crop production index

The almost static agricultural productivity, rapid growth of population, and increasing dependence of rural people on farmlands may continue to dampen the economic growth. Small group of affluent landowners holds large areas of fertile land leaving about 40% of rural population as landless. The fragmentation of land holdings of small and medium farmers is increasing and this is adversely affecting investment in agriculture and adoption of modern technologies to improve production.

5.4 Livestock

Most of the farm households keep livestock but normally their quality is poor. However, the total population of such livestock is exponentially increasing (Fig 18). The last (1983-84) agricultural census (Table 30 at Appendix) counted about 22 million cattle and buffaloes, and about 14 million sheep and goats. The number of goats has risen very fast in comparison with other types of livestock. The grazing facilities for livestock are very limited and poor in rural Bangladesh due to heavy pressure on culturable land.

Fig. 18. Growth trend of livestock population

Number of cattle and buffalo is less with small and marginal farmers (0 to 0.4 ha farm size) and more with medium (0.4 ha to 3ha farm size) and large (more than 3 ha farm size) farmers. The distribution of goats and sheep among farmers is in the reverse order with small and marginal farmers possessing more than the medium and the large farmers (Table 31 at Appendix).

5.5 Human Development

Lower income, poor level of education, subsistence needs, fewer employment alternatives outside agriculture, proximity and forest dependency of local poor people jointly create such conditions that adversely affect forests of Bangladesh. During past many years, human development in Bangladesh has lagged behind its economic progress and has not equitably benefited the poor, rural, and women of Bangladesh.

The human development index (HDR, 1998 and HDR, 1997) indicates declining trend in development of human resources in Bangladesh. Further, this index for poor, rural and women is lower than that for rich, urban, and men because the country has significant class, area, and gender disparities in income, education and development opportunities. For example, about 85 percent of the population is rural and their per capita income is about 13% lower than of urbanites. The gross primary enrollment ratio for extreme poor is about 40 percent and for others it is 75 percent. The case for higher education and women is still worse. The wage rates for women are reported to be about half those of men even when women's participation in the labor force is a continually increasing.

The rate of growth of total employment during last decade is very low (less than 10%). The total employment in agriculture (Table 32 at Appendix) has increased while its percentage share in total employment is going down (Table 33 at Appendix). Declining share of employment of manufacturing sector makes the situation worse.

The contribution of "forestry" sub-sector to employment within agricultural sector is lowest (0.34% in 1996). The "agricultural crop" and "livestock" sub-sectors together make provide maximum (98.13 % in 1996) employment within agriculture sector. Even the contribution of "fisheries" (1.53% in 1996) to employment is more than the forestry.

5.6 Economic Development

The country emphasizes on accelerated economic and social development of its people. The government lays more stress on private investment, massive development programs and involving NGOs in development activities to benefit the rural poor. The country is following the framework of guided economic development through Five Year Plan (FYP) since its independence in 1971. The structure of the economy is improving with each FYP. The realized growth rates from first FYP to fourth FYP (1990-95) have been around 4% against targets of 5%. The current fifth FYP (1997-2002) has set the target of 7% growth, envisages greater role of private sector, and allocates largest (16.46%) share to agriculture sector. The past low growth rates of GDP of Bangladesh are attributed to almost stagnant agriculture productivity and exponential growth of human population.

The contribution of the forestry sector to GDP is small (2.32%) but is very important for rural people and environment. This percentage does not reflect the true importance of the forestry sector due to the non-valuation of many of its non-marketed goods and services. The share of sectors other than "agriculture" are slowly increasing (Table 34 at Appendix). However, the agriculture sector continues to make the maximum contribution to the GDP (Fig. 19) even when it is being pulled down by the other sectors.

Fig. 19. Share of different sectors in GDP in 1998

5.7 Inter and Intra - Sectoral growth

The national accounts (1984 prices) show (Fig. 3.5) lot of temporal variation in the growth rate of contribution to GDP by different sectors and sub-sectors (Table 35 at Appendix). The revival of economy since 1998 may exert more pressure on forests in terms of production (timber etc.) and on environment (Fig. 20).

Fig. 20. Growth rates of contribution to GDP

The trend of growth rate of contribution to GDP by forestry sub sector (Table 35 at Appendix) is just apposite of "agricultural crop" sub-sector (Fig. 21).

Fig 21. Growth rates for Crops, Fishery, Livestock and Forestry

Bangladesh forestry sector consists mainly of the primary production of forest products. Excluding pulp and paper, the secondary sector is weakly developed, and it mostly uses old technology and equipment. Tertiary manufacturing is even less well developed. Primary production of logs and bamboo is largely from private land and the contribution of government managed forests is comparatively small.

At national level, the total value added by forestry sector totals to about 15,980 million Takas (1996-97). This amount is about 7% of the total value added by agricultural sector and is about 2.35% of National GDP. At district level, the contribution to GDP by forestry sector demonstrates (Table 36 at Appendix) both temporal as well as spatial variation. The districts in the hill tracts provide maximum (more than 50%) of the total national contribution by forestry sector while districts like Kushita, Bogra, Pabna, Comilla and Faridpur make the least.

Fig. 22 Contribution of different forest products to GDP

Bamboo provides maximum contribution (Fig. 22) to GDP followed by timber, firewood and minor forest products (Table 37 at Appendix). The share of firewood in GDP contribution has increased while that of timber has decreased over many years.

5.8 Economic Linkage with Other Sectors

The economic linkage between forestry sector and the other sectors of the economy is through agriculture in terms of land, soil, air and water requirements, animal husbandry in terms of shelter, fodder and grazing demand, power sector in terms of fuelwood and sustained water flow demand, household sector in terms of labor, final demand from household and public sector, royalties and taxes of public sector, forest based manufacturing sector in terms of raw material, and balance of payments in terms of imports and exports of forestry products.

With broadening of the economic base, the value-added share of agriculture sector in the GDP is declining but the pressure from "livestock" and "agricultural crop" sub-sectors on forest is not going down, because these sectors continue to grow though at a lesser rate. During the last decade, the area of agriculture has increased and that of forest has reduced. Similarly, livestock population has increased.

National accounts recognize three broad categories of industries that are based on wood and their number is about 51,700 with about 210,000 employees. The primary industries include sawmilling, pulp and paper, plywood/veneer, match and panelboard. The secondary industries include furniture, seasoning, treatment and preservation. The third (trader) category includes wholesale and retail timber businesses. The classification ignores wood growing and harvesting activities. The non-wood forest products like handicrafts, natural pharmaceuticals, and dyeing material industry gets least attention.

GOB is a major player in large industries based on forest products, especially the pulp and paper sector. Excepting two paper mills making packaging or printing and writing grades, existing plants belong to the publicly-owned conglomerate Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC). BCIC also makes matches and hardboard. The government operates through Bangladesh Forest Industries Corporation in solid wood enterprises and controls one unit in wood extraction and thirteen units in saw milling, seasoning, treatment, cabinets, windows and doors, and panel products.

The share of forestry sector in the economy is continually declining (Table 38 at Appendix) primarily due to ban on felling in many areas and secondly due to declining productivity and quality of forests. The contribution of forest based industries to GDP is small and is increasing at a very slow rate (Table 39 at Appendix). The forestry sector provides employment of about 0.8 million workdays and the contribution of the public forest land is only about 12 percent (Fig.23). Among industries, cottage scale industries provide maximum employment (Table 40 at Appendix).

Fig. 23 Share in employment supported by forest resources

5.9 Market Interference

Government of Bangladesh plays a dominant role in the timber market and pricing in Bangladesh. The price fixation is constrained by two sets of considerations - welfare of the consumer and the competition from imports. The Divisional Forest Officers initially suggest prices for forest products from their divisions considering all local conditions. The government approves the prices for each division for a period of one year. Prices are, therefore, not uniform over all the forest divisions. The rates for logs are set first, then rates for sawn timber and the poles. Normally, the price of sawn timber is double the rate of round logs while poles and house posts command the same prices as round logs. Prices for fuelwood and other products are determined independently on the basis of past historical price trends. Wood for veneer and plywood is charged 25% higher than the normal rates of logs.

The Department practices two types of prices i.e., spot prices and royalties. Spot price is the auction price determined for a particular auction through the competition among the buyers. Auction pricing is used for supplies to private sector. The royalty prices are fixed on the basis of past auction prices and applied for supply to public sector industries, permit holders, local domestic consumers and government departments. Normally, the royalty prices are lower than the auction prices and the market prices and thus have a component of concession.

GOB also operates directly in production sector through Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) for producing pulp, paper, matches and hardboard, and through Bangladesh Forest Industries Corporation for wood extraction, saw milling, seasoning, preservative treatment, cabinets, windows, doors, and panel products.

5.10 Summary

Forest sustainability in Bangladesh seems to be inversely related to the population density, poverty and non-empowerment of women in rural Bangladesh. The high population density, low agricultural productivity, poor human resource development, limited forest resources, and few employment opportunities outside agriculture jointly put higher demand on limited forest resources and accelerate deforestation and decline in forest health, quality and productivity.

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