Innovative reforestation project:
A unique reforestation project began in 1989 in Dhunot upazila of Bogra district and is now having very significant impact for poverty eradication in seven upazilas of four districts. The project has been based on four innovative concepts. The first is to provide ownership of roadside trees mainly to the poor, who obtain all employment on the roads, who get practically all the homestead plantation assistance and who own 415 tree nurseries financed through the implementing organization. These four innovative concepts have made reforestation a powerful poverty eradication project.
Roadside tree plantations:
926 kilometers roadside plantations have been and are being established in the targeted 7 upazilas. Timber tree seedlings, mostly grown in organizational nurseries and in 415 nurseries of poor families, have been planted on 675.7 kilometers of roadsides. In addition, about 250 kilometers of roadsides have been planted with mulberry seedlings as the base for a sericulture program to employ hundreds of women in a sericulture program. For the timber tree plantations, legal agreements for each road are co-signed by three partners. For every one kilometer, there are 15 poor family shareholders who live within the vicinity of the road. The owners of the road, usually the Union Parishods, are the 2nd partner and the implementing organization—formerly called the Institute of Integrated Rural Development (IIRD) and now renamed as Poverty Eradication Program (PEP)—is the 3rd partner in the roadside plantation ownership.
For each kilometer of plantations, the poor become owners of 60% of the tree wealth. They form themselves into shareholder groups of 15 members each, hold monthly meetings and assist the implementing organization and local government to ensure that they and their local area receive maximum benefit from the tree wealth. PEP works with these shareholder groups to help ensure good management of these resources and takes assistance, as needed, from the local government, including both elected and civil administrations. The local government and PEP each own 20% of the tree wealth.
Up until the end of 2013, harvested timber trees on 449.7 kilometers of roadsides have been harvested and sold for Tk. 113,498,967. Of this amount 7,183 shareholders have received Tk. 68,065,334, while Union Parishads and IIRD/PEP have each received about Tk. 22,700,000. On the remaining 226 kilometers of roadsides, presently valued at Tk. 27,526,750, another 3,656 shareholders along with government and PEP are expected to receive about Tk. 109,000,000 as mature trees are gradually harvested.
Nurseries, fruit gardens and homestead plantations:
While IIRD/PEP has produced about 45% of the tree seedlings used for homestead and roadside plantations, individual poor families have produced about 55% of the seedlings. Some seedlings are purchased from elsewhere, such as coconut and mango seedlings. A small nursery, producing 5-6,000 seedlings serves as a business activity for the poor. Training, micro-finance at 5% interest, supply of inputs and regular technical help are provided by PEP. The poor do their own marketing, including sale of seedlings to PEP for its reforestation project.
Some poor families have a few decimals of land and interest to plant fruit tree gardens. PEP again provides training, micro-finance at 5% interest, supply of inputs and regular technical help. Banana, papaya and guava gardens provide early return on investment and are favored by the poor. A couple hundred such fruit tree gardens have so far been planted in PEP’s working areas. About 2.2 million trees have been planted at the homesteads of the poor in PEP working areas. About 150,000 families have planted the 2.2 million homestead trees on their small homestead lands. Many families need help a couple of times as survival rate is only about 50% due to such factors as inexperience of many families in nurturing trees and dealing with diseases, small space for plantation and, in some cases, poor soil quality and damage of trees by animals.
About 60% of the homestead trees planted are various varieties of timber seedlings. Among fruit trees, the most popular is coconut; when fruit-producing, each tree provides about Tk. 1,000 income yearly, while other fruit varieties may only yield about Tk. 500 in income. These plantations help the poor access fuel, wood for housing and furniture, as well as income through sale of mature trees. Conservatively estimating homestead plantation income, with about only 50% survival rate of 2.2 million trees, 660,000 timber trees at maturity valued at Tk. 2,500 each would provide Tk. 1.65 billion. 440,000 fruit trees, valued at Tk. 1,800 per tree over their lifespan, would produce another Tk. 792 million. Saplings provided to institutions and nursery income not being included, the total estimated reforestation income from roadside and homestead plantations would come to Tk. 2.665 billion. With expenditure of much less than 10% the cost of establishing and operating the reforestation project, total profit would be at least Tk. 2.4 billion.
The major donors, who provided the financial resources for the roadside and homestead plantations in IIRD/PEP’s reforestation project have been the European Union and the Belgian Government through the NGO DMOS-Comide of Brussels. The World Food Programme (WFP) Bangladesh also provided some funding in the early years of the reforestation project.
Purpose and objectives of the reforestation project:
The primary aim of PEP’s reforestation program is the promotion of long-term environmental stability for its working areas and the country. A secondary aim has been to get the maximum benefit from new plantations to the poor to help them obtain economic assets. Similarly, the Union Parishods are strengthened through the extra income they get from their 20% ownership of roadside trees and PEP, too, is helped to make its organization and work more sustainable.
The specific objectives of the reforestation program have included the following:
- To bring all available roads and fallow land in rural areas under tree cover for reducing environmental degradation and preventing erosion.
- To assist the rural poor to develop fruit and timber tree nurseries as small businesses for their own economic uplift and for making tree saplings available to all rural people.
- Through roadside plantation, to provide employment opportunities for the extreme hard core poor and hard core poor, especially women and elderly men.
- To provide maximum ownership of roadside trees by the rural poor, with shares for local government and IIRD.
- To assist the rural poor to get valuable fruit and timber seedlings at minimal cost for homestead plantation, providing training and technical help to ensure tree survival.
- To promote bio-diversity in the plantation of species for a healthy eco-system and environmental stability.
As demonstrated by the above aims and objectives of the IIRD reforestation program, there is a harmonious unity of economic, environmental, and social sustainability goals being promoted through this project. Reforestation provides a significant income source for a local area, with a great increase of available fuel wood, housing and furniture raw materials. The tripartite system of dispersed nurseries, roadside plantations and homestead plantations leads to a strong ecological impact in an upazila. And, since the poor receive the maximum benefit from all three aspects of the program, it contributes greatly to poverty eradication and social equity.
The people of the sub-districts where IIRD initiated the social forestry program have become more environmentally conscious, appreciating the impact of massive reforestation, including soil conservation, protection of roads and embankments, the positive effects for creating stable weather patterns and precipitation, water retention, less use of pesticides, and for availability of large numbers of different types of birds. The birds too make their contribution as they not only provide their typical melodies, but also fly from the trees to the field to eat pests and thus reduce crop damage.
Impact of the reforestation project:
The reforestation program has helped PEP to economically empower the poor. With 10,839 poor families now participating in roadside tree ownership and 150,000 families growing homestead trees, this program is producing valuable assets for large numbers of poor. It is helping to reduce malnutrition and to provide an extra fuel source for the poor. In addition, since women get the majority of employment opportunities and are the contract signatories for roadside tree ownership, the program is assisting PEP in its promotion of gender equity.
As PEP still has 226 kilometers of unharvested roadside plantations in seven upazilas together with the homestead plantation component, major economic assets are being created in each locality. These assets likewise help the local areas to diversify the structure of the local economy, which almost always has been overly-dependent on grain crops, by strengthening a neglected economic sector. Besides the more short-term impact on local economies, reforestation has the critical long-term benefit of providing greater environmental stability for these areas and the nation.
Since PEP receives 20% of the roadside tree income and it plants numerous trees at its centers and sub-centers, the reforestation program helps to provide some financial flexibility and sustainability for the organization. The program provides great visibility, as local people and government officials can appreciate its successful implementation, whenever and wherever they move in the upazilas. Many of PEP’s other programs, which focus on getting help to individual poor families, are not easily observed by the non-poor and by officials.