ADB-funded Plantation Stumbles in Modhupur

Sal Forest Disappears Participants Feel Cheated 

By Philip Gain, EMA Salam and Shishir Moral

Ten years back the people of the Modhupur sal acacia area first saw eucalyptus and acacia area first saw eucalyptus and acacia planted on a commercial sale. These exotic species were replacing the sal coppices in many places. They were planted on “degraded, unencroached state forest land” in the Modhupur sal forest areas and some other parts of Bangladesh. Commercial plantation also known as woodlot was eventually established in all four ranges in the Modhupur forest and in one range in the adjoining Muktagachha thana in Mymensingh District. 

The Local people in the plantation sites were enraged when the Forest Department engaged hired laborers to cut sal coppices to prepare sites for commercial fuel wood plantation or woodlot. The media-both national and international warned that consequences would be severe for replacement of natural stands with exotics. But the plantations were established with little attention paid to the criticism.  

The calculation of the experts of Asian Development Bank (ADB) which provided soft loans to the Bangladesh Government for planting exotic species in Mohhupur and elsewhere under Thana Afforestation and Nursery Development Project (TANDP) has now proved to be fatally wrong. The US$46.8 million project, of which US$123 million were spent for commercial fuel wood plantation, had begun in 1989 and was completed in 1995. Of the total project costs the ADB provided US$40.9 million in loan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) gave a grant assistance of US$2.4 millions.  

In financial terms woodlot was the largest component of the project. Other major components of the project were agroforestry plantations, strip plantations, seedling, distribution, nursery development, research and training.  

The Asian Development Bank had high expectations from the project. According to the Bank’s Project Completion Report dated June 1997, the project established 19,415 ha of woodlot plantations to produce fuelwood and timber on degraded and unencroached State forest land in the districts of Gazipur, Tangail, Sherpur, Comilla, and Mymensingh and greater districts of Dinajpur, Rangpur and Rajshahi. This fulfils The Bank’s initial appraisal target of 16,000 and a revised target of 20,225 ha. According to the same report, agroforestry (which combines trees with agricultural crops) was established over an area of 5,110 ha against the initial appraisal target of 3,200 ha and the revised target of 4,200 ha in the same districts. 

 According to sources in the Divisional Forest Offices in Tangail and Mymensingh and in the field offices of the Forest Department, 3,432 acres in Mohupur and 1,742 acres in Multagachha have been brought under woodlot plantation under the ADB-funded project. Agroforestry has been established in 991 acres in Modhupur and 1,750 acres in Muktagachha. Participants to woodlot were 1,300 in Modhupur and 582 in Muktagachha. Participants to agroforestry were 401 in Modhupur and 585 in Muktagachha.  

Whatever the official figures and assessment, the Modhupur participants to woodlot and agroforestry have raised serious complaints.  

In a petition to the Minister for Forest and Environment dated 7 July 2000, 164 participants to woodlot and agroferestry from Modhupur complained that they were facing social economic and environmental disturbances at a time when they were supposed to get benefits from their participation to woodlot which had begun in 1989. They have reported to the minister that “According to outra-greement with the Forest Department, we were to protect the plots of planted forest and get 40 per cent of the revenue at the end of the seven-year rotation.”  Although in the written agreement between the forest Department there in no mention of seven-year rotation, the FD officials have confirmed that they verbally promised the participants a 40% share at the end of seven-year rotation when the woodlot would have matured.  

The inhabitants of Modhupur have also complained that many of them participated in woodlot unwillingly because they had no trust in the FD officials. They also complained to the minister that they had faced human rights abuses including false cases, harassment, oppression of women and killing throughout the whole wooldot plantation period. “Harassment of the local people in the hands of the forest Department officials and employees still continues,” complained the participants. All of those who have complained to the minister are participants to the woodlot plots which were mature for cut according to the verbally announced [and nowhere written] seven-year rotation period. But at the time of harvest of planted forest there is hardly any tree to cut. Almost all trees in the plots of seven years or above have been plundered by forest thieves allegedly in collusion with the dishonest FD officials, employees and guards.

During a field investigations at the end of July this year the investigations of the Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD) found that in Modhupur and Muktagachha most of the woodlot plots were totally devoid of trees. Jerome Hagidag, a participant to woodlot from Beduria village complained. “The Forest Department promised me 40% of the harvest at the end of the seven year rotation for protecting the plot I am a participant to. But now I find all the trees in my plot illegally cut by the forest thieves. This would have not been possible without illegal profits going int the FD officials and employees.”  

Yakub Ali, a participant and the chairman of Sholakuri Union Council which actually has most of the Modhupur sal Forest reported. “We, the participants, had protected the woodlot plots for seven yars putting faith in the promise of FD officials. As the seven-year rotation period matured we found the FD not keeping its promise. So the participants ceased to protect the woodlot after seven years. The woodlot began to be illegally cut little by little. Then in just six months all the trees from most of the woodlot plots had been cut. This is how the wholesale destruction occurred to woodlot.” 

Many participants have reported that they begged for assistance from the FD when woodlot had began to be plundered. But the FD security people hardly turned out to assist them. The FD argued it did not have enough security personnel to challenge the organized gangs of wood thieves. “On the instruction of the FD we apprehended a number of the wood thieves and had called for shalish in the village court. But it did not yield any result,” said Jerome Hagidag. “Instead, we faced further harassment form the organized gangs of wood thieves. The FD officials joined the wood thieves in many instances.”  

In a consultation meeting organized by the Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD) on 28-29 July, 2000, all of the 40 attending participants to woodlot and agroforestry held the FD responsible for plundering of the planted forest, “ Now the FD is filing false cases against us. We have also been facing many other kings of human rights abuse,” complained the participants.  

According to their report, in the past few years, the FD armed personnel have murdered Tota Mian of Aronkhola Union, Bihen Nokrek of Sholakuri Union and Adhir Dofo of Ghona Union. Many men and women have been imprisoned on ‘false charges’.  

Fake Agreement And False Hope  

The participants who have witnessed the devastation after the so-called seven-year rotation perio9d now find that they signed a fake agreement with the FD and so they cannot legally challenge FD for getting virtually nothing from their participation to woodlot and agroforestry. They major flaws that they now identify with the agreement are: (i) The FD made only verbal commitment to give the participants 40% of the harvest. In the agreement there is no mention of the seven year rotation period (ii) The Forest Department retainstthe sole authority to cancel the agreement.  

The participants do not have any say in it. (iii) Permission is not granted to raise the watch house on the woodlot plots to protect the plots (iv) There is no guarantee of the ownership in the agreement and nothing is said about inheritance in case of death of a participant (v) The agreement is renewable every year. (vi) The participants cannot take any legal actions if the FD cancels the agreement.  

It is not just that participants signed a wrong agreement, many do not have a copy of the agreement in their possession. Most of the participants consulted complained that they submitted their agreements for renewal by the second or third year. But the agreements were not returned to them.  

This allegation was substantiated when the DFO of said. The participants can take their agreements deposited to the FD. 

Deep Into The Problem  

The trouble that keeps thousands of forest dwelling people in the Modhupur forest in constant tension is the result of a clear deception. The DFO of Mymensingh, MA Khaleque Khan told a SEHD investigator, “We made a commitment to the participants to give 40% of the harvests at the end of seven year rotation.”  Why then was not the woodlot cut when the rotation matured? “Because the ADB did not Provide necessary funding under the Forestry Sector Project (ADB funded third project in the forestry sector),” said the DFO.  According to the DFO, the ADB wanted the government to amend the Forest Act of 1927 and reorganize the Forest Department before it disbursed funding. The government did not adequately respond to the ADB conditions until recently. By the time the government brought an amendment bill to the parliament and had it approved in April 2000 most of the plantations in Modhupur had disappeared.  

On the condition of anonymity a high forest official said, “The Range Officers and other forest employees are involved in the plundering of the forest with the local political influential quarters.”  The net result of the woodlot plantation in the Modhupur sal forest is a sense of deception developed among the participants. Evidence exists that frustrated with FD-executed forestry project local people in some places in the Modhupur forest have attempted to convert the barren land into pineapple plantations. “The FD is helpless in this regard because it could not keep its commitment in providing 40% share to the participants, “said the Mymensingh DFO.  The ADB in its project completion report stated with great comfort,” …the earlier confrontational situation between FD staff and encroachers has dissipated both now contribute to the joint use of the land for fuelwood and agricultural crop production.”  In their petition to the Minister for Foorest and Environment and others concerned the people of the Modhupur forest have challenged the ADBs assessment.  

According to the DFOs of Mymensingh and Tangail, the FD will go for a second round of plantation under the Forestry Sector Project. And they say in the second round agroforestry will be emphasized because it yields better results.  

This does not bring any good news to the forest dwelling communities. They have not received their share from the woodlot plantation that had begun in 1989. It is their firm belief that something is going terribly wrong somewhere. 
ADB-A Friend or Foe?  

ADB got significantly engaged in the forestry sub-sector in Bangladesh through the US$11 Community Forestry Project which had started in mid 82 indented in late 1987. The project was evaluated by the Bank to be reasonably successful. The Thana Afforestation and Nursery Development Project (TANDP) followed the Community Forestry Project. Under this project the controversial exotic species notably eucalyptus and acacia were planted. Although the government has imposed a ban on planting of eucalyptus because it causes damage to environment, the tree is in sight throughout Bangladesh. Planting of exotic species on the sal forest areas was highly recommended by the ADB because according to its experts sal, takes too long to regenerate. They claimed that the tast growing trees, although alien to Bangladesh soil, would get large enough in seven years to harvest and bring benefit to the government and people.  

Then at the completion of the project the Bank reported. “The project has had a positive impact on the environment. Forest cover has been established on previously degraded public forest land.”  

The reality in Modhupur is dramatically different from what the ADB has claimed about its project. The environment has certainly deteriorated there more than any time before because most of the exotics that replaced sal have disappeared. There it also no sign of coppicing from stumps of the exotics perhaps because they did not take roots in the naturally grown sal forest. In some woodlot plots sal coppices have returned. Realizing the value of the native species the local people are trying to protect the sal coppices that are emerging on the devastated land.  

While the ADB was implementing the Thana Afforestation and Nursery Development Project, it also funded the preparation of the Forestry Master Plan (completed in 1993) which led to the formulation of the new forestry policy in 1994 for Bangladesh. The Forestry Master Plan has linked Bangladesh with the much controversial World Bank sponsored Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP). Bangladesh has high expectations about getting big loans for the implementation of the Forestry Master Plan which spans over 20 year and targets to attain tree cover on all public forest land (approximately 20% of the total land area), which now has shrunk between 6% and 8%. 
The US$87 millions Forestry Sector Project, in which ADB is to provide US$50, soft loan, is a result of the Forestry Master Plan.  

Although ADB approved the loan much earlier, actual plantation under the project did not start even by the end of October 2000 because Bangladesh government failed to fulfil and ADBs conditions in amending the forest act of 1927.  

Evidence to suffice show that ADB and FAO were engaged in the preparation of amendments to the forest act which it submitted to the government. But the Forest (Amendment), Act, 2000 that the parliament passed in April 2000 did not satisfy the Bank. An ADB official in Dhaka informed whom that the amendments the parliament passed did not take into adequate consideration the reform proposal that the Bank put forward.

However, that did not stop the Bank. The ADB mission recently visited Dhaka and an understanding was worked out between the government and the Bank that the Government would accommodate ADB-proposed amendments through administrative measures so that Bangladesh could access the ADB finances to implement the Forestry Sector Project.  

The district level forest authorities which manage the Modhupur forest hope that they will get ADB funding for plantation in the Modhupur again. But there is no indication if there will be any qualitative change in making the plantation successful. In the meantime the kind of plantation which has failed in Modhupur is in sight in other forest areas.  

The critics believe that multilateral development banks (MDBs) especially the World Bank and the ADB are actually promoting commercial and industrial plantations in the name of social and industrial plantations in the name of social forestry. The Kinds of exotic species that have been planted with their soft loans are good for pulp and paper mills not for the local economy. Industrial plantations that are emerging on the public forest land in the sal forest areas and in the CHT pose serious threats to the local environment and economy. Industrial plantations are monoculture with one or two exotic species which are being promoted with the MDB funding because the industrial countries then can purchase pulp at a cheaper price or can sell pulp and paper technologies to Bangladesh. This also contributes to further exploitation of Bangladesh in the new era of globalization of capital.    

Source: The Bangladesh Observer, 12 August, 2001