Taking tree plantation as a virtue

Dr. AHM Mustain Billah

IN response to dwindling forest resources, the awareness is growing to combat the deforestation. The law of demand also says that the high demand for fuelwood consumption will create a high demand for planting more trees in order to replace old grown and felled trees. This indicates the need for plantation to increase the supply of fuelwood and the wide range of carbon sink. The presence of plants and trees creates natural balance of carbon di-oxide in the environment.

It is well known fact that there is a serious supply constraint of fuelwood in Bangladesh. According to Forestry Master Plan village households supply about 75 per cent of the fuelwood in the country whereas government forestry programme provides the rest 25 per cent. In order to meet the demand for domestic fuelwood consumption people are randomly using the branches of trees and residuals generated from sawmills. Forestry Master Plan stated that quantity of fuel wood collected from the reserve forest ranges from 0.8 to 1.1 million m3 annually. The demand-supply gap is sharply widening over time due to rapid depletion of forest resources and high rate of population growth. A projection of 8.2 million m3 for the year 2013, indicates a deficit of 3.3 million m3.

An estimation of FAO shows that the use of traditional energy per capita in Bangladesh is decreasing below the regional average (1.3 per cent per annum as against 2.7 per cent in India) because of higher population pressure and more dependence on traditional energy than many other sources that manifests an obvious concern for our environment.

Afforestation Efforts: The high rate of forest resource depletion (3.3 per cent per annum) is very alarming in Bangladesh. In order to protect the environment and to maintain ecological balance a country needs 25 per cent of forest coverage of its total territory. According to Forestry Mater Plan Bangladesh has got only 6 per cent forest coverage. In order to contain this rate of deforestation and to increase the green coverage of the country social forestry project has been initiated in 1980s with different nomenclature such as "Community Forestry", "Thana Afforestation Project" and presently "Forestry Sector Project". Forestry sector project covers 52 districts including the coastal area. These projects are making ambitious efforts for the last two decades with a bulk of investment in the forestry sector. The main thrust is to increase green coverage especially on the roadside and embankment. A similar effort known as coastal greenbelt plantation project, is made to protect cyclone prone coastal areas.

These ventures resulted in creating some employment opportunities for the rural people along with ownership of the newly generated resources. The continuous process of maintenance and benefits sharing made the local people organized to be partners in sustainable income.

The State of Environment Report 1998 states that the total state owned forestland in Bangladesh is 2.19 million hectares. Scattered homestead tree resources is approximately 0.27 million hectares. An estimate shows that village forestry grows at 5 per cent while deforestation stands at 10 per cent per annum. The productivity in homestead forest is 7-8 times higher than the government owned forestland. Now question arises, why government owned forest yield is so poor?

The following may be the main reasons: ( i) lack of sufficient know-how to make the plantation programme a success, such as species selection and knowledge about soil quality; (ii) lack of plantation techniques; (iii) lack of nursing the trees such as thinning and pruning. The most important is the caring of the trees.

In government plantation programme usually low age group samplings are planted, where they count only the number of samplings planted. Unfortunately, the information about the survival rates simply remains to be collected. A survey showed that in roadside plantation 4/5 hundred saplings are planted in one kilometer where two years maintenance cost is estimated as about Tk 70,000 indicating an average per tree maintenance cost of Tk 170. But in afforestation through people's participation more than 3000 saplings are planted in different rows in one kilometer. And unlike government plantation there is no need for bamboo fencing resulting in a of substantial reduction of maintenance cost to Tk 60,000 with an average per tree maintenance cost Tk 37 only.

The economic implication is obvious. In official plantation the responsibility of protecting the trees lies with the government officials. In the case of people's participation the economic incentive induces them to protect the trees spontaneously. The social implication is that for official plantation the decision and management is centrally controlled whereas in social forestry programme the grassroots level people have the opportunity to participate in management and decision making. Thus community based management develops a social integration that stimulates them to guard the social asset.

Religious implication: Considering the socio-cultural religious sentiment of our people, there is an opportunity to boost up this potentiality to make our plantation programme cost effective and a success. Like scientific analysis religion also clearly demonstrates that there are enormous benefits in the tree plantation to obtain, without which survival of man and other animals are almost impossible. By virtue of their unique function from the energy of the sun trees constitute the basic sources of substances for animal and human life on the earth. As stated in the Holy Qur'an: "Then let the man consider his nourishment: that we pour down the rain in showers and slit the earth in fragments, and there we make the grain to grow, and vines and herbs, olives and palms and gardens of dense foliage, and fruits and fodder-provision for you and your cattle." Sura Abasa (80:24-32).

In addition to the importance of nourishment, trees enrich the soil and protect it from erosion by wind and water. They have also immense values as medicines, oils, perfumes, waxes, fibre timber and fuel. God has said in the Holy Qur'an: "Have you seen the fire you kindle? Was it you who grew its timber or did We grew it? We have made it remember, and a comfort for the desert-dwellers." (Suara Waqiah).

Prophet Mohammad (sm) said " If a Muslim plants anything and men, beast, or birds eat of it, that shall be accounted for him as a charitable act" (Bukari /Muslim). Prophet Mohammad (Sm) has only permitted cutting of trees for extreme needs otherwise it has been discouraged. In Islam even army officers were prevented from cutting the trees and plundering the natural habitat. For example, Chaliph Abu Bakr (R) laid down humane rules for the guidance of his army: " No fruit bearing tree shall be cut down, no crops burned, no habitation devastated. The ten things which the assumption of Ibrahim make forbidden include taking part in hunting wild animals, which are edible, whether by killing or only injuring, and participating in any despoiling of trees or vegetation on the sacred territory, whether by cutting or by plucking."

Such sentiments are found in other religions as well. Hindus, Jews, Christans, Bhuddists, Sikhs are taught to sing the glory of nature and various ceremonies are traditionally performed to bring the followers close to nature. The Jewish festival Bishewat is celebrated as the new year of trees. Similarly, in Buddism stringent instructions are there for preserving and nurturing trees for the human habitat. In the Vinya Sutra, the planting of tree is said to be within the obligation of bhikku (monk). The Buddish prayer known as the " Prayer for the Happiness of All that Living." The Baisakhi festival of the Sikhs is celebrated in the midst of nature to show human gratitude, as Guru Nanak taught the Sikhs that "God sleeps in the tree, dreams in the animal and wakes in man" (Singh 1992).

The above discussions make it evident that eco-ethics have been part of religious teaching from time immemorial and that they have great relevance to the contemporary development strategies in the context of prevailing environmental crisis, as the ethical values and traditional knowledge have been appreciated in Agenda 21 for the United Nations (1992).

Dr. AHM Mustain Billah is Deputy Director (Economic Division), BPATC, Savar

Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, July 6, 2001