Plantations (replacing native species) Are Not Forests

eucaliptus After destroying the forest the forest department try to afforest by exotic varietries The Modhupur forest once stretched all the way to Dhaka but today it is disappearing fast. The reason for this is not difficult to fathom because apart from the usual pilferage of trees and land grabbing, the government is also doing its bit by establishing plantations on land that belongs to the Forest Department. This might perhaps be overlooked but for one reason - these plantations are doing great harm to the forest ecology.

banaa plantation after clearing natural forestIn fact any invasive species can be a threat to the environment because it can change the entire habitat by crowding out or replacing native species, thus putting the ecosystem at risk. What we do not understand is, when the Rio Convention of Biological Diversity (1992) recognized this as a threat, why our experts are apparently not aware of the harm they do to ecosystems. What is surprising is that both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank seem to be hand in glove with the government on this score with the result that eucalyptus and similar plantations have changed the landscape of what is left of the forest.

The second rotation of fuel-wood plantation by the Forest Department is currently underway - courtesy the ADB, even though they know that cutting down trees and replacing them with alien species will cause lasting damage. The practice of introducing simple plantation forestry under the guise of community or participatory forestry must come to an end if our forests are to be saved as non-native or exotic species affects the environment negatively.

Although people will say that planting trees is good, it can also be bad. It depends on what you plant and the scale and the location of the plantation. Large-scale plantations consisting of either fast-growth trees such as eucalyptus and pines or of other species like oil palms, generate the most negative impact both in social and environmental terms. But the arguments put forward by those responsible for the plantations is to deny there are any negative impacts. The most misleading statements they make is to confuse plantations with forests. Plantations are not forests! And it is this that must be firmly understood by the government, by the people and most important, by the aid agencies that fund them.

If, as has been said, Bangladesh was once a land of forests and vegetation, any visitor today will not believe this yet it was true. Because we have allowed uncontrolled and widespread clearing of the forest for agriculture or for establishing plantations, this is no longer true yet we know this is bad because a country needs at least 25 percent forest cover for environmental and economic security. Unfortunately our forest cover does not exceed more than 8 percent.

However if in a misguided effort to increase the forest cover the government has been inspired to plant more plantations instead of opting for restoration of forest land with local species. It was once an accepted policy for loggers to plant two saplings of the same species whenever they felled a tree. But with thousands of trees being chopped down every single day, whether for legal purposes or not or for genuine needs of paper mills, the furniture industry, boat making or for firewood, if everyone had followed this practice we would not now be crying over spilt milk as our forest cover would have been enough as environmental cover. This was very important because today even our reserved forests have not been spared.

1. The forest boss who gobbled up trees: all old trees of the forests of the country have almost vanished

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