Social Forestry Hoped to Reduced Poverty and Climate Change

Gautam Kumar Das

Dire poverty made the people living around the forests take the desperate course of consumption of the forest produce that leads to the process of deforestation consequently. Further, poverty and climate change are positively correlated in the domain of the forests and forestry. Poor people collect forest produce not only for their household uses of cooking and heating, but simultaneously they used to sell the forest produce like fuel wood and poles for house constructions in the nearby markets to earn their bread, and thus, the forest stands have gradually been reducing by area and density. The loss of the green canopy of the forests causes low rate of absorption  of the atmospheric carbon dioxide and the overall situation has a major impact on the surrounding environment due to the effects of the climate change and global warming. Only the plantation of tree lines can be the saviour of such environmental degradation under the social forestry schemes where every households would be the owner of the implanted trees from which they could collect fuel wood, even they sell excess materials of these items if necessary. Government encouraged this social forestry scheme among the poor since 1976. Social forestry thus, help reducing the poverty as well as the loss of forests, and with the implementation of the social forestry even an entire forest has been emerged in the form of sanctuary in the different parts of West Bengal. Bethuadahari sanctuary of the Nadia district of West Bengal is such an example of man-made forest created under the social forestry scheme.

In the man-made sanctuary of Bethuadahari, a person living in a crowed metropolis breathes with fresh air taking a solitary walk along the jungle passage covered with the green canopy as because the solitude is needful to the imagination. A place for such solitude is Bethuadahari sanctuary stood in the district of Nadia under Nadia-Murshidabad Forest Division, though it is not such a forest like conventional natural forest. Outside the gate of that sanctuary, a solitary tea stall having a wooden cot for sitting arrangement for the customers, shady with a black tarpaulin, is available for taking tea, home prepared muri-ghugni, beetle leaf and bidi-cigarettes. A calm and quiet gentleman, while taking tea in that temporary tea stall, introduces himself as an employee of the forest department during our conversation regarding the sanctuary, states that he is on duty for booking the entry pass into the forest. Adjacent to the booking counter, inside the forest area, there are two cottages where people may spend holidays subject to the prior booking from the concerned authorities. The sanctuary is open for visit from 9 am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 4 pm daily round the year. Among the numerous sign boards displayed all over the forest zone, a sign board is erected before a wire-gauze-covered pond displaying - do not tease the gharial (a type of long-faced crocodile), but a boy of a five-member team continues throwing mud balls to the crocodiles, though he is associated with the other elderly family members. Orders displayed in the sign board has not been carried out by the visitors as usual. A few people perhaps contain inner sense of guilt for committing such offence or there might be childish ignorance.

Anyway, the Bethuadahari sanctuary is a typical forest of social forestry origin where plenty of timber trees of different species like Arjun akashmani Jarul Kadam Babul Segun Mehagini Amlaki Hartaki Chhatim Neem Chatka Lambu Punyo Debdaru Tentul Jam Amaltas Champa Kanchan are very much common. Bethuadahari, a wildlife sanctuary, covering an area of 67 hectares, and established in 1980 under social forestry scheme in order to preserve an eco-zone, has a large population of about 297 spotted deer, jackal, Bengal fox, porcupines, common langur, monitor lizards, gharial and rock pythons. Two hours is enough for meandering in and around the sanctuary. A nature interpretation center is also founded in the name of veteran dramatist of the district, Dwijendralal Roy where different ecological aspects about flora and fauna of the wildlife sanctuary are displayed. It is a good effort by the forest department to enrich in situ knowledge-based education for the students and young budding scientists of the state of West Bengal. Likewise, Bethuadahari sanctuary, Anandanagar forest is established at Ranaghat range of Nadia district having dense vegetation of timber trees, plenty of flora and fauna and chirping sounds of birds. A visitor meandering inside the forest reported that there is large number of Bengal foxes in the jungle and they often attack the visitors even in the daytime that means the social forestry-origin tiny man-made forest even acts as corridor of the wildlife. Other notable forests in Nadia district are Simanagar forest (Chapra), Banguria (Bagula), Mahatpur Galay Dari (Karimpur), Kulgachhi, Khisma (Birnagar) and Bahadurpur Reserved forest under Nadia - Murshidabad Forest Division and they are all social forestry origin man-made forests. Natural forest and forestry of the Nadia district, at present, is without form and void, though a few numbers of forests are grown up with the government’s plantation programme of social forestry scheme under the supervision of the forest department.

Bethuadahari, the man-made forest sanctuary under the social forestry scheme, is stood in the Segun Bagicha Road i.e. the road is covered with teak plantation on both side of the road. Roadside plantation is also a type of social forestry which is specifically termed as extension forestry. Teak plantation, maintained by the comparatively rich farmers in their agricultural land, are quite common and visibly scattered in Nadia and Murshidabad districts, and is specifically termed as farm forestry as the forest is grown up in the farming land. Gaining more profits from the farm forestry, thriving class of farmers, in particular, show interests in farm forestry, a kind of typical social forestry, rather than cultivating paddy or other vegetables and greens in the same land suitable for the crop production. A few farmers of the North and South 24 Parganas districts implanted Eucalyptus and Acacia (Sonajhuri/Akashmoni) in their farming lands and gain more profits than that of the traditional farming of crops. Along the roadside, river and canal side, and the railway side plantations are performed by the direct initiatives by the government through the assistance of the Gram Panchayet (Village body), and this type of social forestry is classified as extension forests. The government encouraged the farmers for such type of plantation under social forestry scheme since 1976 through proper donation of seedlings/saplings of the trees free of cost on the days of celebrating forest week with the objective of reducing poverty and mitigation of global warming. Social forestry is introduced in the country by the National Commission of Agriculture in 1976 with the direct initiative by the then Government of India with an aim of democratic approach of afforestation from the households to wastelands for the improvement of rural, social and environmental conditions. Plantation of trees in the unused and denuded or fallow lands not only reduce the pressure on the forests but reduces poverty among the rural people.

Alike forest patches, extension forestry or farm forestry/agroforestry with strip vegetation, grown up under the social forestry scheme of the districts of West Bengal, trees are implanted in the degraded and denuded lands to improve standard of living and quality of life in urban and rural sectors of West Bengal. The poor people, particularly the farmers are now able to grow number of trees of their own under social forestry scheme that helps to raise their day by day financial support through the availability of the fuel wood for cooking and heating, selling of the excess of that fuel wood and marketable stems as poles for the house constructions. Farmers used to implant trees in the border areas surrounding their farming land to provide shade to the crops or to prevent the crops from storms or other natural calamities. This is too a typical social forestry in terms of the agroforestry. Tree lines grown up due to farm forestry, community forestry, extension forestry, agroforestry, urban forestry, or several other forms of the social forestry, locks carbon from the atmospheric carbon dioxide and that exchangeable carbon sink stores carbon in the carbon pool as green carbon down to the earth up to 1m depth from the surface, and thus reduce the greenhouse gases leaving a suitable resilient environment for the human habitation in both rural and urban areas.

Nov 7, 2020

 Gautam Kumar Das

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