Forestry is of critical importance, for it has an embryonic relationship with the environment and ecology; and 20 per cent or above area of the land mass of a country needs to be covered by forests for minimum environmental requirement. But more than that makes it sounder. And ecology, along with wildlife and bio-diversity, requires forestry most for its soundness and balance. What is the situation in this respect in Bangladesh? The situation, though not precarious, is not sound either. In the early 1970s, when Bangladesh came into being, the area covered by forests was about 16 per cent of the country's total area, which was primarily caused on two accounts --- apathy of the Pakistani colonial regime in the province and lack of consciousness of the people regarding the need of forestry and its essentiality in environmental and ecological soundness. Our common folks who were lacking in education were of the view that trees and shrubs were junks and they should be uprooted as far as possible. The deltaic eastern Bengal that now constitutes Bangladesh was even up to the first quarter of the 20th century largely covered by forests and marshes. The simple people here, while clearing land for homestead and cultivation, uprooted the forests and later a quick growth in population accentuated the process.
The social forestry program ushered in a new era in Bangladesh’s forestry, a process which was set in motion in 1982 with finance from the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Program. One of the purposes of the social forestry project was to create community awareness and buttress it with permanent institutional capacity. What we now see is that some degree of community awareness has been created but the institutional aspect in whose stewardship the Ministry of Environment and Forest remains to be desired. Sadly, though, the white collar forest officers hardly go to the poor bare-foot social foresters to inform, educate and motivate them. On the contrary, they allegedly make deals with timber merchants to cut down trees, an act which has been forbidden by law for a number of good reasons.
It is our expectation that the government will continue to play its positive role in promoting forestry and will strengthen the institutional capacity necessary to achieve the desired goal. It must be vigilant about preventing forestry department personnel from passively facilitating a pilferage of forest resources. A failure to do so will lead to a state of devastation in nature.