Kiran Sankar Sarker and Frank van Steenbergen
All over the world there are millions of kilometers of roadsides. They are important commons but as commons go, they are often unmanaged. Not so in Noakali Division in coastal Bangladesh. Much of the land in this area is hard fought over – conquered from char mudflats in the mighty Meghna Delta, by first planting mangroves on the emerging shifting land and then placing embankments with drainage control structures around them. With the pioneer population – who often had lost land to the moving river elsewhere – the area was wrestled from local land grabbers and developed over the years. Rural roads are an important part of it.
To make use of the road embankments and protect the roads from encroachment, social forestry groups are given the custody of designated sections of the road embankments. The Forestry Department with these SFGs clear the road embankments and plant a mixture of trees. The SFGs take care of the road sections under a tripartite agreement they sign with the Forest Department, the Local Government Engineering Department that owns the road side land and the local government, the so-called Union Parishad. Under this agreement the SFGs have the usufruct of the roadside forestry i.e., the tree twigs and branches, obtained from pruning, thinning, and other maintenance of the plantations. Besides the SFGs are allowed some cropping of for instance papaya, ladyfingers or pigeon peas. At the harvest – typically after 15-20 years – the trees are cut and the proceeding are divided. Here is the formula:
– Forest Department 10%
– Local Government Engineering Department 20%
– Social Forestry Group 55%
– Union Parishad 5%
– Tree Farming Fund 10% (for new planting).
After the trees are harvested at the instigation of the Forest Department, a new cycle starts. In the meantime the Social Forestry Groups protect the road sides against encroachment by shops and houses, as common on most other roads. As a result, the concerned roads is tranquil, almost serene.