Participatory forest governance for sustainable forest management: opportunities and challenges in Bangladesh
Forests provide a wide range of wood and non-wood products and ecological services and play an important role in the conservation of biodiversity and mitigation of climate change. Current literature and scholarship have recognised that participatory forest governance is essential for sustainable forest management (SFM). This thesis examines and evaluates both the effectiveness of the regulatory and policy framework in relation to current practice, and the implementation challenges for participatory forest governance in Bangladesh. It is increasingly recognised that state-owned management of forests and poor governance in the forest sector can lead to corruption, illegal occupation of forest land and deforestation. The importance of public participation in forest governance is now globally recognised as a means of ensuring a transparent and effective decision-making process, which is essential for achieving SFM. This thesis critically analyses the current practices and approaches of public participation in forest governance and suggests legal and policy reform for achieving participatory forest governance for SFM in Bangladesh. It is demonstrated that despite having a number of policies and laws to protect forest resources, Bangladesh continues to lose its forest resources due to poor implementation of the forest laws, its bureaucratic-custodian approach to forest management, the inadequate involvement of forest-dependent communities in forest management, weakened forest governance and non-recognition of traditional rights. Further, the main government agency responsible for implementing forest laws in Bangladesh, the Forest Department, is constrained in this role by the slow pace of institutional reform and bureaucratic reorientation, a shortage of technical and skilled staff, poor enforcement of policies and programs, and weak monitoring. The centralised management of the forest in Bangladesh has brought many problems including forest degradation and deprivation of forest communities from benefits of forest resources. Recognising the interaction and interdependence among local people and forests as well as the failure of the traditional state-managed top-down approach, which has resulted in massive degradation of natural resources and local livelihood systems, this thesis argues that participatory forest management should be promoted in Bangladesh through community-based forest management and the reform of the legal and institutional framework on forest management. Implementation of participatory and inclusive forest governance is one of the main challenges in ensuring SFM in Bangladesh. This thesis finds that the effective functioning of the institutional framework of co-management and social forestry depends on the clear allocation of the rights and responsibilities of local government and local communities relating to their participation in protected areas management, their collaboration and the capacity building of key stakeholders, all of which are currently lacking in Bangladesh.