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With the financial assistance of SDC, Community Based Sustainable Management of Tanguar Haor Project, Phase III organized a five days cross visit for the community leaders and project staffs to Hakaluki Haor,Sylhet and Madhupur Forest,Tangail from 27 March to 31 March 2016. The objectives of the tour were to experience wetland and forest management as well as to exchange learning with the community organization there in a number of issues, particularly functioning of co-management committees, alternative livelihood activities, management of financial capital, legislative and regulatory support for conservation, and involving local stakeholders in the conservation of natural resources.
Considering scope of the project, a total of 51 participants including 39 community leaders were selected for the cross visit. Some staffs of CBSMTHP, IUCN along with representatives from the partner organizations (CNRS & ERA) accompanied and facilitated the tour. The number of female leaders was 12 during this visit. The journey started from CBSMTHP office, Sunamganj on March 27. The participants were divided into few groups for making the travel organized and comfortable.
Meeting with Community Organization at Judistpur, Hakaluki Haor
The first day of the visit spent with the local community at the Village Conservation Center (VCC) situated on Judistpur Union, Gilachara under Fenchuganj Upazila,Sylhet. The VCC is managed by Judispur-Dewli ECA Multipurpose Cooperative Ltd. under the ‘Community Based Adaptation in the Ecologically Critical Areas through Biodiversity Conservation and Social Protection Project (CBA-ECA Project), and the project is being implemented by the Department of Environment (DoE) with technical support from Center for Natural Resource Studies (CNRS) and financial support from UNDP and Netherlands Embassy through the ‘Bangladesh Climate Change Trust’. The community leaders of Tanguar Haor were extensively engaged into discussion with the 35-members VCC committee represented by the president and General Secretary.
The meeting was facilitated by CNRS supervisor who started with a brief status of Hakaluki Haor which covers 5 upazilas, 11 unions involving 28 VCCs at 68 villages. The VCC members shared the committee structure at three tiers; Union ECA Committee, Upazila ECA Committee and District ECA Committee. As per their saying, all these committees are approved by the Government, though the VCC is yet to be endorsed. The TH community took it surprise to know that about 238 out of 276 beels of Hakaluki Haor are still managed through leasing system. But it was good to learn that 12 beels have been declared as permanent sanctuaries for absolute conservation. Besides, the VCC members vividly revealed the committee’s financial management mechanism as well as earning process including Government grant and other incentives, loan savings, subscription, share distribution, etc. The committee also exposed its future plan of activities for ensuring sustainable management of wetland resources.
Meeting with Community Forest Workers (CFW) & CMC at Madhupur,Tangail and Sight Seeing
The visiting team met DFO and CFW at the premise of Rasulpur Forest Range Office in Madhupur,Tangail. The DFO firstly, briefed the team about the past and present status of Madhupur forest. The Bit Officer was also present at the meeting and coordinated the meeting to exchange views between the visiting team and participated members of CFW. Particularly, the community leaders of Tanguar Haor were very much interested to learn from the experience of CFW who once was involved with illegal harvesting of forest resources and then brought under a good initiative of the Government for protecting resources through rehabilitation process with regular financial incentives. CFW members shared their stories of transformation from ‘Devil to Divine’ characters and, also stated the present role in guarding the forest resources. In addition, community leaders of Tanguar Haor were benefitted to know some alternative activities of CFW for making their livelihoods.
Following meeting with CFW, the visiting team went out for travelling across the forest which covers almost 45,000 hectares of area with 4,000 area of core zone. All were excited to witness some unique species of Madhupur. Especially, the deer breeding center brought a different experience for many of the groups. The travel ended at Dokhla where members of CMC (formed by the initiative of IPAC project, and currently facilitated by CREL) sat at own their office to meet the team. There was an intensive exchange of views between CMC and TH community on many important issues ranging from resources management to financial capital. Moreover, the CMC leaders expressed their future plan to operate organization through revenue funds generated from tourism to picnic spots which would also contribute to revenue of Forest Department
Visit Learning and observations
• The management of Hakaluki is based on a well structure alike Tanguar Haor though without any central committee at the community level.
• As the Government of Bangladesh has put a distinctive effort for conservation of the wetland resources (i.e. grants fund of around 9 lac taka for sanctuaries), there is always a direct intervention with continuous monitoring.
• The VCC succeeded to motivate members towards resource conservation with the spirit of voluntarism.
• Loan recovery is processed through a single installment and there is a committee for monitoring this system.
• The VCC has still scope to be more inclusive in terms of expanding its space for new members.
• The Government has set a great example by involving past illegal harvesters for protecting the existing forest resources.
• There is latent division of opinions between CFW and CMC, though the groups are currently working together.
• CMC, significantly occupied by tribals consider CFW as blessed by the Government support.
• There is no such legal footings for CMC, except the gazette notification.
The exposure/cross visit to Hakaluki Haor & Madhupur Forest brought an exciting experience for all the participants. They were much benefitted by the visit and earned a great lesson indeed. Particularly the opportunity to observe and experience CBO activities was truly a great learning for the community leaders of Tanguar Hoar. It is expected that the knowledge and learning gained from the trip would be best utilized by the community people in strengthening the co-management system in Tanguar Haor.