World Rainforest Movement

Bangladesh: The Modhupur forest converted into banana, papaya and pineapple plantations

I was part of a filming crew of seven members who were on June 4 in the Modhupur forest in order to make a documentary film on the forest destruction with special attention to the effects of plantations —mostly commercial and industrial— on public forestland. The Modhupur forest is now thoroughly plundered.

We were in our third and final round of filming in Modhupur, and we focused our last shots on a suddenly discovered spot where green vegetation was being thoroughly cut. The spot is very near to Lohoria Beat between Rasulpur and Dokhola Ranges.

We stopped at a location which has a concrete wall meaninglessly cutting through the remnants of sal (Shorea robusta) forest. The wall formed part of the Forest Department plan to erect 60,000 feet concrete walls to protect some 3,000 acres of forest within the about 21,000 acre Modhupur National Park.

As our crew concentrated filming the wall and the remnants of the forests still with myriad medicinal plants, I followed a narrow path in the north from the brick street that cuts through the forest from Rasulpur Range to Dokhola Range. A huge area (maybe more than a hundred acres) has just been cut. Actually, at every corner of the area we saw people cutting the green vegetation.

We took many shots of the destruction. Thousands of stumps were shooting up. They are yet to be dug out. At one corner a fire had been set. That fire (with petrol as some said) was applied to quickly annihilate the forest was evident from the many charred stumps. In the horizon beyond fresh cut spots we could see columns of banana plantation.

We called two young men who were standing at calling distance. They slowly came to us. One had a dao (long knife similar to a machete) in his hand, which he was hiding. Upon confirmation we were unarmed, he brought the dao in the open. The two young men told us they were just laborers paid to cut the jungle. Like hundreds of other places this big area will be brought under banana plantation soon.

In clearing the jungle some Garos (tribal peoples) and Bangalee laborers are seen in the front line. Behind them there are some foremen who, soon after clearing the jungle convert the forestland to banana and papaya plantations. Sometimes a few trees are planted in banana, papaya and pineapple plantations to depict them as “social forestry”.

This is unbelievable! I have been regularly visiting the Modhupur forest for the last one and half decades. But the destruction that I have seen in the last two/three years has no match. This phenomenal destruction is caused by illegal encroachment for banana, papaya and pineapple plantation purposes, which bring benefits to the rich and influential people in the locality.

During filming we visited numerous spots in Amlitola, Tiler Tal, Gachhabari, Kamarchala, Sadhupara, Joynagachha, Beduria, Gaira, etc. Everywhere local people have shown us big banana, papaya and pineapple plots that are owned by the local Union Council Chairmen, members, politically influential people and a few Garos. All these plantations are illegal in the public forestland.

In remote (no more in the real term) Garo villages we have found that many Garos have given their land particularly to the banana cultivators for a seasonal rent, which they call Medi. Banana plantation is capital intensive. This gives the outsiders, who come with cash, a comfort. They are guests in the remote villages where they can easily exploit the hospitality of the Garos and return with high margins of profit in a short period of time.

What struck us since we had started filming last year was that patches after patches of sal coppices have been cleared and converted to banana, papaya and pineapple plantation. On June 4 we filmed a big (about 15 acre) banana field in Tiler Tal in the north edge of the Modhupur forest that was covered with sal coppices until a few months back. This plot is reportedly possessed by a local elected Union Parishad chairman. We also found half dozen laborers clearing the last bits of small coppices and bushes with spade in another spot close to this banana field. The hearsay is “This is social forestry and protection of sal coppices”. This has happened everywhere throughout the approximately 62,000- acre Modhupur sal forest (falling in Tangail and Mymensingh districts). Unless something changes, the demise of the once unique Modhupur sal forest is imminent.

Excerpted from “Modhupur Forest. Demise Is Imminent”, June 2004, Philip Gain, Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), E-mail: sehd@citechco.net , http://www.sehd.org, sent by the author

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