Nearly half a million trees planted in two months: FAO restores degraded forests and watersheds in Cox’s Bazar

FAO has just completed an intensive two-month watershed area reforestation programme in which nearly half a million tree seedlings were planted near Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, through the SAFE Plus project and in collaboration with the Cox’s Bazar South Forest Division. SAFE Plus (Safe Approaches to Fuel and Energy Plus Landscape Restoration and Livelihoods) is a collaborative project between FAO, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Programme.

Local people from some of the districts’ poorest communities were employed as seasonal workers. They planted 475 000 tree seedlings and cleared unwanted vegetation and undergrowth across 571 hectares in October and November. This was in addition to 25 000 tree seedlings that were planted near camps and another half million planted inside the camps – bringing the overall total to one million trees planted. The seedlings replaced trees that had been lost due to the development of settlements and demand for firewood.

Local nurseries – 16 of which were established through the project – grew the tree seedlings, further benefiting the local economy and delivering a sustainable source of trees. FAO supported a total of 45 nurseries, providing training and other support. The tree planting programme outside of the camps was carried out through the Watershed and Forest Rehabilitation project, which is jointly funded by the governments of Japan, the Netherlands and Canada, as well as IOM.

The project targets vulnerable watershed areas, which are upland forest areas that capture rainwater, feeding rivers and streams. Forests and trees play crucial roles: they regulate water flow, maintain water quality, prevent landslides, provide materials for local livelihoods, conserve biodiversity and protect against natural hazards (e.g. local floods and landslides).

The recent planting was done in collaboration with 19 local Forest Department offices. Most of the planted area (360 hectares) is located within just 1 to 3 kilometres of the camps and is classified as buffer zone, i.e. forested area surrounding the protected core zone of a forest. The remainder (190 hectares) was located between 3 and 5 kilometres of the camps. In the core zone, an assisted natural regeneration approach was used, a process whereby natural growth is supported by the removal of undesired species followed by the plantation of indigenous species as needed.

Working with Government and other partners, an additional 10 hectares was planted around Government institutions (schools, clinics, Government offices), and a further 11 hectares was planted along the banks of the Reju Khal canal and on specific patches of land outside of recorded forest areas, providing protection to one of the area’s main water sources for local communities.

Approximately 8 000 acres of forestland were cleared to set up camps and cook food following the influx of refugees from Myanmar, resulting in widespread loss of wildlife habitats, biodiversity and forest resources in the region. Water resources in particular, including irrigation and groundwater reserves, have degraded significantly. In response, FAO’s Emergency Response Team in Cox’s Bazar is working with the Government and partners to realize FAO’s SAFE Vision to satisfy fuel and energy needs for cooking, heating and lighting in a safe and sustainable manner without fear or risk to health, well-being and personal security of the crisis-affected population.

Source : Fao