Recent trends in forest and livelihood relationships of rural communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, Bangladesh

  • Ronju Ahammad

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Forest and trees provide a range of benefits (i.e. ecosystem services) which are particularly important in supporting livelihoods of rural communities in tropical developing countries. However sustaining forest benefits and their future provision remains challenging due to various factors including forest loss driven by agriculture conversion, ineffective national policies for forest management and competing land uses. There is a need to understand forest cover changes and land use impacts on livelihoods and identify ways their benefits can be sustained.

    This thesis investigates the relationships between forests and livelihoods by examining the forest benefits used and perceived by rural communities, and how changing forest and land uses impact the benefits in different landscape contexts (i.e. remote, intermediate and on-road zones) of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region (CHT) region in Bangladesh. The research addressed 4 key objectives: (1) to examine the relative importance of forest ecosystem services in rural households; (2) to examine the trends and impacts of recent forest cover change on ecosystem services that support rural livelihoods; (3) to analyse the current land use patterns of households and association between forest and tree covers with livelihood outcomes (i.e. food production, income) along three zones and (4) to review forest related policies in Bangladesh to examine how the ecosystem services are represented in supporting rural livelihoods with particular reference to the CHT region. The research applied a mixed method approach using household and farm surveys, analysis of forest-cover change using remote sensing images, focus group discussions using participatory rural appraisal tools, and key informant interviews. A wealth classification of rural households (i.e. low, middle and high) was applied to differentiate the use and perceived forest ecosystem services. To understand forest cover change both satellite imagery analysis and community perceptions were considered. Land use surveys were conducted including tree areas at households and the relative livelihood outcomes of forests and trees to other land uses across 3 zones.

    This research found that more households used forest provisioning ecosystem services for subsistence purposes than for cash income. Subsistence uses were higher within the low-wealth households. Although satellite image analysis showed a net gain of forest areas during 1989-2003, most household respondents observed a decline in provisioning ecosystem services (i.e. fuel wood, construction materials, wild foods, and fresh water) due to forest cover loss over the last 30 years. Although there was a small gain of forest (mainly planted forest), the respondents perceived an overall loss of forest due to a decline of natural forests. The land use surveys revealed a transition of land uses from swidden farming to planted tree areas including fruit orchards and cash crop agriculture in the regions’ households. In particular households used large areas of land for plantation trees to enhance annual income from timber in the on-road and intermediate zone. In contrast, households used more diverse land uses including crop lands, fallow lands and natural forests for food sources and cash income in the remote zone, but owned smaller areas of tree covered lands than in the other zones. Finally, the study found that forest related policies in Bangladesh do not explicitly recognise ecosystem service-based forest and tree management to maintain multiple benefits in supporting rural livelihoods.

    This research recommends ecosystem service-based forest and tree management policy approaches may assist in maintaining a range of forest and tree benefits which have both local and global importance. Efforts to increase tree-based land uses and their benefits in rural livelihoods of Bangladesh and tropical developing countries requires landscape level interventions.
    Date of AwardMar 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorNatasha Stacey (Supervisor) & Terry C.H. Sunderland (Supervisor)

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