Two print media news items about the country's forest resources must have attracted the readers' attention. One shows the pace of the disappearance of coastal trees on the Kuakata beach; the other comes up with a project of reforestation adopting a style novel to Bangladesh. Shifting from the age-old method of planting saplings, the new technique turns to a dropping of seeds from the sky. Sounds surreal or as something taken from the Marquez-style magic realism? In fact, it's the product of simple human imagination which is capable of wonderfully mixing fancy with mundane reality. The dropping of seeds from helicopters is an ingenious venture devised by the Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) and being made to materialise in cooperation with the forest department. The 'seed ball' programme began last week after the preparatory process had started rolling on September 3.
The idea simply consists of containers filled with seeds of forestation trees of various genera. The containers have been termed 'seed balls'. On completion of all preparations, the BAF helicopters started throwing 'seed balls' on areas, which lie chiefly along the coasts. Vast tracts of these coasts have been shorn of trees uprooted by various cyclones and repeated tidal surges. Once filled with dense forests of coconut and tamarisk trees, the Kuakata coast-cum-beach, though not included in the 'seed ball' project, now gives a wretched look without its native trees.
In its maiden programme of reforestation, the BAF has chosen some remote coastal areas and the Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT). Undoubtedly, the programme is a massive one. Besides, it's a combination of an innovative idea and the strong urge to turn the country's barren areas into green belts. Apart from the CHT, now being thinned out by illegal loggers and brick field owners, the BAF project has especially focused on the remote and largely inaccessible islets in the Noakhali district. It's natural that the expectation of people, living in the coastal areas, from the BAF-forest dept 'seed ball' venture is quite high. People of the area have been vulnerable to cyclones, tidal surges etc for ages. Dense forests have virtually worked as a bulwark against cyclones and storms. With most of the trees destroyed or washed away, the coastal areas have now become exposed to all kinds of sea-borne disasters.
According to international requirements, a country should have at least 25 per cent tree coverage. Over the decades, the forest radius of Bangladesh has only continued to decline. With patches of all kinds of forests dotting the country, Bangladesh could once boast its dense woodlands. This green phase has long vanished. In the meantime, ritualistic reforestation and afforestation programmes coupled with tree plantation campaigns continue to be held every year. Experts call these exercises mere inanities. They stress surveillance follow-ups on the tree plantation programmes along with awareness building among the local people. Trees grown from seeds dropped by BAF necessitate similar steps of inspection and tending. The 'seed ball' programme of bringing the country's green past back has to be a success.