Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Tuesday 24 September 2013

Changing habits

The Chunoti Co-Management Committee was a 2012 Equator Prize Winner from Bangladesh. The project is described in United Nations Development Programme. 2013. Chunoti Co-Management Committee, Bangladesh. EquatorInitiative Case Study Series. New York, NYHere we try to retell the story from the perspective of the Committee sharing their learning over the years with staffs and decision makers of the forest department.

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: Forest department officials
Key point: Effective co-management means that communities should be in the lead
Conflict: Habits of forest department and habits of communities 
Hero: Anwar Kamal
Adversary: Forest department and villagers

I am Anwar Kamal. I feel proud to be the Vice President of the Chunoti Co-Management Committee from Bangladesh. I have loved the Chunoti forest all my life. This wonderful forest lies South of Chittagong city. It used to be green all year round with tropical trees and areas of sungrass, which were used for many purposes. The forest is the home of many animals, birds, and rare plants. Even elephants pass through the forest on their way to Myanmar and back. The small farming communities in the area used to slash and burn small parts of the forest for their livelihoods.

When my parents were young the Chunoti forest was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary. But they also witnessed the start of more and more logging to meet the demand form the brick and timber factories in Chittagong. Slowly the forest began to make place for waste land and plantations. To make the Wildlife Sanctuary work the forest department engaged in dialogues with the local communities to promote co-management of the area. The result was the Chunoti Co-Management Committee. I was part of the Committee right from the start. However we soon found out that for poor protected area-dependent communities to stop destroying natural resources for their livelihoods, they must have the chance to ensure basic alternative livelihoods.

Changing behaviour and challenging age-old livelihood practices is no easy task. Motivation and awareness can help enlighten communities but nothing should be imposed on them. Communities should lead the planning and work, with only facilitation from external groups. This was difficult from the perspective of the forest law and the way the forest department always had functioned. But co-management only started functioning when the communities could take the lead. When I finally reached that point with the forest department, women started to lead patrols trough the protected area to prevent illegal logging and poaching. We introduced bamboo craft making, fish farming, basket weaving and we in the Committee helped to ensure fair prices and market demand. 

Now the communities are working on eco-tourism. The Committee decided that part of the revenues is for the community, part is to be invested in reforestation. The Committee also influences legislation and governance practices. In my experience working in protected area co-management, three major threats are: a lack of any sense of ownership among communities in and around protected areas; the dependence of ultra-poor people on these areas for their basic livelihoods; and corruption in the authorities responsible for protected area management.

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