How to Revive a Village Common Forest: With Passion, Commitment and Community
Rena Chakma is the third generation in her family to be working with the Begenachari Village Common Forest (VCF) in Barkal Upazila, Rangamati District. Rena has been a member of her community’s VCF committee since 2006, established over 50 years ago by her grandparents together with other villagers. “I felt interested to support conservation activities since these forests are our lifeline for water and forest products.”
VCFs, also known as Mouza Forests, are community managed forests traditionally held and treated as forest commons. They serve as important ecosystems, rich in both floral and faunal biodiversity, and are a significant provider of forest products. There are presently more than 300 VCFs in CHT, spanning approximately 1000 hectares and covering 700 communities.
Rena comes from a community that is dependent on their VCF for survival. Livelihoods in her village are primarily based on jhum cultivation, the traditional system of shifting cultivation in CHT, with water from the Begenachari VCF the only source for irrigation and household use. Items foraged from the forest also support day to day needs. Her family, like many others in the area, have an affectionate memory of the VCF as once luscious and green, covering over 120 acres. But with the region’s population growth and limited employment opportunities, increased burdens have been placed on Hill Tract’s natural assets. “In 1960, it was only 17 forest dependent families here. Now we are 82. Pressure on our VCF has increased and we are seeing a decline in the resources available.”
Rena, a Community Facilitator with the Chakma Circle, was one of 27 participants who attended the ‘Community Mobilization and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)’ training organized by the traditional institution and supported by the Facility in February. The workshop was one of the first steps in the community mobilization process for better management of VCFs and included sessions on resource mapping – an important tool to support villagers in visualizing the location of natural assets and establishing guidelines for sustainable use.
The intervention focuses on creating and sustaining well-functioning and collaborative management of small streams, watersheds and community managed forests. This intervention is being undertaken in partnership with traditional institutions and with the participation of resource dependent communities to sustain local natural resources, restore biodiversity and improve the livelihoods for the poor. Interventions are presently being rolled out across 55 VCFs in the region.
It has been Rena’s dream to work on a forest regeneration project for years, especially given her family’s strong legacy in environmental conservation. Now with her newly gained knowledge in hand, Rena feels equipped to begin working for the future of her community and VCF.
“With the new responsibility since joining the Chakma Circle, I was not confident enough about my abilities to mobilize communities and conduct situational assessments of VCF. This training has boosted my confidence. I have learnt communication skills and techniques to assess community needs and plan efforts to resolve issues related to natural resource management”.