Research project title
Recent trends in forest and livelihood relationships of rural communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, Bangladesh
This PhD thesis investigates the relationships between forests and livelihoods by examining the forest benefits (i.e. ecosystem services) 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. First, this research found that more people used forest provisioning ecosystem services for subsistence purposes than for cash income, with a higher use within the low-wealth households. Second, the satellite image analysis showed a net gain in forest areas with increased planted forests from 1989-2003. However, the respondents perceived an overall loss of natural forests and provisioning ecosystem services (i.e. fuel wood, construction materials, wild foods, and freshwater). Third, the land use surveys revealed that land-use transitions from swidden farming to planted tree areas enhanced annual household income from timber in the on-road and intermediate zone. In contrast, households used more diverse land uses, including croplands, fallow lands and natural forests for food sources and cash income in the remote location, 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, including supporting rural livelihoods.
Ecosystem services, Forest policy, Sustainable agriculture, Social-ecological system