Abdul Kadir leads local efforts to replant trees to regain livelihoods in Bangladesh

In Gabura Union, Bangladesh, we meet Abdul Kadir, a tree enthusiast who plants trees to create new livelihood opportunities and enhance natural ecosystems in his community. This is the fifth of the ‘Voices from the Frontline (Phase-II)’ stories by ICCCAD and GRP.

Gabura Union is located in the Southwest coastal region of Bangladesh. It is one of the world’s most affected regions by climate-related disasters. The local population of approximately 31,000 people is especially affected by cyclones, flooding, riverbank erosion, salinity intrusion, and drought.

The last severe cyclones impacting the region were Sidr in 2007, Aila in 2009, and Amphan in 2019. Gabura Union is entirely surrounded by rivers. A substantial part of the Union was waterlogged for up to two years after Cyclone Aila. This caused widespread vegetation loss and forced the local population to seek shelter on the embankment roads and cyclone shelters, or temporarily migrate.

In addition, the soil and water salinity in Gabura Union has risen drastically due to frequent flooding, increased shrimp and crab farms, and the construction of the Farakka Barrage in India. Trees struggle to grow in the area due to high water salinity levels. This, combined with increasing drought, has created adverse growing and living conditions for trees. These conditions will likely deteriorate further as climate change intensifies the frequency and severity of climate-related hazards.

Replanting trees with Abdul Kadir

Abdul Kadir is a 71-year-old tree enthusiast. He was born in Gabura Union and has been fond of trees his whole life. He started planting trees when he was twelve years old, and they eventually became part of his profession. He made boats out of the wood for local fishermen and sold the fruits of his vast amount of coconut, mango, and banana trees to people in the Union.

Abdul Kadir
PC: Rawnak Jahan Khan Ranon

Kadir says that cyclone Aila severely impacted the abundance of trees in Gabura Union, stating that most of his trees were destroyed due to Aila and the flooding. After the cyclone he started a tree nursery, growing mangrove, forest and fruit trees. Kadir started replanting as many trees as possible to bring back the tree cover in his village. He gave away tree seedlings to people within and beyond his village and encouraged others to grow trees. “I donated between 500 and 1000 seedlings to other people since cyclone Aila,” says Kadir. He also planted many trees at the local mosque and school.

Trees provide ecosystem services to the people of Gabura Union. Mangrove trees protect the embankment road from storms. People use the wood from Possur trees to fortify their houses, as the strong wood can protect them from strong winds and floods. Palm trees can protect the local population from thunderstorms as lightning usually hits the tallest objects first. Fruit trees, such as mango, guava apple, jackfruit, and coconut trees provide food for the community. The wood from trees is also used as fuel.

Inspired by Kadir, people in Gabura Union began planting trees around their homes to protect them from the wind and provide shade. The local population has recognised the important ecosystem services that the trees provide. As a result, they are planting more trees and cutting fewer down.

Palm trees planted by Kadir’s brother; PC: Douwe van Schie

Complicated growing conditions

Kadir mentions that growing trees in Gabura Union is becoming increasingly complicated. The soil salinity makes it complicated to plant and grow trees. Trees become unhealthy when their roots reach the deeper, more saline, ground. Mangrove forests are deteriorating from increased water salinity. Fruit trees are providing less and less fruit. Seedlings are drying out from the heat and lack of fresh groundwater. Kadir also attempted to grow vegetables on top of his house, however, everything completely dried up.

Even though planting and growing trees is becoming more complicated, Kadir persists and is learning to adapt to these environmental changes. He listens to the regional radio show called Ghore Boshe Shikhi which means Learn from Home. The show gives tips on how to, for example, prepare nursery beds for certain species, how to use bio-fertilizer to enhance yields, flowering, and fruiting as well as different techniques to plant trees in adverse environmental circumstances.

Trees planted by Abdul Kadir; PC: Douwe van Schie

Kadir’s recommendations to support livelihoods and enhance ecosystems

“I believe that large-scale tree nurseries can be an ecologically and economically lucrative intervention that can help the people of Gabura Union, but we cannot do this without assistance from various institutions,” says Kadir. He has suggested three recommendations.

His first recommendation is to establish a strong embankment by the riverside. Kadir and others in the village have lost many trees and seedlings due to floods.  The embankment can protect the flora and fauna of the Gabura Union and bring it back to its usual, green state. “Government support is needed to create a strong embankment,” says Kadir.

He also suggests that NGOs can help by providing the community with seedlings to run nurseries. Right now, the people from Gabura Union have to buy costly seedlings from across the river.

Lastly, Kadir proposes that the forest department could assist by providing fair land lease opportunities. If these three recommendations are taken up, Kadir believes that tree nurseries can create new livelihood opportunities and enhance the natural ecosystems of Gabura Union.

Nets protecting wild growing trees; PC: Douwe van Schie

About the interviewee

Abdul Kadir is 71 years old. He has lived in Gabura Union his whole life. He witnessed various drastic developments in this area, such as devastating cyclones, a rapid increase in shrimp cultivation, and the increasing frequency of droughts. His early love for trees resulted in him starting a tree nursery; a passion he spreads among his family, neighbors, and community members.

About the interviewers

Rawnak Jahan Khan Ranon graduated from Khulna University with an M.Sc. in Forestry. For his thesis, he focused on community-based forest governance. He frequently accompanies researchers during their fieldtrips in coastal Bangladesh, serving as a research assistant and interpreter.

Douwe van Schie is a visiting researcher at ICCCAD. He focuses on non-economic losses and damages from climate change. His latest research is called Local Responses to Non-Economic Losses and Damages and published with the IIED. It was conducted in Gabura and Burigoalini Union with support from Ranon.

Interviewers’ perspective

The local population of Gabura Union is putting considerable effort into restoring the region’s natural environment, but not everyone has enough resources to sufficiently rebuild their livelihoods. Kadir has understood the importance of planting and nurturing trees. However, many in Gabura Union are more concerned with the perpetual impacts of climate-related disasters that threaten their basic welfare. For example, when food availability is threatened, people often do not have the capacity or resources to learn about growing fruit trees in a saline environment or the money to spend on fertilizers. Thus, the observed tree replanting efforts in Gabura Union should be acknowledged, applauded, and celebrated, but this must not distract from the urgent need to support the local population, so they have more resources to spend on adapting to future climate-related disasters.

Moreover, climate change is not the only cause of tree loss in the Gabura Union. Many anthropogenic drivers have destabilized natural processes in Gabura Union. One of these is the rise of shrimp and crab farms. The creation of shrimp farms is sometimes seen as an adaptation to soil salinity as it offers an alternative when the salinity is too high for paddy cultivation. However, soil salinity is creating widespread problems for the people in Gabura Union. Therefore, interventions to increase their well-being should involve a systematic approach to downscale shrimp farms in the region.

Never-ending shrimp farms in Gabura Union, PC: Douwe van Schie