Resuscitating the Sundarbans: Customary Use of Biodiversity & Traditional Cultural Practices in Bangladesh



  • 1) Unnayan Onneshan 2) Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) 3) Forest People Programme (FPP) 4) Nijera kori


  • 30/10/2015

  • REGION :

  • Southern Asia


  • Bangladesh (Khulna Division)


  • Dewan Muhammad Humayun Kabir and Jakir Hossain

  • LINK:

  • "Resuscitating the Sundarbans" full publication

This Study is a collaborative action research activity participated in by community members. It explores the nature of the Sundarban Reserve Forest, and the strategies for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use as well as the qualitative perspective of a number of communities – mouals, bawalies, golpata collectors, fishers and Munda living in the Sundarbans Impact Zone with the aim of highlighting the traditional resource users’ knowledge and practices about sustainable use and helping the Bangladesh government to implement Article 10(c) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The Sundarbans is the largest single block of mangrove ecosystem existing in the world today and UNESCO’s 798th World Heritage Site. It provides a resilient buffer for the lives and assets of the 3.5 million people who live in the immediate vicinity. During the British regime, in 1878, the Sundarbans was declares a Reserve Forest: it was placed under full state control and the forest peoples were ousted. Nearly one and a half centuries have passed since the declaration of the Reserve Forest, and in that time the approach of exclusive state protection has been unable to achieve the desired outcome either in respect of biodiversity conservation or in respect of people’s livelihood security. Rather this approach has increased the vulnerability of the Sundarbans and its traditional resource users.

The loss of biodiversity, of the ‘natural capital’ of the Sundarbans is a major problem facing Bangladesh as well as humankind. To prevent biodiversity loss, initiatives are needed at all levels to conserve biological resources and ensure their sustainable use. But the solutions used over the past 3 decades have been based on modern science and technology and have ignored traditional knowledge (TK) and peoples’ rights and roles. The ultimate result is wastage of resources and increased vulnerability of communities.

One of the major global initiatives towards biodiversity conservation is the adaption of the CBD by most countries including Bangladesh. Article 10 (c) of the CBD encourages states, ‘as far as possible and appropriate: to protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements’. As Bangladesh is a signatory to the Convention and has ratified it, the government has obligations to abide by the convention.

One of the key targets of this study was to trace the missing link between biodiversity conservation strategies and forest peoples’ livelihood security, and the study finds that there is a good potential to protect and encourage customary sustainable use if enabling policies and programmes are set in place. The communities sensibly believe that the forest provides for their livelihood and that it must be protected from all sorts of misuse and abuse for the sake of present and future generations. They highlight that one of the main obstacles is that they have been marginalized in decision-making as the Forest Department (FD) has sole responsibility for conserving the forest and ensuring its sustainable utilization. Sometimes overharvesting by communities does take place but that is out of the need to obtain sufficient produce to cover the payment of bribes and ransoms to FD officials, dacoits and the police. This study strongly argues that the interest nexus of the FD, politicians, traders, moneylenders and dacoits is to be held responsible for mismanagement and over-exploitation. The local communities believe that it will only be possible to bring positive changes in the Sundarbans and the livelihoods it provides if it is freed from the grip of corruption, crime and vested interests They propose that the most urgent requirement is for a change in the government’s approach towards conservation and resource utilization.

To deal with the challenges, the local communities recommend community-based management of the areas in the Sundarbans that have traditionally been used by traditional resource users and collaborative decision-making and management for the whole Sundarbans. To deal with the issues of dacoits and piracy, they also propose the introduction of a special law-enforcing force.. Recognition of the right of indigenous and local communities to use the resources of the forest and coherent legal reform along with the fine tuning of local policies to meet international obligations are all highly necessary. Effective implementation of Article 10 (c) of the CBD is considered to be a positive tool to improve the situation of the Sundarbans and other forests and forest peoples of Bangladesh.