Compass CHT-FLR Program Strengthening Capacity of VCF Management Committees

Hill forests of Bangladesh over the past decades have dwindled and got degraded under severe human pressure and rapid urbanization, adversely impacting biodiversity and ecosystem services. On the other hand, the conservation and sustainable management of hill forests can be one of the fundamental foundations of sustainable development in Bangladesh. Forests remain the direct and indirect sources of livelihood and food security for hill communities of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh, and forest conservation is a key component of adapting to and mitigating the challenge of climate change. 
The Village Common Forests (VCFs) conserved by the local (ethnic) communities of CHT have been playing a vital role in conserving the biodiversity and ecosystem services of the hill forests; while most of the other forest lands in CHT are highly degraded. The VCFs also help sustain and enhance the livelihoods of underprivileged communities. The VCFs are traditionally governed by the mauza headmen or karbaries (village headmen) through customary rules for the benefit of all people of the community, with particular emphasis on their role in sustaining waterflow in the hilly streams. 
In the Compass CHT-FLR project started working with four VCFs of Rowangchari in the villages of Tulachari Para, Aungjai Para, and Suknachari Para in Rowangcharai Sadar Union and Bijoy Para of adjacent Alikhong Union in 2021 to initiate the FLR program. These VCFs had some sort of management committees but were predominantly governed by the Karbaries of the respective villages and without regular meetings, work plans, monitoring, and record- keeping practices. The project facilitated the reformation of the management committees of each of those VCFs in a democratic manner and established written by-laws for proper management of the natural resources of the VCFs and the functioning of the management committee in a democratic manner, with equal access and participation of both men and women. Presently 10 out of 28 executive members of the management committees of four VCFs are women. In 2002, all the VCFs had their regular bi-monthly meetings as well as an annual general meeting (AGM) in September. CHT-FLR Project staff trained the executive committee members to conduct meetings, prepare annual work plan and keep meeting minutes, as well as in sustainable natural resource management (NRM) practices during their bi-monthly meetings. They also tried to build capacity of the VCF management committees to mobilize funds for their financial sustainability through coaching during the bi-monthly meetings. In October (16th – 17th) 2022, the project organized a two-day residential training on organizational development and management (ODM) for the executive committee members of the four VCFs at Bandarban in order to further enhance their management capacities. 
The VCF management committees played a significant role in the implementation of the forest restoration program of the Compass CHT-FLR project. In 2002 (June-September), they planted 25,093 seedlings in the degraded areas of their VCFs with the help of Project. They also developed a plan for post-planting maintenance (mainly weeding) of the planted seedlings for implementation on their own involving their community members. It indicates their motivation in forest landscape restoration activities. 
“We are trying to conserve the VCF for our future generation. VCF is very essential for keeping water flowing in the stream which we need for our survival”, shares Mr. Nirudon, Karbari of Suknachari Para village and Secretary of Suknachari Para VCF Management Committee.