Bandarban: A place with many opportunities

Bandarban Hill District is one of the most potential resourceful regions of Bangladesh. The hills are not very old but in the vicinity of the Bay of Bengal they receive huge monsoon rainfall and have high water tables.

Many indicator plants like wild bananas, terrestrial orchids, ferns, Lycopodiums, Tara and arums are growing luxuriantly even on the hilltops. High hills, rivers and natural lakes and springs are the most attractive places for the tourists. Twelve different tribes including Bengalis of different religions are leaving there peacefully for a long time.

Picture: Sajina (Moringa) Profusely fruited Sajina tree in Bandarban

Among the immense resources, timber trees like Garjan, Telsur, Champa, Black berries, Lali, Chickrassi, Pitraj, Gamar, Pitali, Tali, Civit, Bandarhola, Banspata, Chatim, Kadam, Toon and Haldu etc., bamboos, banana, jackfruit, coconut, guava, papaya, pine apple, bullock heart, wood apple, Sofeda, pomello, pumpkins, cucumber, groundnuts, maize, sweet potato, melons, taro, Cashor alo and spices like ginger, turmeric, chilies, basils and tamarind etc. are important.

Sajina or Drumstick (Moringa) is an exceptionally nutritious vegetable tree crop with a variety of potential uses and it is called ‘Tree of Life’. The leaves are highly nutritious, being a significant source of β-carotene, vitamin C, iron and potassium. The leaves are cooked and used like Shak. Leaves are commonly dried and crushed into powder and used in soups and sauces. The tree is a good source for calcium and phosphorus. Drumstick seeds are used as a sexual virility drug for treating erectile dysfunction in men and also in women for prolonging sexual activity.

Sajina (Moringa) leaves and pods are helpful in increasing breast milk in the breastfeeding months. One tablespoon of leaf powder provides 14% of the protein, 40% of the calcium, 23% of the iron and most of the vitamin A needs of a child aged one to three. Six tablespoons of leaf powder will provide nearly all of the woman’s daily iron and calcium needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, oil, and flowers are used in traditional Medicare in several countries. The flowers are also cooked and relished as a delicacy in West Bengal and Bangladesh, especially during early spring. There it is called shojne ful and is usually cooked with green peas and potato. Moringa products used for increased energy and vitality, mental and emotional wellbeing, bursting with anti-aging nutrients, healthy blood naturally, organic nutrients for mother, clarity, focus, and concentration, skin and viral diseases etc. Bandarban can be a great producer of Sajina and its high value products.

Locally grown banana

There lies a great opportunity for banana production in Bandarban. Very good quality bananas like Champa, Bangla and Kanchkola etc. are produced with a very low or of no care. Wild bananas are the indicator plants of high water-table and their flowers (Mocha) and the stalk are favorite food. These banana groves are the nice habitats of wild animals, especially the reptiles and amphibians.

Rafting bamboos through the Sango River

Many types of bamboos like Muli, Mirtinga, Talla, Belcoa and Giant Bamboo etc. are grown nicely and help for soil formation, erosion control and keep water-table up; are great resources for income generation, as well as, environmental improvement. Common uses of bamboos are building houses, fence, supports, paper pulp, household utensils, furniture, crafts, mats and also for food.

Bandarban has vast opportunity for Jackfruit production. It is a multipurpose crop gives high value timber highly suitable for furniture and crafts. The fruits and seeds are high-nutrition food and young fruits are used as vegetables. One fruits is enough for supplementing a day’s energy of a person. Jackfruit can be a significant crop for food security.

According to the overall environment, soil, rainfall and humidity and the indicator plants the potential crops are oranges and lemons, coffee, rubber, cashew nut, areca nut, cassava, orchids, camphor, Black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom etc. can successfully be grown in Bangladesh. Mushrooms have also good potentiality.

Honey, pickles, processed fruits, clothes and handicrafts etc. can easily create employment and enhance the income opportunities of Bangladesh.

Luxuriant growth of coconut trees in Bandarban High water-table flora of Bandarban

Since Bandarban has high water-table zones, coconuts can be produced commercially. With the closer view, one can easily observe the growth and production of coconut and areca nuts. Right and appropriate cultivation practices can increase yield several folds. Coconut can also act as windbreaks and help to control erosion. Other palms like Palmyra and Fishtail palms can be grown for fruit, juice, and timber production; for windbreaks and erosion control.

Picture: Dammed water body Climbing plant: Gila

Tree fern and other high water-table flora Running Khoaijiri stream

Once Bandarban was full of natural resources like high humid rainforests with dominated evergreen valuable timber trees, climbers, creepers, wild animals, apes and birds, insects and bees, rivers and streams with fishes and aquatic animals, hundreds of perennials streams and Cherras, springs and water falls, boulders and rocks, pebbles and grabbles, steep slopes and hilltop lakes, and ivories etc. The Sangoo and Matamuhuri are the important rivers those are originated in Bandarban and fall into the Bay of Bengal. But indiscriminate logging, hunting and wrong cultural practices like Jhum, and chemical fertilizer and pesticide dependent agriculture and tillage on the hills and slopes etc. have ruined the biodiversity and landscape of the whole hill tracts regions. However, in some of the places, which are not easily accessible, have nice scenic beauty with remnants of biodiversity. Still, there are some rare plants like Gila, Tree ferns, epiphytic and terrestrial orchids, nuts and palms, canes and many arums and shrubby plants. About 60-100 nos. of wild elephants are roaming in Khoaijiri and Alikhong forest areas.

However, little efforts were made to establish secondary forests with Teak and some other fast growing trees like Gamar, Eucalyptus and Acacias etc. without considering their habit and habitats. Mahogoni, Rain tree and Champa were also planted along the roads but success is very poor. Both Gamar and Teak are deciduous, seldom allow undergrowth in monoculture condition and thus the areas have lost huge biodiversity and the dry season water table consequently many streams have also lost their perennial water flows. The fallen leaves of Teak, Acacias and Eucalyptus have invited great risks of wildfire as they take more than a year for decomposition. Recent tobacco cultivation in the valleys and stream and riversides posed a great threat to biodiversity especially for wide scale uses of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Many insects pollinators, honey bees and moths and butterflies have lost their habitats; rivers and streams are now have very few on no fishes and other aquatic animals like snails, oyster and crabs etc.

Although Jhum cultivation (shifting cultivation following slash and burning method) has a great negative effect on deterioration of the hill forests but they use to follow mixed cultivation practices using more than 20 different crops in the same land at a time and they never use any chemical pesticides and fertilizers. But from last few years, people have started to grow high yielding crops using chemicals and HYV seeds causing great harm to the environment. Tillage cultivation for ginger, arums and pine apple is also damaging the landscape by erosion.

Picture: Deciduous Teak plantation with no undergrowth Fallen leaves of Acacia may cause wildfire

Picture: Jhum Cultivation with many crops Tillage for arums and rhizomes

Picture: Massive tobacco cultivation Land sliding and erosion

Moreover, in vicinity of the Bandarban hills (Chittagong Hill Tracts) to the Bay of Bengal the coastal habitat is greatly influenced by the hills and hill forests, rainfall, water flows and water quality etc., since most of the Bandarban is within 100 km from the Bay. Polluted water with chemicals and silts influence the coastal and marine environment and their flora and fauna. So, utmost care should be taken during selection of the crops for Bandarban, so that no environmental damage is occurring. Any environmental damage leads to damage of hydrological cycle, fresh water crisis, drying of natural water flows, affect propagation and production of fresh and marine water flora and fauna, erosion and changes of river flows and sea currents.
However, the present district administration has actively been working for the improvement of the lifestyle of the people of Bandarban. The district council has already developed road communication systems, tourism, better security and ecofriendly living environment. The attractive tourist places are Meghla, Nilachal, Shoila Propat, Prantik Lake, Chimbuk, Boga Lake, Rijuk Fall, Keokradong, Tahjingdong, Golden Temple, Nilgiri, Mirinja, and Upabon etc. Several beautiful sculptures are also under construction. It is essential to give importance on the protection of traditional cultures and practices of different tribes. We must not be over enthusiastic to change the natural environment of the hill tracts in the name of development without thinking its sustainability and long-term effects. We should respect the natural laws and must not destroy the indigenous vegetation for short-term benefit rather the huge resources should be managed protecting the diverse environment utilizing the ecosystem services by planting right plant (crop) at right place.

Note: Dr Mohammed Ataur Rahman has been working on biodiversity, landscape management and sustainable upland & hill agriculture in Bnadarban since December 2008.

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Director, CGEC International University of Business Agriculture and Technology Bangladesh

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