Around two decades ago, Joynal Abedin would not have thought of owning a property or business institution as he was struggling to earn a livelihood.
The man, hailing from Shimulia village under Mirpur upazila of Kushtia, worked his land and had a small business.
In 2003, he got the chance to participate in a workshop of Bonayan Program of British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) in his locality, where the project officer made the participants aware of the advantages of tree plantation.
Furthermore, the officer assured all the participants that the Bonayan programme would extend all the necessary support, including providing free saplings, to start tree gardens.
Being encouraged, Joynal initially collected 6,000 Mahogany saplings from the Bonayan program. He nurtured these and sold them for Tk 6 lakhs after five years.
This was the beginning.
As days passed, Joynal was making large profits selling trees. Today, he owns a pond as well as a commercial nursery.
He claims that the value of his garden can currently be estimated to be around Tk 20 lakh. He plans to sell trees for around Tk 1 crore after five years.
Like Joynal, hundreds of people across the country have changed their fate with the support of Bonayan Program, the afforestation programe of BATB that began in 1980.
In around the last four decades, some 105 million free saplings have been distributed and planted across the country under this flagship program.
This relentless effort makes it the largest private sector driven afforestation programme in the country. The organisation is committed to continue the programme in the wake of a global and national drives, as well as to support the Government of Bangladesh’s initiative to combat the adverse effects of climate change.
The initiative was taken as BATB believes that business has a key role to play in helping society achieve the necessary sustainable balance of economic growth, environmental protection and social progression, which will build value for all of our stakeholders.
BATB Bangladesh provides government-approved 22-25 species of saplings to farming communities — the main beneficiaries — across the country.
In the last 40 years, many beneficiaries have changed their fates with the outcome of the afforestation programme.
The programme has helped bring an environmental balance to the community landscape. Moreover, farmers are receiving economic benefits by selling fruits or timber from their own gardens.
In 2019 alone, more than 30,000 farmers received saplings from the Bonayan programme. Around 77 percent of the beneficiaries are earning money by tree plantation. Of them, 26 percent earn Tk 5-10 thousand, while 22 percent earn Tk 10- 20 thousand and 14 percent earn Tk 20-30 thousand.
Every year, BATB raises four to five million saplings to plant in their different zones across the country. Beneficiaries are also given fruit trees like olive, lemon, hog plum, Guava, Berry, jackfruit, wood apple and grapefruit.
The Bonayan project has had a very big impact among the beneficiaries. The impact assessment states around 33 percent of them invest the extra income they get through the Bonayan project into another business.
Around 68 percent of the beneficiaries reinvest in agriculture, fish farming and also medium-businesses like restaurants and shops. Some of them also invest in small businesses like fruits, vegetable or tea stalls.
Apart from farmers, government and non-government organisations, law enforcement agencies, Bangladesh defense authorities, private NGOs, different institutions, and mass communities collect the free saplings from BATB’s nurseries across the country.
BATB promotes “Strategic Afforestation” (created on the roadsides, highways, railway tracts) and “Commercial Afforestation” (mostly in the hill tracts).
Over the years, BATB received a number of national and international awards and accolades for the afforestation drive across the country.
The organisation received four national awards in the last 40 years. Bonayan also participates in all the district and upazila level tree fairs and afforestation campaigns across the country and receives around 20 local awards, every year.
Some of the notable projects of BATB’s afforestation programme were initiated at the Lalon Shah Bridge-Kushtia, Hazrat Shah Amanat International Airport in Chattogram and Lama Alikadam road strip plantation in Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT). Recently the company received Asia’s top ranked business award “Asia Responsible Entrepreneurship Award” on Green Leadership, for best CSR practices.
The Bonayan project faces different challenges due to lack of big roads and highways to plant trees. Yet, Bonayan has built individual tree plantations in different areas.
“Because of this initiative, not only environment is conserved, but the people are benefitted economically from their orchards,” said Sheikh Shahidul Alam, range officer in the forest department under Lama upazila of Bandarban.
BAT Bangladesh will continue this journey and fight against the climate change impacts, by complementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2017 and will enhance the government’s national drive on afforestation. Bonayan directly supports sustainable development goals 1, 2, 11, 13 and 15.