Locals demand gradual handover of ACAP

- PRAGATI SHAHI, Kathmandu

Sep 4, 2014-With only five months remaining to decide fate of Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), the first and largest conservation area in Nepal, the local communities have demanded gradual-handover of project management authority to them.

The management contract of National Trust of Nature Conservation (NTNC), an autonomous not-for-profit organisation under the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC), which is undertaking the management of ACAP, an innovative concept in the protected area management system of the country, is expiring in February next year.

The calls from local communities come at a time when the MoFSC, the authority responsible for the overseeing activities of conservation and protected areas across the country shared a draft proposal that recommended an alternative management regime to be governed solely by the government and its officials in decision-making level and benefit sharing process. This was against the plan envisioned at the time of establishment of ACAP in 1986 that put forward community based conservation and development approach as the ultimate goal for the sustainable conservation of the area.

Last week, the delegation comprising locals from ACAP covering districts—Manang, Mustang, Kaski, Lamjung and Myagdi—met with Forest Minister Mahesh Acharya along with other government officials and Constituent Assembly members from the respective areas to share their draft proposal on ACAP management, which clearly identified the role of local communities in managing the conservation area. “We have recommended the government to provide us five years for the complete handover of the existing ACAP management authority to the Council formed by the local communities. Until then, NTNC should continue with its management,” said Kisam Gurung, a local from Ghandruk in Kaski district, who attended the delegation meeting at the ministry last week.

Similarly, in this five year period, the government and all concerned should come up with activities and programmes aimed at enhancing leadership skills, capacity building and empowerment for local community-led committees and group to ensure successful management of ACAP. At present, the NTNC located in Kathmandu is the central-authority responsible for formulating legal frameworks and policies, while there are 57 Conservation Area Management Committees in each 57 VDCs within ACAP region led by locals. Likewise, the key management bodies are located in Ghandruk, Jomsom, Manang, Lho Manthang, Bhujung, Lwang and Sikles.

“Ministry officials including Forest Minister Mahesh Acharya are positive with our draft proposal. We hope to hear from the authority soon,” Gurung said. Before deciding on the handover of the management authority of ACAP, the government needs to come up with appropriate legislative framework and policies for handover and it will take time, so until then, the locals in their draft have said that NTNC should continue with the management for the next five years.  

Dr Hum Gurung, a local from Sikles who also received his Ph.D in ACAP conservation model, said the hand over of the management of ACAP to the locals should be a gradual process.  He further said that the role of NTNC in the day-to-day management of ACAP should be reduced every year in order to develop a sense of ownership among the locals for the effective management of the project.

“The whole idea is to facilitate a smooth transfer of authority and responsibility of conservation area to local communities,” Gurung said.

Meanwhile, a high-level government official at MoFSC said, requesting anonymity, that though the government is discussing various alternative regimes for ACAP management including the draft submitted by the locals, the decision of handover of the ACAP’s management “could be very much political”.   

ACAP’s successful conservation model is famous worldwide for the leadership and meaningful participation of local communities in protecting the natural resources. The conservation area earns around Rs 250 million annually from visitors fees collected from internal and foreign trekkers/tourists along with seasonal Yarshagumba harvesting.

Published: 05-09-2014 09:24

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