Keeping it in the community

  • Lack of a consistent policy in collaborative forest management is hindering progress
- Jagannath Adhikari
Keeping it in the community

Dec 21, 2014-

The saying ‘Hariyo ban Nepal ko dhan’ (Forests are the wealth of Nepal) can still hold true, provided there is greater political commitment and stability in the country’s forest policy. However, this sector has been unnecessarily dragged into controversy time and again, sending a wrong message to communities and the private sector. The ultimate outcome of this uncertainty has been the loss of income, livelihood opportunities, and employment.

Self sustaining

In spite of the forestry sector’s capacity to support the economy, Nepal spends a great amount of its revenue importing timber from foreign countries. Forest scientists estimate that Nepal can harvest about 120 million cubic feet of timber annually—which is twice the annual demand of the country—by sustainably managing forests. Current production only meets half the total demand of timber in the market. Nepal spends Rs 1.5 billion a year to import about half a million cubic feet of timber. If all deficit production of timber is to be met through import (ie, 30 million cubic feet), Nepal will have to spend Rs 9 billion annually. There are, of course, many other benefits from forests: support for agricultural production and environment through soil and water conservation and other ecosystem services, income from non-timber forest products and tourism, and generation of employment and income through forest-based enterprises.

Nepal has made significant progress in the forestry sector. This has been possible mainly by reversing the trend of deforestation in the mid-hills through ‘community forestry’. The policy that has formally guided community forestry for the last 25 years has remained relatively stable, even though the government, from time to time, had shown a tendency to encroach upon the community’s rights on their forests. More than 18,000 community forestry users groups (CFUGs) have been formed and are now stewards of the forest they manage. The feeling of ‘stewardship’ that the community forestry concept generated in recent times is important to prevent forest destruction and regenerate lost forests. Through the action of CFUGs, communities are also strengthened and empowered in collective actions required in other areas of life. This is one of the reasons for better social and political order at the local level, even when there is so much political disorder at the centre.

From community to collaborative

The progress that is generally seen in community forestry is not equally shared across other regimes of forest management. In terms of geographical region, more problems are reported in the Tarai, whether it is in community forests or other systems of forest management, mainly the collaborative forest management (CFM) system. One main reason for this is again the lack of a consistent policy.  

The government introduced CFM in the Tarai with the stated aim of helping people who are now far away from forests. Under this concept, these people are entitled to a share in forest products. But there have also been frequent changes in policies in CFM, making people lose faith in the government.

Two recent investigations into possible corruption that led to adverse impacts on forestry clearly illustrate how the government’s inconsistent policies and practices have adversely affected forestry management. When the government was investigating possible corruption in a few community forests of the Churia region in Dadeldhura, it gave a general order that no ‘community forestry’ group should cut timber and sell it. I personally saw its impact when I was in Chitwan about two months ago. I met an elderly Chepang who had come to the Forestry Office for the third time in a month, walking about four hours and then using the local bus, simply to get permission to sell the timber that had been harvested well before this policy came into effect. On my question as to why his CFUG could not sell the timber, the officials replied that the government had already put a stop to this. This gave me cause to ponder just how rigid the bureaucracy is and how it does not think of helping the people it serves and assisting their lives. After further inquiries, I came to learn that this was the case all over the Churia range.

One bad apple

The case of excessive tree felling under a new concept of ‘scientific forestry’ in CFMs is another example. This scientific forestry concept was introduced to sustainably harvest timber on a rotational basis in different patches of Sal forests in a cycle of 75 to 80 years. This practice was estimated to produce a large volume of timber for the market, boost forest enterprises, and generate employment. Forest professionals see this system as helpful in regenerating Sal trees. I had a chance to visit the sites where this ‘scientific forestry’ system was introduced. There are very clearly some governance issues to be tackled in the CFM system as such, but I did not see much of a problem in this method of forest management. Forest professionals estimate that if this system is followed for forest management, Nepal can generate revenue worth Rs 100 billion annually with employment opportunities for a million people.

But recently, a parliamentary committee investigated a CFM in Kailali and found that there were irregularities in the cutting of trees under this system. The committee issued an order to stop harvesting trees in all CFMs. There is no reason to doubt the findings of the parliamentary committee, but the main concern is that one or two bad cases should not be used as an excuse to put a halt to the entire process. As I saw in the field, unless there is total commitment for 75 to 80 years to adopt this scientific method of forest management and commitment from major political players, the outcome may not be as expected, or rather, it could be adverse. Accordingly, there should be swift investigation to identify and deal with the bad apples. Otherwise, the way these bad cases are used to stop the process, genuine people and communities who have worked hard and honestly will be disillusioned opening the vicious cycle of corruption and forest degradation.

Adhikari is a social scientist researching various aspects of development

Published: 22-12-2014 09:15

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