Lost in the jungle

  • Foreign-funded forestry programmes have led to more trees but marginalised the poor
- POST REPORT, Kathmandu
Lost in the jungle

Jul 20, 2015-

Nepal  often showcases its community forestry programme as a proven strategy to reverse rapid deforestation. Indicators suggest forestry programmes have truly contributed to capacity building and boosting the productivity of natural capital and physical infrastructure like rural electrification and drinking water. Moreover, it promotes people’s participation and partnership with government entities. 

Forestry experts claim that a million hectares of national forests under this programme have been handed over to 12,725 Community Forestry Users Groups with more than a million households. According to them, the enactment of Forest Act 1993 and Forest Regulation 1995 guaranteed local communities legal grounds to take responsibility for community forest management.

 

Conflicting results 

With these positive outcomes, international forestry agencies, who have been supporting the programme since the inception of the Master Plan for the Forestry Sector in 1988, claim that they have advocated, advised and funded to change forestry policies and practices. The UK and Switzerland, for example, have stated in writing that their past assistance to the forestry sector has been highly effective in reaching out to the poor, and that their projects have proven to be an apt mechanism to reverse the rate of deforestation. 

However, a 2014 research report published in the Open Journal of Forestry (Volume 4, No 1) reveals that the support of international forestry agencies benefits global and powerful societies, but it is less likely to work for the benefit of local communities. International interventions have made the situation of the rural poor and the local environment worse. 

According to researcher Bhuwaneswor Dhakal at Lincoln University, New Zealand, the policy interventions and technical support of international agencies have been found to be technically wrong or poorly based on science. Instead of the poor, the work benefited the elites and other distant users—urban dwellers and affluent societies overseas—at the expense of poor communities.

The wrong model

The poorest of the poor suffered severely from extremely heavy rainfall in 1976 that caused devastating landslides in Nepal and flooding in Bangladesh. This rainfall, according to Eckholm from the World Research Institute (WRI), was caused by faulty farming and forestry practices and rapid deforestation. 

In this context, Nepal’s farmers, in particular, were warned to halt this practice. Research papers suggest that the disastrous rainfall coincided with intensified interventions by international agencies in the green sector to contribute to global climate change mitigation. After two years, the World Bank also warned that all of Nepal’s forests would be wiped out within two decades if the indigenous practices were not stopped. They would create a severe environmental catastrophe in the country.

This left no option for Nepal but to follow resourceful agencies with forestry expertise. This situation offered international agencies an opportunity to act as a key player in Nepal’s policymaking process. Hence, they came to the forefront as government agencies considered themselves to be weak in technical capacity, and were forced to follow the donors’ ‘superior’ forestry model. The donors had their own parallel teams under expats’ leadership alongside the government team. Unfortunately, they designed the wrong model.

Their forestry plan was focused on timber production and its shipment to towns, and it paid little attention to non-timber forest products like herbs to meet community demands as they are the backbone of the rural economy. Research findings now confirm that the imposed plan was an industrial model not relevant to the context of the concerned community. But its imposition impeded the local economy substantially, and further marginalised the already marginalised communities.

Additionally, the protected areas also expanded dramatically as a result of intervention by the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and their conservation plans. The protected areas now cover more than 21 percent of the land. No consultation was held with the indigenous people living near the parks and their consent was not sought when this was done. It further marginalised the poor.

Moreover, in 1976, the Nepal Australia Forestry Project introduced the planting of exotic patula species of pine on barren lands and pastures. The pines covered the land with greenery, but reduced the pasturelands for livestock and livestock holdings declined significantly. The forestry plan, in fact, had been planned for “reduction and control over livestock numbers” of farmers when it is the engine to sustain farming and maintain the rural economy.

 

In the dark 

Donor agencies apparently have their own model, style, strategy and priorities. So it is the responsibility of the recipient country to put forward its own priorities. Apart from Nepal, cases of failure of donor policies havealso been reported from many parts of the developing world including Africa. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, shedding light on the role of donors, has written in The New York Times, “Although aid flow continues to increase in Africa, why, then, is it still lagging behind the rest of the world? It is important for Africa’s poorest countries, but we must also address the real reason why growth stalls.” 

In addition to the Liberian president’s observation and research results from Lincoln University, there are other findings that examine and corroborate this view. The South Asia Institute of Advanced Studies has also cautiously warned that although foreign aid has been instrumental in generating policy, legislative and programmatic changes in Nepal, the overall outcomes and changes are more aligned with donor priorities and functionaries.

Despite some visible outcomes in forestry, research findings clearly indicate that the communities have been fooled and kept in the dark by the elites and international agencies under the veil of forest development and environment conservation. Importantly, researchers strongly believe that these issues are being poorly communicated in the press and other open access literature. This has further complicated the situation. 

CHUN BAHADUR GURUNG

Gurung has worked as a forestry technician 

Published: 21-07-2015 08:11

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