Murari Raj Joshi
Community forestry is a successful participatory approach for forest protection and management in Nepal. Until now, about 850,000 hectares forests of Nepal have been handed over to eleven thousand forest user groups. Forest users are generating income from the sale of forest products and from membership fees, fines and donations. Community development activities such as irrigation canal improvement, schools, community building and temple construction, drinking water schemes, etc are carried out with the community forestry income. These activities have little or no benefits to poorer households.
The community forest operation cost of poorer households exceeds the benefits received by them because free access to collect forest products has been restricted in order to improve the forest condition. This directly affects poorer people in keeping livestock. In addition, some poorer households living near town and roadside were selling fuelwood in hotel and teashops. This has now been stopped and has created problem to these poorer households for generating day to day income for survival. As a user, every household whether rich or poor should pay an equal amount as monthly membership fee and buy once freely collected forest products based on forest operational plan rules and regulations.
Some forest user groups of Sindhu Palchok and Kabhre Palanchok districts of Nepal have initiated user group development planning processes for preparation of community development plans to address the needs of all forest user groups and have included these plans in forest operational plan. Saving and credit activities from forest user group money for loan to all group members in operating income-generation activities, and income and employment opportunities to poorer households in community forest development and management activities have been started on the basis of community development plans of forest operational plans. This kind of community development practice needs to be adopted throughout Nepal to deliver more benefits of community forests to poorer households.
Community forestry is a participatory forest management system in Nepal that was started in the late 1970s. Gilmour and Fisher (1991) defined community forestry as the control, protection and management of forest resources by rural communities for whom trees and forests are an integral part of their farming systems. The Community Forest Act 1993 gives local people significant control in the management and harvest of forest resources (Euphrat and Shrestha, 2002). Because of this progressive act, community forest hand over process has speeded up rapidly during this nine years period. Bhatta (2001) reported that about 850,000 hectares forest areas have been handed over to eleven thousands forest user groups.
In a forest user group, there are rich, medium and poor households. The contribution of rich and poor households to community forest protection and management is equal.
Forest products such as tree and grass fodder, fuelwood and timber etc are used to meet user's subsistence needs and to generate income from the sale. Group incomes are also raised from monthly membership fees, fines and penalties, and donations from various organizations. Forest user groups are using this amount to undertake community development activities such as irrigation canal improvement, community building, school and temple construction, drinking water schemes and foot trail improvement. However, many community development activities are not directly helpful to meet the need of the poorer households and this raises the issue of equity of group fund management.
This paper describes the roles of users in forest protection and management, sharing benefit between user group members and provides recommendations for delivering more benefits of community forests to poorer households.
In the mid-hills of Nepal, community forestry programs have played an important role in improving forest condition by adopting better forest protection and management measures. Through forest management, users are generating incomes that are used in community development activities. However, there are some problems of this system of forest management in relation to poorer households of a forest user group. That is the cost for operating community forest by poorer households exceeds the benefits received by them. Before the introduction of community forestry programs, all users living in and around forests were able to collect most forest products free of cost at any time. In community forests, free access to collect forest products has been restricted in order to improve the forest condition. The result of this practice is a decrease of forest product supply, including tree and grass fodder from the community forest. It has directly affected poorer households keeping livestock. Forest resources are very important for them in maintaining their livestock population needed for generating income for survival, as they have small landholdings that are not sufficient to grow tree and grass fodder to support their livestock. In addition, some poorer households living near town and roadside were selling fuelwood in hotel and teashops etc. This practice in community forest areas is stopped that has also created problem to poorer people for generating income for day to day survival.
Community forestry activities also increase the contributory burden of poorer households for forest protection and management. As a user, every household, whether rich or poor pays an equal amount as monthly membership fee. In addition, poorer households also buy forest products based on rules and regulations written in the forest operational plan. Shrestha and Sapkota (2001) reported that the forest users of Dhading, Kaski, Baglung and Partbat districts of Nepal pay money for fuelwood, timber, cut grass, resin and stone gathered from community forest areas. Forest products that are commonly sold in Sindhu Palchok and Kabhre Palanchok districts are sawlogs, round poles and green fuelwood (Hunt et al, 1995).
Finally, the community forestry program has encouraged community development work that demands compulsory labour contribution and has had a direct effect on poorer households in generating daily income for livelihood because they have to engage in community development activities rather than working as casual labourers to generate income.
Almost all forest user groups in Nepal are generating income from the community forests, but the amount differs widely between the groups. Gaurati, Lampate and Shree Chhap community forest user groups of Sindhu Palchok and Rachma, Chapani Kuwa Gadidanda, Phagarkhola, Dharapani Hile Manedanda and Lakure Rukh Bhulbhule of Kabhre Palanchok district are generating income from external sources by selling timber obtained from thinned pine plantations compared with their neighboring broad leaf forests.
Income in natural broad leaf forests of mid-hills of Nepal mostly comes from internal sources. Such sources are membership fees, fines and penalties levied on members who break the rules of the forest operational plan, sale of forest products such as leaf litter, tree and grass fodder, dry and green fuelwood, tree seeds, round poles and timber to some extent. The contribution of poorer households to such funds would be higher than in funds generated from external sources such as in planted pine forests. Most forest user groups spend their income on different activities such as buying stationery, salaries for forest watchers and school teachers, irrigation canal improvement, school, community building and temple construction, road and foot trail improvement, electricity systems, soil conservation works, drinking water schemes, school furniture, nursery and plantation. These activities have little or no impact in meeting the needs of poorer households. The reason for this is that the poorer households often need to generate income for their day to day life. Activities like salaries for school teachers, irrigation canal improvement, school, community hall and temple construction, electricity systems, school furniture, etc are not income generating activities for the benefit of poorer households. Hunt et al (1995) reported that not all user group members benefit from the group community development activities, raising questions of equity in forest user group decision making. Decisions for community development are usually made in annual assemblies of group members on the basis of consensus and the elite and more powerful committee members of the groups dominates such meetings. In this situation, group funds, in most cases, will be used in meeting the interests of elite and powerful members of forest user groups.
4. Recommendations for improvement
Forest operational plan and constitution are the main documents for guiding forest user group smoothly. Therefore, the following points should be considered during the preparation of the community forest operational plan to maximize community forestry benefits for the poorer households of a forest user group.
Some forest user groups of Sindhu Palchok and Kabhre Palanchok districts of Nepal have initiated a user group development planning process for the preparation of community development plans in addressing the need of all sub-group members of a forest user group. These plans are then included in the forest operational plan. Eijnatten and Acharya (2001) reported that production of high quality community development plan required high degree of participation from all sections of the community, and reflected a focus on benefiting the poor, underprivileged and women. These user groups showed strong ownership of their plans and a commitment to implement. Therefore, this practice should be followed in other forest user groups of Nepal in order to deliver more benefits of community forests to poorer households.
Gaurati community forest user group of Sindhu Palchok district has initiated a scholarship program for poorer students, as well as programs for women and poorer people, and saving and credit activities from group money for loan to user group members in operating income generation activities. Poorer households are also benefiting from the loan program to plan and implement appropriate income generation activities suitable for them. Such activities should also be promoted among other forest user groups of Nepal.
Community forest development and management activities generate employment opportunities such as employment for forest protection, tree felling, log extraction, sawing and timber transportation, non-timber forest production collection and marketing, as well as nursery and plantation establishment. Priority to such activities should be given to poorer and disadvantage households.
Priority for grass and tree fodder collection should be given to those poorer households who have no or little forage production on their farmlands in order to support their livestock farming systems.
Forest condition of most community forests is improved after handing over forest to local users, but such forests have increased contributory burden to poorer households. Poorer households are also not getting much benefit from community development activities implemented through group funds. To overcome these problems, user groups should be encouraged to prepare community development plans addressing the needs of poorer and disadvantage households and delivering more benefits of community forests to them. These plans should be included in the community forest operational plan and implemented on priority basis with more emphasis being given to income and employment opportunities for poorer and disadvantaged households.
Bhatta, D.D (2001) Department of Forest and it's Present Challenge and Potentialities, Department of Forest, Babarmahal, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Eijnatten, J. M. and Acharya, H. (2001) Practical Experiences Implementing the User Group Development Process, Nepal-Australia Community Resource Management Project, P.O.Box: 208, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Euphrat, F and Shrestha, R. P. (2002) Overtime changes in Community Forests in Dhading, Kaski, Baglung and Parbat Districts of Nepal: In Community and Forest Resource Management: Lessons and Experiences of Community Managed Forest Systems in the Himalayas, AFORDA PVT. LTD
Gilmour, D. A and Fisher, R. J (1991) Villagers, Forests and Foresters: The philosophy, Process and Practice of Community Forestry in Nepal, Sahayogi Press, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Hunt, S. M., Jackson, W. J. and Shrestha, K. B. (1995) Income Generation through Community Forestry in Nepal. In: Proceedings of the Regional Seminar on Income Generation Through Community Forestry, October 18 -20, 1995, RECOFTC, Bankok, Thailand.
Shrestha, R.P and Sapkota, S (2001) Regulatory Framework and Rules in use in Forest Management: In Community and Forest Resource Management: Lessons and experiences of Community managed forest systems in the Himalayas, AFORDA PVT. LTD
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