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3. The principal causes of forest cover change, based on interviews and documents reviewed

Nepal is divided into three main regions: the Middle Hill (MH), including the Mahabharat and southern Himalayan foot hills; the Upper Hill (UH), including the Himalayas and inner Himalayas; and the Terai (T), comprising the southern plains and Siwaliks. The reasons for forest cover change in Nepal can best be analysed by region because of differing cultures, needs, and environments. The climate and ecology of Nepal is highly influenced by the topography of the country. People in the Middle Hills and Upper Hills have traditionally lived in these areas, while in the Terai there is mixture of people due to migration. In the mountain areas, access to infrastructure, markets and communications is more difficult compared to the Terai.

In Nepal, forestry activities are closely related to the needs and survival of rural people. Dependency on fuelwood for cooking and house heating represents 83% of the energy consumption in the Country. Fodder collection and grazing are traditionally practised for livestock production, a major food resource for the people of the Hills, Upper Hills, and Terai.

This section presents a summary of the main causes of deforestation organised according to geographical area.


Land clearing for migration and settlement, development and infrastructure building

In the Middle Hills, land clearing for agriculture purposes was exacerbated by the nationalisation of forests in 1957. People conducted illegal felling because legal authorisation to manage a forest area was difficult to obtain and there was no incentive to protect, plant or manage forest resources. Clearing was especially prevalent on private lands. The Forestry Department could not control or monitor this illegal activity due to the lack of budget and personnel. Thus, the forests in Nepal face the problem presented by the theory of the "tragedy of the commons" Ė everyone has an incentive to utilise resources but little incentive to protect them or manage them on a sustainable basis.

In the Terai, after the successful implementation of malaria control, people of the Middle Hills saw the opportunity to migrate to this area. The Terai is recognised as an area of fertile soils with easy communication and transport. Land clearing took place for the establishment of new settlements and agriculture. The migration process was not organised or controlled. Large numbers of people moved to the Terai, with a high impact on forest cover. The migration process was so fast that the forest did not have the time to regenerate and re-establish on a natural cycle. A total of 182 770 ha were cleared from 1956 to 1985, primarily for food production.

A large amount of exploitation also took place when the India railroad was built and the Terai forest provided all the sleepers.

Infrastructure development, road construction, irrigation projects and the production of electricity are also reasons for land clearing.

References: 6) (7) (8) (21), UH (3) (8) (21), T (3) (4) (8) (21) (22) (23).



People in Nepal depend on forest products, especially for fodder and grazing, fuelwood for cooking, medicinal plants and construction material. Unfortunately, the unregulated collection of these materials has contributed markedly to the deterioration of the forests.

In the Middle Hill and Upper Hill, people traditionally depended on these resources and had mechanisms to manage them and distribute the benefits. In the Terai there is a mixture of people, both traditional from the area and in new settlements, which complicates the use of forest resources.

Dependency is different according to area. People of the Middle Hills have traditionally depended on the forests, especially for fodder and fuelwood. The environmental conditions in this area facilitate the natural regeneration process. In the Upper Hill, the National Forests are widely used for fodder and grazing. However, the regeneration process in the Upper Hill is difficult due to climatic conditions, especially low temperatures.

Various documents report that in the Middle Hill, community forestry programmes have been successfully implemented. Traditional dependency on forest resources has provided the incentive for users to get organised and to develop and implement forest management plans. These plans are approved and monitored by the Department of Forestry and updated every five years.

People in the Terai also depend on forest products for fuelwood and timber. Dependency and ownership in the Terai area also provides an incentive for forest protection and planting of private land. The Terai has rich forests that have been used in the political and economic interests of the country.

References: MH (2) (3) (8) (10) (21) (22), opposite opinion (13); UH (9) (12) (21); T (2) (3) (8) (11) (23).


Forest cover change, both positive and negative, is a management issue. Authors of the papers reviewed argue that when social, economic, political and technical dimensions are considered in a forest management plan the quality and quantity of forest should improve.

In the Middle Hill, the community forestry programmes that involve user groups in the management of forest areas have had a positive effect on forest cover. Management plans are developed by the users and approved by the Department of Forestry. User groups assume the responsibility to manage and monitor the forest area on a daily basis and to distribute the benefits appropriately among the users. Management plans also include grazing and fodder extraction. Middle Hill environmental conditions allow easy natural regeneration, which is monitored by the user groups.

The management and organisation of user groups is a factor to take into consideration. Big groups can be difficult to organise but provide the necessary labour to monitor the forest area. Small groups are easy to organise but the cost of monitoring the forest area increases. User groups must establish the appropriate size of forest area, together with the appropriate number of households that can manage and monitor the area and can benefit from this approach.

The Upper Hill presents management difficulties due to the harsh climate. Forest recuperation is difficult in this area and a number of areas have been set aside for protection. Professionals interviewed mentioned that people from the Middle Hills use Upper Hill forest resources because of limited access to forest areas established as community forestry areas in the Middle Hills. The problem is that regeneration in the Upper Hill is more difficult so inappropriate use of forest resources has greater impact. The government has not monitored or controlled grazing, which is the main activity related to forestry in these areas, and the impact has not been assessed or a management strategy implemented.

The problems of management in the Terai area are related to the number of people that have migrated to the area, clearing forests for settlement and agriculture production. Inappropriate mechanisms of timber extraction by commercial firms also have had negative consequences in the Terai Forest.

Tourist industries have been identified as an incentive for appropriate management of forest areas, but can also be a threat if not appropriately managed.

References: MH (3) (17) (18) (19) (24), UH (3) (9) (18) (24), T (3).



Authors report that changes in trade, markets, communications and infrastructure have impacted communities and changed them from a subsistence to a market system, which has given the incentive to communities to convert land from forest into cash crop production.

In the interviews an emerging issue related to timber extraction in community forestry areas was discussed. The main issue is that when community forestry policy was established, it largely considered subsistence products (fuelwood, fodder, medical plants, etc) for use by the community. After fifteen years of appropriate management of community forestry areas, many user groups now possess merchantable timber products. For many areas, there is no consensus as to how to commercialise these products, what prices should be charged, how extraction should be conducted, the distribution of benefits and the role of the Department of Forestry. Those interviewed said that this is not a problem where the management plans established the mechanisms for extraction and commercialisation of timber products, but several plans did not considered this issue. Marketing of timber products, if it is well managed, could provide significant additional income for the communities and an additional incentive to appropriately manage forest resources. Dependency on other forest resources and pressure on National Forests and protected areas could be reduced.

In the Upper Hill, trade in timber products is not possible because the area is largely inaccessible. Alternative income generation activities could be provided through eco-tourism. The Upper Hill has significant attraction for trekking and mountaineering, representing 35.9% of Nepalís economy.

The Terai area, on the other hand, has been negatively impacted by illegal trade in timber, both to India and inside the country. Some of the interviewees mentioned that the trees in Terai are of high quality and value. The area is of political interest because of the income it can generate.

References: MH (2) (3) (5) (21), UH (21), T (2) (3) (5).


Positive changes

Community forestry practices in the Middle Hill have been identified as an appropriate mechanism of forest management. Dependency and clear ownership has been identified as the prerequisite to hand over forest management to user groups.

Community forestry practices have increased the income for local communities, which is a powerful incentive for appropriate management of forest resources. It is also important to mention that the legal recognition of the forest users groups as formal authorities has had a positive impact on the management of the resources.

International and local non-governmental organisations and projects have made a positive contribution to the process of information dissemination and user group organisation.

The leasehold project has been identified as a positive contribution on the social dimension because it targets the poorest of the poor. In the environmental dimension it has improved forest cover, even in several cases where native species were not included.

Up to now there is no quantitative data that shows that forest condition in the Middle Hill has been improved. The last assessment, conducted by FINNIDA, established that forest cover in the Middle Hill is decreasing. Professionals express their disagreement with this statement, saying that just by travelling around these areas it is obvious that forest cover has increased. The reason could be that the total Hill area is 11.1 million hectares and community forestry land has just reached 112 189 hectares, which is a relatively small amount.

References: MH (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (19), opposite opinion (6).



Several authors mentioned that clear ownership is a direct factor contributing to the protection and good management of forest land and resources.

National or government-managed forests do not necessary imply appropriate management of forest resources and the appropriate distribution of benefits to all sectors of society. This type of forest management requires a forest monitoring system, which is very expensive, and forestry officers in Nepal cannot afford this cost. This system of forest management tends to lead to behaviour as described in the theory of the "tragedy of the commons".

Community forestry policy places forest management in the hands of user groups. The users assume responsibility for managing and monitoring the area so as to control the use and distribution of goods and services provided by the forest. User groups are those that have traditionally have used the forest area that they are to manage and will have the right to include or exclude "new people" in the use of the resource. In some cases, this mechanism has been misused and has excluded minorities and weaker groups. As an alternative, a leasehold forest policy has been proposed that targets the poorest of the poor in the community.

Both community forestry and leasehold forestry are intended to be used on degraded land, rather than natural forest areas. This is why these policies focus on the Middle Hill and not the Terai, which has natural forest cover.

When decisions are made collectively, community forestry revenues are commonly invested in community development. When management is the responsibility of one person, revenues are often reinvested in the management of the forest. The problem of definition of boundaries has been identified as a cause of conflict in community forestry practice. Planting trees along fences is not widely practised because they shade adjacent crops. Private plantations usually take place on the larger areas of private land.

References: MH (2) (13) (16) (20) (23) (24) (25).



In 1980, forestry policy classified Nepalís forests into National Forests and private forests. National forests have been divided into five groups:

With the support of local and international non-governmental organisations and projects, rules, regulations and management mechanisms are more or less understood by the users, especially in the Middle Hill areas and where forest areas have been depleted. Uncertainty exists in the Terai and Upper Hills areas as to how the community forestry areas that, after fifteen years of appropriate management, now have merchantable timber products will be managed in the future.

References: MH (3) (8), UH (3) (8), T (3) (8).



The Ministry of Forestry and Soil Conservation established the Department of Forest Research and Survey. The main objective of the Department is to monitor the forest cover of the Country. A survey was conducted (1990-1993) in the Middle Hills, Upper Hills and Terai with the financial assistance of FINNIDA.

References: MH (4) (7) (8), UH (8) (9), T (8) (6).


Lack of information

Authors report that there is little systematic information that can identify the causes of deforestation and/or forest recovery. The existing information is simplistic and did not take into consideration local processes associated with deforestation, afforestation and forest recovery. There is a need to document change in a systematic way to avoid generalisations and to target specific problems that can be solved with short-term actions.

Reference: T (2).


Natural forces

Natural forces mainly affect the Upper Hill. Climate conditions, landslides, riverbank cutting, floods, heavy rains, droughts, hailstorms, glacial lake outbursts, and snow avalanches affect Upper Hills ecosystems.

Reference: UH (21).

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