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5. Results of interviews conducted in Nepal

A wide range of information was collected on forest change at the country level, including published and unpublished information, interviews, comments and discussions with professionals of the Nepal forestry sector.

Forest change perceptions are different from country to country, time to time, and people to people. (Personal comment , Professor Chen Wang Wei).

During the interviews, professionals commented on changes that resulted from the Nepal Forestry Policy since 1960. In 1960, Nepalís forests were nationalised. All trees, including those on private land, were considered national property. As a consequence, there was no incentive for people to manage, plant, or conserve the forests and trees. The impact of this policy was not formally evaluated, but they estimated that a great deal of illegal cutting took place.

In 1980 this policy was revised and changed to the existing one that categorises Nepalís forests into two major categories: National forests and private forests.

National forests have been divided into five groups:

Leasehold forests for poor people are a project funded by International Food for Agricultural Development, the World Bank, and the Asian-Pacific Development Bank. Leasehold users receive a loan for forest plantations or forest regeneration and animal production. Through these activities the families can guarantee their survival and will increase the forest cover of the country.

There are many positive and negative arguments in relation to the leasehold project. The unique aspect is that it is the only forestry project that targets the poorest of the poor and marginal groups. The leases are for 40 years. The people receive their loan from an international institution or bank, which avoids traditional loans made inside local communities that can imply long-term family commitments, debts of gratitude, etc.

One of the difficulties in the implementation of the project is to identify the poorest sector and marginal groups. Because of their traditional practices and distribution of labour, these groups are very busy working the fields, collecting forestry products (especially firewood and forage) and feeding animals, and it is often difficult to locate them.

The initial leasehold project began in 1974. Since that time the value of the Nepal Rupee has decreased. Thus, the people that accepted a loan 1974 are now paying seven times more than the initial loan plus 2% interest. Even though the banks said that these loans are "soft" loans, those same banks required the formal devaluation of the Rupee. The sustainability of the project has been questioned because it depends on international support. The Government is now looking for local alternatives that will allow the continuation of the project.

Nepal is divided into three main regions: the Terai area, the Middle Hills and the Himalayan or High Mountains.

The Terai is the more controversial forest area because it has the best quality forests and easy access to markets and roads. This area is basically National Forest, with some protected areas and very few community forestry areas. It is argued that these forests should be under government use and management because the revenues from these areas should be invested in national development activities. As an opposing argument, community forestry movements say that they have invested more money in their own development as a result of community forestry activities in ten years than the Government has done during the same period of time.

It is very well documented is that, historically, people from the Middle Hills used to move to the Terai areas on a daily basis to collecting forest products and for crop production. At night they moved back to the Hills where they had their own houses. During the decade of the 1950ís a programme of malaria control was implemented in the Terai. The disease was eliminated but the use of DDT had a direct negative impact on the environmental condition of the area and an indirect effect on migration processes. Once malaria was controlled, people from the Middle Hills settled in the Terai on a permanent basis. Roads were built in the Terai and a railroad in India. The communication system was improved between India and Nepal. All these factors affected forest condition, leading to deterioration in both quantity and quality, mostly inside Nepalís borders.

The Middle Hills (600 to 2 000 meters elevation) is where most of the community forestry activities take place. Community forestry regulations assign the right and responsibility for forest management and protection to the traditional forest users. Users must be legally organised and recognised as a Forest User Group (FUG). User groups develop and present their forest management plans to the Department of Forestry (DoF). Once the management plan is approved the DoF will hand over forest management in the area to the FUG. The FUG and the DoF are supposed to revise the plan every five years.

Community forestry was officially recognised and regulated in 1995, but community forestry practices actually began in 1993. Also in 1993 the Wildlife Conservation Act was passed which included the concept buffer zones and peopleís participation.

Community forestry projects have been easy to implement in the Hills because the inhabitants of these areas are the traditional users of the forests. They are not migrants, some of them own their own land, and others have a traditional system of using the forest as common property. These areas are high populated, with a very high percentage of emigration to the Kathmandu Valley, to the Terai and the Himalayans or High Mountains. Forest regeneration in these areas is relatively easy when soil conditions have not deteriorated.

In areas over 2 000 meters in elevation forest depletion is generally due to grazing activity. In these areas, people basically depend on livestock raising because the land and climate are not appropriate for crop production. Up until now the Government has not controlled grazing. There is also a large demand for fuel wood for cooking and heating. In these areas forest regeneration is very difficult due to the climate, particularly the very low temperatures.

 

5.1 The problems

There are contradictory opinions and lack of consensus as to the impact of forest use, marketing systems, tourists and community forestry practices on forest depletion and recovery. Reliable data are often lacking. The arguments and positions are presented below.

Professionals have two different ways of analysing forest cover change in Nepal. One way is to divide the country into geographic zones: the Terai, Middle Hills and Himalayas or High Mountains. The other way is to analyse the origin of settlements and types of land use (traditional and new) over time, both of which have had an impact on the quality of the forest, the organisational capacity of the forest users and the traditional uses of forest areas.

The arguments in relation to Terai forest deterioration are:

Professionals interviewed stated that forest cover change is an issue of proper management. A good management plan should result in forest productivity and sustained production of forest products and, at the same time, satisfy human needs and allow forest regeneration.

Communities use forests as a common property resource in Nepal. Use and access rights have been carefully respected as they evolved over the years. Over time mountain economies have changed and state intervention and regulations implemented in 1960 nationalised the forests. With this policy, communities loss their local autonomy.

Others mentioned that forest depletion began when forest practices changed from traditional subsistence use to cash income from forest products. This was made possible by road construction that permitted access to markets.

The loss of or denied access to forest resources hit poorer people harder than others because of their dependence on forest products. As the resources on common properties are now being managed ownership and responsibility are not clear defined. These resources belong to the nation but the national government does not have the capacity to manage them.

The activity of forest-based industries has produced short-term economic benefits but at the cost of deterioration in forest quality. Harvesting has been done without management plans, or with management plans that were not monitored. The revenues from these activities have not been re-invested in forestry programmes such as fire control, pest control, training, or forest conservation.

In the High Mountain areas it is difficult to have full registration, supervision, and monitoring of forestry and land use practices at the local level because of the lack of infrastructure. Roads, electricity and communications are very expensive and uncertain in these areas because of the steep slopes, the types of soils and the potential for earthquakes. Forest monitoring is very difficult.

Community forestry regulations require that these areas need to be used primary for subsistence purposes by the users and for community development projects, but not (or only very limited use) for commercial purposes. If marketing of forest products takes place, it should first satisfy the demands of all the users involved. Further, it should be confirmed that there are no other user groups that need the forestís products, or they should have priority to buy the forestís products. The last option is to sell the products in markets outside the community.

There are some commercialisation of forest products in Kathmandu, and the Department of Forestry is trying to control the process. The first problem has been timber prices. The Department of Forestry has established government timber prices to avoid intermediaries who were paying lower prices to user groups for their forestís products. The Department of Forestry is trying to ensure that users know the official prices so they will not be exploited. Timber and forest products are quite expensive in the Kathmandu Valley.

Depending upon the area, community forestry could be done either with plantations or natural regeneration. In some places there is adequate natural regeneration, and it even competes with plantations. In such areas, plantations are needed only in areas such as rice terraces, agro-forestry systems, the very high mountains or where the soil quality is poor.

Some professionals stated that the community forestry policy and user groups have made a significant contribution in improving the quality of the forests in the Hills. But it was also mentioned that there is no information or assessment that shows that community forestry has not had a negative impact on the Upper Hill area. Many of the community forestry users may also collect forest products from the Upper Hill (basically the National Forest areas). This means that the National Forests are acting as a subsidy to support the community forestry programme.

In any case, the community forestry policy could be considered successful because the Middle Hills are in better condition. It is expected that within five more years, when the community forestry areas improve further in quality and quantity, the forest user groups will tend to use their own forests more and extract their products from these areas that are closer to their villages. This may alleviate pressure on the fragile Himalayan ecosystems, perhaps permitting them to recover.

Even though community forestry appears to be a successful programme, it covers just 10 to 15% of the total forest cover of Nepal, so the impact is still limited.

Community forestry is difficult to implement in the Terai because the traditional user groups are located far away from the forest. The new immigrates to this area are located closer to the forest, but giving the right to use the forest area to one group will deny the right of the other group, with the potential for conflict.

Another problem with community forestry in the Terai is that users are asking for larger areas, managed by a large number of users, that make the forest user organisation difficult to manage. It is virtually impossible to manage an assembly of 2 000 people. As an alternative, the Forestry Department is proposing a revision of the regulations in order to limit the number of households and the area of forest in each community forest. As a counterproposal, local groups maintain that deforestation is prevalent in the Terai because it is accessible for cutting and marketing forest products, there is high demand and the Government does not have the capacity to manage the National Forests. Community forestry has been proven to have this capacity. In one pilot area, users have been allowed to establish the way they want to organise themselves and Government officials monitor the area.

Others state that the Government should be responsible for the Terai area because it is a risk for user groups to control areas along the border with India.

In relation to the tourism industry, it was mentioned that eco-tourism has been a good income alternative in the Terai. However, tourism infrastructure in the mountains has been a source of forest depletion. Trekking activities were evaluated as both positive and negative in different interviews.

Other effects of community forestry activities include: leopards and other predators have attacked people and livestock.

There have been some problems in relation to the extraction of timber products for commercial purposes. If these activities are not included in the community forestry management plan they are not supposed to be done. If commercialisation takes place, the Department of Forestry is considering taxing these products, but it is not clear how this procedure would be implemented.

Appropriate technology for timber product extraction is lacking and markets are far away from the Middle Hills where most community forestry programmes are implemented.

Community forestry was planned and promoted as a subsistence alternative for the production of fuelwood, fodder, medical plants, etc., and not as a programme for poverty alleviation. Now that community forests are beginning to produce timber and other products at more than the subsistence level it will be more difficult to control the distribution of benefits. Monitoring and distributing the benefits in an equitable way will be a new challenge that community forestry user groups and the Ministry of Forestry and Soil Conservation will need to face in the near future.

The Department of Forestry is a weak governmental institution, with few personnel. Every day there are more Community Forestry Programme applications. In addition, community forestry management plans should be revised every five years and approved by Department of Forestry. With the present number of people it will be impossible for the Department of Forestry to respond to the demands placed upon it.

Equity problems: When the Government was in charge of the forests it was the objective to keep people outside the forest. Now the forests users groups, through the Community Forestry Programme, are in charge of many of the forests. Some forest user groups are headed by elites (land owners and people of higher caste) who may have their own trees and not need the common forest resources. In these cases management plans might be developed basically for preservation purposes, directly affecting minority and marginal groups that are dependent on the forest. They will then have to extract their products from the National Forests to satisfy their needs.

Other professionals mentioned that even though the caste system exists, communities have their own organisation systems and that in many cases higher classes are the ones that take care of satisfying the needs of lower castes as part of the forest management system. So it depends on the area, the group and the people. It is up to the forest ranger to guarantee the inclusion of marginalised groups so that all members receiv e proper benefits.

 

People met

Winston Ruthven Rudder, Nepal FAO Representative
P.M. Shresta, FAO Forestry National Officer
Frist Ohler, CTA Hills Leasehold Forestry and Forage Development Project
Egbert Pelinck, Director General International Centre for Integrated Mountain, Development ICIMOD
Moe Myint, GIS Specialist ICIMOD
Chen Guang, Division Head Natural Resources ICIMOD
Ambika Adhikari, Country Representative IUCN
Siwakoti, Botany Specialist IUCN
Kanchan Verma Lame, Gender and Development DoF and Soil Conservation
K.B. Shresta, Community Forestry and Soil Conservation
Steve Hunt, Community Resource Management Project
Laurits A. Hansen, Natural Resource Management Sector Assistance NARMSAM
Amrit Joshi, NARMSAP
George Varughese, UNDP Official
Bal Ghopal, New Era Research Institution

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