Saraswati Tamang: the success story of a leaseholder in Nepal

Saraswati Tamang is chairwoman of one of the first leasehold groups set up by a development project in Nepal. Four years ago, she was shy and suspicious about the project. Now, the 31-year-old mother of three is the best known of all leaseholders. She knows her subject and likes to share her experience with others

Chairwoman Saraswati with a four-year-old fodder tree in her leasehold site

The aim of the development project is to rehabilitate and maintain forest resources by giving responsibility to people who will derive ongoing benefits from sustainable use and management. Degraded areas of forest land are handed over to small groups through a lease agreement with a duration of 40 years. With funding from the Netherlands and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and with technical assistance from FAO, the project gives special emphasis to small and marginal farmers, landless people, women and ethnic groups.

Formed in June 1993, Saraswati's group has seven members, two of them women. All the members are Tamang - one of the largest ethnic groups in Nepal. Most of the Tamang are poor and lack sufficient cultivable land.

Saraswati's leasehold group has 7 ha of level ground near Ramanthali village, Padam Pokhari VDC, in the Makwanpur district of Nepal, just south of Katmandu. The site has been divided up into seven small strips - one strip per leaseholder.

During the past three monsoons (1994 to 1996), Saraswati planted on her strip 650 fast-growing sissoo hardwood trees, used for making tools and timber, and estimates that about 600 have survived. She also planted a large number of various types of fruit trees, such as mango, litchi and jackfruit, and fodder trees to provide feed for livestock. In 1997 she plans to plant another 200 sissoo seedlings. Saraswati also has her own nursery from which she has earned 26 000 rupees (almost US$460) over the past three years from selling sissoo and fodder tree seedlings to the District Forest Office.

In addition to their leasehold strip, Saraswita's family rents 0.3 ha on a sharecropping arrangement to grow maize, the family's staple food. They fertilize the land with compost and cattle dung. Saraswati and her husband own a heifer buffalo, a calf, three pregnant goats and two young goats. They share the ownership of a cow. Sales of goats brought in about 3 000 rupees in each of the past three years.

By mid-1997 the project had formed about 650 leasehold groups. The project area has expanded from four to nine districts in the central and western regions of Nepal. A review of the project concluded that its approach provided a good basis for the future development of leasehold forestry programmes for communities. It also noted that the leasehold group members' enthusiastic response to the project was stimulating further work on this innovative concept of leasehold forestry.

When Saraswati was asked about the main benefits of the project, the first thing that sprang to her mind was the encouragement she had received from outsiders and visitors. Through her, Padham Pokhari has earned a fixed place on the itinerary of project staff and farmer study tours. There are few people better qualified to answer the questions of new small farmer leaseholders than Saraswati.

16 Ocrtober 1997

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