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Keshav Raj Kanel1 and Dhruba Prasad Acharya2


If we don’t change our direction, we’re likely to end up where we’re headed — Chinese proverb

Change is an inevitable part of human life. The forest administration in Nepal, with its history of almost eight decades, has followed a path of incremental transition juxtaposed with fundamental modifications which have had profound impacts, both positive and negative, on the forest resources of the country.

The Department of Forests (DOF) in Nepal was established in 1925. Its original mandate was to administer timber exports to colonial British India and to supply wood and wealth to ruling Rana families.3 Over time, the DOF developed into a powerful institution with technical, executive and judicial roles, and became the exclusive entity for forest control in Nepal (Malla 1992). Until 1978, it was the sole authority managing and utilizing forests in the country. The policy of controlling forests thorough a central authority was influenced significantly by the imperial forest policies being pursued in India at the time. The connection was mainly a result of senior DOF officials having been trained and educated in India. However, the interface between people and forests in the hills of Nepal is rather intimate and knowledge and skills introduced from India proved somewhat alien. Tension and conflict developed between local people as a result of the DOF methodologies and approaches. The colonial culture and belief system inculcated through education in India was, however, not deeply ingrained in DOF staff and this was an advantage in effecting the fundamental shifts in forest policy and management in Nepal that took place after 1978.

During the 1970s, Eckholm (1976) and other researchers popularized the “Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation”. The theory postulated that flooding in Bangladesh was related to the depletion of forest resources in the Middle Hills of Nepal. Nepalese hill farmers were blamed for the so-called “Himalayan degradation” owing to excessive extraction of forest products for subsistence needs. This theory became so popular that it drew international and national attention and led to a conference of Nepalese foresters in 1975. The conference discussed forest management issues and formed a task-force to formulate a National Forestry Plan, which was prepared and published in 1976. The plan was the first formal basis for the current community forestry approach in Nepal and included a proposal to transfer a substantial portion of government forest lands to local panchayats4 (Malla 1992). The government, in promulgating the Panchayat Forest Rules (PFR) and Panchayat Protected Forests Rules (PPFR) in 1978,5 admitted that the state alone could not manage all national forests and formally recognized the role of people’s participation in forest management.

The implementation of these provisions, in addition to other factors, contributed to the formulation of a Master Plan for Forestry Sector (MPFS) in 1988. Three years of rigorous study in preparing the plan resulted in an historic and progressive recommendation to further decentralize forest management to the community level. The plan further recommended that the role of the DOF should be changed to that of advisor and facilitator. There were three key steps to re-inventing the forest organization:


legitimization and empowerment of Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) as independent and voluntary organizations responsible for national forest management;


transferring the rights of forest access, use, management and withdrawal to CFUGs;


providing extensive re-orientation to forestry staff and community members so that foresters could effectively carry out their advisory role and local communities could better manage their forests.


The main objective of this study was to provide examples of restructuring of forestry organizations and institutions in Nepal and to analyse the core principles that led restructuring. Specific objectives were to answer the following questions:

These questions are answered in the following sections and a definition of concepts used in the report is provided in Appendix 2.


Land has been a strategic resource since the unification of Nepal in the late eighteenth century. As the forest area was extensive and the population small, state law encouraged conversion to agricultural use as a strategy to increase the tax base. Forests were also used as an energy source for arms and ammunitions industries. The same policy was pursued by Rana families when they became the de facto rulers of most of the country after 1846. The 104-year-old Rana dynasty relied on taxing the peasants while allocating forests to family members and supporters in the form of birta6 and jagir.7. Although the Rana regime would occasionally issue orders to manage a particular forest for specific purposes, no general forest law existed to manage national forests until 1951 (Mahat et al. 1986).

Following the overthrow of the Rana dynasty in 1951, major changes occurred in land use and ownership. Similarly, systematic forest management started to emerge. With more than one-third of forest and agricultural land under birta tenure, the government nationalized the forests in 1957 and abolished birta tenure for agricultural lands in 1959. The Private Forest Nationalization Act of 1957 and the Birta Abolition Act of 1959 tried to reduce the political base of feudal lords and Rana cronies. The aim of the Forest Nationalization Act was to “prevent the destruction of forest wealth and to ensure the adequate protection, maintenance, and utilization of privately owned forests”. In order to achieve this aim, the government strengthened the DOF to police the forests, and began issuing licences for the harvest of forest products. However, in the hills, local communities continued to use the forests primarily for subsistence needs. Moreover, there were only five or six trained foresters to preside over the entirety of the country’s forests making adequate monitoring impossible (Gilmour and Fisher 1991). Nevertheless, villagers continued the informal conservation and use of forests employing traditional management systems wherein forests were integral features of the farming system.

The government promulgated the Forest Act in 1961 to demarcate government forests. Legal measures to protect the forests and associated punitive means of enforcement were also prescribed. Royalties associated with the sale of forest products were also incorporated within the Forest Act and its regulations but the social component of forest management and utilization was omitted. Professional forest officials were viewed as the legitimate forest custodians. Forest area at the time constituted about 50 percent of total land area, but with only a few government officials to manage the forests, the state effectively became absentee landlords.

Centralized authority over the forest was further enhanced by the introduction of the Forest Preservation Act of 1967, which re-inforced the power of forest officials to prosecute forest violators. These two forest acts further alienated local people from the forests and from the forest authorities. The central control of forest areas, combined with mismanagement by the bureaucracy led to widespread forest depletion and degradation during this time. The prevailing mode of forest management in many developing countries was similarly over-reliant on centralized professional forest officials to manage nationalized forests. In a mode of management referred to as “classical forest management”, technical solutions were sought to halt deforestation and this resulted in local people being held responsible for forest depletion.

In a similar vein to the “Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation”, the World Bank in 1978 projected that the hill forests of Nepal and the Terai would be entirely depleted within 15 to 25 years. The causal factors were cited as population growth and increased demand for forest products in the face of declining supply. The hypothesized gap between supply and demand of forest products was thus expected to lead to complete forest loss. This Malthusian scenario recommended tree planting on a massive scale to address the foreseen crisis. Yet again, a technocratic solution was advanced to restore and manage the forest resources of Nepal.

While classical forestry solutions, with their technological approaches and gap analyses, were being presented and debated, a quiet revolution was noticed in Sindhu, a district adjoining Kathmandu. The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Sindhu, with support from the Nepal–Australian Forestry Project (NAFP), was experimenting with the involvement of local communities in the protection and management of forests, based on the communities’ existing forest management systems. The results were encouraging in that wherever villagers were involved in forest protection and utilization, the forest condition improved. The Sindhu experience, and experience from other districts, was shared and discussed at a national forestry conference in 1975, which was attended by all DFOs as well as senior members of the DOF and the ministry. The outcomes of the conference ultimately led to formulation of the National Forestry Plan in 1976. This plan became the basis for revisions of the Forest Act in 1978. Within the revised Forest Act provision was made for allocation of community forests to local political bodies known, until 1990, as panchayats. Forest plantations created by the village panchayats were established as Panchayat Forests (PF), whereas government forests protected directly by the panchayats were known as Panchayat Protected Forests (PPF). The distinction between them is detailed in Appendix 2. Thus, it can be claimed that community forestry in Nepal was first officially legitimized by the national government in 1978.

Forestry issues received intense global attention during the 1980s. Major donors agreed to support the formulation of “Tropical Forestry Action Plans” in developing countries to assess the condition of existing forests, analyse the causes of deforestation and to develop strategies for systematic protection. Nepal realized the need to update its Forestry Plan in the context of supporting people’s livelihood needs and the Seventh Five-Year National Plan (1985–1990) was thus formulated to this end.


The fuelwood “crisis” and its connection with the Himalayan degradation theory was being challenged by preliminary assessments of community forestry practices being adopted in Kavre, Dolakha and Dhankuta districts. In the context of increased global recognition of the importance of forests, and country-specific “Tropical Forest Action Plans”, the government took the decision to develop a Master Plan for the Forestry Sector (MPFS). To this end an aid coordination meeting was organized in March 1984. Other meetings were held subsequently and the MPFS process was eventually launched in 1986 as a joint venture between the Nepal Government, the Asian Development Bank and the Finnish International Development Agency. The main objectives of the planning process were to:

Under the MPFS rigorous studies of the forestry sector of Nepal were carried out for three years and various strategies were identified to restore and manage forest resources. The analysis and recommendations challenged prevailing attitudes in formal forest management. They proposed an alternative system for the management of land and forest resources founded upon three new strategies:

Until the 1970s, classical forestry was the dominant paradigm among forestry professionals in Nepal. Kuhn (1970) states, “scientists in any field and in any time possess a set of shared beliefs about the world, and for that time the set constitutes the dominant paradigm”. In the case of forestry in Nepal, the “paradigm acts as an ideology which justifies the maintenance of control over forest resources by foresters — nobody else can really be trusted to manage them” (Gilmour and Fisher 1991). This view has since been widely criticized for putting “trees” rather than “people” at the centre of forestry. Since the establishment of the forest administration in 1925, the DOF was conditioned, groomed and trained according to this paradigm. This entrenched mindset acted as one of the greatest barriers in handing over control of forests to villagers. Moreover, colonial forestry, which continued to be practised in India, also influenced Nepali forestry through its emphasis on technically oriented and hierarchically organized forest authorities. Forestry officials, exhibiting a classical forest management mindset, typically viewed local people as the greatest barrier to better forest management. In this context, local people’s access to forests needed to be restricted. The exclusion of local people from forest management was evidenced by the location of forest office buildings (up to 1980s) in isolated forests far from human settlements.

In spite of this deep-rooted professional ideology, it was the conference of senior DOF officials and field-based DFOs in 1975 that initially voiced the urgency of involving local people in forest management and conservation. The outcome of this conference became the basis for present-day community forestry. Current community forestry thus emerged from a paradigm shift and involved an entirely different professional culture with differing assumptions about the basis of forest management, the nature of multidisciplinary activities and the role of foresters (Gilmour and Fisher 1991). In this sense, a dramatic 180 degree turn in the way forestry was conceptualized and practised in Nepal took place.

There are many foresters in Nepal who believe that the term “community forestry” was actually coined and first given currency in Nepal. The first mention of community forestry in Nepal dates back to between 1952 and 1953, when it was referred to in a DOF policy statement (Gilmour and Fisher 1991). However, this policy was never implemented. The Forest Act of 1961 again introduced the policy of allowing some government forest land to be managed by village panchayats for their use (Mahat et al. 1986 cited in Malla 1992). Navaraj Baral, a forester working in Nepal, claims that the term community forestry was used before 1978 and prior to publication of Forestry for local community development (FAO 1978) and the Eighth World Forestry Congress in Jakarta in 1978 with its theme of “Forestry for People”.


The interaction of several factors on both national and international stages led to the emergence and evolution of community forestry in Nepal. The strength of calls for change increased following broader sociopolitical alterations in 1951. The calls were answered in 1978 when the government began to initiate limited transfers of government-owned forests to local level political units. Although 1978 was an important year for community forestry development, the real re-invention of the forest agency only began after implementation of the MPFS in 1988, with the progressive policies of:

The MPFS planning process involved reconfiguring and rescoping the duties and responsibilities of the DOF. At the same time, the process defined “community” for community forestry purposes as (sic) “a group or set of people with the common interest of getting a sustained supply of forest products. A community is not restricted by size…. the size of community to engage in community forestry would be mainly determined by the accessibility and the size of the forest resource, and the capacity of people for cooperation and collective management of their affairs” (Bonita and Kanel 1987).

The multiparty system in Nepal was restored through the people’s revolution of 1990, when the MPFS was technically ready to be submitted to the national authorities. The change of political regime led to modifications in the core documentation of the plan but not the core messages (R. Laitalainen, personal communication). It also facilitated formulation of a new forestry law, which increased the scope for community forestry. The Forest Act of 1993 specifically assigns forest resource related rights and duties to members of the CFUGs. The users have specific rights in relation to forest access, use and management and also forest product extraction.

Various factors contributed to the revised roles and responsibilities of Nepal’s forest agency:

Successful partnership with village leaders: Several attempts were made in the 1960s and early 1970s to develop partnerships between local village leaders and forestry organizations. Some of them succeeded, and others did not. In the Kusha Devi area of Kabhre District, negotiations between the DFO and local people in the 1960s led to protection, control and management responsibilities being vested in local users (Bartlett and Malla 1992 cited in Malla 1992). Manandhar reported similar efforts in the Upallo Girkhu area of Nuwakot District (Manandhar 1980 cited in Griffin 1988). These efforts tended to be temporary, but useful lessons for enhancing people’s participation were learned. Later, in the early 1970s, local people in Sindhu Palchok District demonstrated systems of protection and management of local forests that were more successful (Malla 1992). These success stories played an important role in stimulating the government to actively seek to enhance people’s participation in forestry (Mahat et al. 1987; Griffin 1988 cited in Mahat et al. 1987, p. 38).

Increased awareness and documentation of indigenous forest management systems: In placing the forests under direct state control, two critical assumptions are made. One is that the people are ignorant and need to be taught or convinced of the importance of trees; the other is that common resources will inevitably be overused (Gilmour and Fisher 1991; Hardin 1968). Both assumptions have since been disproved by numerous practical and theoretical experiments and studies on indigenous forest management systems. More recent inquiry into indigenous forest management systems has revealed that there are many locations in the hills of Nepal where local people, when entrusted with sufficient power, regulate access to forest resources such that overexploitation does not occur (Hardin 1968). This led to a change in some of the negative views held by foresters about villagers and farmers and raised awareness of the potential for recognizing and trusting local people’s forest management capabilities (Malla 1992). Thus, the development of trust in local organizations became an important factor in shifting forest management structures. Ostrom (1991) identified and analysed cases and conditions in which user groups have successfully managed natural resources in different parts of the world.

Global concern on the Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation: This theory, popularized by Eckholm in 1975, caused global concern over environmental degradation in Nepal. The situation was exacerbated by the World Bank’s prediction of the disappearance of all accessible forests in the Hills by 1993 and in the Terai by 2003 unless large-scale compensatory action was undertaken. This alarmist view of the state of Nepal’s forest resources served as a standard reference for many years (Taylor 1993). Such a gloomy picture exerted moral and political pressure on foresters to take bold and effective steps towards halting degradation and deforestation.

The DOF’s inability to enforce effective regulatory provisions: Hill forests were much neglected until the 1970s as the department was strongly oriented towards the export of timber to India. The difficult terrain in the hills was not commercially viable for forest management and hence did not offer sizeable revenue to the state. Moreover, forest patches in the hills were so scattered that the department could not enforce effective regulations. The prevailing forest acts did not allow the traditional use of forest products by rural people, although their informal use continued unaffected. The provisions of the acts thus transformed villagers into unlawful forest users and the illegal use of forests was so widespread that any villager could be punished at any time for contravening forest rules. Under this policy environment, forest regulations were misused, in many cases for political and personal motivations. The solution to the illicit felling of trees was thought of in terms of more patrolling of the forests, more legal cases against the offenders and the strict punishment of forestry “violations”. The department was also accused of rampant corruption and there were cases where people were charged for forest offenses simply because they could not afford a bribe or secure support through political influence. This situation led to weak and arbitrary enforcement of forest rules and widespread penalization of peasants following traditional subsistence livelihoods and least able to defend themselves. It was only after 1975 that foresters and other stakeholders began to seek alternative solutions.

Learning from contemporary forestry projects and studies: The Nepal–Australia Forestry Project (NAFP), which began in 1979 in Sindhu Palchok and Kavre districts, and the World Bank-funded (UNDP/FAO implemented) Community Forestry Development Project (CFDP), launched in 1981 in 29 hill districts, were two pioneering efforts in community forestry (Taylor 1993). Several other forestry projects supported by Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the World Bank (the Terai Community Forestry Development Project) were also underway. These projects tried to engage and learn from local people in various ways. Experiences stemming from these efforts were instrumental in the evolution of community forestry.

Gilmour and Fisher (1991) document case studies in Chaap al Danda forest (Sindhu Palchok District) and Tukucha forest (Kabhre District) where community forestry was attempted. These experiments generated a number of lessons for community forestry: the process of formulating a forest management agreement requires time for discussion and negotiation; obtaining information necessary for developing management plans does not require large meetings or formal surveys and informal discussions are often as effective if not more so (Gilmour and Fisher 1991). These studies together with other pilot experiments in Dhankuta and Dolakha districts emphasized the point that (sic): “If forest is to be effectively protected, managed, and used they need to be handed over to the actual users, not to the political bodies as provisioned by the Panchayat and Panchayat Protected rules” (N.K. Shrestha, personal communication).

A study carried out by a multidisciplinary team of specialists to review issues documented by Taylor (1993) also influenced the MPFS process:

While the early successes of projects such as CFDP and NAFP were being trumpeted around international forestry and development circles through workshop papers and multimedia presentations, snags were developing in field implementation. Four major areas of concern were:

It was decided that an in-depth study of these themes was in order. HMG requested that it be a Nepali assessment. Accordingly, four 3–4 person teams were identified and charged with carrying out “special studies” in each of these areas. Importantly, each team consisted of a mix of specialists including people outside of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation (e.g. Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture, National Planning Commission). The studies provided a sobering assessment of the community forestry projects, and proposed a lengthy list of remedial actions (HMG 1986 cited in Taylor [1993]). The studies were remarkable for the candor with which they identified and discussed problems and for their spirit of self-criticism. They signaled the willingness of HMG, and of foresters involved in implementing these projects, to take a hard look at community forestry and to make mid-course corrections. In retrospect, the Four Special Study Reports constitute an important turning point. They opened up debate and set the stage for major changes in the orientation of community forestry programs, changes which were later to become formalized in the Master Plan for the Forestry Sector.

Broader policy shift towards decentralization: In the early 1980s, the government initiated a broader decentralization approach to strengthen the panchayat political system. As a consequence, the Decentralization Act of 1982 and the Decentralization Rules of 1984 were promulgated. These provisions also legitimized the concept and practices of CFUGs in the management of development activities and this institutional approach was later incorporated within regulations for the management of community forests. In fact, the current Forest Act recognizes CFUGs as the main institutional vehicles for managing forests.

Open discussions and a rigorous consultation process during the MPFS process: The MPFS process took almost three years and used extensive Nepali and foreign expertise. The planning team sourced input from existing community forestry efforts and gave attention to the relationships that had developed among them. Taylor (1993) noted, “The synergy that developed between these various efforts opened the door for proposed changes of a more rapid and radical nature than would have been possible had each group been operating in isolation.”

Workshops and discussions took place at all levels from the field to central government. The Workshop on Community Forestry Management held in Kathmandu in November 1987 was particularly influential and the paper Some views of the Master Plan for Forestry Sector Project on community forestry by M. Bonita and K. Kanel had significant impact (N.K. Shrestha, personal communication). “In addition, there were several important spin-offs from the Workshop. The first was that the Master Plan team was able to present some of its thinking to a large cross-section of the forestry community. Their presentations were thoughtful, informative and well received. This gained additional credibility for the Master Plan process. The second was that a World Bank team charged with designing the major Phase II Hill Community Forestry Development Project happened to be in Kathmandu … [and] could attend several of the key sessions. As a result, the team heard directly from field foresters (Nepali and expatriate alike) about major problems encountered in implementing community forestry programs and the need for some far reaching changes to address these problems. A third unanticipated spin-off was that the Workshop Proceedings were produced and widely distributed in record time... [in] a special issue of Banko Janakari … This allowed for rapid and widespread diffusion of the Workshop papers and recommendations which could then be used as a point of departure for further discussion, debate and development of several of the central themes of the Master Plan” (Taylor 1993).

“Projects operating in many districts prior to 1988 were actively exploring various modalities for implementing community forestry, and had developed a consensus that the old ways were leading to an increase in forest loss and degradation and were negatively impacting on the livelihood of rural communities. There was also general agreement that the solution to both halting forest loss and improving rural livelihoods lay in empowering local communities to play a greater role in forest management. Along with this was a recognition that the DoF had to shift from a confrontational relationship with local communities to one built on consensus. Initially, the main proponents of the MPFS rejected the idea of a radical reform agenda, and proposed instead a traditional approach to forest policy with a heavy emphasis on command-control and industrial forestry as a way of using the forest sector to stimulate development. This led to direct confrontation with many people who were working in the districts to develop modalities to devolve authority for forest management to communities and for the government to decrease its direct control. The turning point was the first CF conference in 1987, where it became very obvious that the various approaches being trialed across the country, with support from different bilateral and multilateral donors, shared many common elements. This was the first time that it was realized by the MPFS team that a powerful dynamic was being played out across most of the hills, and one that they could not afford to ignore. Following the 1987 conference, a period of constructive collaboration ensued between the MPFS team and many others that resulted in the development of the final MPFS document. Unlike many other countries where the MPFS process had been implemented, in Nepal, it resulted in a useful and meaningful policy framework. In some other countries in the region the MPFS, developed by the same technical team that worked in Nepal, was never endorsed by the government” (D. Gilmour, personal communication).


A history of Nepal’s forest administration

Formal forestry administration started in 1925 and the initial body was called Ban Janch (forest checking office). In 1927 the Kath Mahal (timber affairs) office was established, and in 1939 Eastern and Western forestry wings were established. The main goal of these offices was to facilitate the supply of railway sleepers to the East India Company in India and maintain state control of natural resources. The current DOF was established in 1942 with three circles (zonal forest administration offices) and 12 Ban Janch. The structure and nature of the department was modeled directly on the Indian Forest Service and policy mirrored that used in British India (Pokharel 1997). The key role of the department until 1951 was to export timber to India and implicitly to enrich the Rana families.

The department was re-organized in 1951 with two circles, 11 forest divisions and 44 range offices. Re-organization occurred regularly from then onwards; in 1960 with seven circles and 22 divisions; in 1968 with 14 circles and 75 district forest offices; in 1976 with nine circles and 40 divisions; and in 1983 with five regional directorates and 75 district forest offices. Although there were many changes in the structure, these were not conducive to developing dynamic or effective forestry organization (Joshi 1993). The most recent restructuring took place in 1993 to support the MPFS and the Forest Act, enacted in 1993. Currently, the department consists of 74 district forest offices, 92 Ilaka9 offices and 698 range posts. The Ministry of Forests, established in 1959, was also restructured and renamed several times, and is at present called the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation (MFSC). A summary of the history of forest administration in Nepal is given in Table 1.

Table 1. History of forestry administration in Nepal



Administrative changes/events

Feudal stage 1925

Ban Janch established


Kath Mahal established


Eastern and Western wings established


Establishment of the Department of Forests


Forest Service Act promulgated


Two circles and 44 ranges in the Terai


Institute of Forestry established

Centrally controlled stage


Private Forest Nationalization Act


Ministry of Forests established


Chief Conservator's Office, seven circles and 22 divisions


Timber Corporation of Nepal established


Nepal Fuelwood Corporation established


14 circles, 75 district forest offices (but failed to implement)

Paradigm shift stage


National Forestry Plan and nine circles, 40 divisions


PF/PPF Rules promulgated


Decentralization Act


Five regional directorates and 74 district forest offices


Decentralization Regulations


Private and Leasehold Forestry Rules

Expansion stage


First National Community Forestry Workshop


Master Plan for the Forestry Sector


Forest Act legislated


First National Forest Users Groups Workshop


Restructuring of the Ministry of Forests


Forest Rules framed


First amendment of the Forest Act, 1993


Special forest policy for the Terai


Revision of community forestry guidelines


Second revision of the Forest Act, 1993


Collaborative forest management guidelines

Adapted from Pokharel (1997) and Joshi (1993).

The aim of restructuring in 1993 was to facilitate implementation of six primary and six supporting programmes identified by the MPFS. To support these programmes, the ministry was ordered to include five divisions, five departments and three parastatal corporate bodies.

The DOF is by far the largest organization within the ministry and almost 70 percent of the staff under the ministry work within the DOF and its district offices. The department has three divisions, namely: the Community Forestry Division, the Planning and Monitoring Division and the National Forest Division. The Community Forestry Division facilitates the implementation of community forestry which is identified as the keystone forestry programme in Nepal. The district forest offices are disaggregated into five different categories depending upon the size of the district, the area of forest available and the number of offices and staff: Category A (three Ilaka offices and 15 range posts); Category B (two Ilaka offices and 12 range posts); categories C and D (one Ilaka office and eight range posts); and Category E (no Ilaka office with eight range posts).

Emergence of the role change

There had been a gradual shift in the role of the forestry administration since promulgation of the Panchayat Forest Rules (PFR) and Panchayat Protected Forests Rules (PPFR) rules in 1978 (A.L. Joshi, personal communication). However, this did not become obvious until the MPFS clearly and boldly proposed the new role in a progressive way in 1988. It is difficult to identify a single event that is strongly identified with this change. However, various factors converged in the preparation of the MPFS that were influential. Forest degradation and illegal felling were, for example, so rampant that some change was inevitable and the ability of DFOs to perform their duties at the time was seriously compromised (B.P. Pokharel, personal communication).

The systemic problems of the old system were so profound that the search for radical alternatives continued. Bonita and Kanel (1987) describe the shift: “With the passage of a Community Forestry Act, which would recognize community forestry as the main strategy for forest restoration and development, there would inevitably come the need for acceptance of the changing roles of forest officers. Foresters would no longer be the chief agents directly responsible for forest development, which would be the role of the people. Indirectly, however, the foresters have a very important role. They would be the organizers, facilitators, and supporters of development.” Some professionals with higher education in areas such as forest economics and development science were also key players during the MPFS planning process (B. Pokharel, personal communication). They recognized the need for appropriate staff training in preparation for new roles.

Is it a real change?

Many people now believe that an encouraging and significant change in the role of forestry administration has taken place, especially those working in the Middle Hills. Those interviewed acknowledged and greatly appreciated changes in the role of forestry staff after 1988. Two female rangers observed that people’s perceptions of them had taken a more positive direction: “People used to run away when they saw us in the villages, but now they come looking for us and ask for further support. If there was no role of this kind, we would not have joined the forest service either” (R. Pokharel and K. Dahal, personal communication). Some of the committed pro-people foresters were highly effective in proposing and practising the new approach. Certain DFOs were so proactive in transferring forests to communities in the early days that senior departmental staff reacted negatively to their enthusiasm (Don Messerschmidt, personal communication). Boxes 1 and 2 narrate DFO experiences vis-à-vis the new mandate.

Box 1. Wrong perception about villagers

As a DFO, I have experienced both a traditional and a new role as forester. During 1988 and 1989, I was the DFO in Kailali District. Kailali is a Terai district in the far-western region of Nepal. In nearby Tharu village, some of our field staff reported that they were shot at by a local Tharu youth during a forest patrol. When the incident was reported to me, I gave an order to the armed forest guards and mobilized the police force to operate a search operation in the village and initiate legal action against the youth. This action was thought necessary, as no other forest staff would be able to patrol if we were not strict on such incidents. Moreover, we used to perceive all villagers as forest thieves as well. So, any strict action against forest thieves would be justifiable. When our armed guards searched the village there was much terror in the village and almost all the youths ran away. We caught the youth, who was suspected of having fired at the patrol. A case was filed against him. He was jailed for quite a long time. It was only after a long time that I found out that the youth was innocent, and the forest guard was guilty. The shot was not aimed at the staff. When I reflect back about that incident, I feel very sorry for the boy. What a wrong perception we had about the villagers and how wrongly we treated them.

Later in Darchula District, I was again the DFO but with a completely different role. I could mobilize people to manage forests. We were able to form two all-women users’ committees. The women in the committee were so impressed that they even said “can there be such a DFO!”.

Padam Bahadur Chand, ex-DFO, Kailali and Darchula

Box 2. Change has to happen in us

I don’t believe that the traditional control and policing role brought any meaningful impact even in the Terai. I was the DFO in Kailali District some years ago. The problem of forest encroachment was quite serious in Terai districts at that time, and Kailali was one of the worst. I needed to evacuate 10 000 hectares of encroached forests in my new role, not for other reasons. I did this by mobilizing people and forestry staff without using the police force. I presented myself to the people as a facilitator seeking their support for forest evacuation. I didn’t present myself as a forest custodian as a traditional forester in the Terai would. When people saw that I was different from the usual DFO, they also presented themselves differently. They participated in and strongly supported evacuation of the people, and replanting of the encroached area. This success created envy even among neighbouring DFOs, as they were not able to accomplish anything in their districts. So, my conclusion is that many times we want others to change but in reality we have to change first by changing the roles that we were conditioned to.

Navaraj Baral, ex-DFO, Kailali

Other people have also noticed significant changes in forestry staff. Don Messerschmidt, a community forestry specialist, observed greater participation of villagers and better understanding that the forests belong to the people and people should manage the forests. Hukum Bahadur Singh, a proponent of community forestry, identifies a significant change in the forest agency. His observations on role change are:

Bhola Bhattarai, the Secretary of the Federation of Community Forestry Users Groups of Nepal (FECOFUN) shares one of his own stories in Box 3.

Box 3. A 180-degree turn

In the 1980s my parents decided to construct a house in my village in Gorkha District. I was a small boy studying in a local school. My brother paid some royalty to the forest office and got a purji (licence) to get some timber from the nearby forest. The local forest guards used to make regular visits to our house. We used to consider them “big” men and had to arrange kukhura (chicken) and drinks for every visit. As we are a Brahmin family, we had to get these things from a nearby Magar village. One time, there was an election in the village and rangers passed through our village. They saw the piles of timber in our construction site and accused us of cutting more trees than allowed by purji. We were asked to arrange some money in order to settle the issue. My brother refused to pay. So they ordered us to the District Forest Office. After a few days, when we made a visit to the District Forest Office, we found that the Ban Mudda (legal forest case) was already there against us. At that time Ban Mudda used to be considered in the same vein as a murder case. Our entire family was terrified, although in the end we were withdrawn from the case.

In 1991, an Assistant Forest Officer (AFO) from the District Forest Office visited our village to form a community forest user group. We were informed about the concept of community forestry and the forest officer described very clearly the legality, procedures and the benefits of community forestry. The villagers were reluctant in the beginning, as they thought that the DFO would retain control, and the forest guards would be the bosses. The villagers were later convinced and formed a committee. In 1994, we formally registered the forests as community forests. During this facilitation process, we found very good AFOs and very supportive rangers. In 1995, I was involved in FECOFUN and used to be in regular contact with the District Forest Office. I was very impressed with the positive role of the DFO and AFOs. This is a 180-degree turn compared to the role they played in the 1980s.

Bhola Bhattarai, Secretary, FECOFUN

However some forestry staff still believe that the DOF should play more of a custodial role. They consider that their authority has diminished as a result of the paradigm shift (B. Acharya, personal communication). Such beliefs are more prevalent at higher levels than at the lower, grassroots levels in the department and the ministry (N. Baral, personal communication).


One way of understanding organizations, and in this case the forestry agency, is to see them holistically through a conceptual framework integrating subjective and objective aspects. Wilber (1998) proposed a framework of four “worlds” defined by subjective and objective factors operating at individual and collective levels (Figure 1). This kind of analysis is particularly important when we attempt to view human organizations not as machines but as complex, living social systems. In a social system, the subjective worlds of mind, consciousness, emotions, attitudes, relationships, culture, traditions, beliefs, myths and language are naturally integrated with the objective worlds of behaviour, performance, plans, strategies, structures, processes, resources, technology and systems (Pradhan 2003). Only through an understanding of the inter-relations between these four quadrants, can one bring holistic change. Management experts such as Peter Senge and Margaret Wheatley have now recognized the crucial role of the subjective worlds in successful organizational change. In a recent book, Senge et al. (1999) focus on the subjective realms as being essential to initiate and sustain organizational changes.

Figure 1. Wilber model of wholeness and integration

Source: Wilber (1998).

Although the forestry agency does not yet operate in such a holistic modality, it is noteworthy that the restructuring process did not seek to isolate the various components but rather dealt with the structure as a whole. Pradhan (1993) states that “There is very little understanding of what it actually takes to develop and manage high performing organizations in Nepal” and the focus is on treating the parts rather than the whole. Nevertheless, we have tried to identify and analyze the changes brought about by the reinvention process in terms of the four quadrants applied to the forest agency”.

Behaviour and skills quadrant

There has been substantial change in the behaviour and skills of forestry staff over the last two decades. Community forestry concepts and practices have provided space for pro-people foresters to flourish and some forestry staff to become community role models. In 1990, one of the rangers in Sindhu Palchok District became a vegetarian just to avoid the practice of forest guards offering chicken to their seniors or supervisors during field visits (R Pokharel, personal communication). Offering chicken in this fashion during field visits used to be an established tradition in the forestry sector. The ranger devised a creative way to break with the established culture. Such people have been observed at all levels, demonstrating skills and innovative ideas to address negative aspects of the institutional culture. Community forestry has provided them with the space to try out new ideas. On the other hand, the sociopolitical changes resulting from the people’s movement in 1990 and the new situation created by the political conflict have been so profound that no forest guards would dare to ask for chicken in the village these days (M. Banjade, personal communication).

The massive training programmes implemented in the 1990s re-oriented many staff towards community forestry and their new roles. The interaction of staff with forest users and the public served to develop sympathy and re-educate many mid- and lower-level staff members. However, such re-orientation is not perceived to have taken place at the higher levels. Navaraj Baral says, “When the MPFS was prepared, people at the higher level recognized the need for re-orienting and retraining the entire staff. Through the implementation of CF, the lower staff was thus re-oriented but we now see a need for re-orientation at higher levels. If we write another Master Plan, we would propose to re-orient and retrain the entire senior staff”.

The DFOs and other field staff are now demonstrating much more supportive attitudes than before. This has reduced tension between forestry staff and forest users, and has opened up more room for interaction, discussions and collective learning. This has helped to create a positive environment for forestry staff to learn, educate, reflect and change (N. Timsina, personal communication). This is considered to be a step forward in the transformation of the forest agency. There are now several cases where forestry officials are expressing their dissatisfaction with higher level officials and are inspiring FECOFUN to lobby against regional administrators who are perceived to be constraining CFUG roles and activities in several places.

During the past decade the leadership and motivational skills of forestry staff have increased considerably; these improvements have been influenced by exposure, training and interaction. In this respect, departmental skills greatly exceed those of other sectoral organizations. There are now many DFOs and AFOs who are skilled in evoking commitment and motivation in people and creating a positive working environment. The leadership at the department and ministry is also more open and accommodating now as compared to 1988 and earlier. It is hard to correlate community forestry and the broader changes that have taken place in the political landscape, but we consider that the interface created by community forestry between people and civil society has greatly influenced the leadership style of at least the forest bureaucracy.

Intention and attitude quadrant

The intention and attitude quadrant is very important but largely ignored by empirical science and positivism as well as by many development professionals (Pradhan 2003). We believe, however, that this quadrant is critical to community forestry as results are fundamentally affected by the attitudes and thinking of people working in community forestry at different levels. For this reason, it is worthwhile examining the extent to which attitudinal changes are generated by community forestry.

Increases in collaborative activities indicate that trust between forestry professionals and villagers has improved significantly. Increased trust is also evidenced by the degree to which forest users invite DFOs to their annual assemblies as chief guests. DFOs at present receive so many invitations to attend CFUG general assemblies that for some individuals it is difficult to manage. There are many forestry staff members who are committed to community forestry and express that their self-esteem has increased as a result of this people-centred approach (N. Baral, personal communication). There is broad recognition of the attitudinal changes that have taken place among forestry professionals. These changes are seen to represent a significant paradigm shift, especially by those who recollect pre-1988 attitudes.

There is suggestion, however, that these changes are a short-term and situation-bound behavioural shift rather than an attitudinal change that is permanent, sustainable and deep in nature. This suggestion is supported by a range of evidence, for example, DFOs appearing to have transformed while working in the hills are seen to revert to being rigid and traditional when posted in the Terai

(B. Pokharel, personal communication). Similarly, some DFOs who were very positive towards community forestry when involved in community forest projects were less supportive when posted to other areas. DFOs like Navaraj Baral view this not only as individual weakness but also indifference towards motivating staff to embrace deep-rooted change amongst the department’s leadership. This phenomenon is somewhat to be expected as the re-inforcement theory states that “consequence shapes behaviour”. If the system does not appreciate attitudinal change it is very unlikely that the change will be sustained once circumstances alter.

Culture and values quadrant

Organizational culture and values include beliefs, traditions, practices and behaviour that comprise the unspoken background against which people perceive the world (their clients, employees, leaders, quality, service, etc.) and think, act and work together (Pradhan 1993). The cultural context within which most public decisions are made in Nepal is manipulated by connection and kinship, source– force (influence by power and connection) and afno-manche10 (Bista 1991). Pradhan (1993) calls it a “jagir culture”, which is in essence a feudal culture, inherited from the sixteenth and seventeenth century Moghul regimes and nourished and solidified by the autocratic Rana regime and the panchayat system. This feudal culture can be witnessed in most decision-making, inter alia, transfers and promotions, performance evaluation, accountability and reward systems. Culture and values extend beyond the forest sector to encompass the civil service, the configuration of authority and power and policy and the economy as well. The forest bureaucracy cannot be expected to differ significantly in underlying dynamics from the predominant systemic culture of feudalism. However, there are some positive signs of change that have resulted from the improved people–forest agency interface cultivated by community forestry.

There is a wider realization among forestry professionals that forestry is now multidisciplinary rather than monolithic. Forestry staff are now more open and positive towards multistakeholder participation and many DFOs are also embracing, at least in practice, an affirmative culture of mutual support, cooperation and harmony among district forestry stakeholders.

System and structure quadrant

The system and structure quadrant addresses the structure, process, systems, rules and policies of an organization or community. This is reflected in the substantial institutional change that has taken place during 25 years of community forestry. Most of the changes and impacts from the re-invention process are observed in this quadrant.

The policy shift undertaken by the MPFS in 1988 and the subsequent legislation, guidelines and procedures developed over the last 17 years are the most important observable changes in system and structure. These changes have together led to the establishment of generally capable and democratic CFUGs. Many community forestry practitioners have been proud that CFUGs have remained democratic even when all other democratic institutions in the country collapsed.

There were also a number of internal changes to the forest agency. One of the most important is the mode of communication between forestry staff and the public; many training courses and workshops have aimed to enhance communication at different levels. Vertical communication has not changed much but horizontal communication between district line agencies, civil society and communities has increased substantially. Demonstration of internal changes has also been evidenced in the decision-making authority. Formerly, there was much discussion and confusion over who should have the authority to transfer forests to communities. For quite a long time authority remained with the regional director. But the Forest Act in 1993 enacted a progressive provision by according DFOs the authority to transfer forests. Rules and authority have now been so devolved to DFOs that they do not require any directives from the DOF and the MFSC to implement community forestry (A.L. Joshi, personal communication).


Full acceptance of the MPFS at various levels came quite slowly. When the planning process began in 1986, there were those who dismissed the exercise as a triviality. Most of these sceptics became converts when the draft MPFS was presented by the Ministry of Finance and the National Planning Commission in 1988 (Taylor 1993). Successive governments in the 1990s took ownership of the plan and initiated a number of reforms. The most important were the preparation of the Forest Act (1993) and Forest Regulation (1995). Subsequent legislation and guidelines (1996) greatly facilitated the process of restructuring. The legislation was not only in line with the MPFS but was even more progressive as it did not restrict the transfer of forests and expanded the scope of community forestry beyond subsistence needs. The Forest Law of 1993 legitimized the new policy, the new institutional mandate for the DOF and new roles for DOF staff — ambiguity no longer existed. The MPFS can be considered a success to the extent that “there is now no argument that empowerment of communities to take control of their forests is an appropriate and effective way to ensure that the forests in the hills are managed sustainably for the benefit of the state and local communities” (D. Gilmour, personal communication).

The highlight of the policy was to award both territorial and community forestry roles to a single agency — the DOF (B. Pokharel, personal communication). This provision greatly influenced the process of re-educating and re-inventing the forest agency. Had there been two departments, as in some other countries, the forest bureaucracy would probably have been barred from the retraining opportunity. Furthermore, there would likely have been much futile contradiction and tension between the two departments. Contrastingly, Jim Bampton (personal communication) believes that the DFOs’ roles should be disaggregated to improve performance. In his opinion, the DFOs should be more concerned with regulation and forest management should be allocated to CFUGs or other forest management units.

The restructuring of the forestry agency to implement the MPFS was not well planned and roles were not effectively identified nor assessments of capacity made to implement different roles (N.K. Shrestha, personal communication). Nevertheless, the establishment of departments and several divisions was in line with the MPFS, although the ministry’s current organizational model is quite different from that originally proposed. It could be argued that the present model is based on practical experience and more effectively meets present-day needs but it is questionable whether a process of iterative learning and implementation took place.

Despite this, the establishment of FECOFUN and entry of NGOs into the forestry sector are considered to have positively influenced community forestry. Civil society, through dialogue, interaction, debate and tension has contributed to the reform and re-orientation of the forest agency (N. Timsina, personal communication). Don Messerschmidt thinks that the “best thing that ever happened to forestry in Nepal is FECOFUN” and M.R. Banjade agrees (sic): “If FECOFUN was not created, the forest bureaucracy and the community forestry policy change would have been much more regressive” (M.R. Banjade, personal communication). Frequently, FECOFUN strongly resisted policy changes, such as the amendment of the Forest Act, 1993 and financial ordinances (government levy of 40 percent of CFUG forest product sales). Although FECOFUN remained controversial among government forest officials, today the bitterness seems to have diminished. There is now considerable collaboration between them as evidenced by the existence of several working groups, joint organization of workshops like the Fourth National Community Forestry Workshop and the recent process to amend inventory guidelines.

If we look cumulatively at role change-related achievements in community forestry, it becomes apparent that about 25 percent of the national forests (forests outside the protected area system) are now managed by more than 14 000 CFUGs scattered all over Nepal. In terms of area they manage more than 1.2 million hectares of forests and about 35 percent of all households in Nepal are participating in the management process. Kanel (2004) and Kanel and Niraula (2004) identified three main community forestry achievements:

Educating and re-orienting

The Institute of Forestry (IOF) has been the largest provider of human resources in the forestry sector. Education in the IOF has not been well-integrated with present-day forestry needs (K. Shrestha, personal communication). “At the present time, professional interactions and collaborative exchanges between the IOF and the MFSC are minimal. Officially, there are links between the IOF and MFSC at the highest level. There are, however, few practical linkages between IOF, faculty members and forestry sector practitioners. The limited cooperation that does exist, is based more on personal basis than institutional collaboration e.g. a few MFSC staff occasionally give guest lectures at the IOF. Unfortunately, the lack of links has resulted in some curricula being out of date and thus not providing the competences that students require for the contemporary workplace. IOF students, who have recently entered the forestry sector lack required skills and knowledge” (MFSC 2004).

For some time community forestry was not included in forestry curriculum. Until recently, staff studied it only after recruitment to the forest service (R. Pokharel and K. Dahal, personal communication). The IOF remained the most recalcitrant part of the system and there was strong resistance to fundamental change in the curriculum. IOF staff treated the new approaches to forest management in the hills as an interesting diversion from “proper” forestry and for a long time did not take them seriously (D. Gilmour, personal communication). It was only recently that the IOF realized the need to review curricula and responded by convening a major conference attended by the ministry, the DOF and delegates from forestry projects. The conference made comprehensive recommendations but the Curriculum Development Centre was not sufficiently influenced to accept the changes suggested.

Training and re-orientation have been central thrusts of the MPFS. It was deemed necessary for forestry staff to assume new roles as facilitators and extensionists. Until the mid-1990s the training focus was on attitudinal changes and re-orientation towards people-centred approaches. Senior staff also had the option of attending several such sessions as a part of their own training. Experience of community forestry implementation led many people to realize that different skills were necessary for such activities. Many of these skills such as surveys, inventories and management of forest, including non-timber products, were technical but a number were social such as sensitivity to gender and equity issues and skills necessary for participatory rural appraisal, team building, communication and training of trainers. Presently, the Human Resources Development and Training Section under the MFSC oversees the training component at the central and regional training centres. Apart from these training components, all community forestry projects possess a strong bias towards enhancing forestry staff capacity through training, education and workshops. More recently the MFSC prepared and approved the Human Resources Strategy-2004, the recommendations from which are currently being implemented. The strategy focuses on a range of options to enhance the capacity of the ministry and its staff. Many elements of the strategy are, however, beyond the capacity of the ministry as they are subsumed under broader governance systems (K. Shrestha, personal communication).


Momentum within the community forestry movement appears to have dropped since the mid-1990s: Re-invention and the paradigm shift in forest management has not been a linear process and ups and downs have occurred in relation to policy revisions and organizational reform. Some of those working in forestry perceive that the momentum of community forestry as a movement began to decrease in the late rather than the early 1990s. There is a perception that the government has attempted to assert greater control over community forestry since 1998 through decisions defying the spirit of the MPFS and the Forest Act. Ojha et al. (2005) listed the decisions made between 1998 and 2004 (Table 2) that exemplify how the government has attempted to control community forestry. Netra Timsina explains one of these questionable decisions: “The patron– client relationship of politicians and bureaucrats that was destroyed by the 1990 movement was regained during the mid-1990s. The bureaucracy was much weakened during the 1990s as a result of the people’s movement and the removal of senior bureaucrats by the then Nepali Congress government. The government established through popular vote was also bound to make decisions in favour of people. As a result, the most progressive legal provisions were enacted and bureaucrats could not display any resistance. However, in the mid-1990s many corrupt politicians were already in power and the government became unstable due to the fluidity in politics. All of these factors advantaged the bureaucracy in regaining control in community forestry”.

However, government officials argue that the state is not trying to control community forestry, but trying to incorporate lessons learned and rectify mistakes in order to enhance its performance. The question of how to restore momentum and harmonize these two perspectives is a key challenge for community forestry policy-makers and practitioners.

Table 2. Overview of forest policy decisions since 1996

Forest policy decision

Level of decision

Summary content of the decision

Forest product sales outside districts


Without fulfilling demands of the local community and adjacent districts, a CFUG cannot sell forest products in other places. (April 1996).

Monopoly rights on timber sales


The Timber Corporation of Nepal was granted monopoly rights over the sales and distribution of timber outside CFUGs in Nepal (9 February 1998).

First amendment of the Forest Act, 1993


The amendment restricted some of the rights of the CFUGs (December 1998).

Ban on green felling


Ban applied to all types of forests including community forests (1 November 1999).

Community forestry restricted in the Terai


Community forestry was restricted in the Terai to degraded land isolated from the well-stocked forests. (28 April 2000).

Forest inventory guideline


A compulsory guideline for complex inventory systems in community forestry. (September 2000).

Second amendment of the Forest Act, 1993

Attempted to curtail CFUG rights (February 2001) but it was not ratified.

Sharing of CFUG income


Government finance ordinance for sharing of 40 percent income from the sale of surplus timber to the government (1 July 2003).

Collaborative forest management guideline


Guidelines to implement new forest policy in the Terai. (2003).

District Forest Coordination Committee Directive


A new guideline to manage multistakeholder planning at the district level.

Sharing of CFUG income


This government finance ordinance for sharing income from sale of surplus timber reduced it to 15 percent and only for two species (2005 July).

Sources: Ojha et al. (2005) and Chapagain et al. (1999).

Principal agent problems at the CFUG level: Grassroots organizations such as CFUGs face principal agent problems at the local level. These problems have manifested themselves through the capture of decision-making fora and benefits by local elites.

CFUG fund management and linking community forestry to poverty reduction: Rates of misappropriation of community forestry funds are increasing (Shrestha 2005). Knowing how to increase the accountability and responsiveness of these institutions to forest users and particularly poor, disadvantaged groups and women therefore remains a challenge. Strengthening representation in CFUG committees is part of this, as is building trust and stronger relationships between and among community, government and forest management so that benefits from improved forest management are directed towards poverty reduction. Allocating areas within community forests to poor and marginalized subgroups and providing them with credit and other services through local providers could help improve forest management and reduce poverty at the same time.

Increasing the productivity of community forests: Many community forests are not managed to effectively increase productivity although enhanced silviculture can lead to gains. The challenge lies in managing forests to increase forest product harvests and meet the needs of the poor; any surplus can be sold and proceeds re-invested in programmes that benefit the poor.

Enhancing transparency and accountability: As income from forests increases, CFUG decision-making becomes more complicated (Shrestha 2005). The issue of transparency in the sale of forest products and the allocation of funds becomes very important. Contractors, CFUG committees and DFO staff may form a coalition and attempt to extort rents from community forests. Public auditing and the facilitating role of NGOs become very important at this stage. Creation of district and village level fora for deliberation and negotiation can enhance transparency and accountability at the CFUG level.

Controversy over community forestry transfers in the Terai: The cabinet decision of 2000 created controversy by transferring Terai forests to local communities. There are still over 380 legally constituted CFUGs in 20 Terai districts, but the remaining forests (about 48 500 hectares) have not been transferred due to the cabinet decision. There are “informal” CFUGs, not registered with the DOF, but still protecting “their” forests. The challenge in the Terai lies more in resolving the so-called “distance users” dilemma. This could be achieved through a benefit-sharing mechanism between the CFUG and the distance users (users living some distance from the remaining forest). In fact, some of the CFUGs in the eastern Terai (Morang District) are experimenting with this already. It may be too costly to directly involve the distance users in day-to-day forest management activities, but their assistance in controlling forest theft and encroachment could be very useful and they could be compensated for this role. As tensions between CFUG members and distance users are resolved, community forestry in the Terai could be normalized. Resolution will not, however, address the issue of treasury revenue loss.


Social or even conventional forestry reform is not linear but an iterative and “muddling through” process: There is convergent opinion that community forestry brought about a fundamental paradigm shift in forest management in Nepal. This shift in mindset holds that institutional innovation or reform should precede technical innovation in forestry development. As rural people are dependent on forests for their livelihoods and ecological services, they need to be given responsibility for forest management and utilization. The process of participation involves creating institutional arrangements to allow local people a say in both decision-making and benefit-sharing. In this way people are provided with an incentive to better manage and sustainably utilize forest resources.

Negotiations and building consensus among forest stakeholders is essential for changing or re-inventing forestry organizations: Community forestry in Nepal was initially led by forest officers. Internalization of the concept through attainment of a critical mass of foresters and the training that was provided for them did much to move community forestry beyond direct government control.

Transferring property rights is the key to empowering forest users: Forests in developing countries face exclusion and extraction problems. The Nepalese Forest Act and other national regulations have tried to resolve these twin problems by allowing local people to organize themselves into CFUGs — legal entities registered with the DFO. Households within these groups then have rights and obligations to manage the forests transferred to them. CFUGs are required to prepare and gain approval for forest operational plans which include extraction schedules to ensure the forest is sustainably managed. Monitoring and enforcement of regulations is also performed by the CFUGs. Forest management at the local level is devolved to CFUGs to perform within the constraints of the operational forest plan. In sum, forest use and management rights are transferred to the users. However, the user groups can neither sell the land nor convert it to other land uses.

Community forestry is an institutional building process: One of the unique characteristics of community forestry in Nepal is that all forest product benefits accrue to CFUG members. The CFUG members can use forest products themselves or sell them to outsiders. The money thus generated has to be used for forest or community development-related activities. The users elect a committee of around 11 members from among themselves to implement CFUG decisions. In other words, the committee members are accountable to the CFUG. Thus, community forestry is also an institutional building mechanism at the lowest level and contributes to the development of village level social capital. It is also a unique mode of devolution of authority to democratically elected local level institutions.

Communities have legal rights to forest management and utilization: The process of forest transfer and the accompanying rights and responsibilities of CFUGs are clearly detailed in the Forest Act, forest regulations and existing guidelines. It is not a benefit awarded by the government as in Joint Forest Management in India where people are privileged with forest access, in contrast to Nepal where communities have legal rights. They can thus sue the government if it makes decisions contrary to those specified in the Forest Act and regulations. In fact, FECOFUN filed a case in 2001 against the cabinet’s decision to levy a 40 percent tax on the sale of surplus timber from the community forest. The Supreme Court’s verdict (on 28 March 2003) revoked the cabinet decision and stated that imposing a tax on the sale of forest products from the community forest was contrary to the provisions of the Forest Act. Later, the government inserted a provision in the Finance Act indicating that it would levy a 15 percent tax on the sale of surplus timber from two species (Sal and Khair) of Terai CFUGs.

The disaggregation of forestry functions as the key reform in forestry governance: In the case of Nepal, the classical mode of forest management needed to be disaggregated into at least three functions to be performed by different institutions:


Regulatory and policy formulation (enabling environment) functions should be performed by the government.


Forest management functions should be performed by devolved community organizations; their capacity should be strengthened and government forestry staff should be re-oriented and retrained to execute their new functions.


Forestry associations and the federations of CFUGs or NGOs should act as advisers to these forest management organizations. Thus, forest management can be improved and communities’ capacity to resolve the open access problems inherent in classical forest management can be strengthened.

Re-orientation and role change are painful, as maintenance of the status quo is always the preferred tendency: The identity of DFOs and rangers, and public perception is important. Even after 25 years of community forestry implementation, civil society groups and project professionals classify DFOs into three broad categories — open development-oriented, traditional control-oriented and mixed (P. Neil, personal communication). They also observe two distinct patterns in the ministry — one that favours community forestry and one that is opposed (B. Bhattarai, personal communication).

Re-invention is a continuous process so maintaining momentum is essential: The re-invention of the forest agency and CFUGs for the management of Nepalese forests is a continuous process mediated by foresters, CFUGs, NGOs and informal and formal rules and policies. Creating the rules — and roles — of the game appears to be as important as playing the game behind the rules, and roles. The challenge lies in maintaining momentum so that dominant players and the elite at the ministerial, departmental and community levels do not hijack the process to benefit their own interests. The paradigm shift accompanying the re-invention of forest agency roles will continue to ensure that the characteristics of the four quadrants in Figure 1 evolve simultaneously. The unique feature in Nepal is that a critical mass of role models within the forest agency and beyond has been created. It appears unlikely that the sector will regress to the old paradigm of forest management.


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Appendix 1. Persons consulted

Name and organization

Name and organization

Mr Peter Neil
Project Coordinator
Livelihoods and Forestry Programme

Dr Bigyan Acharya
Environment and Forestry Program Specialist

Dr Bharat Pokharel
Project Manager
Nepal Swiss Community Forestry Project

Dr Narayan Kaji Shreshtha
Community Forestry Specialist WATCH

Mr Amrit Lal Joshi
Community Forestry Specialist

Ms Roshana Pokharel
Ranger, District Forest Office, Kathmandu

Mr Kanaihya Raj Shrestha
Planning Officer
Human Resource Development and Training Section

Ms Kalyan Dahal
Ranger, District Forest Office, Kathmandu

Mr Navaraj Baral
NRM Specialist

Mr Padam Bahadur Chand
Senior Forest Management Specialist
Nepal Australia Resource Management and Livelihood Project

Mr Hukum Bahadur Singh
Community Forestry Specialist

Mr Bhola Bhattarai

Dr Netra Timsina
Mr Mani Ram Banjade

Dr Don Messerschmidt
Development Anthropologist and Community
Forestry Specialist

Dr Don Gilmour
Forestry Consultant

Mr Rauno Laitalainen,
Team Leader, the MPFS Preparation Team in 1988

Dr Abhaya K. Das
ProfessorInstitute of Forestry, Pokhara

Mr Baban Prasad Kayastha

Dr Riddish K. Pokharel
Associate ProfessorIoF, Pokhara

Mr James Bampton
Terai Forestry AdvisorLFP

Mr Jagganth Koirala
DFO, District Forest OfficeKaski


Appendix 2. Concepts and terms used in this study

Village panchayat

Village panchayats were the lowest level of political bodies, consisting of nine territorial units called “wards”. Eleven elected members — nine ward members from each ward, one mayor and one deputy mayor known as Pradhanpanchaand Upa Pradhanpancha ran a village panchayat. After the re-instatement of multiparty democracy in 1989, the panchayat system of polity was abolished. The Village Development Committee (VDC) has now replaced the village panchayat.

Panchayat Forest

Any forest, two-thirds of which needed planting, but was handed over to an adjoining panchayat for management, protection and utilization was called a Panchayat Forest.

Panchayat Protected Forests

Any forest, which needed protection or enrichment planting, but was handed over to an adjoining panchayat for its management, protection and utilization was called a Panchayat Protected Forest.

Forest Act, 1993

The Forest Act promulgated in 1993 is the present basis for smooth functioning of the community forestry programme in Nepal. This act also provides implementation guidelines for the operation of government-managed forests, protection forests, leasehold forests and religious forests.

Forest Rules, 1995

The Forest Rules were made under the Forest Act of 1993. These rules guide the implementation of community forestry programmes in Nepal. These rules also explain the operation of government-managed forests, protection forests, leasehold forests and religious forests.

Community forests

Community forests are the parts of national forests that are managed and utilized by local users organized as CFUGs, legitimized as independent and self-governing institutions by the government. They have a charter of incorporation, and are responsible for the management of national forests provided to them. While transferring the national forests as community forests, the DFO has to consider accessibility or distance from village communities to the forest, and the interest and capacity of the users in managing the forest. The objective of the community forestry programme is to produce collective benefits to the local communities of forest users from the development, conservation and utilization of the forest.

Community Forestry User Group (CFUG)

An independent and self-governing entity formed by a number of households living near a particular forest area and legally recognized by the Forest Act, 1993. The group is responsible for the management of a particular community forest transferred to them. The constitution of the user groups controls the democratic functioning of the user groups. The CFUG members have rights awarded by the legislation, and as mentioned in the operational plan. They can use the forest products internally at a price fixed by the group itself, and can also sell the surplus forest products to outsiders at market price. They also have funds, and income from the sale of forest products and any other source has to be deposited in these funds. The funds can be utilized for forest protection and community development activities.

Community Forest User Committee

A committee of CFUGs formed normally by election or selected by the user members for effective implementation of the day-to-day activity of CFUGs. It comprises approximately 11 members and they constitute the executive wing of a CFUG. The committee has no rights according to the Forest Act and rules. However, they exercise rights as authorized by the user groups and as mentioned in the operational plan. It has been reported that most of the executive members of the CFUGs are the elite or wealthy, and they do not necessarily represent the interests of the poor, women and socially disadvantaged members of the group.

Operational Plan

A legal document prepared by user groups for the management of a particular forest area under their jurisdiction and approved by the DFO. The plan guides the management of a particular community forest normally for five to ten years.

Process of transferring community forests to user groups

The following major steps are carried out in the process of transferring community forests to CFUGs:

Letter of Interest to the DFO

First, the local community members living around the forest have to give an application to the DFO expressing their interest in managing the particular forest surrounding them.

Investigation for transfer

Once the DFO receives the letter of interests, a ranger (forest technician) is sent to help the community identify the traditional users of the forests so that they are not excluded from the user group. The ranger also helps the users in preparing the constitution of the user group.

User group formation

Once all the traditional users are identified, a constitution to form a CFUG is prepared. Then, the users in a group have to give an application to the DFO according to the format mentioned in the Forest Rules of 1995. With the information on the user group, the constitution will contain, inter alia: (i) objectives of forest management, (ii) rights, duties and responsibilities of the user group, (iii) forest protection measures and (iv) fund utilization measures. Once the user group is formed and its constitution is registered, it is officially legitimized by the DFO. A certificate of registration is given to users as proof of the user group’s formation.

Operational plan preparation

According to users’ needs, and depending upon the productivity of the forest, the users prepare a simple management plan for the forest, and the local ranger helps them with this process. Operational plan preparation is very important because the users will have to follow it in managing the forest and extracting forest products. Estimation of annual yield is mandatory for preparing an operational plan. An operational plan will contain information, including the objectives of forest management, a rough map of the forest, division of the forest into compartments and silvicultural prescriptions to be followed in managing the forest. After preparing an operational plan, users have to submit it to the DFO for approval.

Transfer of the forests

If the DFO finds that the operation plan confirms to the rules and procedure, then it is approved, and a transfer certificate is given to the user group in a format prescribed in the Forest Rules, 1995. Subsequently, the users have to manage the forests and utilize the forest products according to the approved operational plan. If the operational plan has to be amended, the user group can do this by informing the DFO (according to the Forest Rules, 1995). If the operational plan is not followed, the government may reclaim the community forest, but it has to be handed over to a reconstituted CFUG. In other words, once a forest is transferred to a community, the government cannot use it as a government-managed forest. It has to remain a community forest.

1 Joint Secretary, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, Kathmandu. Email:

2 Program Director, Pragya Management Group, PO Box 10157, Pulchok, Lalitpur, Nepal. Email:

3 An aristocratic family that ruled Nepal from 1846 to 1951.

4 Panchayats are local political units with locally elected leaders.

5 See Appendix 2 for details.

6 Land grants formerly made by the state to individuals, usually on a tax-free and heritable basis.

7 Forests allocated to compensate servants of the state for the period of that service. At the end of the service or by decision of the government, the jagir forest reverted to the state.

8 His Majesty’s Government.

9 A political subdivision within a district.

10 One’s own people.

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