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Nepal: On the road to reforestation

An interview from Nepal with J.L. Maskey, Secretary of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, and V.B. Shrestha, Deputy Conservator of Forests

J. Maskey

V.B. Shrestha

This interview was conducted for Unasylva in Nepal on 12 duly 1985 by Ms Farhana Haque, a freelance journalist based in Rome and formerly the principal English-language newsreader and commentator for Bangladesh national radio and television.

Two years ago Unasylva devoted its cover and lead story to forestry extension, using primarily the example of the work accomplished in Nepal (see "Forestry extension: community development in Nepal" by E. Pelinck, P.K. Manandhar and R.H. Gecolea in Vol. 36, No. 143 [1984/1], pp. 2-15). This interview offers a more extensive view of forestry development in the country, highlighting the things already accomplished and pointing to what still needs to be done.

· Nepal has a land area of 140800 km2 and a population of almost 16 million. It is divided into three distinct geographic regions: the Terai plains, with 17 percent of the land and 44 percent of the population; the middle hills, with 68 percent of the land and 52 percent of the population; and the high mountains, with 15 percent of the land and 4 percent of the population. Approximately 30 percent of the land area is forested.

The country faces serious problems in deforestation, deterioration of watersheds by severe erosion and landslides, accelerated water run-off and flooding, increased siltation in dams and rivers, and clear signs of desertification in at least five districts. The forests are under great pressure from the rapid population increase of both humans and livestock. Forests supply 82 percent of Nepal's total energy consumption - 95 percent of all rural and 87 percent of all urban domestic energy. Between 90 and 95 percent of all forest products are used for fuel. There is a great deal of overgrazing and trampling by large herds of free-roaming cattle.

The Department of Forestry is under the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, and is headed by a Chief Conservator of Forests, while the Department of Watershed Management and Soil Conservation is under a Director-General.

Unasylva: Nepal is approaching the end of its Sixth Plan (1980-85) this month. To what extent have its goals for forestry been achieved and what have been me main problems encountered?

Maskey: The progress in the forestry sector is quite up to expectations, but we do have some problems in fully satisfying all of the requirements for forestry development. Within our limited available resources we have tried to maximize forest productivity. One of the striking features has been to involve the local population in the planting of trees. We are also trying to encourage the private sector in the development of forestry programmes - running nurseries, establishing private forestry and the like - so that they can be extended on a massive scale in order to meet the ever-growing demand for forestry products on the part of our expanding population.

Shrestha: The Sixth Plan was very successful in terms of plantations established. The target was 40000 ha, but we estimate that 45000 ha have been planted, exceeding the goal. The only major constraint has been a manpower shortage, particularly in the middle-level technical grades - diploma holders called "rangers", who work in the field. This constraint should be remedied during the Seventh Plan, because a new forest institute is currently under construction in Pokhara, 200 km west of Kathmandu, to train these rangers.

Do you anticipate any significant shifts in priorities and strategies for the Seventh Plan?

Maskey: Yes, I am very certain that there will be changes in emphasis from the Sixth to the Seventh Plan, for we are trying to design a forestry programme which will narrow the gap between forest production and the basic needs of our growing population. Our efforts to increase the productivity of existing forests and also to expand forested areas through afforestation have not been sufficient. That is why in the Seventh Plan we have raised our target of plantation areas enormously, from 40000 ha to 175000 ha. We are also increasing our efforts to involve the local people in full participation through introducing the community-based approach in implementing various forestry projects. In the past we have benefited immensely from the contributions, cooperation and collaboration of various donor agencies, both friendly governments and international agencies, and we are trying to maximize this foreign assistance as well as our own local resources.

Watershed management is a primary goal of the Sixth Plan. How successful have past and current projects been, and what are the major problems you face?

Shrestha: Past and present projects have had various degrees of success; all have their strengths and weaknesses. One thing that has been distinctive is the tremendous awareness that has been created throughout the country of the need to manage watersheds well. Projects have varied, mainly because the donors have had different approaches and priorities. The Department of Watershed Management is aware of this and is in the process of coordinating the activities of all the watershed projects so as to eliminate duplication and make the best use of the resources available. FAO is playing a major role in helping with this coordination and is acting as an in-house adviser to the Department, assisting it to develop a priority rating for the different watersheds throughout the country.

Watershed management is a major problem in Nepal, and is handled mainly by two separate departments: the Department of Forests, and the Department of Soil Conservation and Watershed Management. This second department is small, with a total of 57 professional staff and 113 middle-level technical staff - overseers, rangers, junior technicians in agriculture. As I mentioned previously, there are not enough of these people to work on all of the projects: 14 are scattered over 20 of the 75 districts in the country. Thus, many projects have provisions for temporary staff. A weakness in this is that temporary staff often have little motivation - the end of the project is the end of the job. So they are always on the lookout for other jobs, and the time spent in training them is lost as soon as a permanent job comes up. However, the government has agreed to FAO's recommendation to establish between 15 and 20 permanent district offices managed by permanent staff with an ongoing budget. Districts where the watersheds are in the poorest condition will have the first offices.

One strong element in the Sixth Plan was the insistence that all projects be evaluated in terms of their impact on the ecology of the area concerned. What have been the principal results of the Ecological Impact Study Project established for that purpose?

Maskey: We are becoming much more conscious of the effects of various projects on the environmental and economic conditions of the country. We have currently taken up only a few projects, and this has enabled us to study the ecological dimension carefully before we implement a major project. We have to include environmental impact as an essential factor in making the cost benefit analysis of any proposed projects.

GURUNG WOMAN FEEDING BUFFALO a rising demand for fodder

One of the main goals of the Sixth Plan was the development of community forests. Could you describe your efforts in this area?

Shrestha: Let me start with a little historical background. In 1956, all forests in Nepal were nationalized in the hope that this would arrest the rapid depletion rate. However, the actual effect was just the opposite: in many areas about to be nationalized, people rushed to cut down trees or terrace the land in order to retain ownership. Encroachment and depletion increased. To counteract this, the Rules and Regulations for Panchayat Forests and Panchayat-Protected Forests were passed in 1978 to return some of the forest lands back to community control. Approximately 45 percent of our forest land is now either panchayat forest or panchayat-protected forest.

A panchayat is a district of nine wards and their villages with a population of between 2000 and 5000. Panchayats, which are formed on a voluntary basis, are allotted 125 ha of degraded forest land (panchayat forest), which are planted with material supplied by the Forest Department, and 500 ha of established forests (panchayat-protected forest), which they manage and protect. Seventy-five percent of the revenue from the sales of forest products from panchayat forests and panchayat-protected forests is, under the present regulations, meant to be channelled to the respective panchayats. In each panchayat a local forest committee is established, having great autonomy in deciding which trees to plant, where and when, with advice from the Forest Department.

One thing we have discovered is that the panchayat is too large a unit and not homogeneous enough, so we are talking about smaller units of user groups, which bring together people with similar needs and aspirations. A decentralization plan formulated at the end of 1984 I made provisions for smaller units. These groups will have legal status and will be provided with concessionary loans.

AN URBAN MARKET IN NEPAL seeking more products from the forest

Maskey: This community approach in the development of our forests has been a major change, and although this is our first effort, the response has been quite satisfactory. We hope that in the Seventh Plan and ensuing plans we will be able to get the maximum involvement of the local people, not only in the implementation of the programme as such, but also right from the formulation stage. This could generate a self-propagating force to spread afforestation throughout the Kingdom.

Forests supply 82 percent of Nepal's total energy consumption - 95 percent of all rural and 87 percent of all urban domestic energy.

"We have to include environmental impact as an essential factor in making the cost benefit analysis of any proposed projects."

To what extent have agroforestry techniques been incorporated into the Community Forestry Development Projects?

Maskey: Well, these techniques obviously depend on the absorption capacity of the local population or local economy. Naturally, we are not contemplating very sophisticated techniques right now, particularly in the rural areas. We are trying to introduce only the degree of sophistication which can be assimilated by the people, although we hope gradually to introduce better and better techniques. For example, in the selection of seeds, we have asked people merely to choose from the stock of indigenous trees the seeds from superior trees which will be taken for reproduction. Then, gradually, we might also look for exotic varieties which could be adapted to our climatic and soil conditions and which would be desirable from the economic point of view.

Reports on the project indicate that the average survival rate of privately planted seedlings is somewhat over 50 percent What can be or has been done to improve this survival rate?

Maskey: Actually, this has been one of the very confusing issues. The rate of survival, on a roughly empirical basis, is around 64 to 70 percent. We are trying to improve this by training the local people. First, of course, we will train the trainers, who will then train the local people as to how seeds should be planted.

One of the features of the project was the design and distribution of the improved chullaha stove, which was designed to reduce fuelwood consumption. Have any other viable methods or alternative energy sources been identified which might reduce the demand for fuelwood?

Maskey: Balancing our resources with increasing demand can be done in two ways: by increasing the productivity of the resources, and by minimizing the wastage. It is this second approach for which the improved stove was designed. The response has been good. We have distributed this stove free in some districts and tried to convince the people that by using it they can save up to 10 percent of their total fuel consumption. The programme is going well, but now we need to emphasize its expansion throughout the whole rural sector.

As for the question of alternative energy, we have also tried to introduce a type of biogas plant. This has been gaining popularity in the rural sector and even in the peripheral areas of the urban sector. The plant produces gas from animal dung - cows, buffaloes, etc. - and can be designed according to the size of the family or community. This is not a complicated technology except that it needs an initial investment from which farmers can draw loans from the Agricultural Development Bank. One problem concerns the keeping of livestock: without animals there is obviously no dung. Keeping livestock is simple in rural areas, but it may not be very easy or economic in urban areas.

Another alternative energy source is solar energy. This is bee coming popular in urban areas for heating water, but we have not been able to utilize it extensively in the rural sector. For some time to come, I am sure, we will have to depend largely on our forests for our energy.

Between 1950 and 1975, it is estimated, one-fourth of Nepal's forests disappeared. What were the chief reasons for this, and what steps have been taken to halt and reverse this trend?

Shrestha: The main reason for this quantitative depletion has been both the encroachment of agriculture and the growth in population, which is increasing at a rate of 2.6 percent a year. We also have a fast-growing livestock population, especially cattle, which is making great demands for fodder. This and the need for firewood among the population as a whole - wood supplies about 85 percent of our total energy needs - had led to the diminishing of the quality of the forests. The main actions we have taken include banning export of timber and starting a number of replanting schemes such as the Terai Forestry Project supported by the World Bank, FAO and the European Economic Community, the Hill Forestry Project supported by the World Bank, UNDP and FAO, and the Sangarmatha Forestry Project supported by the Asian Development Bank. And, of course, the establishment of panchayat forests and the community forestry programmes.

Several Sixth Plan projects, notably the Kanchanpur Forest Resettlement and Irrigation Project, involve resettlement of families. What are the reasons for the resettlement, how successful have they been, and do you anticipate other such projects in other areas?

Maskey: I think that most of these projects have been reasonably satisfactory. Now we have come to a stage where the limitation of land resources, especially forest areas, and the expansion of our population caused by interregional emigration have prevented us from being able to expand this programme of planned resettlement. There is a very serious problem these days of encroachment on forest land in the Terai plains. People are migrating from the hilly and mountainous regions to the Terai forest area, and it has been very difficult to provide them with an agricultural livelihood on reclaimed forest land. So now we have adopted the policy that, instead of providing agriculture as a base, we are trying to encourage resettlement based upon other occupations such as cottage industries, construction and various other kinds of skilled or semiskilled work. In this way, we will need to provide land mainly for homesteads and not only for agricultural development.

The Forestry and Agricultural departments have jointly been researching the availability of land for resettlement. What are the main criteria used, and has enough land been identified to meet estimated needs?

Maskey: Well, this is really the problem. The original estimate of the minimum agricultural requirement of land to maintain a family of five members was around 1.5 ha, and in our resettlement programme this was the criterion we used. But then, as I have said, owing to the growing demand for resettlement as the result of population expansion on the one hand and interregional emigration on the other, we have been compelled to minimize the allocation of our limited land resources.

One of the strategies mentioned in the Sixth Plan is gathering data on Nepal's natural resources through satellite remote sensing. To what extent has this been done?

Shrestha: Our use of remote sensing has expanded, and the Nepal Remote Sensing Centre has been established within the Ministry of Forests. They have become a service organization both within and outside of the ministry. One unexpected result is that we have more forests than we realized, especially in the middle hills region. The satellite sensing has helped us significantly to monitor land-use changes.

Nepal is a vital watershed for neighbouring countries to the south. In this regard, and perhaps in other forestry-related ways, what you do here has international implications. Have any efforts been made to become involved in cooperative regional forestry planning?

Shrestha: As recently as December 1982, Nepal hosted the Government Consultation on Watershed Management for Asia and the Pacific, out of which grew the Regional Watershed Management Project with headquarters in Sri Lanka. Nepal is a member along with 14 other countries. The main purpose of this project, which is sponsored by FAO and UNDP, is to secure technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC). This will entail the sharing of resources in the field of watershed management. Nepal is also a member of the Regional Wood-Based Energy Project based in Bangkok, which includes such forestry concerns as tree plantation, fuelwood and animal fodder. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development is working with watershed management and forestry in the Himalayan and Hindu Kush region.

Maskey: I would like to end by saying that FAO has really played a vital role, not only in the formulation and implementation of feasible projects in the forestry sector as a whole but also in the implementation of various programmes, FAO has come into the picture in our development efforts, so much so that we can't really imagine what the state of development would be in the absence of FAO and UNDP. These are the two big pillars which have channelled and guided and really helped whenever we have had any problems. We are getting assistance in various ways in the form of technical advice, consultancies, manpower and equipment resources, new ideas, training, research and extension - in so many areas.

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