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20. Forests for poverty alleviation: the changing role of R&D institutions in Nepal
Krishna Chandra Paudel


The mountainous country of Nepal is rich in cultural, environmental and biological diversity. Out of 14.72 million ha total land area, forest covers about 29 percent with an additional 10.6 percent of shrub land, both categorized as forest land. Forest area in the hilly region alone occupies about 26.1 percent of total forest area. Forest contributes over 70 percent of rural energy requirement and about 42 percent of livestock feed in Nepal. Most of the people living around forest fringes are subsistence farmers. Agriculture contributes about 78.5 percent of the total employment in the country. Because of heavy dependency of people on forest, expanding agricultural lands and development of infrastructures, the forest area has decreased at an annual rate of 1.7 percent between 1979-1994. Since the inception of Community Forestry Programme in the late 70s, and the introduction of Conservation Area and Buffer Zone Management Programme in the late 80s, and the poverty reduction focused Leasehold Forestry Programme in 1993, the levels of awareness and participation in conservation and management of forest resources have been increased. As a result, community forestry has been a successful model in natural forest management. To date, about 1.3 million farming households are engaged in managing about one million ha of state forest as community forests, deriving daily needed forest products and also collecting and marketing high value non-timber forest products. Likewise, 1600 smaller groups of different communities are engaged in leasehold forestry activities, mostly concentrated in agroforestry, conservation farming, livestock raising and other income generation activities. Although Forest Policy of Nepal has been ever-evolving through the experience and consultative process with its stakeholders, both from government and non-government sector, the sector as a whole is facing several new challenges and suffers severe technological, financial and human resource related problems. A wide gap between technology generation and its effective dissemination is evident. More focus on generation, verification and dissemination of appropriate technologies to suit rural communities for the management and sustainable utilisation of the natural resources is needed.


The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal is a country of cultural, ecological and biological diversity. Located at the transitional zone between eastern and western Himalayas, Nepal houses 118 ecosystems and 35 forest types (Dobremez 1970) within a small land area of 147 181 km2. These ecosystems offer shelter to a large share of the world's flora and fauna, including some endemic and indigenous ones. Nepal's richness of biological diversity is the reflection of unique geographical positioning and sharp variation in altitude (65-8848 m asl) and climate.

Of the total land area, 39.6 percent is forest, about 21 percent is cultivated and the rest is under different categories of land-use. A total of over 23 million people (CBS 2001) in Nepal derive their livelihood from natural resources such as arable land, forests, water and protected areas. Agriculture is the main occupation of more than 70 percent of the Nepalese people. The per capita GDP (expected) in 2001 was US$ 240 with an annual growth rate of 5.8 percent (MoF 2001).

Forest plays a vital role in maintaining ecological balance and promoting economic development. Mountain forests contribute in water recharge, protect watershed areas from landslides and soil erosion, and prevent hydropower stations and farmlands from siltation and floods. The luxuriant forests of Nepal are the major source of tourist attraction (the second main source of income) and offer goods and services to subsistence farming communities. Forests offer over 70 percent of rural energy requirement, 42 percent of livestock feed, leaf litter for animal bedding and composting and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for income generation. There is a close interrelationship between arable land, forests and livestock population that makes the farming system complex.

Farming in Nepal is characterised as high labour demanding but with low return. Because of growing population, lack of income and employment in the mid hills and high mountains, people are migrating to already saturated valleys and Tarai. The subsistence economy coupled with increasing population, and high demands for forest products have threatened the forest resources. Forestry and agriculture together can contribute in maintaining this regional and economic balance through concentrated and collaborative efforts in research, development and sustainable utilisation of natural resources.


Of the total land area (14.72 million ha), forest and shrub cover 29 percent (4.27 million ha) and 10.6 percent (1.56 million ha) respectively (DFRS 1999a). Agriculture land covers about 21 percent. Forest area also includes protected area system (PAS, 18 percent), which consists of national parks, wildlife reserves, conservation areas, hunting reserves and buffer zones (DNPWC 2001). Most of the forest land is under natural forest as total plantation in Nepal is estimated to be less than 0.25 million ha. The per capita forest area is 0.025 ha (Shrestha and Nepal 2002). Reachable forest area of Nepal is 2.18 million ha (52 percent of the total forest area). The largest reachable forest area (0.58 million ha) lies in the Eastern Development Region (EDR) and the smallest (0.26 million ha) in the Western Development Region (WDR).


Except the Tarai and Siwalik regions (totalling 27 percent of the land area), the rest of Nepal can be considered as hilly with the highest percentage of land area (30 percent) in the mid-hills. The latest data revealed that the total forest area in hilly region is 2.90 million ha and total shrub land area is 1.57 million ha (DFRS 1999b). The forest and shrub account for 26.1 percent and 14.2 percent of total land area of the hilly region, respectively (Table 1). The most dominant forest type in the hilly area is Upper Mixed Hardwoods, which constitutes 28.5 percent of reachable forest area followed by Tropical Mixed Hardwoods, 17.7 percent (DFRS 1999b).

Table 1. Area statistics of the hilly region ('000 ha)




Total land

of total
land area

of total
land area

Forest and




































Hilly area total







Source: DFRS 1999b.


Because of increasing human population, their heavy dependency on forest, expanding agricultural farms, poverty, development infrastructures and several illegal forest cuttings, Nepal has been facing serious problems of deforestation and land degradation. Hence, forests are disappearing at an alarming rate (Table 2).

Forest and shrub covers have changed at different proportions in the hills and Tarai. In the Tarai plains, forest area has decreased at an annual rate of 1.3 percent from 1978/79 to 1990/91. In hilly area, forests have decreased at an annual rate of 2.3 percent from 1978/79 to 1994, whereas forest and shrub together have decreased at annual rate of 0.2 percent in the hills over the same period. In the whole country, from 1978/79 to 1994 forest area has decreased at an annual rate of 1.7 percent whereas forests and shrub together have decreased at an annual rate of 0.5 percent (DFRS 1999a.).

Table 2. Percentages of forest and shrub cover changes in Nepal




percent of forest

percent of shrubs

Total percent


Forest Resource Survey Office






LRMP (1986)






MPFS (1989)






NFI (1994)





Source: Bajracharya (1986), LRMP (1986), MPFS (1989) and DFRS (1999a).

Table 2 shows that the forests are gradually decreasing in terms of both quality and area. The increasing trend of the percentages of shrub land indicate that the forests are increasingly being degraded and converted into bushes.


Historically indigenous people have been conserving and utilizing forest resources for generations. They continued with the system even when the government of Nepal nationalized all forests in 1957. When more destruction occurred after nationalization, the government gave back the peoples' forest as community forests.

About 86 percent of the 23 million people in Nepal live in rural areas and these people have been highly dependent on forest resources, such as for fuelwood, livestock feed and grazing, collection of fruits, nuts, wild vegetable, medicinal herbs, fiber, leaf litter for animal bedding and composting, agricultural implements, growing food crops in forest land (shifting cultivation) and hunting. Some people such as the woodcutters, charcoal manufactures, traditional healers, and ethnic minorities are much more heavily dependent on forest resources. However, such a sole dependency is gradually decreasing.

Nowadays collection and marketing of NTFPs have been the major source of off-farm income for many of the high altitude communities. Single communities have been using over 90 different forest-based plant species for medicinal purposes, over 20 wild vegetables and equally high number of wild fruits for health and nutrition (Paudel 2003).


The economy of the country largely depends on the use of its natural resources and is dominated by the agrarian sector. People depend on forest for food, medicine, energy, shelter, bedding materials, wood and non-wood forest products to maintain subsistence farming system in rural Nepal. About 70 percent population depends on the forests for their energy requirement and over 42 percent of total digestible nutrients for livestock is estimated to come from the forests (MOPE 2000).

The agriculture-based economy has influenced major proportion of population as forest dependents. Main sector of employment is agriculture contributing about 78 percent and non-agriculture sector contributes about 22 percent (CBS 1996). There are complex and inseparable relationships between forests, agriculture and human subsistence in the mountains (Gilmour and Fisher 1991, Mahat 1987). A large proportion of the forests in the hilly regions have been protected and managed by the local communities for centuries. Major forest species of the hilly region include Schima-Castanopsis, Alnus nepalensis, mixed hill sal forest, pines, oaks, juniper and rhododendrons with varied proportion of other species.

The government of Nepal has taken initiative to involve local people in the management and utilization of the forest as a means to improve the livelihoods of these people. The major programme includes Community Forestry Programme and Leasehold Forestry Programme for the poor. The Community Forestry Programme was started during the late 70s and has been the most successful programme. Similarly, the Leasehold Forestry Programme for the poor has proven to be a priority programme within the forestry sector, which can really benefit the poor. The achievement of these programmes by the end of the April 2003 is presented below (Table 3). Likewise the Buffer Zone Management Programme has been a supportive one to the people living at the fringe of protected areas who get up to 50 percent of the income generated mostly from tourism in the protected area.

Collection and trading of the NTFPs has been one of the income opportunities for forest users in the rural Nepal. Studies have reported that about 2000 plants in Nepal have medicinal properties and 1463 plants are known to be used locally (Shrestha and Shrestha 1999). Over 700 different medicinal and aromatic products are reported from Nepal (FAO 1982). The contribution of NTFPs in the national economy is reported to be over 4 percent (Edwards 1996).

Table 3. Local communities involved in forest management


No of households

No of groups

Forest area (ha)

Community Forestry

1 341 973

12 540

955 358

Leasehold Forestry

10 500



Source: DoF 2003


The Forest Act 1993, which governs forest management of the country, has broadly categorized forests of Nepal into two types based on the ownership as national forest and private forest. Under this definition, a forest maintained in privately owned land is private forest and the rest is national forest. Based on the management system, national forest has further been divided into five types as community forest, government managed forest, protected forest, leasehold forests and religious forest.

Generally speaking, there is very little privately owned forests in the country. However, there is an initiative to transfer the use rights of the government owned land to the local people in the form of community forests. The largest forest management approach of the country is community forestry involving more than 12 540 committees. Similarly, the leasehold forest committees (1600) are taking the rights to use the lands for 40 years.

Most of the Tarai and Inner Tarai forest are managed by the government, which are under the charge of 24 respective district forest offices. However, the real benefits of scientific forest management in Nepal have yet to be realized. The extension of protected forest under protected area system (PAS) has achieved significant success in Nepal. About 18.11 percent of total forest area are classified as protection forest. Nepal has also taken initiative to involve local people to conserve her biodiversity including in the wildlife and had gained significant success (e.g. Annarpurna Conservation Area in the western hills of Nepal).


This is a paradigm shift in forestry policy to involve local people in the management of forest in Nepal. The chronology of policy changes in forestry sector in Nepal is published in Shrestha and Nepal (2002). Government of Nepal introduced community forestry approach in 1978/79 to involve local people in the management of forest resources as a means to improve livelihoods of these people. It is one of the successful development programmes of Nepal, involving more than one-third of the households. It is the highest priority programme within the forestry sector and is implemented all over the country. Similarly, in the late 80s, the government introduced Conservation Area and Buffer Zone Management Programme to involve local people to manage protected areas. The Leasehold Forestry Programme to reduce poverty has been introduced since 1993 and is successful in addressing the livelihood strategy for rural poor. Realizing its success, the programme has been extended from 10 to 26 districts in 2001.

From all these programmes the major achievements worth mentioning include: protection of hill forests and production of wood and non-wood forest products of daily use, capacity building of local forest users in terms of their ownerships, forest management, options for improved income and employments, democratization in participatory resource management, improved conditions of community managed forests in terms of regeneration, and growth and development. Park and people conflicts have been reduced and revenue sharing mechanisms developed. Similarly, gender sensitization and women participation have increased in forest management. In the Tarai, collaborative approach of forest management has been introduced.

The forestry research in Nepal though started in isolation in the early 60s, has now become common concerns in natural resource management. The major stakeholders have been the universities, agriculture and animal sciences departments NGOs/INGOs, and local communities. As an outcome, forestry research has performed considerable work in the past. Among the success stories include propagation and plantation establishment of multipurpose species such as fodder trees, fruit trees and bamboo; identification and selection of tree species for different uses and for different site conditions; management of major forest types in the Tarai and mountains; preparation of volume and growth tables for major tree species; estimation of fodder and fuelwood biomass. Similarly, the effort has been encouraging in conducting trials in forestry and agroforestry experiments. Recently, efforts on Participatory Action Research with incorporation of social and environmental issues have emerged as an outcome of the long-term experience on participatory resource management.

Likewise, identification of superior mother trees and establishment of seed orchards/stands for major tree species such as Dalbergia sissoo, D. latifolia, C. axillaris, B. butyraceae, Pterocarpus marsupium, Artocarpus lakoocha, have been successfully demonstrated. As a sustainable means for continuity, establishment of seed cooperatives has been initiated.

Moreover, appropriate technologies for the harvesting and processing of key NTFPs have been developed and disseminated. As a result, forest users and local communities have additional income and employment opportunities. Recently, the Government of Nepal has constituted a high level coordination committee for the promotion of high value NTFPs including medicinal and aromatic plants under the chairmanship of the Minister for Forests and Soil Conservation, giving high priority for the sector. All together over 30 different institutions in Nepal are involved in the research and development aspects of forestry sector (Amatya 1999). The initiatives taken by non-governmental sector are more focused on development agenda and are encouraging. However, very few of them are engaged in forestry research.


Forestry resource in Nepal is playing a vital role to sustain rural livelihoods and generating national revenue. However, productive scientific forest management has yet to be realized. As a result forests are becoming degraded in quality and quantity. A number of social, political, financial and technical factors have been identified as major constraints for the sustainable forest management that is related to poverty issues. Some of the key constraints identified are as follows:


The paradigm shift in forest policy from policing to participation has enormously increased the scope in forestry for rural development. This needs to increase the level of awareness of all the stakeholders. The forestry research programme, however, needs strategic planning, research prioritization and multi-stakeholders' partnership approach to contribute to reducing poverty.

Forestry research can have significant positive impact in the area of leasehold forestry, community forestry, and private forestry by providing appropriate technical information and technology to forest users. The management and propagation of selected high valued NTFPs such as Lokta, Panchaule, Chiraito, etc. can increase the income of the rural people. Likewise, buffer zone management, soil and water conservation and promotion of rare and endangered plant resources could be improved with better technical inputs. The area of biodiversity conservation and bio-prospecting could be yet another area needing technical inputs. The potential areas where forestry research can significantly contribute to address rural poverty in Nepal includes:



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[29] Department of Forest Research and Survey, Kathmandu, Nepal; E-mail: [email protected]

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