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Nepal - Around the Chitwan National Park in Southern Nepal, forests are supporting the emergence of a host of sustainable local businesses.

Growing businesses in tourism, all-natural products and timber sales are popping up across the forest landscape, boosting local incomes, especially for women, while encouraging sustainable forest management.

The momentum behind this change comes from a decades-long push to hand over forest management rights to local communities who depend on the forests for their livelihoods.

In Nepal, an ambitious government program of forest rights devolution began in the 1970s, and a new forest rights law in 1993 marked a milestone when a significant range of forest uses and management was officially entrusted to Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs).

Nepal is now considered a success story and world leader for forest rights devolution with 20,000 CFUGs, about 40 percent of the population, overseeing 30 percent of the country’s forested lands.

This research will be discussed at a workshop titled ‘Common benefits: Is community tenure facilitating investment in the commons for inclusive growth?’ on 13 December in Washington, D.C.

It will also feature at a session titled ‘Opportunities and Lessons Learned to Enhance and Accelerate Recognition of Community Land Rights’ on 20 December at the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany.

   A woman and her father-in-law pick up a permit to collect fuelwood in the Chisapani Community Forest. CIFOR Photo/Chandra Shekhar Karki

SETTING AN EXAMPLE

Previous research on the CFUG program found a net benefit for the protected areas, including an increase in forest cover, firewood, fodder, timber and some non-timber forest products.

In addition to supporting sustainable forests, the program is enabling communities to make gains from forest-based enterprises. The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and local partner ForestAction Nepal, a Kathmandu-based forestry research institution, are conducting research on the benefits and challenges to these businesses.

Nepal’s CFUGs have become crucial institutions for sustainable development, findings show. Social cohesion has improved as women and other marginalized groups take part in profit-sharing forest endeavors. Enterprises founded or licensed by CFUGs are expected to give members of different social castes and minority groups equal opportunities to participate in livelihood opportunities.

User Group members gain improved access to forest resources, such as firewood, for personal use and can vote on how the forest-generated income is spent. In most cases, the communal income is invested in community roads, schools and short-term loans.

Business enterprises that operate in community forests must contribute to achievement of the social and employment goals set out in the CFUG charter and must be sustainable. The program has shown that governments and local populations can benefit significantly from the devolution of forest rights, and has set an example for countries in similar situations.

   Issuing tickets for elephant safaris at the Baghamara Bufferzone Community Forest. CIFOR Photo/Chandra Shekhar Karki
   Tourists from Nepal and around the world visit Chitwan to go on safari. CIFOR Photo/Chandra Shekhar Karki
   Hundreds of tourists take elephant safaris through the Baghamara Bufferzone Community Forest every day. CIFOR Photo/Chandra Shekhar Karki

ELEPHANT SAFARIS

The Baghmara Community Forest User Group makes $200,000 a year through partnerships with local hotels to allow elephant safaris through the forest, a bufferzone to the Chitwan National Park.

Bhubaneshwor Prasad Chaudhary, chairperson of the Baghamara Bufferzone Community Forest User Group, says the group votes on how the forest profits should be spent, and most of the time it goes back to benefiting the community.

“Out of the total revenue, we invest 25 to 30 percent in conservation-related activities. We also invest in education, roads, health posts and biogas,” says Chaudhary.

   Women from the Binayi Community Forest User Group prepare lantana to be made into organic green manure. CIFOR Photo/Chandra Shekhar Karki
   Lemongrass is harvested from the Chisapani Community Forest to be distilled down to an essential oil, one of the main enterprises for this CFUG. CIFOR Photo/Chandra Shekhar Karki

ALL-NATURAL PRODUCTS

In addition to bringing income to the communities, forest-based enterprises have given local women more responsibilities and freedoms. Women play an important role in CFUG investment endeavors, either by taking part, or often by taking leadership roles, and say the work and added responsibility has given them a sense of pride and more ways to provide for their families.

Women from the Binayi Community Forest User Group started a green manure operation. They make organic manure from lantana, an invasive plant, removing it from the forested area, and sell it to urban farmers.

“In the past, women didn’t have the courage to ask our husbands to even go out of our houses! Tenure rights devolution has promoted the rights of women too,” says group member Mandhara Paudel.

Nearby, women from the Chisapani Community Forest are harvesting their own non-timber forest products — lemongrass, palmarosa and citronella — to be distilled down to essential oils. Like many other CFUGs involved in non-timber forest products, this endeavor is staffed and managed by women.

   Trishaki Sawmill in Nawalparasi district, Nepal, works with local community forest user groups to prepare their timber. CIFOR Photo/Chandra Shekhar Karki

SUSTAINABLE TIMBER

The devolution of rights has also allowed CFUGs to work with private enterprises to help build resources or create products. Many CFUGs sustainably harvest timber, in accordance with regulations, and bring it to private mills to prepare it for market.

Krishna Gautam, owner of the Trishaki Sawmill in Nawalparasi district, says seven local CFUGs bring him wood from their forests for processing.

The CFUGs have the option of consigning some of the timber to the sawmill to sell to the public, but many of the charters stipulate that only a portion can be sold — the majority must go back to the community members.

“They could be making a lot more money, but can’t sell more than they are allowed,” says Gautam.

   A large patch of lemongrass in the Chisapani Community Forest. CIFOR Photo/Chandra Shekhar Karki

View more photos from the field here.

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For more information on this topic, please contact Steven Lawry at s.lawry@cgiar.org.
This research was supported by CGIAR Fund donors and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets.
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