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Nepal - This topic will be discussed at the World Bank Land and Poverty Conference 2018: Land Governance in an Interconnected World, held from 19-23 March in Washington, DC.

In Nepal, the idiom “it takes a village” might be better ended with “to raise a forest.” Here, more than a third of the population is involved community-based management of more than 1.8 million hectares of forested landscapes, from the highly biodiverse southern lowlands of the Terai to the rugged foothills of the Himalayas.

But as the country’s government changes, so too must its forestry policies. Aiming to provide policymakers with knowledge they can use, a new special issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Forest and Livelihood provides the latest evidence on forest tenure reforms in Nepal, explaining and analyzing what has worked so far and what stands to be improved.

The issue comes at a pivotal time, as Nepal’s process of solidifying a federal state is bringing about all sorts of changes in legislature forestry policy included.

“We wanted to bring all the knowledge together in one place, and compare reforms in terms of rights granted to local communities, authority and oversight, security of rights, and economic and environmental sustainability,” says Mani Ram Banjade, a consultant and former scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), who led the issue’s compilation and co-wrote its summary introduction.

“From this perspective, we wanted to see if there are commonalities and differences,” he added.

Forest tenure is intricately linked to forest management, and the bulk of the special issue narrows in on the nine different modalities of forest management that the country has developed over the past 40 years. It is the only current resource to contain all existing knowledge on the modalities brought together in an analytical way from a tenure security perspective.

   At the border of forest and farmland in Southern Nepal. CIFOR Photo/Chandra Shekhar Karki

BACK TO THE START

Each tailored to different landscape and livelihood needs, Nepal’s forest management modalities range from collaborative management between communities and the government for the block forests of the Terai, to pro-poor leasehold forestry in areas in desperate need of restoration.

Together, the modalities set a high benchmark for how countries can and should take care of their landscapes, not least because of the one thing all the modalities have in common: granting rights and benefits to local communities.

“Deforestation was very rampant until the 1970s,” says Banjade. “There was no sense of ownership in taking care of forests, and people started felling them. Most of the hills were almost naked, without any vegetation.”

This prompted the government to begin community forestry management systems, offering benefits that inspired communities to start taking better care of their forests and using them to satisfy their needs – for agriculture, energy, timber – in sustainable ways.

In the 1990s, when issues such as representation and equity began joining the policymaking vernacular, more inclusive and pro-poor modalities were added to the roster as well.

However, in 2007, things began to shape-shift. Following a decade of unrest, Nepal’s 240-year-old monarchy lost power and the country began a transition to federalism. The change was formalized in the new Constitution of Nepal in September 2015, dividing authority into three tiers – municipal, provincial and national – each with financial autonomy.

How does this apply to forests? As the new form of government continues to settle in, policies are being adapted to fit. For Banjade and others in the forestry sector, this time of change is a ripe opportunity to improve areas of forest tenure that are still struggling to provide adequate benefits to communities and marginalized groups, such as women.

“Everything is restarting, as local, provincial and national governments are developing new policies to govern every sector. We brought out this issue now as an opportunity for policymakers to reflect on experiences while restarting the forest sector.”

   Bhubaneshwor Prasad Chaudhary, Chairperson of the Baghamara Bufferzone Community Forest User Group. Community-based forestry management has been found to be an effective vehicle for climate change mitigation and adaptation. CIFOR Photo/Chandra Shekhar Karki

COMMUNITY BUILDING

Banjade uses his introductory piece in the special issue to lay the groundwork for new policymaking processes. This includes harmonizing definitions – for terms as basic as “tenure”, “tenure security”, and “bundle of rights” – as well as pulling out the primary findings and insights from the articles that follow.

“The contributions of community forestry to conservation are very positive,” he says, noting in the introduction that community-based forest management (CBFM) is an extremely effective vehicle for climate change mitigation and adaption. “That’s a key message across different modalities – that community-based forest management is one of the most advanced forms.”

There is still much room for improvement in terms of social inclusion and gender equity in forest tenure, as well as the task of evening out benefits across all the different modalities. CBFM, for instance, tends to have a much greater positive impact on livelihoods than more localized management in remote rangeland areas.

However, one of the more foundational stumbling blocks is implementation. Even if forest tenure policies are reformed, on-the-ground implementation doesn’t always happen as it should.

“Most communities are not that rich and don’t afford allowances to leaders, so leaders don’t get accreditation for implementing reforms, or receive punishment for not implementing them. Incentives, then, rarely come down to individuals and involving them in management.”

To this end, Banjade and others are currently conducting research and engagement activities focused on enterprise, so that individuals can gain more financially from forest management and ideally stay more involved, rather than migrating to cities for other forms of employment.

Overall, Banjade hopes that new policies under federalism will be developed thoroughly, taking into account the nuances and needs of the different modalities and communities they affect.

“What I’m advocating is that we should not compromise policymaking processes. They should be done deliberately, involving all levels of stakeholders and building upon experiences – from the global arena, and our own.”

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For more information on this topic, please contact Mani Ram Banjade at m.banjade@cgiar.org.
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
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