NEPAL: Communities Take Up Cudgels for Forest Conservation

  • by Damakant Jayshi (kathmandu)
  • Tuesday, February 02, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

Such dramatic backdrop of dense forest cover gives this former bureaucrat reason to be proud. He helped to flourish it as chairman of the Kafle Community Forest, now a 94-hectare green treasure trove in Lamatar village in Lalitpur district, 13 kilometres south-east of Kathmandu.

'Those were the difficult times,' Ghimire tells IPS, referring to his green crusade. 'Some people simply refused to be part of the mission to rebuild the forest.'

Used to collecting firewood and timber from the forest for cooking, most people in the village were in no mood to end their habit two decades back. Alarmed by the incessant felling of trees and their parts that had rendered the once dense forest into a near desert, leaving very few trees and shrubs behind, the Department of Forest decided to hand over the enhancement and management of the forest to Ghimire and a few others in 1990.

Begun in 1978, the handover of community forests intensified after the success of the pro-democracy movement in Nepal in 1990, particularly following the promulgation of the community forest policy under the revised Forest Act of 1993 and Forest Regulations of 1995.

But many people were unwilling to give up the habit of picking up firewood and timber and other forest products (like fodder for their cattle), which was easy, though illegal, by law.

'I had to persuade my folks real hard,' Ghimire says, grinning broadly with a glint in his eyes. During the first few years of the 10 years that he was at the helm, the retiree had to personally take up plantation of broad-leaf trees and neem trees, known for their multiple uses provided their long-term benefits are not sacrificed for short-term gains. Bamboos were planted as well. The land was nearly barren due to massive deforestation and degradation, fire and landslides.

'We used to jump over shrubs when we were kids,' says Sharad Ghimire, a college student and member of the community forest group, pointing to a piece land that was rendered barren before it was transformed into a lush expanse of trees and other plants.

'What you see in front of you,' he says proudly, 'is the result of efforts by the local community, government laws and I/NGOs’ (international and non- governmental organisations) expert guidance.'

Data from the Department of Forest show 1.1 million hectares (22 percent) of the total forest land has been handed over to the locals to manage and enhance in keeping with the Forest Act, which guarantees non-interference from the government forest office so long as the community forest user group (CFUG) complies with the Act (1993) and the Regulations (1995) and the Community Forestry Operational Plan.

Under this plan, the local community that agrees to manage the forest prepares a five- to ten-year master plan to protect, conserve and enhance forest products. Since timber and firewood are still so central to a local community's day-to-day living, they would first determine the sustainable reserve of timber and firewood and then sell the surplus to the community members.

The plan also sets out which trees could be felled, which areas are permissible for cattle grazing, among others. The plan is not just about forest but also about the livelihood of the people who help conserve the forest.

Based on the community forestry concept in Nepal, control over forest resources is devolved to community-based user groups.

At present 1.6 million households are involved in the conservation and sustainable management of forests across the country. Together they make 15,000 community forestry groups across the country, based on data from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

ICIMOD is a regional centre committed to promoting an economically and environmentally sound mountain ecosystems and serving the countries comprising the Hindu Kush-Himalayas region, namely, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Burma, Nepal, and Pakistan. Its study further shows that community forestry prevents deforestation and forest degradation, increases forest cover and soil organic carbon, or the amount of carbon stored in the soil.

A study undertaken by ICIMOD in three community forestry sites in Manang district (in high Himalayas) and Ilam and Lamatar in Lalitpur (in mid Himalayas) between 2003 and 2007 shows an increase in carbon storage in the community forests.

Carbon storage mitigates the contribution of fossil fuel emissions to global warming by capturing carbon dioxide.

The mean annual increment of carbon in these forests covered by the study is 7.04 tonnes of cabon dioxide per hectare. Put simply, it means cuts in emissions (with fewer trees cut) and more carbon sinks (with more forest cover due to plantation).

Carbon sinks are natural or manmade reservoirs that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

'The community forestry is really gaining momentum to revert the deforested and degraded forests to greenery,' says Eak Rana, project coordinator of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme under ICIMOD.

REDD is designed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Rana cites a 1994 National Forest Inventory — a field survey of Nepal's forests by the government with the help of its Finnish counterpart — which showed that from 1978 to 1994, the forest area of the Himalayan country had decreased at an annual rate of 1.66 percent. The conduct of a new survey, again as a collaboration between the governments of Nepal and Finland — is slated to begin July this year.

'The importance of community forestry, thus, cannot be overstated,' Rana says. Community forests, he stressed, play a vital role in regaining old- growth forest conditions, based on studies, including that of ICIMOD.

Tree biomass normally stores half the weight of carbon. Thus, a tree saved (not burnt and decomposed) prevents the release and sequestration capacity of carbon, which is chief among the greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.

Biomass essentially consists of forestry and agricultural waste.

Experts who conducted the ICIMOD study argued that deliberations at the international policy level on climate change must ensure that the REDD policy awards credits not just for reduced deforestation and forest degradation but also for sustainable management of forests and forest enhancement efforts.

Bhola Bhattarai, general secretary of the Federation of Community Forestry Users in Nepal — a network of more than 12,000 community forest user groups in the country — says it is time the developed nations recognised the efforts of countries like Nepal and award them credits.

The United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen last December, which failed to produce a legally binding climate change treaty, came up with a consensus on REDD Plus, or reducing emissions from forest degradation and deforestation in developing countries.

Under the scheme, financial rewards are given to countries for keeping their forests intact. The rewards will come in the form of carbon credits or financial payment by carbon emitters.

'We are currently undertaking carbon accounting and a capacity-building programme in three districts in mid-hills,' Bhattarai says. Once the study is completed, he adds, governance and payment system of Nepal's forest users can be achieved.

After all, there has to be a reward scheme for community forests that result in carbon enhancements, not just efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, says Rana.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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