RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil (20 June 2012)_Community managed forests in Nepal are already achieving goals set out at this year’s Rio+20 conference by promoting sustainable use of natural resources and making sure more trees are left standing, experts say. However, poverty eradication and social justice will be crucial in the quest for a greener and fairer economy.
“Without poverty reduction, forests cannot be green and without a green economy, poverty cannot be reduced,” said Mr. Ghanshyam Pandey from the Global Alliance of Community Forestry in Nepal.
He and others were speaking on the sidelines of the Rio+ conference in Brazil, where 120 heads of state are gathering to discuss the future sustainability of the world’s resources. While not featuring high on this year’s agenda, forests and the communities that manage them play a vital role in providing industrialized nations with good and services, such as food, energy, jobs and water.
According to previous CIFOR research, developing community-based enterprises may be one of the most effective ways to generate income and employment for the poor while supporting sustainable management of forest resources.
In Nepal over 90% of the population is dependent on forests for their livelihoods. The Terai, a densely populated strip of lowland along the border with India, is the most important economic forest area, but most at threat from deforestation. Forests are legally owned by the state, but forest User Groups (UG), established by the government in 1988, have handed overland rights to the people. UGs have successfully slowed the rates of deforestation and 15 percent of forest lands are now under protection.
According to a recent World Bank report, one of the most successful programmes, the Hill Community Forestry Project, has brought over 300,000 hectares of degraded hillside forest under the protection of more than 4,000 UGs. It has also enabled some communities to receive 100% of the benefits from the sale and management of products from these areas.
“Community forestry programmes in Nepal have been successful in achieving environmental, social and economic outcomes,” said Mr. Ram Prasad Lamsal, Joint Secetary of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, also a participant at the event. But “it is not only about protecting forests for communities…it is supporting rural development.”
However, the Hills project has been difficult to replicate in another areas of Nepal. Even in the Terai, for instance, there has been great reluctance by the government to hand over the ownership of forests and the identification of UGs has been difficult. Furthermore, the World Bank said in areas where communities do own their land, there have been reports of unfair distribution of both property and benefits.
“Community forestry has had an impact, however its institutions are also the subset of the political system of Nepal…so in terms of development there are a number of issues and gaps,” said Prasad Lamsal, pointing to sustainable forest management, equitable livelihood opportunities, and the lack of involvement of women and poor groups.
He said integrating existing community forest programmes into reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation schemes, or REDD+, an international backed scheme to pay forest rich countries for the carbon stored in trees , could address inequalities in the system, increase transparency and provide additional benefits to communities that protect the forests.
Nepal currently has several REDD pilot projects underway.
Despite the potential to increase forest density and promote innovation in the conservation of forests, Prasad Lamsal said “REDD will not be the main benefit, but a co-benefit; a bonus to communities and stakeholders that are protecting the forest.”
In order for community forest management programmes to fulfill their potential and meet sustainable development goals , while at the same time alleviating poverty and promoting social justice , a number of issues will need to be addressed, he said.
“The right policies are instrumental to develop community forestry, it cannot be static…it must be participatory and an important aspect is to strengthen the institutional capacities of communities.” These include knowledge sharing and training so people can develop their own enterprises and increase livelihood opportunities.
Another challenge, Lamsal added, is ensuring that with the increased pressure and competition on resources, communities harvest forest products sustainably.
“Some committees in the Hill are too conservative in their use of forest products, whereas in other sites, often some community User Groups over-harvest the products,” he said.
Others at the event agreed that the opportunities associated with community forest management are tremendous as are the challenges.
Dr. Madhav Karki, Deputy Director General of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development said, “there is a need for innovation and more vision, better relationships and improved knowledge and cooperation.”