Raising the seeds of empowerment with women led Agro-Forest Based Permanent Nursery

Women entrepreneurs of Barhabise municipality ward no 8 recently constructed a permanent nursery with support from the project “Economic Empowerment of Women through Forest Solutions”, an IDRC funded action research project. The project handed over the nursery to the women entrepreneur group in presence of municipality representatives including deputy mayor, municipal member and chief of sub-division forest officer. The handover program was organized to empower the local government authorities along with the women entrepreneurs in collaborative roles for sustaining the lessons learned from the project for economically, socially and politically advancing rural women’s holistic development via increasing accountability of the concerned government authorities.

These women took the lead in constructing the nursery infrastructure, which includes a nursery tunnel (9 m x 11 m) with a capacity for 10 beds, a shed house, a storage house, and iron wire fencing. All the construction funds were mobilized by the entrepreneurial group through their group account. Furthermore, they took leadership in dealing with contractors and monitoring the construction process.

The newly constructed permanent nursery structure has the capacity to raise more than 50,000 seedlings annually. At present, they possess over 5,000 seedlings ranging in age from 1 to 10 months. These include Coffee (2,500), Lemon (2,000), Orange (80-100), Dhupi (400-500), Ipil Ipil (200), and Cardamom (500-700). Entrepreneur women have organized their schedules in a rotational manner throughout the year to operate the seedling production business. Now, they are in the process of initiating the legal registration to ensure the sustainability of the business.

The seedlings are locally consumed. Recently the ward office-8, Barhabise municipality purchased fodder seedlings equivalent to NPR 29,000 which were distributed to farmer households to promote the agroforestry system.  The project along with entrepreneur women has been facilitating the market opportunities at the regional and national level.

During the nursery handover ceremony, the deputy mayor ensured the allocation of the government regular programme and budget in the upcoming process to scale up the women-led agriculture-forest-based nursery. The women expressed their gratitude to the project as well as the local government, saying, “We have experienced many projects that come and go. We thought the same about this project. But we were wrong”. This project has truly brought about constructive change within us. Additionally, another entrepreneurial woman added, “Now we do not have to rely entirely on our husband’s income, which has subtly changed society’s perception of us”. The women are proud of being able to construct and develop the nursery project in a successful, permanent way. They not only owned the nursery in their names but also won the status of skilled nursery experts.

Policy dialogue on the opportunities and challenges of forest enterprise

Attaining prosperity from forestry is one of the pressing policy priorities in the forestry sector of Nepal. With the new local government system in place, there are ample opportunities to support community forests and local farmers in promoting forest-based enterprises. However, there are still gaps pertinent to the financial, technical, and policy aspects of FBEs in Nepal.

With an aim to develop a common understanding on the issue and identify ways forward to promote FBEs, ForestAction Nepal in support of the Australian Aid, conducted a local government-level policy dialogue on the opportunities and challenges of forest enterprises in Chautara, Sindhupalchok, on October 1, 2023. Diverse stakeholders from local government (wards, municipalities), the Department of Cottage and Small Industries (Gharelu), technicians, researchers, NGO (Forest Action Nepal), furniture entrepreneurs, Lapsi entrepreneurs, media and outreach, etc. were actively engaged to discuss the opportunities, challenges, and ways out for forest enterprise development.

Some of the key takeaway messages from the policy dialogue are as follows:

● Unhealthy international competition should be checked and addressed by our existing trade related policies to create a safe and competitive business environment.

● A single-enterprise registration agency is crucial to avoid tedious process of registration.

● An effective monitoring system and the formation of a separate task team would be crucial to check the operation and overall status of the enterprises registered under them.

● Policy, legal reform for the better governance of the enterprises sector

● A system of laws, rules, processes, and stakeholders, together with their respective roles and norm should be brought together by the business institutional framework to further shape the socioeconomic activities of the entrepreneur.

● Capacity development and skill training to identify opportunities, set goals, and develop strategies to ensure that forest resources are used effectively and efficiently.

● Business Promotion Services to gain the national and international recognition

● Prioritizing on ergonomic aspects by implementing the insurance and workers safety gears while working

 

 

National Policy Dialogue on Issues and Strategies for Women-Led Forest Enterprises

After completing the 2 years of its action research journey, the project Economic Empowerment of Women through Forest Solutions has successfully carved out more than 240 rural marginalised women entrepreneurs and increased their economic, social, and technological empowerment through a series of trainings, visits, and capacity-building programs. During its implementation, they have come across policy, technological, and many other arduous legal barriers. So in order to represent the voices and stories of transformation of these entrepreneurs from the field to the table of policymakers, a one-day reflective national workshop was organized in Kathmandu. It aimed to enhance business and entrepreneurial knowledge through interaction and sharing their experiences, establish linkages between women-led production processes and the market through direct interactions with veteran entrepreneurs, and create a supportive and inclusive environment for the entrepreneurs in terms of policy and programme implementation, aiming for sustainable markets, and addressing the voice from the grassroots. As the diverse stakeholders are a crucial aspect of this national workshop, there was active engagement from diverse professional backgrounds who sparkled the discussion on different themes, intricately analysed the stories and voices of the entrepreneurs, and gave critical feedback and assurance to facilitate a supportive environment in as many aspects as possible.

The panelist discussion was centered on strategies and policies for the sustainability of microenterprises focusing on women’s engagement in the enterprise, Measures for easing registration and functioning, Major problems and issues encountered, strategies for solving the complications in the value chain of minor forest products, policy and practical gaps faced by women, and potential solutions to promote women in forest-based enterprises The issues faced by women entrepreneurs till now were: limited market, lack of skills of professional intermediaries at the local level, market expansion plans, formal product registration and certification, gender and caste discrimination, sustainability and availability of resources, maintaining quality, legitimacy of product prices, etc.

The common pathways echoed by the stakeholders were

● Accounting and expanding the use of local resources according to market potential.

● Developing strategies and implementing forest resource expansion programs,

● Market management and product diversification, for example, taking initiatives to bring Nepali paper and paper products to the national and international market,

● Producing and cultivating in community forests, private forests, and private lands for the sustainability of raw materials,

● Promoting agroforestry,

● Creating an environment of collaboration and cooperation with local government, domestic and divisional forest offices, banks and financial institutions, enterprise groups, value chain actors, community forests, and other stakeholders, and propagating the latest endeavors of knowledge and skills through various means

 

 

Outcome Workshop on Strengthening Collaboration for Women Entrepreneurs’ Initiatives

More than 45 diverse concerned stakeholders passionate about advancing women’s economic empowerment came together in a workshop held in Nawalparasi. It aimed at dissemination of the findings and recommendations of the Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the project “Economic Empowerment of Women through Forest Solutions”. The workshop preceded several sessions, starting with the women entrepreneurs’ journey, a presentation on the project outcomes, and group discussions on the role of different stakeholders in supporting women entrepreneurs. Participants developed a collaborative exit action plan as an outcome.
 
So far, the project has successfully demonstrated certain exemplary women entrepreneurs promising results of forest resource-based livelihood efforts within the contexts of three CFUG. They shared about their growing leadership and decision-making roles in economic, social, and political roles by learning the technical tactics of enterprise management skills, accessing technologies and women entrepreneurs’ buildings, and securing sustainable access to minor forest resources for their product development. They expressed gratitude to concerned stakeholders for encouraging them in their journey to establish themselves as entrepreneurs since they gained a new identity as “green entrepreneurs” based on “green enterprises”
The women entrepreneurs shared their happiness and pride with the new experiences of conducting inventories of Sal and Thakal leaves, preparing operational plans based on analysis of their inventory outputs, and obtaining approval from the DFO while including them in the operational plan of the CFUGs. Thus, women’s choices of NTFPs are now equally respected with the timber-based forestry operational plans of the concerned CFUGs.
 
The workshop also highlighted the critical challenges and suggestions received from the MTR, such as the absence of secure marketing channels, the need for legal certification and branding of products, the diversification of products, and the adoption of quality control measures. The key recommendations of the MTR were also shared in the workshop, highlighting the need for continuity of reflective learning, embracing innovation, and exploring online platforms for developing high-quality products to sustain marketing. The workshop concluded with encouraging words from the Deputy Mayor of Devchuli Municipality, who informed us that the municipality has already included funds for supporting women entrepreneurs’ marketing by opening a marketing outlet (Koseli Ghar) in Devchuli.