A joint meeting between ForestAction Nepal and Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies (SIAS) was organized on 11th September, 2022 on “Women’s Economic Empowerment in a Low-Carbon COVID-19 Recovery” funded by IDRC Canada. ForestAction Nepal is implementing- Women’s Economic Empowerment through Forest Solutions- WEE-FS in Sindhupalchok and Nawalparasi district and SIAS is implementing Co-production of Shock Resilient Business Ecosystems for Women Engaged Enterprises (CREW) in Ramechhap, Dolakha and Arghakhanchi districts. The meeting was organized to discuss the conceptual framing of women economic empowerment and share the projects achievements, issues and challenges in the action research.
The meeting was organized in two sessions, the first session was intended for sharing and discussion on the conceptual framework and project updates and second one on the opportunities, issues and challenges faced in project implementation. Dr. Bhim Adhikari shared the IDRC’s research priorities and the developmental challenges. He raised the issue of challenges of action research on influencing policy making at national and global level and expected two projects in the same country will bring synergy stimulating policy process.
Dr. Mani Ram Banjade, Principal Investigator- CREW project shared conceptual details of the women economic empowerment (WEE) framework. Five domains of WEE (economic, socio-cultural, environmental, technological and policy) and interlinkages between them important to build shock resilient women led enterprises. He further updated the project achievements and glimpses of base line survey analysis.
Ms. Kanchan Lama and Dr. Srijana Baral, discussed the conceptual framework adopted by WEE-FS project. Ms. Lama shared that in the WEE framework women’s societal relationship with her family is equally important as agency development and reducing the social biases and structural barriers in the empowerment process. Dr. Baral shared the project approaches and the updates made so far in the project outcome areas.
ForestAction Nepal’s consortium partner HIMAWANTI Nepal, AFFON and FenFIT presented their perspectives in issues and challenges faced in the project implementation. Similarly, SIAS partners (NIMS College, ARIA Solutions and Himalayan Bio Trade Limited -HBTL) reflected the same.
The discussions between the sessions were moderated by Dr. Naya Sharma Poudel and Dr. Dil Bahadur Khatri. The majority of the discussions focused on joint actions for WEE, cross learnings and policy gaps on developing low carbon economies. More such events are expected to be useful to both the projects and IDRC as a whole.
In his concluding remarks, Dr. Adhikari shared that the projects are progressing well in line with IDRC’s strategic thinking and ideas. He appreciated the partnership approaches. He also suggested on developing scalable models for women empowerment through low carbon initiatives. He emphasized on knowledge generation and dissemination, as IDRC uses the academic outputs to map project’s impacts.
‘हरियो वन नेपालको धन” भन्ने उक्ति हामीले जन्मजात देखि नै सुन्दै आएका छौँ । हुनपनि हो, नेपाल प्राकृतिक स्रोत तथा जैविक विविधताको हिसाबले सम्पन्न देश मध्यमा गनिन्छ । फरकफरक भौगोलिक विशेषतायुक्त जमिन, जल तथा जङ्गल क्षेत्र यहाँका प्रमुख प्राकृतिक स्रोतहरू हुन । बहुसङ्ख्यक नेपाली जनताको जीविकोपार्जन प्राकृतिक स्रोतहरूमा आधारित छ । वन अनुसन्धान तथा सर्वेक्षण विभागको तथ्याङ्कलाई आधार मान्ने हो भने नेपालको वन क्षेत्र बढ्दो आवस्थामा पाइन्छ । यद्यपी, त्यसबाट देशको अर्थतन्त्रमा सोझो प्रभाव भने परेको देखिएको छैन । समुदायले दाउरा, घाँस, काठपात, पानीको स्रोत उपभोग जस्ता दैनिक उपयोगमा आउने सेवा बाहेक थप स्रोत लाई आर्थिक उपार्जनसँग जोड्न सकेको छैन । वनजंगल बढेपनि वनमै आधारित उद्योग, कलकारखाना उल्लेखनीय रुपमा संन्चालनमा आउन सकेका छैनन् ।
वन क्षेत्रको विस्तारले माटो, जलाधार, चराचुरुंगी, वन्यजन्तु, हावापानी र जैविक विविधतामा प्रत्यक्ष/अप्रत्यक्ष टेवा पु¥याएको कुरालाई नकार्न नसकिएतापनि उत्पादनशील समेत रहेको वनबाट नेपालले लाभ लिन धेरै ढिलो भईसकेको अवस्था छ । जसले गर्दा, स्थानीय स्रोत (काठ) खेर गईरहेको छ भने काठको आन्तरिक माग परिपूर्ति गर्न हरेक वर्ष हजारौं क्यूबफिट काठ विभिन्न देशबाट आयात भईरहेको छ । नेपालमा वन व्यवस्थापनका लागि सामुदायिक वन एक सफल कार्यक्रमको रूपमा स्थापित भएतापनि उपलब्ध काष्ठ र गैह्रकाष्ठ उत्पादनलाई दिगो रूपमा उपयोगमा ल्याई वन स्रोतमा आश्रित घरधुरी तथा परिवारहरूको जीवनस्तर उकास्ने काममा लक्ष्य भन्दा निकै कम मात्रै योगदान पु¥याइरहेको छ । वन क्षेत्रबाट हुने आम्दानीको मुख्य हिस्सा काठले ओगटेको भएतापनि लामो समयदेखि वन क्षेत्रमा काठ व्यवस्थापनको विषय समुदायको लागि जटिल कार्य बन्दै आएको छ । यस्तो अवस्थामा स्थानीय स्तरमा काष्ठ तथा काष्ठजन्य उत्पादनमा स्थानीयको पहुँचमा वृद्धि गर्ने तथा स्थानीय क्षेत्रमा रोजगारी सृजना गर्ने सवालमा घुम्ती सःमिल एउटा विकल्प हुन सक्छ ।
संसारमा काठ चिरानका लागि विभिन्न किसिमका यन्त्रहरु प्रयोग हुँदै आएका छन् । नेपालमै पनि पछिल्ला केही दशकमा काठ चिर्ने काममा फरक–फरक किसिमका यन्त्रहरु प्रयोग हुन थालेका छन् । परम्परागत आरा, बन्चरोको ठाउँमा पावर चेनःस जस्ता यन्त्रको प्रयोग हुन थालेको छ । यस्तैमा, घुम्ती सःमिल काठ चिरानका लागि प्रयोग हुने यन्त्र नै हो । यद्यपी, अवश्यकता अनुसार स्थानान्तरण गरी काठ चिर्न सकिने यसको प्रमुख विशेषता हो । स्थानीय उत्पादनमा आधारित काठ उद्योगको स्थापना तथा विकासको सम्भावना रहेको हाम्रो देशमा यसको मितव्ययी प्रयोगबाट आम उपभोत्ताको स्थानीय काठमा पहुँच बढ्ने तथा थाकथलोमै रोजगारीको अवसर पनि सृजना हुन सक्छ ।
नेपालमा भएका वन क्षेत्रहरूको दिगो व्यवस्थापन गर्न सकेको खण्डमा काठको उत्पादनबाट मात्रै पनि आम्दानी कैयौं गुणा बढी गर्न सकिने कुरा स्पष्ट देखिन्छ । वन तथा वातावरण मन्त्रालयले सातै प्रदेशमा वनमा आधारित हरित रोजगार सृजना गर्ने उद्योग सञ्चालन/सृजना गर्ने लक्ष्य लिईरहेको परिवेशमा निकट भविष्यमा वनमा आधारित उद्यमको विकास, विस्तार तथा यसका आधारमा हुने काष्ठ प्रविधिको विकास, तथा तराई–मधेस एवं मध्य पहाडी क्षेत्रको भूमिमा उच्चस्तरका काठहरूबाट काष्ठजन्य उत्पादन हुने अपेक्षा गर्न सकिन्छ । यस्तोमा अन्य ठूलो औद्योगिक प्रकृतिका काठ चिरान गर्ने यन्त्र तथा उद्योग स्थापना गर्न जटिल रहेका स्थानमा घुम्ती सःमिल एउटा विकल्प हुन सक्छ ।
यही परिस्थितीको माँझ मुख्यतया नेपालको पहाडी क्षेत्रमा सामुदायिक वन, कवुलियती वन तथा निजी वनबाट उत्पादन भएका काठलाई उपभोक्ताहरूको आवश्यकता अनुसार कटान तथा चिरान गर्न अन्य देशका ग्रामीण समुदायका लागि सुविधाजनक साबित भएको घुम्ती सःमिल नेपालको परिपे्रक्षमा स्थानीय समुदायको खर्चको कटौती, गुणस्तरको चिरान काठ उत्पादन, न्युनतम बस्तुको नोक्सान आदी उद्देश्य राखी डिभिजन वन कार्यालय, सिन्धुपाल्चोकले खरिद गरेको थियो । स्थानीय सामुदायिक वनका पदाधिकारी तथा उपभोक्ताको यस सःमिल प्रतिको धारणा लिने तथा प्रविधिक पाटो केलाउने साथै स्थानिय समुदायलाई यस घुम्ति सःमिल सञ्चालन गर्न सक्षम बनाउने प्रयास स्वरुप २०७८ साल चैत्र १४ देखि १७ सम्म (४ दिने) घुम्ती सःमिल परिक्षण कार्यक्रम गरिएको थियो । सामुदायिक तथा निजी वन व्यवस्थापन अभ्यासमा सुधार गरी सामाजिक, आर्थिक तथा वातावरणीय पक्षमा सुधार ल्याउने लक्ष्य लिई जीविकोपार्जन सुधारका लागि परिष्कृत वन व्यवस्थापन कार्यक्रम (इन्लिफ्ट परियोजना) विगत केही वर्षदेखि चौतारा साँगाचोकगढी नगरपालिकाको वडा नं ८ र १३ लाई कार्यक्षेत्र वनाई विभिन्न १८ वटा सामुदायिक वनहरूमा विभिन्न क्षेत्रगत गतिविधि संचालनमा सहजीकरण गरीरहेको छ । डिभिजन वन कार्यालय सिन्धुपाल्चोक तथा इन्लिफ्ट परियोजनाको सहजीकरणमा यस क्षेत्रका सामुदायिक वनहरू श्रीछाप देउराली, संसारी डाँडा, बाँझेकपासे लगायतका सामुदायिक वनहरुमा सःमिलको प्रशिक्षण, परीक्षण र प्रदर्शनी कार्यक्रम सञ्चालन गरिएको थियो । यस कार्यक्रमले मुख्य रूपमा प्राविधिक परीक्षणले घुम्ती सःमिलको लागत, श्रम, चिरान समय, काठको क्षती, कार्यसम्पादन, इन्धन खपत, पार्टपुर्जा ओसारपसार, आराको गुणस्तर, दक्षता, परिचालन सुविधा, सःमिलको सामाजिक स्वीकृति परीक्षण, काठको गुणस्तर र सरोकारवालाहरूको सामान्य धारणा इत्यादिको विस्तृत अध्ययन गरी दस्तावेज तयार गरिएको छ । दीर्घकालिन रूपमा यस कार्यक्रमले वन पैदावारको उचित सदुपयोग, स्थानीय अर्थतन्त्रमा टेवा, स्थानीय बस्तुको दिगो उपयोग तथा व्यवस्थापनमा उचित भूमिका खेल्ने अनुमान गर्नुका साथै स्थानीय स्तरमा काटिएको काठको दिगो आपूर्ति सुनिश्चित गर्नेछ भन्ने गर्ने उद्देश्य लिएको छ ।
घुम्ती सःमिल परिक्षणको प्रारम्भिक नतिजालाई आधार मान्ने हो भने घुम्ती सःमिलबाट विद्यमान स्थानीय आरा मिलहरू को तुलनामा स्थापना तथा सञ्चालन गर्न सजिलो देखिएको छ । उपभोक्ताको माग अनुसार निश्चित साइजको चिरान गर्न सकिने तथा अन्य आरा मिल भन्दा कम जोखिम, ट्रलीको उचाई कम भएकोले काठ लोड अनलोड गर्न सजिलो, समथर र स्केल बमोजिमको चिरान काठ उत्पादन, मिल स्थापना पश्चात दक्ष कामदारको निगरानीमा सामान्य कामदारबाट पनि सञ्चालन गर्न सकिने, ध्वनी तथा वातावरण प्रदुषण कमी, करिब ३/३२ इन्चको सानो आरा हुनाले काठमा कम क्षती पुग्ने तथा एक पटकमा ४–८ वटासम्म कडी चिरान गर्न सकिने जस्ता सवल पक्ष देखिएको छ । घुम्ती सःमिल स्थानीय सामुदायिक वन क्षेत्र वरीपरी नै सञ्चालन गर्न सकिने भएकाले काठ ढुवानी गर्न लाग्ने समय तथा लागत घट्ने, गोलाई नै किन्नु पर्ने बाध्यताको सट्टा स्रोत भएको ठाउँमै आवश्यकता अनुसारको चिरान काठ किन्न पाइने साथै विपन्न उपभोक्तालाई रोजगारीको सिर्जना हुन्छ ।
यसरी विभन्न फाईदा हुदाँहुदै पनि यसका केही सीमाहरू भने देखिन्छ । सडक पहुँच भएको स्थानमा मात्र संचालन र ढुवानी गर्न सकिने, मेसिन लोड र अनलोड गर्न समय लाग्ने, ब्लेड साट्दा वा धार लगाउन प्राविधिक पक्षलाई ध्यान दिनु पर्ने, ठूलो व्यास भएको काठ चिरानको लागि अनुपयुक्त, बोल्ट, ट्रली, लेभल स्तरको आवधिक जाँच जरुरी हुने, कडा खालको काठ चिरानमा कठिन हुने, फल्याक चिरान गर्दा अन्तिममा ३ इन्च काठ बाँकी रहने, लेभल, ब्लेड, पानी, धार गार्ड, आदि पटक पटक अवलोकन गरी राख्नु पर्ने, मिलमा गोलिया काठ फिटिंगको लागि समय लाग्ने तथा योग्य प्राविधिकहरूको निगरानी चाहिने देखिएको छ ।
यसरी हेर्दा घुम्ती सःमिल प्रभावकारी देखिएता पनि यसको प्रयोगमा भने केही व्यवधानहरु देखिएको छ । वन व्यवस्थापन तथा स्रोत उपभोगको सवालमा विभिन्न अध्ययनहरूले यहाँको कानुनी तथा व्यवहारिक अड्चनहरू, अव्यवहारिक नीतिगत निर्णय, कर्मचारीतन्त्र, परम्परागत सोच र व्यवस्थापन शैली प्रमुख बाधकको रूपमा देखिएको छ । लागत कम गर्न, सामाजिक रूपमा स्वीकार्यता बढाउन, नीतिगत, व्यवहारिक तथा प्राविधिक पक्षलाई केलाउन थप नमुना क्षेत्रमा सम्भाव्यता परीक्षण गर्नु पर्नेछ । साथै, पूर्ण मर्मत संभार गर्न सक्ने स्थानीय दक्ष प्राविधिक उत्पादन गर्नुका साथै घुम्ती सःमिल सञ्चालन गर्न सकिने कानुनी आधार विकास गर्नु पर्ने अबको बाटो हो । कानुनी रुपमा दर्ता गरी उद्यमको रुपमा विकास गर्न केही नीतिगत जटिलता रहेको देखिए पनि समस्याको गाठो फुकाउने र उद्योग संचालनमा सहजीकरण गर्ने गरी नेपाल सरकारसँग समन्वय गरी स्थानीय स्तरमा वन उद्यम विकास, रोजगारी सृजना, महिला सशक्तिकरण र गरिबी न्युनीकरण गर्ने वातावरण घुम्ती सःमिल एक विकल्प हुन सक्छ ।
कपिल दाहाल, फरेष्टएक्सन नेपालमा अनुसन्धानकर्ता हुनुहुन्छ ।
माथि उल्लेखित विषयवस्तुहरू नितान्त लेखकको विचार र स्थलगत अनुभवमा आधारीत हो । फरेष्टएक्सन नेपाल र ईन्लिफ्ट परियोजना नेपालको धारणासँग प्रतिनिधित्व गरेको मानिने छैन ।
Private forest owner in Sindhupalkchok with her son. Courtesy of Ganga NeupaneSrijana Baral and Kanchan Lama of ForestAction Nepal share some of the hardships women face in forest communities in Nepal. They introduce a new GLOW project that aims to empower women entrepreneurs to establish forest-based, low-carbon small businesses to enhance their climate resilience.
The Economic Empowerment of Women through Forest Solutions (WEE-FS) project is being implemented over the next three years in four municipalities in Nepal. The municipalities are in two regions: Sindhupalchok in the hills and Nawalpur in the Terai (Nepal’s lowland region). The project aims to generate evidence-based knowledge for women’s economic empowerment through low carbon, forest and nature-based entrepreneurial solutions that enhance women’s resilience against climate change and external pandemic and economic shocks.
The project is funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and implemented by a consortium of partners with diverse expertise including ForestAction Nepal – a research organisation, the Himalayan Grassroots Women’s Natural Resource Management Association (HIMAWANTI) – a civic network of women’s groups, the Association of Family Forest Owner’s, Nepal (AFFON) – a network of private forest owners, and the Federation of Forest-based Industry and Trade, Nepal (FenFIT-Nepal) – an association of private entrepreneurs.
Opportunities and challenges for empowering Nepali women in community forestry
The first quarter of the project has involved better comprehending the diverse opportunities and challenges people are facing. Particularly excluded groups in the communities of Sindhupalchok and Nawalpur include women and girls from forest-dependent local communities, single and widowed women, Indigenous groups, Dalits (also known as the ‘Untouchables’) and land-poor and landless groups.
Decades of conservation efforts and changing rural livelihoods have contributed to increased forest area. This, together with male out-migration from the localities (in search of employment elsewhere), offers ample opportunities for women to engage in forest-based businesses that contribute to a low-carbon economy.
Enhanced external development support in these communities has also opened up opportunities for women to participate in ’outdoor’ activities that expose them to more information about government policies. Development activities have included better access to drinking water (through taps installed at the door steps of homes), roads and internet services, and, most importantly, an enhanced presence of local government in the area.
Although living conditions are gradually improving for many, it is not the same for all women and girls, especially those living in poverty and belonging to socially-excluded communities. Forest-dependent communities are deprived of forest resources due ‘gender-blind’ approaches (where gender is totally disregarded) of community forest user groups (CFUGs). Forest guards often prevent women from entering the forest to access basic timber and non-timber products such as firewood, grass, fodder and wild food. We came across a huge collection of sickles and axes seized by forest guards, many of which belonged to women mainly from poor sections of the community, who had entered the forest to collect firewood and fodder. Hence it is of paramount importance to sensitise forest guards and CFUG authorities including women’s groups primarily relying on forests on gender-friendly approaches.
In addition to challenges related to gaining access to the forest, we identified that women and marginalised groups face multiple other risks – both non-climate and climate-related. These include women’s food insecurity, health hazards, unemployment, exclusion from public information, and the barring of women from making important decisions about forest and other productive resources. Communities are also ill-prepared to cope with (un)anticipated hazards such as floods and landslides and risks from a changing climate, including the growing rate of crop failure and food insecurity, and other new crises such as Covid-19. Amidst all of these interconnected hardships, women and girls are the ones to suffer the most.
Although women’s self-empowerment has increased in recent years, patriarchal values are still very active in a society that prevents women from assuming leadership to claim their share of forest benefits.
“Single women face social discrimination, we cannot voice our issues freely, how can we access timber and other materials freely in the same way, like other women get? Our turn seems to come last, although they say that there is policy for us, but we never get any special treatment, rather we have to bear curses from our fellow women in the public” – a Dalit women shared her struggles for obtaining forest products from community forest.
Women in forest-based enterprises
Forest-based enterprises offer economic opportunities to women through nature-based solutions to enhance their safety nets to absorb climate shocks and build resilience. Several women’s groups in Sindhupalchok and Nawalpur are traditionally engaged in forest-based enterprises, although at a small-scale using traditional knowledge and skills. Women-friendly innovations are needed for efficiency in the absence of technological advancement.
Women are engaged in preparing herbal medicines for treating gastritis problems and Covid-19 symptoms. The Bhujel and Thami Indigenous women are skilled at preparing bamboo and cane handicrafts including brooms from broom grass and mats using dwarf fan palm (Thakal). Some have informally begun to operate enterprises making and selling wooden furniture, however it is still challenging for women to get involved in timber-based products, both in their sale and marketing.
In the Nepalese context, the extraction of timber or non-timber forest products is based on a management plan prepared by forestry experts. The management plan is based on a resource inventory and the management interventions are carried out accordingly. In addition, the women who are engaged in collecting these resources often possess indigenous knowledge on resource management, which contributes to environmental sustainability.
Forests in different management and tenure regimes, including community forests, private forests and leaseholds forests, all hold potential as sources of low-carbon income for women. Many households are found to own private forests and trees on farmland, but family forests are more privately functional and not systematically registered and documented. Many people, however, are unaware of the benefits of registering the forests and using them for commercial purposes.
This was evident during our conversation with Mrs. Kamala Devi Basnet, a private forest owner in Sindhupalchok: “My family owns a multi-storied natural forest on half a hectare of land. I raised the forest and expected it to be a source of income for educating my four children, but now I realise it’s not worth much. A trader came to me and offered a nominal price i.e. Rs 500/tree for medium-sized trees and Rs.1000/tree for big-sized trees. I want to explore the market, but I don’t know where to go and how to get service I want”. She is not aware of any technical support that she could obtain from the Divisional Forest Office. She is now thinking of registering the private forest.
Private and family forests are a huge resource for promoting women’s economic empowerment, but women often lack the skills to fully capitalise on forest assets.
Problems in marketing locally-produced items due to the abundant supply of Chinese and Indian made paper and plastic items, needs serious attention from the district municipalities to discourage it. One option is to impose strict trade regulations to block its supply in order to encourage a market for locally-produced bamboo and cane items.
Strategies for further actions
Forest-based enterprises need adequate policy back-up. Policies introducing subsidies, tax and VAT exemptions might support the women entrepreneurs. Women are active in managing forest resources; well versed in women’s rights and gender roles, but lack adequate power to make decisions over forest incomes. The project can support by introducing women-friendly, low-carbon technologies and skills to support non-timber-based industries that could include a range of products such as handmade paper, Allo (Himalayan giant nettle) prepared clothes, and bamboo and cane baskets that are widely used by local communities.
Several women-led forest-based enterprises are not able to expand their business mainly due to unclear forest and trade policies. They face further challenges, such as lack of negotiation skills as well as opportunities to diversify products and access markets. Strengthening the capacity of women and introducing appropriate technologies to save women’s time and labour, along with motivational entrepreneurship coaching, will be a priority for the project.
Financial institutions hesitate to prioritise women-managed enterprises (and timber-based ones), which needs to be addressed. To support enterprises and women’s economic empowerment, local governments in Sindhupalchok have introduced a policy related to agro-based enterprise and applied through the micro-enterprise development programme in in the district. These initiatives need upscaling at the national and other local government level. The project will support the Ministry of Forests in revisiting and reforming policies and strategies to create opportunities from forests.
Ms. Baral is NRM and Governance Specialist and Ms. Lama is Principal Researcher – Women’s Economic Empowerment at ForestAction Nepal.
Members of food and agriculture team of Forestaction Nepal, recently accomplished a field visit to Far West Province. The main objective of the field visit was to conduct agro-ecological assessment in Mahakali River basin (Bheemdatt and Dodhara Chandani Municipalities of Kanchanpur district, and Parashuraam Municipality of Dadeldhura district). This assessment has been carried out in collaboration with NNSWA (Kanchanpur based organization), and was conducted between 29th May to 3rd of June, 2022.
Municipality level interactions, in presence of newly elected representatives, were conducted in all of above three municipalities. The possible roles of local government in promoting agriculture for food at local level, was discussed during municipality level interactions.
At ward level, separate focus group discussions were held with farmers group, women farmers group, and Dalit women farmers group. Also, separate interaction was held with few of the individual farmers. During the interaction, the current scenario of food and agriculture of respective ward level, the problems, challenges being faced by the farmers including the problems invited due to over flooding in Mahakali and Jogbuda rivers during rainy season, the scope of agriculture, agriculture related enterprises that the farmers have envisioned, were discussed.
During the field visit, agriculture and livestock offices, situated at municipality, were also visited, and interacted with the officials.
The report making process is in progress. All the information collected from the field is being analysed. At the same time, policy documents and other similar study related articles and reports, and respective municipality’s profile is being reviewed.
The field study report will be shared later once it is finalized.
Alliance of Agriculture for Food (AAF) is expanded in Chitwan valley too. AAF is collaborating with other networks and alliances of organic food producers and sustainable agriculture promoters, located inside Chitwan valley, and jointly raising the issues of food and agriculture, conducting awareness campaign against the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and bringing such issues into public debate, and promoting agroecological farming.
Recently, AAF organized an interaction event at Kalika municipality, in presence of newly elected local representatives, and discussed over the contemporary issues of food and agriculture of respective municipality. Also discussed the potential roles and responsibilities of local government to promote agriculture for food at local level.
Food and agriculture team at Forestaction Nepal has been running an apprenticeship course on “transformative activism for sustainable agriculture” since 2010. The motive behind running this course is to build the capacity of the farmers, activists, agriculture students, and others who are interested in farming, and make them able to involve in the campaign of “Agriculture for Food”, either through practices, or through their engagement in policy advocacy at local level. Further, changing ourselves by reflecting and learning by doing and teaching by learning is motto of this training.
So far now, the team has already successfully conducted seven of its series, with an average of 20 participants in each batch, and has now started the new series of it.
The new series of this course includes two groups of participants. The one group includes the participants solely from Terai Madhesh region, whereas, the other one includes the fresh agriculture graduates including some farmers/activists as participants.
The Terai Madesh group has 25 participants, who are currently engaged in with different groups, and are promoting agriculture, working in the social sector, education field, and some are students too. The first module of this series for this group was organized at Thimura, Chitwan, for five days starting from 29th of April 2022.
Similarly, the first module for the next group was organized at SWI, Nakhhu, lalitpur, for five days, staring from 20th of May, 2022. This group has altogether 22 participants.
The theme of the first module for both of the groups was “Back to Basics”.
In this module, under the theme of back to basics, classes were conducted on topics such as evolution, diversity and discrimination, development, education, public health and life skills. Thematic presentations, discussions, group interaction, games and active interactions of participants were the method applied during the training. The first module for both group ended with effective learning through various thematic sessions by facilitators and the active participation of participants.
The aim of this workshop is to review the five decades of CF, develop a common understanding on its achievements, lessons, challenges and opportunities especially in the changing biophysical and socio-political contexts.
Forty years ago, the emergence of community forestry in Nepal proved to be the solution to subsistence livelihood and ecological conservation. Community efforts in restoring the degraded landscape was fundamental in achieving the intended goals. The advent of community forestry in the 1980s witnessed a massive mobilization of communities in reforesting the hills. Back then, the entire orientation of rural communities, and that of foresters and forestry bureaucrats was in favor of promoting community forestry, which gained a global acclamation. Initiated through few handovers, community forestry spread across as a popular policy movement in the country. Gradually, organizations apart from the government responded to the trend by supporting local communities in strengthening the institution. After forty years, apparently, community forestry is at the cross roads where the spirit of the user groups is languishing.
During my visit to one of the community forest user groups in Kavrepalanchowk, I had an interaction with an elderly, perhaps in his early 70s, who was more skeptical about the future of community forest. His persuasion on declining interest of people over forests was evident through growing number of youths leaving the village. Kavre is not an exception to this. Community forests across Nepal has seen passive management, and the socio-environmental foundations based on which community forestry was introduced have observed many changes. The contribution of community forest in socio-economic and ecological changes in Nepal is not debatable. However, Nepal has witnessed several changes in the socio-economic and political context, wherein demographic dynamics, income levels, agricultural practices, and aspirations of the youths have changed substantially. This has largely met with a mismatch between benefits that community forests can deliver versus what local communities expect from it. Foresters, practitioners, and scholars debate on whether the current model of community forestry is still valid and whether it can accommodate the changing preferences of rural communities in the changing socio-economic context of Nepal.
In 1991, Don Gilmour and R.J. Fisher, both Australians, attempted to share their rich insights on community forestry of Nepal in their book entitled ‘Villagers, Forests, and Foresters: The Philosophy, Process, and Practice of Community Forestry in Nepal’. This book was a dynamo that has been keeping the energy flowing among the foresters, academics, forestry officials, and community forestry practitioners. A collaboration between a forester, and an anthropologist provides a pragmatic approach to technical and social issues circumventing community forestry program in Nepal. Back in the 1980s, the authors were working for the Nepal-Australia Community Forestry Program, a major forestry program in Nepal at the time, where any intervention pertinent to community forest would be an experimentation. 30 years down the line, community forestry has witnessed a transformational shift which is largely attributed to the changing socio-economic, and socio-political context of the country.
Achievements and new challenges
Nepal has been globally acknowledged as a pioneer country in showcasing successful practice of community-based resource management through community forestry. The advent of community forestry was viewed as a huge shift in reversing denuded areas and stabilizing fragile mountain slopes. But most importantly, it generated livelihoods and employment to millions of rural populations, where back then, jobs merely existed in urban centers. Today over two million hectares of forests are being managed as community forests by over 22,000 community forest user groups, across the country. As a recent paper by Ojha and Hall entitled ‘Transformation as system innovation: insights from Nepal’s five decades of community forestry development’ shows, Nepal’s community forestry demonstrates a system wide innovation in governance.
With such an expansion and the systemic change which happened in course of four decades, community forestry now faces a multitude of issues in the environmental, social, economic, and political fronts. In a recent webinar, early advocate of community forestry, Dr Don Gilmour stressed that ‘the socio-economic context of community forestry during its inception and now has changed’. I had an important take away message from the webinar – many forestry enthusiasts who have witnessed the long trajectory of community forestry have noted the fact that the socio-economic changes have driven it to a different direction, and thus requires readjustments. In my own experience, I believe there is a need for readjustments in both policy and forest management fronts. In other words, there is a compelling need to revisit and refine community forestry to make it fully attuned to the changing context, and hence would make it more relevant in the future.
A new collaborative assessment to explore revitalization options
In an attempt to pull together the knowledge in assessing the relevance of current modality of community forestry, a collaborative effort of experts, based in Nepal and Australia, started investigating the areas of (re)adjustments in community forests. In doing so, an editorial team led by Dr Naya Sharma Paudel of ForestAction Nepal, convened a group of over 40 experts specializing on diverse aspects of community forestry to work on this collaborative effort of producing a report. The editorial team members are a part of the Australian supported project EnLiFT2 (Enhancing livelihoods from improved forest management in Nepal) and this report is part of its production.
Following thorough review and reiterations with the group of authors, which took almost a year, the editorial team finally produced this report entitled ‘Revitalising community forestry in the changing socio-economic context of Nepal’. With nine chapters written on diverse themes encompassing policy and institutions, biodiversity, climate change, silviculture, enterprise, and gender, this report largely investigates different areas of community forestry that require adjustment. Moreover, it has also made strategic recommendations, that would allow it to adapt in the new context.
In course of my engagement with these authors and experts, I got an impression of having a consensus on at least one aspect – community forestry in Nepal needs revitalization. In other words, the contextual factors that might have worked for community forestry 40 years ago, perhaps may not be valid now. Our societies have evolved and so have the livelihood priorities of people. So certain future direction to drive community forestry has been imperative, and this assessment reinforces the foundation to this new discourse.
Initiating new discourse based on collaborative assessment
Citing its relevance, the Secretary of the Ministry of Forests and Environment affirmed the idea of formally launching the report. Finally, on 15 March 2022, the report was launched during an event in Kathmandu. The report was jointly launched by the secretary of the Ministry and HE Ambassador of Australia to Nepal in the presence of over 35 participants representing various institutions including joint secretaries from the Ministry, Divisional Forest Officers, Under Secretaries, Dean of Institute of Forestry, University Professors, Chair and representatives of FECOFUN, and representatives from NGOs and INGOs. There was an overwhelming appreciation of the collaborative work wherein the report was lauded for being timely and offering a strong basis to framing community forestry policies.
Beyond this, a scholarly attempt of publishing a book on community forestry is underway. An editorial team led by Dr Hemant Ojha from the University of Canberra, is working on a book that would offer critical insights into how community forestry systems can be better governed and managed in the light of changing contexts and new drivers impacting forest and people relationship in the country. This book will be unique in the sense that it would bring high quality research and deeply engaged experiential reflections of those involved in promoting community forestry at different stages of its evolution in Nepal.
A half-day workshop on “Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Community Forests: Issues, Challenges, and Strategies” was successfully held in Hotel Himalaya on 24th March 2022. The program was jointly organized by the Department of Plant Resources, ForestAction Nepal, and Kathmandu Forestry College. The workshop was attended by officials from Ministry of Forest and Environment, NGOs, Academia and members of local communities working on biodiversity and forest management in Nepal. The participants represented a total of 25 different institutions.
The presentations, discussions and comments highlighted biodiversity significance of community forest, policy environment around community forest and status of invasive alien species in Nepal. Officials, researchers and participants discussed on challenges of integrating biodiversity conservation in community forests. The participants suggested developing a minimum requirement for biodiversity inventory in community forests. Biodiversity significance was demonstrated through case of a DI UK funded project.
Dr Lila Nath Sharma, Prof Ambika Gautam and Kalpana Sharma Dhakal presented papers and Prof Bharat Babu Shrestha of TU and Dr. Rajendra KC, Director General of the Department of Forest and Soil Conservation commented on the presentation. Shiva Kumar Wagle, Chief of Planning and Monitoring Division, Ministry of Forest and Soil conservation, Dr Buddi Sagar Paudel, Director General of Department of Plant resources and Dr Mark Watson of Royal Botanical Garden Edinburg provided their remarks and highlighted need for scientific research on biodiversity and conservation in community forests.
‘Revitalising community forestry in the changing socioeconomic context of Nepal’ report launch event was successfully held at Hotel Himalaya on 15 March 2022.
The report was jointly launched by the Secretary of MoFE, Dr Pem Kandel, and HE Felicity Volk, Australian Ambassador to Nepal. There were over 35 participants from various institutions including joint secretaries from the MoFE, Divisional Forest Officers, Under Secretaries, Dean of Institute of Forestry, University Professors, Chair and representatives of FECOFUN, and representatives from NGOs and INGOs.
Secretary of the MoFE and HE the Ambassador, highlighted that the report is very timely and gives a strong basis to framing community forestry policies in the days to come and would provide crucial direction to strengthen the sector. They also acknowledged the collaborative effort of both Australian and Nepalese researchers on this report.
A webinar on ‘Origins and early development of community forestry in Nepal’ was organized on 14 March 2022. The speakers involved pioneers and early advocates of community forestry in Nepal. The experiential insights of the four pioneers (Dr Don Gilmour, Mr. Stephen Midgley, Dr TBS Mahat, Dr Narayan Kaji Shrestha) threw light on the historical context of community forestry in Nepal, and provided footing to advance community based natural resources management in the challenging time and rapidly changing contexts.
On 8th of March, 2022, ForestAction team celebrated the “Break the Bias” and “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” to mark the International Women’s Day 2022. The program started with a brief presentation about IWD, followed by a group learning on “my organization, my pride” through a participatory group work, cutting an “IWD 2022” cake and felicitating two women support staff in the organization.
Among other issues, the origin, history, the journey of women’s advancement throughout various international conventions, treaties and national commitments of the Government of Nepal, was highlighted during the gathering. Moreover, the importance of IWD 2022 motto on the need of today to break the bias to achieve equality was underlined. Subsequently, one of our female staff members recited a poem on, “Naari” (woman). It was followed by cutting the “IWD 2022” cake and celebration among the entire team. Likewise, two of our women support staff were felicitated in recognition of their support to the ForestAction team.
Ms. Kanchan Lama led a group work involving a participatory exercise to work out on the image, champions/villains, rituals and culture of ForestAction in regard to equity and equality. The staff were given colorful cards to write one answer in one card only, then to paste them in the sketch of a half cut onion. The objective of the exercise was to motivate the ForestAction team members towards their self-responsibilities to shape an “equality for creativity” type of organizational culture by contributing to building an enabling environment for all. The ForestAction team members appreciated the efforts to achieve gender equality.