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KEY ISSUES REGARDING COMMUNITY FOREST MANAGEMENT IN NEPAL

After decades of experience with community forestry, there are still many issues that need to be addressed so the former can be institutionalised in Nepal. The followings are the key issues in community forestry:

    1. Subsistence versus commercialisation
    2. Governance, monitoring and evaluation system
    3. Livelihood, equity and gender issues
    4. Taxes and subsidy
    5. Dominance of elites and high caste
    6. Policy and legal framework
    7. CF management issues in Terai
    8. Delivery of support services

1. Subsistence versus commercialisation

Forest Policies related with community forestry is blamed for neglecting the commercial or monetary aspects of community forestry (Malla, 1993; Singh, 1997) while social forestry in India is criticised for omitting the subsistence needs of the villagers (Monech and Bandyopadhayaya, 1986). The former criticism stems from the fact that the rural people, in Nepal, are increasingly engaged in off-farm cash earning activities (APROSC, 1980; Banskota, 1989). Yet, these changes are not recognised in the community forestry related policies and monetary aspect remains neglected. Community forestry still focuses largely on meeting rural people’s subsistence needs for fodder, firewood, and timber (FSMP, 1988; Manandhar, 1980). However, Malla's (1993) argument for commercialisation is criticised on the ground that community forestry still plays crucial role for subsistence living and the so-called 'Farmer's new strategy' is just a myth (Sharma, 1999).

The preface of Forest Act 1993 also explicitly stresses the need of forest legislation for satisfying people's basic needs of forest products. The subsistence oriented community forestry related policies and legislation is at loggerhead with the provisions of the Ninth National Plan as the latter explicitly calls for commercialisation in community forestry. Policy statement of the Plan related with community and private forestry programme is as follows (Grosen, 2000):

"This programme will be initiated for producing forest product needed to the people through the scientific management of the forest sector, with the direct participation of people, for making available raw materials required to industries, and for increasing employment and income-oriented opportunities for poor and the marginalized families"

The Ministerial Level Taskforce (Joint Technical Review of Community Based Forest Resource Management) formed to clarify the issue has recently recommended community forest management to go beyond fulfilling the basic needs (Bird, 2000).

Protection versus active management

2. Governance, Monitoring and evaluation system

Governance is often used to refer the elements: foundation of state power, electoral arrangements, rights of representation, rule of law, transparency and financial accountability, and an efficient and effective public service (Shrestha et al., 1998). It is mainly perceived as positive shift in four areas: social justice, economic liberalisation, political pluralism and administrative accountability (Flower, 1998). Good governance entails a more enabling environment with greater inclusion and reduced marginalisation.

Conventionally, monitoring is defined as an on going process of surveillance of the implementation and information gained through monitoring is judged against the outputs, activities and inputs which have been planned or agreed.

Evaluation is a (semi) independent assessment of the outcomes, impact and relevance of a development initiative and its associated organisational functions. Evaluation informs the decision-makers about the performance against the plan and helps in learning at strategic or programme level. However, in line with participatory approach to development, participatory and self-monitoring and evaluation system have emerged. The system focuses on building the capacity of local organisations to monitor and evaluate their own performances.

The current issues regarding governance are related with a mechanism for a functional co-ordination with the local bodies, as required by the Self-governance Act.

Moreover, various forestry projects have developed their own monitoring and evaluation systems mainly because the Forest User Group is responsible for implementing community forestry operational plan. Hence, there is also a lack of clarity regarding the fields, levels and sectors for monitoring and evaluation among the different stakeholders. Monitoring and evaluation is regarded as the weakest part of Hill Community Forestry Project while the Project's performance was rated satisfactory (The World Bank, 1999).

3. Livelihood, equity and gender issues

Community forestry has a positive impact on forest resource however the question regarding it's impact on the poor and the marginalised has remained grossly unanswered. A through exploration of poverty, equity and livelihood is required for mitigating the negative effects of community forestry and maximise poverty alleviation capability. However, very few studies assess the impact of community forestry on the poorest section of the society - based on livelihood analysis. An article published in a national daily concludes that community forestry has not benefited the poorest of the poor due to their weak linkages with the forest (Sharma, 1999b). Hence, one important issue of community forestry is 'how to strengthen the linkages of community forest with the poorest of the poor?'.

The socio-economic development and increased market influence raises the issues of equity in community forestry. The issue of equity in studies of community forestry has received little attention to date (Malla et al., 1987, Fisher, 1990). The definition of equity in community forestry is mainly perceived in three aspects (Bosma, 1995):

    1. Products distribution by type
    2. Decision-making, and
    3. Allocation of fund

However, there are studies on the impact of commons on income distribution (Jodha, 1986: Sharma, 1999a). A study based on household and village data from the dry-lands of India, attempts to quantify the role of commons in reducing income inequality. The study postulates that up to one-fifth income of the poor comes from the commons and for that these are crucial for subsistence living. The rural rich generally do not depend on commons, as the return is unattractive to them (Jodha, 1986). Another study reports "community forestry contributes to reduce the 'rich-poor' gap however, this reduction simultaneously increases 'within-group' inequality' hence the 'total inequality' remains unchanged (Sharma, 1999a). There are studies on patterns of cost and benefit sharing in the community forests of Nepal. Various costs and benefits, associated with community forest, are considered in these studies however the issue of equity is not focused. The study concludes "poor are not disadvantaged provided an equal access to the community forests" (Maharjan,1993) while there is a counter argument "with weak 'poor-forest' linkage, the meaning of 'equal access' becomes meaningless" (Sharma, 1999c). Mortensen (1997) evaluates the economic performance of forest user groups in managing the community forests, using three case studies. The general observation is "community forests are under utilised".

Most of the women (and children) are suffering from acute protein deficiencies with discrimination in intra-house food allocation (Thapa et al., 1997, Khatry et al., 1998). Community forestry increased participation of women at community level but has contributed very less in addressing their health related problems.

Exaggerated expectations of the potential of community forestry in solving Nepal's ecological crisis could undermine the fragile gains of women (Tinker, 1994). Women should be provided with the opportunities and facilities that directly benefit them in the areas of health, nutrition and education e.g., training on smokeless-stove, nutrition and child-care, primary health education, drinking water facility, scholarships to girls and low caste children, literacy classes etc. Furthermore, introduction of small game animals/birds, and mushroom cultivation in community forest can enhance the nutritional status of women. A part of the forest user group’s fund should be utilised for compensating women for the additional burden they get from the community forest.

Passive forest management strategies are seriously hindering community forestry's contribution to poverty alleviation and amendment in the current rules (orienting community forestry towards meeting the basic needs) is required as it is inconsistent with HMGN's wider policy directives as set out in the Ninth Plan (Bird, 2000).

4. Taxes and subsidy

Taxation is an instrument that is used by the state mainly for the following purposes:

  1. Equality in income distribution
  2. Containing negative environmental externalities
  3. Reducing gap in 'financial – economic' analysis (for proper resource allocation).

While subsidy is used to reverse and mitigate the mentioned activities, in the best interest of the state.

There are arguments and counter arguments regarding the issue of tax and subsidy in community forestry. There is strong argument for taxes in community forest income mainly for Terai while counter arguments are mainly based on equalising effects on income distribution and positive environmental externalities. It seems equally logical that forest user groups should be subsidised for foregone commercialisation due to policy and market barriers. FECOFUN, a national level federation of the forest user groups in Nepal has already started to raise their voice in relation to the positive environmental externalities.

5. Dominance of elites and high caste

Based on case-studies from western part of Sindhupalchok district, it is concluded that community forestry based on forest user concept may not be a viable development strategy for securing the basic needs, mainly because of the dominance of elites and high caste people in the forest user groups (Graner, 1997). The main conclusions are:

Based on those findings, Garner concludes that Goldsmith's criticism of social forestry programmes…….have been of little help to the poor. On the contrary, they have even contributed to their further impoverishment (Goldsmith, 1985 as quoted in Graner, 1997).

However, the Operational Guidelines of Community Forestry 1995 requires forest staffs to make household visits to ensure that no one is excluded from sharing benefit from the community forest. Moreover, the issue of exclusion and discrimination is yet to be thoroughly studied.

6. Policy and legal framework

Certain provisions of community forestry related legislation and policy documents are at loggerhead, hampering smooth functioning and implementation of community forestry activities. The circulars issued from the Department of Forests for clarifying issues often counter legal and policy documents. This situation adds strength to the critique of the argument that 'custodial element' induced by the nationalisation of forests still persists in the departmental actions.

Revision and timely amendment of legal and policy documents are crucial for the sustainability of initial success of community forestry in Nepal.

  1. CF Management issues in Terai

Problems concerning community forest management (Shrestha and Budhathoki, 1993) in Terai region are:

  1. Strong market influence, high commercial value and low concern on long-term sustainability
  2. Acute land use conflicts
  3. Low dependency on forests
  4. Confidence gap between people – forest staffs
  5. Inadequate extension and poor communication
  6. Identification problem due to emigration and ethnic diversity
  7. Forestry Sector Master Plan (FSMP) is silent on community forestry in the Terai while Agriculture Perspective Plan (APP) recommends protection of Churia region. HMGN on April 28th 2000 has formulated a policy framework on Terai and Inner Terai and the key points of the Ministerial concept paper are as follows:

    (Source: Pokharel and Amatya, 2000)

    The above decision has created a furore among the user groups and is received with fierce protests from FECOFUN. It is still too early to say anything about its implication on donor's support to community forestry programmes in Nepal.

    1. Delivery of support services

    The number of forest user groups and area under community forestry is rapidly increasing in Nepal. At this moment, about 900 thousand hectares of community forest are being managed by nearly 10,000 forest user groups. It has directly benefited nearly one million households, mainly in the rural areas of Nepal. The forest user group still needs support from Department of Forests for proper institutionalisation and technical backstopping. It has created a lot of work pressure for forestry staffs, who are already pre-occupied with protection and handing over related activities. Hence, an important issue in community forestry is to develop a mechanism for sustainable support to the forest user groups.

     

    PROCESS AND TOOLS USED IN COMMUNITY FORESTRY PLANNING

    Process of planning Community Forestry requires field staff to work closely with local community in identifying forest users, preparing operational plan, handing over the responsibility of community forests, implementing the plan etc.

    Various RRA (Rapid Rural Appraisal) and PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) tools are used for community forestry planning. Some of the tools widely used in community forestry are: Rough sketch map, Transit walking, and Vien-diagram. The other important tools are Participatory resource mapping and resource register, Door to door visits (D-D Visits), Group discussions, Tea-stall meetings, and interest group meetings. Seasonal calendar, Time series analysis and Time allocation are other significant tools. Priority ranking is another important tool for determining the use pattern and species priority for planning in community forestry. Wealth ranking is one emerging tool that can be used in community forestry planning for efficiently targeting the poor and the disadvantaged section of the villagers.

    For convenience, the planning process is divided into four phases as follows:

      1. Investigation
      2. Negotiation
      3. Implementation
      4. Review and revision

    1. Investigation : Collection of social and technical information. Identification of users and community forest area by contacting local people. The information is collected mainly on two aspects: Bio-physical condition and Users' identification.
    2. Bio-physical condition: The forestry staff collects information on: forest name, area, user dwellings, boundary related disputes, traditional management regimes, forest type and species composition, condition, pattern of utilisation and current use, forest map etc.

      Users' identification: Socio-economic information about the users and settlement is collected by D-D visits and tea stall meetings, distance to the forest, traditional and current uses, existence of management systems, use rights and conflicts, group discussions, interest group meetings. Socio-economic information on: poor & landless, caste structure, livestock holding, livelihood, farming system, market, private trees etc.

    3. Negotiation: This includes formation of forest user group (FUG): registration of along with its constitution at the District Forest Office, discussion on forest management, preparation and approval of operational plan and handing over of management responsibility to the FUG. The most difficult issues in this phase is to have a consensus on use rights and settle disputes regarding the boundary of the forest. Identification of user group and formation of committee is also completed in this phase. The constitution includes following aspects: forest protection (responsibilities and follow-up mechanism), user's responsibilities, duties and rights (responsibilities and obligations and duties of user's, attendance in the meetings), conducting meetings (venue, time, quorum and responsibility), penalty and punishment (against group formation and assignment, not abiding decisions, unauthorised actions etc.), group fund (bank account or fund security, fund mobilisation procedure). While, the operational plan exclusively focuses on the technical aspects of forest management, utilisation and distribution aspects of community forestry.

    3. Implementation: This phase includes monitoring of FUG activities, technical support to FUG and implementation of the approved operational plan. However, it is note worthy that monitoring and evaluation is weakest in community forestry. Various community forestry projects have devised their own monitoring and evaluation system and participatory self-monitoring is just a rhetoric without practice. A three-tyre monitoring and evaluation system connecting user's assembly with bureaucratic reporting is proposed but still awaits implementation.

    4 Review & Revision: Upon the request of FUG or after the expiry of operational plan, generally at an interval of five years, the plan may need amendment and further approval.

    HISTORY OF COMMUNITY FORESTRY MANAGEMENT IN NEPAL

    Last six decades witnessed a shift in the paradigm of forest management in Nepal. In early days, the local people employed watchers to protect nearby forests for satisfying the domestic needs (Fisher, 1989) however, the degradation of the forest continued. The promulgation of Nationalisation Act 1957 and subsequent nationalisation failed, as the newly instituted Forest Department was under-staffed and ill equipped too. Thus, after nationalisation the status of forests changed from common property regime to an open access. This shift in resource regime was received with a free-ride tendency among the users, mostly the local villagers. National Forestry Plan 1976 (Anonymous, 1982), with the objectives: restoration of nature-balance, economic mobilisation, scientific management, and promotion of public co-operation, ushered a new era in the forestry sector of Nepal. However, the Plan emphasised only on plantation and protection aspects. Nevertheless, the Plan paved way for the promotion of Community Forestry in Nepal. The later heralds ‘people centred forestry’ as it is geared to the rural institutional building, greater self-reliance, management-flexibility, emancipation, and empowerment of the deprived and the poor section of society. Forestry Sector Master Plan, building on the objectives laid by the National Forestry Plan included Community and Private Forestry as the largest component with allocation of nearly 47% of the total budget.

    Local initiation: a historic perspective

    Villagers of Thokarpa in Sindhupalchok district organised a meeting in 1973 to discuss the deteriorating situation in their locality (under the leadership of Mr. Nil Prasad Bhandari, the then Pradhan Pancha of Thokarpa). The villagers had faced acute scarcity of the fuelwood to the extent that they were compelled to dig-out tree roots for cooking their meal. Nevertheless, the acute scarcity was an impetus for collective efforts towards forestry. Subsequently, a Forest Management Committee was formed and the villagers walked all way from Thokarpa to Chautara (One-day walk) to bring the seedlings for plantation in their village. Being impressed with villager's endeavour, the then DFO chautara (Mr. T.B. S. Mahat) provided assistance to this committee. Many formal and informal meetings resulted into delegated responsibility and authority to protect the forest to the committee. It was first successful attempt by the Forest Department to involve people in forestry through series of extension activities. In 1973 natural forests in locality of Thokarpa, Banskharka and Pipal Danda villages were brought under protection with voluntary participation of local community and small plantations were also raised in these villages. In the mean time, community forestry project was lunched in those districts under the bi-lateral assistance of Australian government. Sindhupalchok and Kabhrepalanchok districts became focal points for successful example of community forestry. Encouraged by this initial success the government promulgated new legislation in 1978-which became basis for implementing community forestry programmes in Nepal.

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