KATHMANDU, Nepal– The Hills of Nepal continue to raise controversy as forest resources become increasingly scarce. Decades of logging and farming have caused irreversible deforestation in the Hills region, resulting in critical environmental and social implications for the rural communities in Nepal. Communal forest management since the 1970s has helped mitigate some of the deforestation in the Hills, but in recent years the state has shown substantial pushback, infringing on the rights of the Community Forest User Groups (CFUG).
Over the years, declining forests have resulted in the loss of vital carbon sinks that take in CO2 from the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the productivity of the few remaining forests declines, negatively impacting quality and quantity of crop yields. Impoverished farmers see reduced harvests with less nutritional value as a direct result to the declining health of the surrounding forests. Deforestation also translates into lifestyle changes for rural populations. For example, women have to walk farther and farther to collect fuel and fodder for their families’ needs, taking away from their other domestic duties.
Deforestation in Nepal is caused by a combination of domestic and foreign pressures. The Hills experience substantial pressure from rising human and livestock populations. Today there are approximately 1,500 people per square kilometer.
Tourism, Nepal’s fastest growing industry, contributes to both land and cultural degradation as well. According to a Cultural Survival report on the ‘Impact of Deforestation on Life in Nepal,’ the Everest, Langtang and Annapurnas routes are particularly vulnerable to deforestation. Thousands of visitors flock through the mountain treks, creating an “insatiable market for fuel wood.” Many young villagers abandon traditional subsistence farming to seek opportunities in the tourism industry, contributing to the break down of traditional systems.
In the 1970s the government finally stepped in to address deforestation. In order to protect the precious forests of the Hills region the government had to engage the active support of the local villagers. As a result, the state returned nationalized land to the local communities to encourage communal forestry and sustainable management.
Today Nepal sees much improvement in forest management. Since 1980 more than 14,000 CFUGs have formed, making community forestry the second largest forest management regime after government-managed forests. According to the UNEP, “Forest user groups develop their own operational plans, set harvesting rules, set rates and prices for products, and determine how surplus income is distributed or spent.”
This self-sufficient forest management has helped raise employment and income levels in the Hills region, as well as encouraged inclusive growth and nature conservation. Unfortunately, there still remain loopholes in the management system.
The CFUGs experience constant oversight from the government, making their community efforts less autonomous and more state regulated. In fact, the government proposed amendments to the Forest Act of 1993 that would reduce community income and impede local development. With the strict logging bans and harsher regulation on lumber sales, the government infringes on the decision-making rights of the CFUGs. The government deems the regulations necessary in order to prevent illegal logging and unsustainable lumber harvesting. One such controversial state initiative is the President Chure Conservation Programme.
In response to the Chure program, last month CFUGs across the district gathered in the streets to protest the states interference in “the affairs of community forests.” An article in Nepal Republican Media detailed the grievances expressed by the CFUGs, including the unwarranted benefits granted to government forest officials by the new program.
The protestors emphasized the need for community and state cooperation in the management of Nepal’s precious resources. The local communities feel their needs neglected, and demand that the state reconsider the Chure conservation plan. Conservation is not a decision between the people and the land, but rather a decision for the benefit of the people and the land. Nepal now faces the difficult task of incorporating both needs so as to ensure the stability of the state and sustainability of its land in the future.
Sources: IRIN, My Republica, Cultural Survival, UNEP
Photo: Want to Know