See, it’s red

Out of 32 species of rhododendrons found in Nepal, 28 are native to the Milke Jaljale area spread over the three districts of Terhathum, Sankhuwasabha and Taplejung. As a result, the area was declared Rhododendron Conservation Area a decade ago. But the alarming rate at which rhododendron trees are being felled in the 23 VDCs spanning over Milke Jaljale threatens the survival of this beautiful plant species. Notably, the district forest offices of the three districts have handed over the responsibility of protecting the trees to 35 community forest user groups.

The user groups are helpless themselves. People living in areas bordering local forests and those who have put up by the Basantapur-Guphapokhari road have no alternative to cutting down rhododendron trees for firewood. What is bewildering though is that the local government bodies seem happy to leave the dirty job of halting the rot to “others”. This strategy is clearly not working. Therefore, why not promote the use of Improved Cooking Stoves (ICS), which have proven hugely popular among poor folks of mid-hills, in the area too? These stoves, which cost around Rs.1,000 apiece, are cheap and fuel-efficient; and as they emit very little smoke, healthy too. At present, efficient cooking stoves and alternative fuels like biogas appear the best ways of protecting a lasting symbol of national pride.