TOPICS : Community forestry is an effective tool

Forests are of paramount importance to people’s survival, especially in a mountainous country like Nepal. However, Nepal’s high population growth has led to clearance of forests for settlement, cultivation and fuel. Land has been overexploited, leading to soil erosion and considerable deterioration in soil fertility.

In recent times, Nepal’s forest has undergone considerable degradation. Valleys which were covered with forests only as far back as the 1960s have been denuded. Although the National Conservation Strategy of 1988 and the Forestry Sector Master Plan of the same year envision various activities related to the conservation and enrichment of forest resources, much remains to be done in this regard.

In the past, many agencies were set up in the Ministry of Forest with the assistance of foreign countries. For instance, the Community Forestry Programme (CFP) is still to be implemented in accordance with the forest policy, the Forest Act 2049 and the Forest Regulations 2051 BS.

The major objective of community forestry is to meet the fundamental needs of consumer committees, like firewood, fodder and timber. Apart from meeting the basic needs of the local people, community forestry has helped in the conservation of forests, while at the same time increasing its productivity through better management. The community forestry programme also has a policy of gradually handing over forest management to consumer groups.

Community forestry projects alone can solve Nepal’s increasing rural energy problems. But the current community forestry programme will not be able to keep pace with increased firewood demand of the growing population. It has been observed that under the forestry projects, production from newly planted forests or existing ones has not increased sufficiently to meet firewood and fodder needs of the whole population. Moreover, community forestry projects will not by themselves resolve Nepal’s deforestation problems.

The community management of forests requires trust in local authorities. But without strong local leadership this does not seem possible. Community forests have been remarkably successful in the places where local leadership has shown strong commitment to the management and conservation of forests. However, in many villages, the same has hardly produced any remarkable outcome in the absence of responsible and strong local leadership.

Increasing demographic pressure on mountain resources is one of the main threats to sustainability of Nepal’s forests. Off-farm employment, represented largely by migration, offers an alternative income source to mountain communities and has played a positive role in reducing pressure on marginal land. However, right across Nepal’s middle mountains, the pressure on forest resources continues to grow. Actually, it is only through community protection that these resources can be kept from over-exploitation.