Medium 9781780646312

Regenerating Forests and Livelihoods in Nepal: A New Lease on Life

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Regenerating Forests and Livelihoods in Nepal: A New Lease on Lifeædocuments the success story of an innovative rural development programme in the Himalayan foothills, Nepal. The project has made a real difference by transforming increasingly degraded land, where farmers carved out a meagre existence, into a fertile and prosperous zone where they could thrive.æProject activities included bringing in effective cultivation techniques to protect the environment and introducing new local crops and goats, as well as promoting entrepreneurial spirit. Every intervention was carefully selected and conducted to mitigate climate change as well as to help farmers become more resilient to its effects. The ingredients of the project's success, from both the technical and human perspectives, are presented in this book, demonstrating people's commitment in a country prone to natural disasters and earthquakes.

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1 Rural Nepal: its people, its forests

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Chapter 1

Rural Nepal: its people, its forests

“Standing on the beautiful hilltop

Looking at the distant snow-capped

Mountains hiding behind clouds…

I look at the stretched green field

Down the hill at the smoking valley

And instantly realize that

It is not the dream of heaven unknown…

But it is the sips of air that I take

For the well-being of the world

And of the hope of all green…”

From Sips of Air, a poem by Dhal Bahadur Jirel, Nepal

A brief history of Nepal

It is theorized that the word “Nepal” was derived from the Sanskrit

“nipalaya”, which means “at the foot of the mountains” or “abode at the foot”, a reference to its location in relation to the Himalayas.

Prehistory: There is evidence that people of Kirat ethnicity lived in what is now Nepal more than 2,500 years ago and ruled the area for about 1,225 years (800–300 BCE). Their reign had 29 kings, the first of whom was Elam (also known as Yalambar), who is referenced in the epic Mahabharata.

1700s – the beginning of modern Nepal: Modern Nepal was created in the second half of the 18th century. The king of the small principality of Gorkha, Prithvi Narayan Shah, formed a unified country from a number of independent hill states. At an early age, he dedicated himself to the conquest of the Kathmandu Valley and the creation of a single state, which he achieved in 1768.

 

2 An initiative takes root – HLFFDP, the first leasehold forestry project

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Chapter 2

An initiative takes root – HLFFDP, the first leasehold forestry project

Everest. Himalayas. Blinding white against brilliant blue. The Roof of the World. Yes, Nepal is the roof of the world and conjures spectacular images. But under this roof, its 26.6 million citizens carry out the business of daily life, some in the isolated mountainous and hilly areas, others in the plains, and others in the major cities.

About 83 per cent of them live in rural areas, and most are engaged in agriculture, often with agroforestry and in close relation to the surrounding forests, the agriculture still dominating the economy and accounting for one third of Nepal’s gross domestic product

(GDP). However, the share of the government budget allocated to agriculture is only about 3 per cent. Lately, there has been growing interest in agriculture in the country and an acknowledgement of its importance to the economy.

The concept of leasehold forestry was launched on the ground in

1992 in the Mid-hills districts. Between the end of the 1970s and the mid-1990s, deforestation, land degradation and soil erosion spelled disaster for rural households in the districts, where a large percentage of the population is poor.

 

3 The initiative gathers force – LFLP, the second leasehold forestry project

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Chapter 3

The initiative gathers force – LFLP, the second leasehold forestry project

“A project is a time capsule. It needs to change into a programme if it’s going to be sustainable.”

Mr. Bal Krishna Khanal, first coordinator of the Hills Leasehold Forestry and Forage Development Project

From their houses in the hills, slowly, the village men and women converge. Many appear to be timid, somewhat reluctant. Some of the women fall behind, perhaps in deference to the men, or perhaps out of a sense of ambivalence or uncertainty as to whether they should be participating at all. At the same time, they know that they have a great deal that they would like to talk about and that the others would like to hear. Programme staff and group promoters whom they know and trust have encouraged them to participate. They push on.

The setting for the discussions is informal. There are no microphones, no round tables, no flip charts with coloured markers.

In fact, the setting is outdoors, in their own crop plots, on the grass and under the trees that they visit and use on a daily basis. Later, the discussions will continue during a walk into the forest areas that have been leased to them as part of this government project, as a way of making more palpable the lives that are being spoken about and the changes that are – or are not – taking place. After several hours of walking, talking and observing, themes begin to emerge. Some of them surface again and again, introduced by one participant and enthusiastically elaborated by another and then another. Others speak with a lone voice, but a voice that is so emphatic that it cannot be discounted. How have these people benefited from their newly gained access to land and forestry?

 

4 Impacts of leasehold forestry

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Chapter 4

Impacts of leasehold forestry

The experience of leasehold forestry has shown a number of impressive results in terms of the conditions of the forests as well as the lives and livelihoods of the poorest segments of society that use them.

During the past 20 years, numerous studies and evaluations have been conducted throughout the different phases of the programme in order to understand what differences, if any, the programme was making. To measure change taking place in such a holistic and evolving approach is quite a challenge. Few programmes attempt to span improvements in tenure, natural resources management, agroforestry production, livestock development, inclusion and empowerment, microfinance, livelihoods development and well-being – all of the elements necessary to address the needs of marginal forest users. Monitoring and evaluation of such a breadth of activity can be daunting, especially when wider changes are taking place in the community.

Despite these challenges, key findings did emerge in the different dimensions of leasehold forestry outcomes (more immediate results, such as changes in forest management practice) and impacts (livelihoods and poverty reduction, environmental change and social effects). The findings come from past studies, project monitoring and evaluation reports, as well as the findings of a recent independent impact study that was commissioned by the government 7. The independent study placed a special emphasis on comparing a robust representative and stratified random sample of

 

5 Beyond the two projects, a national perspective and institutional context

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Chapter 5

Beyond the two projects, a national perspective and institutional context

“2011 is the last year of the Leasehold Forestry and Livestock

Project. A three-year extension is being proposed, and it looks like a go. It will focus on enterprises and climate change and knowledge management for scaling-up. After those three years, perhaps we will begin a larger project. Then there is the Multi Stakeholder Forestry

Programme, now in first phase. In the project design document, it is mentioned that it should cover all forestry regimes. And WUPAP in the West, of course. It has been proposed by Department of Forest and the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MFSC) to put all kinds of forestry programmes on an equal footing. The bill was already in the Ministry of Law and Justice for review, but it bounced back to MFSC. The opposition force convinced them to bounce it back. In other words, it was rejected. Only when there are elections and a draft constitution will it be possible to try to have the bill passed. The bill was submitted about two years ago.”

 

6 When the programme leaves

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Chapter 6

When the programme leaves

In Jhirubas, Palpa district, the well-tended dirt road, the village’s only artery, seems to be suspended in air. On either side, the land slopes sharply downward, with only the thatched roofs of the houses at waist level. Wherever the eye turns, one sees only sky, forest, cultivated fields, and tiny etchings in the slopes – roads. Yet along this main road in Jhirubas, one perplexing anomaly stands out:

Perched on a wooden pole is a solar panel the size of a small flipchart. This stark and singular contrast to the surroundings provokes many questions: How did it get here? What is it for? And, most importantly, how will it be maintained? For one day soon, a complex dismantling will begin to take place. Certain people, tools and pieces of equipment will be removed from the scene and used elsewhere, taking with them not only their pragmatic utility but certain flows of knowledge, innovation and energy. The operation will be an extremely delicate one. With so many interlocking pieces, it’s nearly impossible to know which one/s, if any, could cause parts of the structure to come tumbling down once they are excised. Not unlike a house of cards, except that these are real houses, with real people living in them, who have experienced the depths of poverty and have started to gain the skills to lift themselves out of it. No, this is no house of cards, and the famous “exit strategy” cannot be a roll of the dice.

 

7 Conclusions

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Chapter 7

Conclusions

These pages have described more than 20 years of history of leasehold forestry: how it evolved from an initial government recognition of the interrelated problem of poverty among the poorest forest users and severely degraded forest lands into a programme that expanded from few communities to a national scale, learning many lessons on the way, to establish new integrated modes of tackling deep-rooted issues. During this journey, it has developed important assets for poor rural people and strengthened land tenure and security. It has also fostered community action and inspired similar initiatives in related forest environments. Some of the central tenets of the programme have valuable lessons for other forestry and livelihood programmes in Nepal and beyond.

To achieve these landmarks, the leasehold forest approach has taken up a forest management strategy that is radically different from traditional ones. In particular, management and benefits are based on non-timber products, and a mix of plantations with grass/forage and trees, which address the broader requirements of the marginal users. The forage/grasses provide the life-line of the users, who in turn conserve tree species with the hope that they will provide them with their livelihood-sustaining fodder, fuelwood, bark, leaves and litter. The timber is only a secondary benefit. Finally stall-fed livestock and goats come as an additional income to the family. Such an approach contributes to a marriage between livestock and forests and the often otherwise antagonistic goals of poverty alleviation and ecosystem improvement.

 

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