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ClientEarth Communications

6th February 2018

Communities & forests

What can we learn from community forests in Nepal?

Helping communities manage the forests they depend on can improve their livelihoods and strengthen the protection of forest resources. ClientEarth, working with European and Central African NGOs, give guidance on community forestry’s legal frameworks, to improve communities’ rights to their forest resources. In this article, Forests Law and Policy Advisor and Community Forestry Lead, Nathalie Faure, shares lessons she learned on a recent trip to Nepal.

Forests in Nepal cover about 40% of the country and a great majority of the population, which lives in rural areas, depends on forest resources for their livelihood. Today, forests under community management represent more than one-third of the total forest area.

Nepal has a long history of community forestry, with the first community forests set up 30 years ago. It is considered as one of the most well-established and successful models in the region, with a positive impact on both communities’ livelihoods and on the condition of the forests.

ClientEarth has been researching the most effective models of community forestry to share with the Congo basin countries. Having looked into community forests in Asia and the Pacific, Africa and Latin America, Nepal was chosen as one of the countries that could teach us the most interesting lessons about the design and implementation of community forest laws.

In October 2017, we went to Nepal to find out how the law works in practice.

Community forestry in the country developed in response to rural poverty, with the notion of ‘forests for the people’. Community forests are granted by the forest administration for a specific purpose. Activities organised around a ‘community forest user group’ (CFUG) are very diverse and can range from forest maintenance and protection (thinning, pruning, etc.), to the production of timber, ecotourism or growing other forest products like cardamom or lemon grass.

During our visit, we met with the local and national administrations working on the implementation of community forestry, including officials from the Ministry of Forests and a local Forest District Officer, who shared their experiences of applying rules on community forestry in practice.

We carried out community consultations in six CFUGs in three different regions of Nepal: in Kavre, located in the Kathmandu area; and at the border of Chitwan National Park and in Makwanpur, in the south of Nepal.

We explored seven key issues in our meetings with communities:

  • How easy is access to community forestry?
  • What system of representation and internal organisation is in place within the community?
  • How have women and minority groups been included and enabled to participate?
  • What kind of forest products (i.e. timber, natural medicines, spices, etc.) are used and how is the management of the forest carried out?
  • What mechanism for sharing benefits between community members has been set up?
  • How is community forestry legislation enforced?
  • What mechanisms are in place for conflict resolution?

Here are some of the key lessons we learnt from our visit:

  • One of the reasons behind the success of community forestry in Nepal is the fact that it started as a flexible and participatory process. The number of revisions to the laws, policies and guidelines, together with a wide participation of those affected, show its adaptability. Allowing the model to evolve by being responsive to changes tested at the community level has been key.
  • It evolved from the community level, and is based on traditional uses of the forest by communities. This bottom-up approach is a great strength of the Nepalese model as it gives ownership and leadership to communities to decide both where to create a community forest and how to run it.
  • Community forestry in Nepal has brought a number of benefits including an increase in the forest area and in available water resources. It has helped to fight against illegal logging by putting clear rules in place on timber access and a strong system of forest monitoring. Community livelihoods have also improved with easier access to firewood and fodder and better health care and energy access, for example through money from ecotourism and subsidies for renewable energy.
  • Community forestry in Nepal can promote a better inclusion of women in the management of natural resources – including in leadership roles – that might improve recognition of their role in the community. Communities have said that it has “given them an incentive to preserve their resources and promote collective action. It has given communities social prestige and confidence”.
  • Legislation has to be empowering for communities to take full advantage of their forest resources. This means that it should include rules like the recognition of communities’ rights to resources and the creation of specific bodies in charge of community forestry at the local and national level, with adequate funding to support communities. Finally, ensuring coherence between the laws in different sectors that affect forestry is key.
  • Nepal is reforming its forest legislation at the moment. This creates a unique opportunity to assess the current model of community forestry and address some of its problems, like inconsistencies between different legislation and the difficulty for communities to produce certain documents due to their complexity.

    It will also be a time to consider new aspects of community forestry in the future, like the development of forest enterprises or exploring payment for environmental services to communities preserving their forest resources. This will ensure the model of community forestry in Nepal stays dynamic and responsive, as it was first designed.

    ClientEarth will publish an in-depth analysis of legal frameworks on community forestry, offering guidance on key issues to take into account when designing and implementing community forest laws. This will include lessons learned from Nepal, as well as other country case studies. This analysis will aim at helping civil society and governments to develop clear and robust frameworks around community forestry in the Congo basin and beyond.