Photo: A Community managed forest in Hetauda, Nepal (Sandesh KC)
Community forestry is an evolving branch of forestry whereby the local community plays a significant role in forest conservation, management, utilization and land use decision making by themselves in the facilitating support of government as well as other change agents. This approach is increasingly being recognized as one of the promising and successful way of integrating forest conservation with rural development and livelihood improvement. Thus, it is being applied in a number of developing countries across the globe and the results have been extraordinary.
The evolution of this specific program of bringing together humans with nature can be traced back to Nepal, a small Himalayan country widely known for her immense and mosaic assimilation of natural resources in famous three belts of the country: The northern mountain region with 8 of 14 eight-thousanders of the world including Mount Everest which has temperate forests, The middle Hilly region almost entirely covered with subtropical and montane forests and the southern Terai Plain with dense tropical forests.
Community forestry Program, which started from a small hilly village of Sindhupalchowk district has served as a life-saver for forests from all three regions of the country and has ensured sustainability in many aspects. Here are some of the ways the practice of Community Forestry has ensured sustainability in Nepal and how it can set an example in closing the gap between communities and conservation:
Equality and Decentralization of Power.
The reason behind the formation of the idea of community forestry in the first place was the existence of a top-down approach in policy formation and planning where instructions were laid out to be followed and government officials were viewed as the sole conservationist and had complete authority over forest management and utilization. Under the community forestry program however, A Forest User Group (FUG) is formed in the community, out of which a committee is established by democratic methods with equal inclusion of women and mandatory inclusion of disadvantaged groups. The community is then registered as an autonomous body solely responsible for the protection, utilization and management of the specified area of the national forest. However, technical guidance and expertise is provided by all levels of governmental forest offices and other organizations. In this way, the role of officials changes into that of facilitators and all planning and decision making tasks is performed by the committee which is implemented once approved by the government.
All these factors serve into assuring the achievement of 4 of the 17 sustainability development goals of the UN in small but numerous communities: 5-Gender equality, 10-Reduced inequalities, 16-Strong Institutions and 17-Partnership for the goals.
Livelihood Improvement and Wellbeing.
It is a well-established fact that forests have immense economic potential and when potential meets the right power and action, things change for the better. So is the case of thousands of community forests in all parts of the country, 22,266 in exact with about 2.9 million households, which is 40 percent of the entire population of the country. All of these people actively participate in sustainable utilization of the forest resources and their management.
The communities generate huge revenue through the sales of the forest product (primarily timber) and services. The revenue is then mostly used within the community in fixed proportions allocated for forest protection, management and livelihood improvement and poverty alleviation programs. Income Generating Activities (IGAs) are being given increasing priorities which can be small enterprises to medium and large scale businesses that enables the local communities to be self-sustaining and sustainable in the long run. The addition of eco-tourism within community forests has experienced a rapid increment across the country due to its huge potential and eco-friendly method of income generation. Other livelihood improvement and income generation models include commercial plantation, Non-timber forest product enterprises, savings and financial institutions among others.
Based on this information and facts, Community Forestry program has made possible, the practical implementation of another 7 of the 14 sustainable goals: 1-No poverty, 2-Zero Hunger, 3-Good Health and Well-being, 4-Quality Education, 8-Economic growth, 9-Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and finally 11-Sustainable cities and communities.
Environmental Conservation and Bio-diversity
Environment along with people were two majors driving factors in the way Community forestry program commenced and found its direction. Lack of policy, unstable government and lack of awareness about environmental issues for a long time had rendered the conservation of forests and ecosystems a very challenging task. As the program established its reputation, it received increased recognition from policy makers in the government to scientists and researchers. Today, the program is in the forefront of all environmental and forest related policies and regulations in the country and numerous studies and researches are being done. It has adapted to the changing needs of today’s world by integrating topics like climate change, forest certification, REDD+ mechanisms, Payment for ecosystem services and many more in the operation plan of the forest. All this is done while still respecting the wide array of Indigenous forest management systems in different parts and cultures of the country. Community Forests now cover 2,237,670 hectares of forest land which is 41% of all forests in the country. Numerous lakes, ponds and rivers in and around the forests are protected, preserved and recently being established as eco-tourism destinations. A number of critically endangered and threatened faunas can be found in community managed forests with increased chances of survival than ever before. Studies suggest that the biodiversity is larger in forests managed by this program. As a result, the remaining three goals of the fourteen SDGs are satisfied: 13-Climate Action, 14-Life below water and 15-Life on land.
The success of the program can be attributed to its one core principle of giving the rightful ownership of forest to the communities living around it. It establishes a sense of responsibility and belongingness in the people towards nature. This idea of connecting people with nature can be and should be used everywhere on earth.
Sustainability when viewed correctly is not a huge challenge in its own. It only takes a combined approach of small and innovative ideas and initiatives like the community forestry program with a global concern like the SDGs towards the well-being of the planet and the people living on it to ensure a sustainable future. References:
Scheller, Robert M.; Bluffstone, Randall A.; Luintel, Harisharan (2018-06-26). "The effects of the Nepal community forestry program on biodiversity conservation and carbon storage". PLOS ONE. 13 (6)
Devkota, Binod (2017), "Community forestry, rural livelihoods and poverty reduction in Nepal", Community Forestry in Nepal, Routledge, pp. 59–81 Websites links: