Friday, 15 July 2016

ACIAR forestry project helps locals rebuild their houses following last year's devastating earthquake in Nepal

Research conducted as part of an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) forestry project in Nepal has helped locals in Chaubus, Kavre, rebuild their houses following the devastating earthquake that destroyed communities in 2015. 

The project, ‘Enhancing livelihoods and food security from agroforestry and community forestry in Nepal’, began in 2013 and aims to provide diverse benefits to farmers, support livestock and agriculture, and increase the resilience of forests to climate change.  

Below, Project Leader Dr Ian Nuberg and Research Officer Dr Edwin Cedamon, report on recent benefits that have emerged from demonstration plots that were established as part of the project.

Purna Darjee, who lives in in the village of Chaubus, in Kavre Palanchok District, and was a victim of the 2015 earthquake, appeared relieved while carrying a load of sawn planks of pine timber distributed by his community forest. Purna, along with 30 others who lost their houses last year, can now construct a temporary one using timber from their own forests. The timber was available from silviculture demonstration plots, which were established under the ACIAR-supported forestry project.

Photo: ACIAR

The Australian Government has funded forestry projects in Nepal since 1978. During this period the focus was on restoration of denuded hills through plantation development and forest protection. An integrated package that combined technological interventions such as nursery establishment, tree planting and protection were combined with institutional interventions, particularly the introduction of community forestry as the key institution in managing village forests. By the beginning of the 21st century, these initiatives, along with projects supported by other donor agencies and especially the Nepalese government’s supportive policy and institutional framework turned the once denuded hills into green, forested landscapes. Today over one third of the country’s forests are managed by about 18,000 forest user groups across the country. As a result, the environmental threats of the 1970s and 1980s have been largely mitigated.

However, the environmental narrative continued to dominate forest management and, despite relative success in conservation, the potential of community forestry in generating economic benefit was often not fully realised. As a result, the focus of the current project involves harnessing these community resources to enhance livelihoods and food security. Introducing an active and equitable management system through demonstration of suitable institutional models to support active silvicultural management of the forests is one of the major action areas of the project. Edwin Cedamon (University of Adelaide), Govinda Paudel (ForestAction) and Madan Basyal (ForestAction) have led the activity. 
Photo: ACIAR

Last summer, men and women in Chaubas were busy planting in project demonstration plots. They planted cardamom, broom grass (Thysnolaena maxima), Flemingia (Flemengia congesta), ipil-ipil (Lucaena leucocephala) and chap (Michelia champaca) within the forests. We learnt that they want to replace the pine monoculture with a multipurpose mixed forest to produce native high-value timber, fuelwood, fodder and non-timber forest products. Edwin Cedamon said that these plots have provided an opportunity for practitioners to see the potential forestry interventions in the forests. Such interventions are yet to be mainstreamed in Nepal’s conventional approach to forestry in order to meet the multiple objectives of hill farmers in forest management. Beyond timber maximising, the project supported interventions will provide diverse benefits to farmers, support livestock and agriculture, address energy needs and increase the resilience of forest to changing climate.

Project staff and the local communities jointly carried out a rapid silvicultural appraisal, identified the objective of forest management and agreed the specific treatment for each demonstration plot which were then established in the forests accordingly. The detailed plans of action, including the felling of trees and plantations, have been endorsed by the community’s general assembly and approved by the relevant district forest office.
Initially there was some hesitation on the part of the district forest offices and community forest members, especially among the political leaders and even in the media. Consequently, the preparatory stage took longer as consensus was needed with all the stakeholders. The research team organised a series of small orientation workshops and  meetings, prepared all the required documents, developed a well thought out plan, organised field visits for high level officials from the Ministry and Department of Forests. Rajan Pokhrel, the then Director of the Department of Forest, expressed his happiness stating that, “this is the only project where I have seen things being done in the field, many projects just talk.”

Photo: ACIAR
The community forest members have observed multiple benefits from these initiatives. “We harvested about 5,000 cubic feet of timber this year, which is about five times higher than previous years. In fact, timber released from these plots was distributed to the earthquake victims to construct new houses,” – said Kancha Sarki, the Chairperson of Chappani Community Forest User Group.
This is the first time that we have been able to fell standing trees. We have been protecting these pine trees for the last 40 years. Some forest technicians told us that the trees won’t grow anymore and were not confident that we would be allowed to harvest them. However, after the experience, we have learnt that we can harvest mature trees and benefit from it.

Rishi Ram Khanal, Chairperson of Lampata community forest in Lamjung District, said that he has been engaged in managing the Lampata forests for nearly all his lifetime but had never considered that cutting a few big trees is also a ‘scientific forest management option’. He is confident that their Sal Forest can be managed to develop multi-age classes for different products such as timber, fuelwood and fodder, and this will make forest management more relevant to community forest users, particularly women and the poor.

Baburam Aryal, the Government Forest Officer of the area, said that the experimentation has helped develop confidence among forest officials that management interventions can be introduced that will successfully benefit both the state and communities. The project also facilitated a field trip for the district level political leaders and media persons. They were amazed to see the demonstration plots and expressed further interest in such management interventions. At the end of the visit they committed to support the scaling out of the research findings.

Binod Sapkota, the Chairperson of the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN), expressed his enthusiasm and commitment to help scale out the experience to the rest of the CFUGs in his district.

Ganesh Roy, the District Forest Officer (DFO) of Kavre district, requested the project go to additional sites in the district and help the CFUGs to establish similar demonstration plots so that the local people can develop confidence to actively engage in forest management and benefit from the forests.
Chandra Man Dangol, DFO of Lamjung district, and Kashi Pandit from the Lamjung District Forest Office, are optimistic that the experience of Lampata CFUGs on demo plots will bring changes in forest management knowledge, attitude and practice that will radiate to other CFUGs.

Senior forest officials in Kathmandu also hope to learn much from the piloting and are enthusiastic about benefiting from the insights and lessons in order to develop policy guidelines to encourage and regulate silvicultual activities in community forests across Nepal. The project team is working closely with the authorities to organise a national sharing andlearning event and follow-up actions to scale up the experience.

By Dr Ian Nuberg, Project Leader, and Dr Edwin Cedamon, Project Research Officer

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