LFP: A future for people and forests
Nepal is deservedly famous for its spectacular Himalayas, Mount Everest and being the recruiting ground and home of the British Ghurkhas. However, these romantic images of hardy mountain peoples living in pristine environments contrast starkly with the reality of the after-effects of 10 years of civil conflict. Many thousands of people are internally displaced with 30% still living in desperate poverty and barely able to survive on what they can grow in their small fields carved out of terraced hillsides. Basic resources, electrification, sanitation, roads, health and education facilities are still lacking in many parts of rural Nepal. The task of providing these creates significant challenges for Nepal’s new democratic government.
A highly diverse country, there are 30 million Nepali people who speak about 92 different languages, and are culturally and religiously diverse. 80% of the population live in rural areas and depend heavily on agriculture and adjacent forests, which provide them with fuel, building materials, livestock fodder, and a source of cash income. Meeting their diverse needs and contributing to getting them out of poverty is, therefore, a major task.
Since its inception in 2001, the Livelihoods and Forestry Programme (LFP) has been enhancing the lives of poor rural people in Nepal. The LFP programme is supported by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and with a range of partners including the Government of Nepal, and many non-government organisations they work closely on array of initiatives. Working in 15 districts of Nepal, LFP supports and encourages sustainable management of about 4,500 community forests in a way that directly benefits the households that depend on the forests for their livelihoods. The results, after eight years have been extremely encouraging. Not only have the livelihoods of many people, especially the poorest households living adjacent to forests been enhanced, the forests themselves, which were formerly controlled and managed by the state, have now improved, making them more productive and better able to produce environmental benefits and a range of forest products. The shared decision-making in forest management by communities has led to a greater sense of ownership and responsibility. This has led to the control of overharvesting, fires, and grazing. Nowadays, if these take place communities are able to halt them. Now there is widespread collective responsibility for forests on which people depend.
LFP has been contributing over many years to forming and providing institutional support to community forest user groups (CFUGs) to manage the parts of forests that they utilise. “Communities in Nepal now manage about 1.2 million hectares – that’s more forest in area than is managed by the forestry commission in the whole of Britain – and about 80% of rural people depend on forests for their livelihoods,” says Peter Branney, LFP Programme Advisor. “So if we work with the communities and the forest then we are going to have an impact on a large proportion of people in Nepal.”
CFUGs have increasingly been encouraged to establish and support entrepreneurial enterprises and income generating activities amongst their members, such as, selling timber and non-timber forest products, livestock, and agricultural produce. As these small-scale enterprises prosper and become successful within CFUGs, their impact on reducing poverty and enhancing people’s lives has become significant. As a result, the average income for poor families in CFUG households in LFP areas has increased dramatically. Between 2003-08 about 72,000 households in seven hills districts moved above the World Bank poverty line. Granted, there have been many contributing factors, but the increases in income attributable to LFP and community forestry form a significant 25% of the overall total. “The community are very much actively managing the forest and distributing the benefits and the forest products to other communities in a free and fair way,” says Vijay Shrestha, LFP’s Programme Manager.
In Dhungedhara CFUG Sankhuwasabha District, group member and farming entrepreneur, Laxmi Magar raises pigs and chickens, and grows vegetables which she sells at the market. Like many within her community, Laxmi joined Dhungedhara CFUG attending the community meetings to help with her family’s economic stability. “At first I got a small loan of piglets from the CFUG and I started rearing pigs for a living. The pig manure I use for growing vegetables, which I sell at the market, this gets up to 1,000 rupees extra per week. Now I can rear chickens too and buy seeds for new vegetables. I have achieved a lot with my business.” This has brought economic success for Laxmi. She has paid back the soft loan to the CFUG and the resulting financial stability allows her and her husband to sustain the running of their home, and they are able to send their children to school. Most importantly, as a woman, Laxmi feels empowered by the CFUG. “We feel part of the community and have the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Before the arrival of LFP, women’s participation in community forestry meetings was very low, however, over time, the representation of women in CFUGs has risen. This involvement has empowered women across the region not only in improving their rights but also in contributing to the regeneration of the forest for future generations, and for economic benefits. Gopi Gurung is a student and, in her free time, a weaving entrepreneur in the Okhre CFUG women’s group. She explains the process of her work. “We are given allo bushes from the forest and we take the fibres from the small stems and dry them. We then boil it and beat it with sticks until it becomes like cotton from this we make thread which we use to weave clothes.” The empowerment these small enterprises allow for women like, Gopi is at the very core of LFP’s achievements. The clothing products that Gopi and her colleagues make are then sold at market with the profits shared between those who work in the women’s group. “As a member of CFUG, I feel I am getting equal rights. I enjoy working here and am glad to be studying in school – this enterprise supports my education so I am very happy.”
Education for all is particularly important considering the disparities of access to education in Nepal’s rural and traditionally stratified communities. Education is a critical issue specifically for poor and socially excluded families. Dhungedhara CFUG has provided scholarships to the poor and to families from traditionally excluded castes so that their children may have access to a good education. Indra Bishwakarma is a scholarship student in this district. “Those scholarships were to buy pens, uniforms and books. When I got the money, I became interested in learning more and I bought books and pens. If I didn’t have the scholarship then I would have had to work and I wouldn’t have gone to school. I am very proud of this community forest initiative as it encourages poor and excluded students, like me.” Furthermore, school buildings, education, and at times teachers’ salaries have also benefited from funds provided by CFUGs. Since the school programme began funding has been ploughed into upgrading the Higher Secondary School in Bagiswari village improving education, teaching resources, and the schools’ surrounding environment. The construction of a new school building and students’ desks and chairs has used wood donated by the community forestry group, taken from their own community forest.
The LFP approach has seen the condition and overall well-being of rural communities improve. There are plans to establish more forest-based enterprises and create jobs in rural areas, and to provide environmental services including carbon sequestration by continuing to conserve the forest. Small-scale infrastructure development, the right to benefit from resources in an equitable way, and the expansion of good practices will all continue with further support from the UK Government. Rural communities now have the ability to empower themselves with their own voice. They have the ability to govern their own actions and in turn provide for their future sustainability. The LFP vision is based on a commitment to help build a democratic ‘new Nepal’ and to improving the livelihoods of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in Nepali society. “We are happy and encouraged by the work we have done – although there is still so much more to be achieved for the forest and for the community. We want to develop the forest and make it greener so that community forestry can become an example to the world,” says Diliram Shrestha, Chairman Dhungedhara CFUG of Sankhwasabha District.
Written by Penny Boyce