Shifting donor prioritiesInternational commitment to community forestry in Nepal has sadly fizzled out
Over the past three decades, Nepal’s community forestry movement has helped millions across the country in times of tragedy and tribulations. A successful example of sustainable resource management, Nepal’s community forestry model remains a source of inspiration to many millions outside the country. And yet today, it is sadly being squeezed out of donor funds without any fault of Nepal’s forest communities.
With over 25,000 community forestry user groups (CFUGs) managing 30 percent of forests of the country, community forestry is Nepal’s most resilient social institution in times of financial uncertainty serving roughly 40 percent of Nepal’s population.
CFUGs maintained economic stability and reliable land, forest, and natural resource governance during the political upheavals of the decade-long Maoist insurgency. Even after the April earthquake, in many rural areas, CFUGs were able to lead relief efforts by providing provisions of much-needed timber and firewood to rebuild communities. And in September 2015, when an Indian-enforced blockade of Nepal took effect, once more it was the vast community forestry network which provided—and continues to provide—essential supplies of timber and firewood to Kathmandu.
The Multi Stakeholder Forest Programme (MSFP) was the result of an agreement reached in 2011 between the Government of Nepal and leading European donors that sought to capitalise on the great potential of community forestry to improve economic growth, reduce poverty and address climate change. A $150 million agreement was signed specifically aimed to benefit rural communities, primarily poor and disadvantaged households, and those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The MSFP was supposed to be administered by a multi stakeholder national entity comprised of representatives from the government, local forest communities, and civil society. However, the government failed to constitute the multi stakeholder steering committee and properly allocate the associated funds.
Five years later, international commitment to community forestry in Nepal has fizzled out due to the improper dispensation of funds that have by and large never reached the intended community forestry recipients. Because of this track record, Swiss and Finnish donors withdrew from the MSFP, while the UK is also considering its exit. It is one thing for these donors to be upset with the government’s handling of the MSFP agreement. But if they actually want to help Nepal’s forest communities, they should strive to ensure that the communities are equipped to control and manage their precious natural resources.
In December 2015 the nations of the world met in Paris to discuss action on taking tangible steps to curb CO2 emissions, reduce deforestation, and effectively tackle climate change. An essential part of the formula to achieve these goals lies in the ability of local communities to manage their forests and natural resources in a proven, sustainable and democratic manner.
With a biodiverse and geologically sensitive terrain, the agricultural and forest-based economy of Nepal is highly susceptible to changes in the climate. Nepal, one of the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases, is not an industrialised country and holds tremendous potential to show the world measures on how to mitigate as well as adapt successfully to climate change.
The key, therefore, lies in adopting a successful strategy for the forestry sector—especially in the potential of community forestry. In Nepal, there are over 25,000 CFUGs managing 30 percent of Nepal’s forests. The robust community forestry network in Nepal has added an additional 180 million tones to the carbon stock that has been conserved in the country.
Despite the crucial role community forestry will have to continue to play in Nepal in order to fulfil the aspirations articulated in the agreement reached in Paris, international donors are walking away from community forestry. Quite ironically, certain donors are shifting their bilateral aid in the country from forestry to climate change, as if these two are mutually exclusive instead of intrinsically linked at the most fundamental level.
Same old story
Donors have always been accused of shifting their priorities to what is deemed the trendy issue of the day. The latest fashion is the threats posed by global warming. Yet donors turning their back on community forestry rather indicates an intellectual infirmity by not seeing the integral connection between mitigating climate change and supporting the sustainable management of natural resources, including the prevention of deforestation.
Forestry is integral to climate change. The reality is that donors’ efforts to support Nepal’s national climate change programmes are bound to fail if community forestry groups are not supported. On the heels of the historic Paris agreement, it would be a mistake to abandon Nepal’s community forestry movement now, and try and search for new straws in the wind.
Moreover, it will be sad that even after the disappointing experience with the MSFP, international donors would rather continue to put their faith in the government or multilateral agencies, instead of the very communities that have proven themselves more than responsible, and worthy of continued support.
Pandey is Chairman of Green Foundation Nepal