Scientific forestrySustainable forest management in community forests is bearing its first fruits
The forest cover in Nepal increased by five percent in the past 20 years, from about 39 to 44 percent. The findings were released last month in the Forest Resources Assessment report by the government of Nepal and Finland. This positive development comes at a time when forests, which already suffered from political upheavals in the past and the earthquake last April, are being relentlessly denuded either to meet the demand for fuel that resulted from the Indian blockade or to make money by selling timber illegally.
The forests including the other wooded land now occupy 6.61 million hectares, with the middle mountains having the highest percentage of forest cover of about 38 percent and the Tarai with the lowest forest cover of almost seven percent. These findings are crucial to come up with necessary policy formulation, investment, and most importantly, to promote sustainable management of forests that is gaining momentum in the country for some time now.
As defined by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, sustainable forest management (SFM), practiced as scientific forest management in Nepal, aims to combine social, environmental and economic values of the forests.
“Managing forests in a sustainable manner by enhancing productivity as well as improving biodiversity of the area has become important in the light of climate change mitigation and accessing climate finance for countries like Nepal,” says Krishna Neupane, district forest officer in Kapilvastu and a pioneer in implementing the sustainable management practice.
The Tilaurakot Collaborative Forest in Kapilvastu in the Tarai has incorporated a scientific forest management approach and has delivered promising results. The authorities and management committee with the help of the Multi Stakeholder Forestry Programme have started scientific forest management of 656 hectares of the total 6612 hectares of land covered by forest, which has contributed in increasing productivity of forest including timber and fuelwood, regeneration of new saplings and advanced growth of young tree species.
Since its implementation, a total of 69 hectares of forests are harvested, along with 83417 cubic feet timber and 295.5 cubic feet fuelwood, and regeneration in three hectares of forest land. Neupane says that the sustainable harvesting has helped in increasing revenues and benefitted local communities.
Some of the key interventions as a part of the scientific forest management carried out in Tilaurakot are removal of dead, decaying, dying, diseased and deformed trees, verification of mother tree that is allowed to grow, harvesting the tree species that are beyond exploitable size, planned logging and log yard management. In 2011 and 2012, the number of regeneration of Sal trees, the dominant species in the Tarai, was 800 whereas after the SFM, regeneration shot up to 6,934 in 2014 and 2015. Similarly, the number of regeneration of other tree species was also found to have increased during the same period from 67 to 6933.
The forest authority say that besides logging and harvesting of forests in a sustainable manner, the management approach focuses on activities like grass cutting, thinning, regeneration promotion, fuelwood and timber distribution, forest patrolling and fire land construction, all contributing to enhancement of forest in the long run. Furthermore, in Kapilvastu, the scientific forest management is being practiced in a few other districts of the Tarai including Rupandehi, Kailali and Dang, among others, but it is still inadequate and challenging given the existing complex forest governance that still seems reluctant to institutionalise scientific forestry.
One of the key concerns for policymakers in promoting scientific forest management on a large scale is the alarming rate of deforestation and illegal logging in the Tarai districts that have the lowest percentage of forest cover compared to other physio-geographic regions. Likewise, the fragility of the middle hills to various natural disasters also restricts the logging and harvesting of trees.
Unlike in the past, when management was solely protection-oriented, the participatory approach that included the involvement of local communities in forest management acknowledged the importance of sustainable utilisation of forests for the benefits of the people dependent on their resources.
“One of the major objectives of promoting and establishing community forestry programmes across the country was to enhance the livelihood of people, particularly the marginalised and rural populations, through sustainable forest management and utilisation of forest resources,” says Ghanshyam Pandey, coordinator of global alliance of community forestry, and former chairperson of Federation of Community Forestry Users’ Nepal, an umbrella organisation of over 25,000 community forestry users groups, managing almost 30 percent of Nepal’s forests. However, reaping the benefits from the forests by local communities is still a big challenge.
Shahi covers environment related issues for The Kathmandu Post