Neglected woodlandsFamily forests have made a significant contribution to forest and nature conservation
Nepalis have traditionally been conserving the forests while obtaining their supply of forest products. The state had no legal management systems for such family conserved and managed forests; but recognising the intrinsic relationship between development and the environment, the government has recently formulated policies and laws to regulate them. The government is reluctant to recognise family forests as a resource despite their significant contribution to forest and nature conservation. As a result, family forest farmers across the country have come together to protect their interest. Family forest owners are prevented from using the forest products grown on their farms, and there is no record or recognition of family forests which have been playing a key role in reducing climate change risks and fulfilling local demand.
During the Rana regime, the Ranas could distribute forest lands to whoever they pleased. Forests came under the control of the government and were conserved and managed as Panchayat Forest and Panchayat Conserved Forest during the Panchayat period. Following the establishment of democracy, forests were handed over to the communities as Community Forest. Forests are broadly divided into two categories: National Forest and Private Forest. Religious beliefs and household needs led to the development of family forests with people planting trees on agricultural land as an act of devotion and to provide fodder for their livestock.
A research journal entitled Forest Policy and Economics states that family forests in the mid-hills account for 22.8 percent of the total forest income. Community and government forests account for the rest. This clearly shows the importance of family forestry in Nepal. In this context, there exist enormous possibilities when family forestry is managed properly with the support of other sectors. Currently, farmers possess land rights but do not have tree tenure rights. Policy hurdles restrict farmers from utilising their property. Family forest owners in Surkhet district in mid-western Nepal have been forbidden to sell the trees grown on their farms for the last three years. They applied for permission to cut down the trees from the Surkhet District Forest Office but were turned down. The District Forest Office said there were no laws allowing the sale of trees grown on private farmland.
Family forestry, which has contributed significantly to industry, job creation and livelihoods, requires the help of the government, donor agencies and civil society organisations. Reports prepared by the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation indicates that 40 percent of the timber supply comes from family forests. This figure only refers to what is directly visible. Contributions made at the household level in the form of fuel wood and fodder has not been taken into consideration. Furthermore, Nepal’s forest cover has increased to 44.75 percent which is the result of family forests.
Today, climate change is the most pressing issue worldwide. Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries with regard to the impact of climate change even though its contribution to climate change is negligible. Family forestry has a very important role to play with regard to climate change risk reduction and carbon sequestration. However, there is not sufficient data to support the input of family forestry.
Family forests are the backbone of forest-based industries and economic development. Also, there exist sufficient possibilities and opportunities. Even though the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation has issued a policy entitled Forest for Prosperity, it has not recognised family forestry nor incorporated it in any of its programmes. Furthermore, compared to other forestry sectors, the Nepal government has formulated almost negligible policies for the development and sustainable use of family forests. The family forest sector, therefore, has no choice but to move ahead on its own.
At the policy level, family forestry has been drifting without direction. One, neither the government nor donor agencies have formulated policies and programmes for the conservation and sustainable management of family forests. Two, family forest farmers are not able to transport and trade timber easily. In particular, forest farmers, even though they have land tenure, lack tree tenure rights. Family forest farmers have been moving forward on their own and with their own style of forest management. However, if they are to move forward at this pace, it is sure they won’t be able to achieve the desired goals. Haphazard planting without considering climatic and geophysical conditions is again leading to a condition where farmers are not getting the desired output. We all need to be aware that the forestry sector which greens the whole country, generates opportunities for green jobs and possesses enormous possibilities should not come to an end.
Giri and Parajuli are respectively chairperson and national programme officer of the Association of Family Forest Owners’ Nepal (AFFON)