The Kathmandu Post, Samipa khanal, Kathmandu,6th March 2017
The government has handed over an additional 14,745 hectares of national forest to 19,361 Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) this year. The community forests occupied an area of 1,798,733 hectares of land across the country until last year.
Under the Forestry Operation Plan, the government hands over a part of national forest to the CFUGs each year. The user groups form committees for the management and protection of forest areas that has numerous households working under it. They are also the beneficiaries of the forest products.
At present 2,461,549 households under the CFUGs are directly benefitted by the community forests. People living around mid-hills are benefited more from the community forests, according to data of the Department of Forests (DoF) under the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation. Except Mustang, 74 districts in the country have CFUGs registered under the District Forest Office. The data shows Dhading has the highest number of CFUGs at 681, followed by Palpa (645) and Tanahun (587).
“The government hasn’t handed over forest areas in Tarai districts in the past few years. They hand over only accessible national forests to local people,” said Subash Devkota of Hariyo Ban Programme. “Government officials neither approve our development proposals on forests nor are they willing to visit remote areas across the country.”
Each forest user group has a work plan agreement for 5-10 years, but half of the user groups have not renewed their contracts rendering them illegal, said officials.
The concept of community forest was launched in Nepal in the late 1970s under the participatory forest management programme. At present, around 1.45 million households, or 35 percent of the country’s population, are involved in the community forestry.
The households or grassroots communities that live around forests use timber, grass and bamboos, medicinal plants, forest-based agriculture for their own use along with the forest grazing by livestock.
“Community people look after the forest resources but they are not provided with a basic format of account keeping. The DoF has prepared a set of guidelines on maintaining the economy of community forest by the local people and has submitted it to the ministry for further procedure,” said Anuj Raj Sharma of the DoF. Households that fall between the borders of two or more community forests are benefitted to a larger extent. These households are granted the membership of two or more forests user groups which enables them to exploit the resources in abundance.
Forest officers in each district work in tandem with CFUG representatives and form committees to execute forestry work plans. Each committee has to have at least one women representative. There are a total of 1,074 women representatives in
The land area of community forests has increased by five percent in the past five years.
“Until the trees have potential to expand in the forest area, community forest grows every year,” said Prakash Lamsal, community forest development officer at the DoF. “Among other projects in Nepal, the community forest has covered larger household beneficiaries.”