Krishna Prasad Pokharel previously was the Deputy Director General, Chief of Community Forestry Division at the Department of Forest (DoF), Ministry of Forest and Social Conservation, a position from which he retired in 2016 after 31 years of Government service. Born in Bhumikasthan Municipality in Argakhachi district, he holds a MSc in forestry from the University of Philippines. He joined the DoF in 1986 as a Forest Officer and has extensive experience in working closely with local communities as part of community based forestry management. He was the first person to start silviculture based forestry management in Nepal.
How has your experience been in working in the DoF?
In the 1980’s, the forest area in Nepal was declining at an alarming rate. The World Bank in the 1970s had already forecasted that Nepal’s hill forest would be depleted in 25 years and the Terai forest in just 15 years. The concept of community forestry was a very nascent concept. When I started at the DoF, the concept then was that the forest had to be protected from local people. Local people were identified as intruders and destroyers of the forest and we were trained to protect the forests from them. The relation between local people and us was not good and in a way, was hostile.
However, soon after the starting of community based forestry management in Nepal, the hostile relation between us and the community people calmed down, local people formed a committee to take care of forest, they really worked hard to protect the forest. Now after four decades of community based forest management in Nepal, the forest coverage area has recovered and has reached to 44% of total area. Nepal now has 23 % of the total forest area in the form of protected area, 32% of the total forest is under community based forest management that includes community forest, lease hold forest, and buffer zone forest.
My experience of working with local people in community based forest management made me realize that active participation of community people is a pre-requisite for the success of any development initiative. I am happy that I was a part of this worldly example Nepal has created in the area of forest protection through the efforts of community people.
How did the concept of community based forest management emerge in Nepal?
There used to be a Village Panchayat called Thokarpa Village Panchayat in Sindupalchok district. Mr. Nil Prasad Bhandari was the then chairperson of that Village Panchayat. He was elected as the Chairperson of Thokarpa Village Panchayat at the age of 24 in 1962. Soon after undertaking his new role, Bhandari started thinking about ideas to protect forests in Thorkarpa. which at that time was at the verge of destruction because of rampant smuggling. Back then, all forest used to be controlled by the Government.
In 1973, Bhandari organized a public meeting in which a decision was made that the village would be responsible for the management of forest in Thokarpa. Bhandari wrote a letter to Mr. Tej Bahadur Singh Mahat, the then District Forest Officer of Sindupalchok district, requesting the handover of responsibility of Thokarpa village to the Village Panchayat for 10 years. Mahat was shocked when he heard this. He was skeptic on how these uneducated villagers could protect the forest at a time when the efforts of a whole team of the DoF proved ineffective in protecting forest. But after meeting this young energetic chairman, he liked Bhandari’s idea that the forest had to be protected by those who needed them the most. Mahat then wrote to the Secretary of the DoF head office in Kathmandu. Mr. Thir Bahadur Thapa, the then Secretary of DoF called Mahat and Bhandari to Kathmandu and inquired about their request. Mahat lobbied on behalf of Bhandari and was able to convince the even more skeptic Secretary. The decision was made that the forest in Thokarpa Village would be handed over to the Village Panchayat, but for only two years.
On 9th August 1973, Nil Prasad Bhandari formed a 103 members committee to protect forest under his chairmanship with District Forest Officers as advisors. After that, villagers started preserving forest under community ownership and oversight. The forest area started to recover and villagers were now able to get firewood for their kitchen and fodders for their livestock. The success of this new arrangement attracted other neighboring Village Panchayats to follow a similar model for their Government controlled forests.
In 1976, the National Forest Plan 1976 was launched which for the first time highlighted the need for a community forestry program in Nepal. In addition, the amendment to Forest Act in 1977 included provisions for handing over part of the Government forest to Village Panchayats- then the smallest local governance unit. The Forest Rules 1978 contained regulations for the implementation of the community forestry program in Nepal. International agencies like Australian Aid (DFAT), Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), German International Cooperation (GIZ), and the Department for International Development (DFID) supported community forestry practices from its early days in Nepal.
Now after four decades of implementation of Community Forestry, Nepal is considered as a success story in forest conservation. In fact, Nepal is a pioneer in community forestry practices. Nepal now has 19,361 Community Forestry User Groups, which are composed of 1072 women only committee members. About 1.45 million households or 30 percent of the total population of Nepal are involved in community based forest management. Currently, a total of 18,13,478 hectares of national forest has been managed by communities themselves.
In 2016, the Government of Nepal declared Thokarpa village in Sindhupalchowk as the origin of community forestry. Nil Prasad Bhandari and Tej Bahadur Singh Mahat were officially declared and recognized as the initiators of community forestry in Nepal.
How does DoF manage forest related data and statistics?
The DoF has a separate research unit, which is responsible for forest related research activities and that particular unit also manages data and statistics. A forest survey is carried out every ten years. The data and statistics published by the Central Bureau of Statistics on the forestry sector is provided by the DoF. As of now, a Management Information System for community forests exists, but that does not contain much information. It only includes information related to the number of community forest user groups and the forest area.
The DoF head office in Kathmandu collects activity reports from all the district offices and compiles them in the form of annual report every year. In addition, the forest survey report comes out in every 10 years. All these reports are uploaded on the DoF website for public use. More information on forest can be acquired by submitting a written application to the DoF.
How important are forest related data and statistics in forest management?
Forest related data and statistics are very important in forest management. When I was in the DoF, I started silviculture for the first time in Nepal in 2006. Silviculture is a science based forest management practice. It is the practice of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health and quality of forests to meet diverse needs and values. The most important thing for the success of silviculture is data. We need to keep year by year detailed data of every single tree. We need the detail about the age and height of the tree, the harvested date, the year wise regeneration rate, and so many other details. Data is a must for silviculture to track the growth and development of the forest, so that we can identify which particular tree has to be planted, taken care of and harvested. As such keeping all these data is a major challenge for us, as we need data for each and every type of vegetation species.
What is the way forward for the forestry sector in Nepal?
As I have mentioned earlier, Nepal has been successful in the protection of forests. For the last forty years, we have limited ourselves to the protection of forest only. Now, we have to move from forest protection to forest management. Forest management incorporates not just protection but also its usage. Forest is a renewable resource. A tree will eventually die with no economic value. We need to make use of the forest. We can be rich by wisely using forest resources. For that, we need to practice silviculture in forest management. Protection alone is not enough. Community people need to be educated, made aware, and trained on silviculture based forest management.