9 Apr 2015

Community forestry to benefit nature and people

BirdLife embarks on a project to ensure community forests in Nepal are best managed for the community, and for the forest. Photo: David Thomas / BirdLife
BirdLife embarks on a project to ensure community forests in Nepal are best managed for the community, and for the forest. Photo: David Thomas / BirdLife
By Shaun Hurrell

The natural environment is vital for the wellbeing of many people in Nepal, especially those living in poor communities. Many livelihoods depend on the forest, which provides a wealth of economic, health and social benefits to people – termed ecosystem services. A more diverse forest is a healthier forest and one that can provide more ecosystem services. Likewise, managing forest for biodiversity is also actually managing forest for the people, and doing so can alleviate poverty (see below for examples).

Funded by the UK’s Darwin Initiative, BirdLife has just embarked on a project to ensure community forests in Nepal are managed sustainably. BirdLife will work with Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN, BirdLife in Nepal), the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) and the Department of Forests’ Community Forestry Division to tackle a number of problems currently faced by the unsustainable management of Nepal’s community forests.

What is a community forest?

The project will include the integration of biodiversity and ecosystem services into the training of forest officers. Photo: David Thomas / BirdLifeCommon land in Nepal is owned by the state, which often does not have the capacity to monitor and manage the area, and often leads to the overuse of resources by the community. In community forestry, the local community themselves plays a significant role in forest management and land-use decision-making, and in Nepal this was introduced via the formation of ‘Forest User Groups’. Community forest management is also recognised by the country’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) to improve wellbeing and livelihoods.

When it comes to integrating conservation, good governance and the development of sustainable local livelihoods, Nepal’s community forestry programme is regarded as one of the world’s success stories.

However, there is evidence that the potential benefits for biodiversity, as well as for social equity and community resilience, are not being maximised. The planning frameworks commonly in use focus on timber production (often to the benefit of a community’s elite). Local people are often unaware of their forest’s biodiversity values or the ecosystem services that forests provide; their forest management plans are not geared to the conservation of rare and indigenous species, including those of potential value to the local communities themselves.

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There are many benefits to the community of sustainably-managed forests. Photo: David Thomas / BirdLife

By integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services into the training for forest officers, as well as into the operational procedures for community forest management, the project will raise awareness of the values of biodiversity and the steps women and men in local communities can take to conserve and use it sustainably. Training, awareness raising and provision of tools will ensure integration of biodiversity and ecosystem services into local level forest management plans whilst subsequent implementation of plans will ensure community forests are managed sustainably, with benefits for biodiversity conservation as well as livelihoods.

BirdLife has experience working with local communities in Nepal. In 2005, Bird Conservation Nepal invited Community Forest Users Groups to discuss ways to reduce their pressure on the forest. Subsequently, with support and training, these groups have generated income for conservation and development activities.

Benefits to communities of sustainable forest management for biodiversity:

  • Preserving cultural values
  • Creating employment and incomes (e.g. ecotourism)
  • Maintaining water supplies
  • Enhancing resilience (diverse ecosystems and economies are more resilient to environmental shocks and climate change)
  • Conserving traditional medicines
  • Enhancing equity
  • Empowering women through fairer distribution of more diverse goods and benefits

The project “Mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystem services into community forestry in Nepal” is part of BirdLife’s Local Engagement and Empowerment Programme in the Asia region and funded by the Darwin Initiative.