19 Oct 2011

New documentary highlights importance of IBAs for people in Nepal

By Jenny Merriman
Worldwide, natural resources are being lost due to unsustainable use and human-induced environmental change—so much so that future generations are likely to suffer the repercussions of our excess. Bird Conservation Nepal (BirdLife Partner) has launched a documentary to highlight the value of Important Bird Areas (IBAs: critical areas for biodiversity conservation) to people and therefore the importance of conserving these sites. Despite great efforts being made to conserve biodiversity in Nepal, the country still lags behind in protecting natural habitats. The documentary presents work from a Darwin Initiative project that is assessing and quantifying the resources provided from nature by IBAs. These resources, known as ‘ecosystem services’, include timber, fuel wood, grass, herbs, fruit, fish and water—many of which are provided for free. People also benefit from other aspects of nature such as soil formation, storm protection, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration and nature-based tourism. These benefits are realised by people at a range of scales, from local communities through to the global population. Field surveys carried out by the project have established how much carbon is stored in vegetation and how this might be affected by land use change decisions. Forests make a significant contribution to climate change mitigation and their conservation and restoration could greatly reduce the rate of climate change, as well as provide economic benefits through voluntary carbon markets or REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation: a UN Collaborative Programme that aims to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests). Phulchoki Forest (one of Nepal’s 27 IBAs) demonstrates that conservation can also result in increased benefits to local livelihoods. This 5000 ha forest is partly under community management, meaning that Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) of local residents have ownership, rights and responsibility for defined forested areas.  This allows the communities to harvest wild goods (e.g. fuel wood, fodder and compost) for subsistence use and market sale and to manage the forest so this use is sustainable. Recreation facilities (picnic sites) have also been established where visitors from the wider Kathmandu area can enjoy the forest. By charging visitors access to these picnic areas (which have latrines, shelter, water, picnic tables etc.), the CFUGs generate income from entrance fees at over NR 578,000 ($8,000) per year. However, it’s not all ‘win-win’ as the conservation of a site may not necessarily benefit everyone equally. Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park is a forested watershed that supports more than 300 bird species and is popular with national and international visitors. However, locals living within and close to Shivapuri-Nagarjun, who make efforts to protect the water sources (providing 40% of Kathmandu’s drinking water) and refrain from harvesting wild goods inside the park, receive few benefits and, in some cases, may suffer disservices such as crop raiding by animals living in the park. Therefore it is important to develop management plans that maintain or enhance local livelihoods. One possible approach is to compensate those who bear the costs of conservation through a payment scheme, whereby the people who benefit the most provide an incentive for those who benefit the least. Dr Maheshwar Dhakal (Ecologist, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Nepal) notes: “Conservation carried out by people who live in an upland area may benefit the community living in the lower area. A scheme where the beneficiaries pay a small fee for the resource they use and transfer this to those who protect the ecosystem could benefit everyone”. Bird Conservation Nepal has produced this documentary for broadcast on the national television network. The hope is that this will raise the profile of biodiversity-rich sites in Nepal—such as Important Bird Areas—and encourage a dialogue with politicians and decision-makers to ensure that this ecologically rich, but economically poor country, can continue to protect its environment and maintain and enhance the many benefits that it provides to its people.