A lesson for India

Despite disputes over commercialisation of forest produce, experts believe the movement will not be derailed. Meanwhile, India can take a lesson or two from its neighbour's success

Published: Tuesday 29 February 2000

A lesson for India

Perhaps the Nepalese forest department had never expected communities to regenerate the forests to the point that they would become cash-rich. But now that the communities have done the 'unexpected', it seems to be bothering the forest bureaucracy. Why else would a circular intended to stop felling activities only in the terai , be passed on in the hills too? The forest bureaucracy is taking a serious note of commercialisation. And this might even affect the sustainability of the project, says Steve Hunt.

The department of forests is now evaluating the conflicts arising from commercialisation of forest produce and control of fug s, says Rabi Bahadur Bista. "Initially, the project was designed to be sustainable. But since problems have come up, we are taking stock of them," he says. But the people argue that, in any case, the money earned is being spent on development activities. Therefore, the forest department has absolutely no reason to get worked up.

Now the project is in transition from sustenance to management of the forest, says Anupam Bhatia. "The question is how do you move from here?" he asks. But he is optimistic that the people's ability to adopt to new changes is remarkable. This will keep the project going. The rate of fug formation, if any indicator, gives a positive signal as every year some 1,000 such groups are formed. And going by the activities of the old fug s, many of them are taking up other income-generating activities, thus lessening their dependence on forest. "This will make the project sustainable," says K B Shrestha.

"Sustainability comes from the immediate economic benefits of the project," says Badri Poudyal of Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists. Moreover, adds Biswa Bahadur Adhikari, ddc chairperson of Tanahu, "Not only the forest dwellers, but also other villagers are benefiting from cfm . So, despite the conflicts, cfm will make some headway."

On conditions of anonymity, a mission head of a foreign aid agency, said, "With a democratic set up and ngo s trying hard to raise awareness, it doesn't seem that the project will fizzle out."

Some feel that dof 's inability to manage the vast forest area will make the forestry project sustainable. "People have absolute rights over the management and dof is not going to take over as it doesn't have the infrastructure," admits B P Baskota, an assistant forest officer in Pokhra.

India vs Nepal
Despite conflicts, there is little reason to doubt that Nepal's forestry programme is 'a globally progressive piece of legislation' from which other countries can learn a few lessons. India, in particular, has a lot to learn from Nepal.

During the 1970s, both India and Nepal took the initiative to encourage community participation in forest management. But India's forest management programme is no match for the autonomy given to fug s in Nepal or the political will shown by the government (see box: Policies with a difference ).

India has the joint forest management ( jfm ) programme which seeks community participation in a limited way. A discussion paper titled " Community Forestry in India and Nepal: Learning from Each Other " published by the icimod observes: "Experience with community/social forestry in India and Nepal have evidenced many similarities and some surprising differences, many instructive failures and some exciting successes. However, despite shared ecological conditions, similar socio-economic conditions, and some similar programmes, there has been surprisingly little interaction or inter-learning between India and Nepal."

In fact, though an estimated $2 billion has been invested by donors in various forestry projects in Nepal and India in the last 15 years, according to the icimod publication, India is yet to boast of a community-based policy. jfm is all about community participation in forest management in India, but does not give absolute power to the community in the management of forest. Further, unlike Nepal, the government does not share the full benefits with the community ( see box: Miles apart ).

N C Saxena, secretary, Planning Commission of India, who has done extensive research on India's community forestry, says, "India has a long tradition of government management of forest. This has virtually kept the forest dwellers deprived of their basic source of livelihood." cfm in Nepal teaches us a lesson, he says. "What we should learn from it is that we should identify the users of the forest and hand over the forest to them. Under our jfm , defining the administrative unit, to which a patch of forest will be given, has proved to be difficult. But given the right political will, the government can attain this," he explains.

In Nepal, cfm is a success because traditionally the government never managed the forest and, unlike India, the link between the government and the forest resources is very weak. So when an initiative was taken, it was accepted by the community. In India, there are communities protecting forests on their own without government recognition. "At least, these communities should be given the forests they are protecting. For that we need a political will to experiment with community forestry as in Nepal," says Bhatia.

With inputs from Prakash Khanal in Kathmandu, Nepal

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