Community leadership reduces deforestation, poverty: Nepal study

Deforestation was down 37 per cent, poverty fell 4.3 per cent between 2000 and 2012

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Thursday 09 May 2019

A decisive authority by local communities in forest management helps fight both deforestation and poverty, according to a recent study in Nepal.

Community forest management (CFM) was able to prevent deforestation on 1.7 hectares and lift 14 households out of poverty between 2000 and 2012 at a sub-district level, claimed Reductions in deforestation and poverty from decentralised forest management in Nepal

The study, published on May 6 in Nature Sustainability journal, compared changes in forest cover and poverty in the Himalayan country's 18,321 registered community forests for 12 years. The primary unit of analysis was the Village Development Committees (VDC) — the administrative equivalent of a municipality. The comparison was on the basis of presence or absence of CFM arrangements.

CFM creates a win-win situation for conservation as well as human rights, according to the study: “Our results translate to a 37 per cent relative reduction in deforestation and a 4.3 per cent relative reduction in poverty that is attributable to CFM.”

The study also found a positive correlation between the area and duration over which CFM arrangements were implemented: “We find that larger CFM areas (more than 8.3 per cent of the VDC area) were significantly linked to reductions in poverty among CFM VDCs. Similarly, a longer duration of CFM arrangements (mean establishment duration of more than 3.4 years) led to significant reductions in deforestation and poverty.”

Poverty and unsustainable resource extraction

In places with high poverty alleviation rates, the difference in deforestation rate depended on CFM areas: Where the area was large, poverty alleviation did not lead to higher deforestation, the researchers claimed. People, thus, were not extracting forest resources unsustainably to improve their lot.

Most CFM areas are in VDCs with low poverty rate though, the study notes. 

“We find that community forests in VDCs with higher levels of baseline poverty have a lower reduced deforestation effect compared with community forests in VDCs with lower levels of baseline poverty. These results suggest that new CFM established in poorer areas probably requires additional support to minimise socio-economic and environmental trade-offs.”         

Nepal started its CFM programme in the 1970s, subsequently supporting by key legislative reforms and substantial international aid from the late ’80s to now. An estimated quarter of its forests are directly managed by more than a third of the country’s predominantly rural population.

In India, while Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006 provides for community forest rights (CFR), implementation is poor: Only 79,058 of 1,48,388 claimed have been approved. Areas recognised are mostly miniscule compared to claims.

“CFR titles with community's right to conserve and manage forest areas is given only in a few places like Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, Mayurbhanj in Odisha and areas in Gujarat. In most of the remaining cases the CFR titles given are only for constructing roads, schools etc. If rights to manage and conserve the forest are given, then in India too we can see a situation like in Nepal,” says Tushar Dash, of Community Forest Rights-Learning and Advocacy, a pan India body of experts and activists working on FRA.

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