“These trees have good commercial value in the market, but the forest user group is not interested in investing time and effort to clear complex regulatory requirements for sale,” explained Sarada Tiwari of ForestAction Nepal. “And they don’t need fuelwood as they buy LPG from local shops.”
Indeed, in almost every site I visited, I found that community forests had become dense jungles, increasing the fire hazard. Restrictive regulations prevent communities from harvesting trees, leading to a decline in the interest of local user groups in managing forests. As a result, good market value trees are left dying.
After 40 years of glorious history, community forestry in Nepal is facing a new generation of problems which threaten to undermine past gains.
Perhaps the primary source of this crisis is the significant shift in people’s dependence on forests. With increased road networks and the flow of remittance from family members working abroad, people have shifted from using fuel wood to fossil fuels. With the decline in farming, the use of other forest products has also significantly dropped. But this new forest-people relationship is yet to be reflected in plans and policies of community forestry.
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Policymakers in Kathmandu believe that community forestry is mainly a source of subsistence livelihoods, a proposition that was true two decades ago. That is why they continue to impose restrictions on harvesting and marketing of forest products.
A forest official told me: “We are careful not to encourage commercial harvesting of timber from community forest areas”.
This is what happens in practice, despite formal laws being open to marketing forestry products side-by-side with what is seen as progressive community forestry policies at the federal level. Nepal’s Forest Law 1993 was one of the world’s strongest forest legislations to devolve power to local communities willing to take control of an area of forest in their locality. The same spirit continues through the Forest Act 2019.
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However, in actual practice, regulatory enforcement hardly follows the policies and legal provisions in letter and spirit. A senior community forestry activist once said: “In Nepal, forest laws are undermined by rules; rules by working procedures, working procedures by written notices, and written notices by oral instructions. How can you then comply with all of them?”
What’s worrying is that even community forestry activists seem to have an orthodox attitude that denies more active and sustainable use of community forests.