Published in The Kathmandu Post – http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2017-09-12/forests-fuelling-progress.html
Sep 12, 2017
With the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, the world has now embarked on another path towards the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Prepared by the United Nations (UN), the agenda constitutes 17 goals with 169 targets envisioning a more peaceful, just, sustainable and inclusive world by 2030. These goals have been dubbed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address three dimensions of sustainable development—social, economic and environmental. Achieving these goals requires ambition and hard work. Nepal’s community forestry sector can contribute significantly to the achievement of these goals as well.
What began with the handing over of a patch of forest to be utilised and managed by the local villagers of Thokarpa Village in the Sindhupalchowk district in 1973 has now become a world renowned community forestry model. Community Forests (CF), as stated by the Forest Act 1993, are that part of a national forest which is handed over to the local people, forming a group known as Community Forest User Group (CFUG), for the management and utilisation of the forest and its resources provided that they are able and willing to manage it. Now, there are 19,361 CFs in the country with an equal number of CFUGs.
Poverty and hunger reduction were targets for the very first goal in the MDGs. The first and second goals of the SDGs also aim to eradicate extreme poverty in all its forms and end hunger and achieve food security by 2030. The Community Forest Development Program Guideline 2014-15 clearly states that 35 percent of the total income of the CFUG should be invested in pro-poor targeted programs within the group. The annual income of Nepal’s CFs is over $10 million and the figure continues to increase as the number of CFs being handed to the user groups is also increasing. The community forestry sector contributes roughly $4 million annually (35 per cent of $10 million) to the pro-poor targeted programs. Though there are accusations that community forestry is under elite domination, the poor are also benefiting considerably. Community forestry has the potential to bring about a number of positive developments, however, this process is impeded by a lack of effective governance and law enforcement.
The Community Forest Development Program Guideline also stipulates that among the two tiers of the organisational structure of CFUG, i.e. General Assembly (GA) and Executive Committee (EC), either the chairperson or the secretary must be a woman. In order for the group to establish and maintain a bank account, there must be a joint signature, of which one signature must be a woman’s. These provisions help empower women and girls, involve them in the decision making process in public life, and provide equal opportunities for leadership which are envisioned in the fifth goal of the SDGs. Similarly, there must be 50 percent women participation in the EC with proportionate representation of Dalits, Janajatis, and indigenous and marginalised people. This helps to reduce inequalities within the country by achieving inclusive and just societies, and it also ensures inclusive participation in public decision making. There are so many CFUGs that are run solely by women and are reported to perform better than mixed gender CFUGs. The provisions of annual public hearing and internal and public auditing help develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions. This process has worked in the CFUGs case as well. It is deemed mandatory for 25 percent of the income from the CF to be spent on forest management, development and protection activities. This aims to minimise adverse effects of climate change, combat desertification, halt and reverse desertification, and halt biodiversity loss.
The CFUGs have been involved in numerous other activities like providing scholarships for deserving students from their groups, constructing gobar-gas (biogas made from cow dung) plants, constructing and/or maintaining physical infrastructures like roads, schools, hospital buildings and toilets to name a few. These activities all help to accomplish targets in one way or the other. The scholarships help in ensuring quality education, constructing toilets and hospitals help to ensure sanitation and healthy lives, constructing gobar-gas plants ensures access to affordable and sustainable energy, and so on.
But it is neither the provisions nor the goals themselves that make a difference. We have to act upon them to bring about the desired differences. The UN itself states that the SDGs are not stand-alone goals, and neither were the MDGs. So it cannot be explicitly stated that a particular sector/activity helps achieve one specific goal. Achievement (or underachievement) of one goal has considerable impacts on the achievement of other goals too. For example, eradicating poverty and ensuring sustainable consumption and production helps to reduce hunger, managing forests sustainably and scientifically helps to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, ensuring inclusive and quality education helps to create peaceful, just and inclusive societies and so on. Evidence also shows that families with educated mothers are more stable. So, either directly or indirectly, the forestry sector, and community forestry in particular greatly impacts the achievement of global goals. Budget allocation for the forestry sector has to increase and more work should be done to achieve greater and more sustainable benefits.
Another positive point of CFGUs is that they are not run by politicians, but by local people who work for their own personal advancement. This increases the likelihood that guidelines will be adhered to.