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Political conflict, community forest governance and local livelihoods in Nepal

Adhikari, Jay Ram (2011) Political conflict, community forest governance and local livelihoods in Nepal. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Nepal is one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots with varied climate, geography and ecosystems. The majority of people in Nepal’s hills and mountains still depend heavily on forest resources for their livelihood and wellbeing. However, since the breakdown of the traditional system of forest management and the nationalization of forests in the mid 1950s, Nepal's forests had undergone severe degradation and deforestation. In addition, political instability, illegal clearing, expansion of agricultural land and resettlement policy were also responsible for degradation. The deforestation was so rapid that between the period of 1964 and 1975, 2.3 million hectares of forests were lost and the livelihoods of people in the hills and mountains of Nepal were on the verge of collapse. Since the popularization of the theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation and realization on the part of government of the urgency of restoring and improving the condition of Nepal's forests, a number of conservation projects were launched.

In 1978, the government of Nepal initiated the community forestry program through the enactment of the Panchayat Forest and Panchayat Protected Forest Rules. These were further strengthened by the endorsement of the 1989 Master Plan for the Forestry Sector (MPFS) and enactment of the1993 Forest Act and 1995 Forest Regulation. The community-based forest co-management initiatives in Nepal transferred forest management authority to local community user groups. However, since the onset of the Maoist insurgency in 1996 and subsequent armed conflicts over the next decade, the community forestry program in Nepal was under threat. It was not known what happened to the community-based forest co-management arrangements during the period of insurgency due to restricted access to the countryside.

Through a comparative case studies of three Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) with three different conflict settings (the first controlled by neither of the contending parties, the second under the control of security forces and the third under the control of the Maoists) in Kavrepalanchok district in the Middle Hills region of Nepal, this research investigates the effectiveness of CBFCM in strengthening local forest governance processes and outcomes. It focuses particularly on equity in access and benefit sharing, the participation of different socio-economic strata in forest governance, and the provision of environmental services within these communities during pre/early and late conflict periods.

This research shows that the community forestry program has provided a significant space to local communities for collective action that enabled them to reverse the trend of forest degradation, improving the environmental condition of the forests and the supply of forest products. Over time, the community forest program has been successful in gradually building the capacity of CFUG institutions and has increased the involvement of women and other marginalized sections of the community. Through the expanded networks among CFUGs and with the assistance of outside organizations, these communities have now attained considerable influence in national forest policy formulation. This study confirms that although the governing mechanisms of state agencies, including the Department of Forests (DoF), became dysfunctional during the period of armed insurgency, governance structures of the local CFUGs in the case study villages were largely stable and most forest management activities were carried out during the period of armed conflict. The CFUGs have survived as vibrant self-governing institutions and have maintained reasonable access to forest resources to satisfy the subsistence needs of local people within the community. These findings suggest that community-based forest governing institutions had the bargaining capacity and ability to overcome the pressures arising from the armed conflict because of the resilience and adaptive capacities of the CFUGs.

Key words: Co-management (CM), community-based natural resource management (CBNRM), Community-based forest co-management (CBFCM), governance, and community forest user groups (CFUGs).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Warren, Carol
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