GANESH KARKI, general secretary of Federation of Community Forestry Users’ Nepal (FECOFUN), is a well known person in the community forestry movement. Karki, 48, has spent more than 15 years to establish the rights of the community over the forests. As Nepal’s bio-diversity is under threat, Karki spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues. Excerpts:
How are forest users groups contributing to conserve Nepal’s bio-diversity?
Look, once you protect the forests, you conserve bio-diversity. After the community’s involvement in the forest protection and management, you can see a lot of changes, including the revival of many extinct plant species as well as wildlife animals. The number of leopard, wild boar and deer has increased drastically in the hill areas because of preservation of the forests. Similarly, many plants which were virtually in the process of extinction are coming back. Fifteen years ago, our mountains were barren and landslides were a common phenomenon. Protection of forests supported regeneration and harvesting of plants. The trees and plants in the government forests are in the process of disappearing. However, the situation is very much different in community forests.
Community manages over 25 percent of country’s forest-covered areas and there are over 17,500 community groups around the country. More than 1.6 million households, with about 10 million population, are involved in them.
What is green employment?
In the first phase, community forestry focused on conservation. Then came various models of management. The issues related to governance dominated the third phase. Now, the focus is on sustainable forest management and enterprises. Local people cannot take benefits by just protecting it and expanding it. There is need of a sustainable forest management. We need to utilize the protected forests by sustaining them. One forest and one industry policy is directed to this -- whether the forest is related to natural herbs industries, timber industries or other products. For the improvement of the livelihood and economic situation of the local people, there is the need to utilize the forest products. Green employment means generation of employment opportunity by green industries.
How can Asia-Pacific Network for Forest Management and Rehabilitation can help your scheme?
APFNET is actually related to sustainable forest management. Under this program, FECOFUN is now trying to introduce some projects to help address climate change and promote economic and social development. This scheme will help increase the employment opportunity by enhancing the capability of the forest user groups. Some of our user groups have already established Nepalese paper industries with the participation of marginalized women groups. If we can establish small forest industries within the area of community forestry close to forests, it will transform livelihood of millions of Nepali. We have already pushed some enterprise programs.
What is the stage of APFNet?
We are now in the process of implementing it. Under this project, a community user group will be given necessary support to establish forestry-related enterprises. As Nepal has already shown a successful way for forest conservation, the APFNet’s support is very important as it will help our user groups learn how to grasp the opportunity through forest related enterprises.
What does APFNet do?
APFNet promotes transfer and sharing of experiences and expertise in sustainable forest management and rehabilitation. It also helps address climate change and promote economic and social development. Proposed by China and cosponsored by Australia and the United States, the APFNet was agreed by the 15th APEC economic leaders meeting in September 2007 in Sydney.
What are the challenges of community forests now?
Political instability is one of the major problems of the community forestry management. Due to political instability, there is a frequent change in the forest policy. The government is also curtailing the right of community forestry groups. The forest sector is now without policy as the tenure of twenty-years master plan has already lapsed. There are good laws, and policies but there is always a problem in their implementation.
How do you look at the role of user groups?
There is no doubt about the need of good governance in all sectors. There must be the rule of law. There are certain lapses in the process of handing over the forests to user groups.
What is REED?
Reed is one of the components to support the conservation efforts. We have to look at various aspects of REED which are related to global warming. Forest is one of the major factors to reduce the global warming. The forest has no alternatives. We cannot reduce the global warming without forests. Other factor to contain global warming is renewable energy which includes micro-hydro, solar, improved stove, bio-gas. Nepal has two important factors. We have been launching pilot programs in Gorkha, Chitwan and Dolakha. There are challenges ahead. The rich countries are puffing a lot of pollution. Community forestry is a major element to reduce the global warming. I don’t think Nepal can benefit from carbon trade.