15-20 percent of Nepal’s forests (roughly one million hectares) are managed by community forest users’ groups (known here as CFUGs). Now, a consortium of 21 CFUGs from Dolakha district east of the capital Kathmandu, and Bajhang district in Nepal’s Far-West, have become the first ‘group’ in the world to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Certification signifies that the groups have developed a management plan and adhere to guidelines concerning, among other issues, conservation, workers’ rights and the rights of Indigenous People. Certification also translates into increased international demand for the non-timber forest products (NTFPs – tree bark, medicinal plants/herbs, etc ) harvested in the forests. To profit locally from that demand, Dolakha’s CFUGs joined hands with established businesses, local individuals, and others to purchase three processing factories in the district. Two of the factories make handmade Nepali paper from the bark of the lokha tree, while the other processes wintergreen leaves to make essential oil.
Some of the former owners were also brought in as partners, and poor members of the community who harvest the NTFPs were given a percentage of the ownership, according to The Federation of Community Forest Users –Nepal (FECOFUN). FECOFUN supported the efforts of the CFUGs by, for example, preparing and providing guidelines on the protection and management of endangered plants, animals and their forest habitat. For purposes of certification, FECOFUN became the ‘resource manager’.
About 5,000 households, including some of the poorest families in the district, situated in the hills and mountains of Dolakha and Bajhang manage the 14,000 hectares of forests. Twenty of these households were made part owners of one of the factories in Dolakha – Bhimeswore NTFPs Production and Processing Pvt. Ltd. Its owners predict an annual return on investment of 14% to 50%. However, one challenge they face is a shortage of certified raw materials: to date they are only receiving 50% of their processing capacity. FECOFUN says steps are being taken to certify another 100 CFUGs which could then fill the demand.
There are mixed views on the impact of Nepal’s community forests. More information is easily available via a web search. Some examples follow: