People's forests

Nepal has become the first country to implement the concept of community forest use effectively, by assembling its grassroot forces, especially the rural women. The first Regional Community Forestry Users' Group Workshop was inaugurated by Salim Miya Ansari, state minister for forests and soil Conservation on May 23, at the Budhanilkantha School near Kathmandu. "I did not know that all the women participants of this gathering had similar problems," said Laxmi Devi Khatiwada, participant and group leader of Malati Women Forest User's Committee she had established in Saptari district in southeastern Nepal.

The 5-day workshop from May 23-27, was attended by 20 participants from India, 42 from Nepal, 5 from Pakistan, 3 from Thailand, 2 from the Philippines, 1 from Bhutan, besides several local experts.

"Fed up with the problem of floods from the fragile and treeless hills, and fetching water from over 5 kilometres everyday, I went to see the district forest officer at Rajbiraj, district head office, to ask for his help to plant some trees in those bare hills," said Laxmi Devi. But without any encouragement. Her committee also grows fodder for their livestock, plants turmeric and keeps a sizeable number of livestock.

For the first time, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (icimod), in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (fao) and Women Acting Together for Change, brought together many leading implementors of community forestry.

"This (workshop) is the first of its kind where villagers who have wealth of knowledge are participating to share their experience among themselves," said Anupam Bhatia, the workshop coordinator.

After 11 years, icimod has recognized the experience of small village-based community organisations in protecting and managing the environment. "Nepal has been internationally recognised as a country with the most progressive policy and legislation on community forestry, but the challenge is to bring those policies into practice," said Egbert Pelinck, director general, icimod, while delivering his welcome address at the inaugural session.

Addressing the participants, Salim Miya Ansari said, "The government alone can't do anything unless people participate. But unfortunately, our policy in the past could not incorporate users into the implantation strategy which promoted the destruction of forest," He said, "Women and poor people are the main users of forest products; so, further strengthening of their group will receive top priority in our future programmes."

Observers opine that the strength and importance of the main actors of development and conservation process is being gradually realized and expect that the workshop will provide viable solutions and recommendations to help preserve natural resources better intimes to come.