Course:FRST370/Projects/A case study of community forest management in Thuli, Nepal Himalayas

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Thuli community is famous for good governance over community forests, recovering its forestlands from almost deteriorated bare lands to well-grown forests. One distinctive feature of this major success in Thuli is its institutional reform – transiting the structure of Executive Committee of community forest user group (CFUG) from male-dominated to more gender-inclusive. In 2011, Thuli CFUG was restructured to a women-only committee. Based on the stark social hierarchy in Nepalese society where men are superior to women in most situation, this institutional change represents significant social progress. However, there are still a lot of problems beneath the success. Thuli CFUG is always managed by a group of elites and rich people who own large lands and are in the high caste of Nepalese society. Benefits and interests from community forests mainly flow into the rich’s pockets while the marginalized group such as the Dalit (the lowest caste) and landless people can only get limited or even no benefits. Besides, the real effectiveness of giving executive power to women is quite low in equity and fairness. Marginalization is deepened in this situation instead. More attention is required in this case.


Figure 1. Map of Thuli Community within Nepal

Thuli community (Figure 1) is situated in Panchkhal Municipality, northeast of Dhulikhel, of Kavre district in central Nepal (Sapkota, Keenan, &Ojha, 2018a). This community forest is governed through a forest management operational plan prepared by the User Group and a Constitution. And the governance closely follows the change of national forest policies (Pokharel, 2012). Thuli has undergone 3 phases (please see timeline) and successfully converted its previous deteriorated bare lands to current well-grown forests (Sapkota, Keenan, &Ojha, 2018b).

Panchkhal is a major vegetable-supplying region for Kathmandu. Like many other regions in Nepal, most people within Thuli community make a living in agriculture. Therefore, the wealth and socio-economic status of them depends on the size of landholding. Most households in Thuli have concerns about increasing agriculture productivity to maintain their livelihood. They collect some forest products such as firewood, grass and leaf litter in community forests to support their agricultural activities. The dependence on and usage of forests varies among different groups. It is found that the more lands people have, the more flexible and diversified of livelihood strategies they could choose (such as commercial agriculture and outmigration for a job), which also means less dependence on forests (Sapkota, Keenan, &Ojha, 2018a).

The caste system is deeply rooted in Nepalese society, impeding the overall development of Nepalese people – about one quarter of people are still in poverty (Wagle, 2017). In Thuli community, the Dalit group, considered as the lowest caste, is economically and socially marginalized, while the Brahmin and Chhetri castes, representing higher classes of Nepal, is continuously occupying superior economic and social position (Sapkota, Keenan, &Ojha, 2018a). Differences in occupations and landholdings are noticeable among these castes. The higher castes people are, the more social and economic power they have.

Gender discrimination is not ignorable in Nepalese society as well. There is a long history where men are always superior to women. Women in Nepal fall behind men in many areas such as literacy, labor division and access to as well as ownership of land. In some places, women are even regarded “polluted” and have to be spatially separated (Nightingale, 2011). 

In this case study, the Dalit, landless people and women are recognized as marginalized groups.

Timeline (decentralization phases in forest management) (Sapkota, Keenan, & Ojha, 2018b) 

1) Phase I (before 1960s): Birta phase and exploitation of the resources

  • Forest resources are managed by a group of privileged people called the “Birta owners”, rewarded the land by the ruling Rana dynasty due to their loyalty in the civil service.
  • The villagers used the forest area for cattle grazing.
  • Common features: forest deterioration, exposed soil, surface runoff, and landslides.

2) Phase II (from 1959 to 1994) nationalization phase and landscape restoration

  • 1959: Birta Abolition Act – forest degradation continued, uncontrolled cattle grazing and over-exploitation of forest products, people’s daily use of forest products were affected
  • 1967: forest area completely became bare land
  • 1988: Nepal’s Forest Sector Master Plan – community forests were meant to meet the bare subsistence needs of a community while protecting forestland (Thomas, 2008)
  • 1993: Forest Act – CFUGs could ‘‘develop, conserve, use and manage the Forest and sell and distribute the Forest Products independently” (Thomas, 2008)

3) Phase III (from 1994 until now): community forestry phase and multiple co-evolving interactions

  • 1994: Thuli forest was handed to the community forest user group
    • The key focus of community forestry in the beginning is "ensuring local peoples’ participation in conservation".
  • The early 2000s: Thuli CFUG made several institution reforms
    • In 2011: Thuli CFUG was restructured from male domination to a women-only committee

Tenure arrangements

Thuli CFUGs are given rights of access, management, use, and exclusion, but the ownership of this land is still retained by the Nepalese government, so that community forest lands cannot be sold or transferred (Thomas, 2008). This community forest is governed through a forest management operational plan prepared by the User Group and a Constitution. And the governance closely follows the change of national forest policies (Pokharel, 2012).

  • De jure rights are often curtailed in practice because of user uncertainty regarding their rights, local elite domination, or de facto control by District Forest Office staff” (Thomas, 2008, p.1455).

Administrative arrangements

The whole decision-making process takes place through discussion and interactions among the Advisory group, the General Assembly and the Executive Committee. Geographic representation is a fundamental method for nominating members to the Executive Committee so that all needs from different regions in Thuli village would be acknowledged. Every month, the Executive Committee meet together to consider and argue issues that need immediate attention as well as actions. If there are some issues that the jurisdiction of the Committee cannot solve, then these would be submitted to the General Assembly for further decision and approval (Sapkota, Keenan, & Ojha, 2018a).

Affected Stakeholders

Different landholder farmers (Sapkota, Keenan, & Ojha, 2018a)

  • Large landholder farmers (LLF, own more than 20 Ropanis of lands, including the high castes)
    • They have more diversified livelihood strategies as well as choices of cultivation practices than any other groups;
    • Easy access to forests;
    • Support protection-oriented management of community forests;
    • They can utilize institutional benefits from community forests through protection management of community forestry because the Executive Committee are usually dominated by this group;
    • The most active group involved in community forestry management, such as General Assembly meetings, celebrations of Environment Day, etc.;
    • Very powerful in decision-making.
  • Medium landholder farmers (MLF, own 10-20 Ropanis of lands)
    • A little bit limited livelihood strategies and choices of cultivation practices;
    • Easy access to forests;
    • Are positive about CFUG institution, support protection-oriented management of community forests;
    • limited power in decision-making.
  • Small landholder farmers (SLF, own less than 10 Ropanis of lands) and landless people (including the Dalit)
    • They have very limited living strategies to choose;
    • High dependence on forest lands;
    • Limited access to forests;
    • They prefer objectives of forests products utilization rather than protection;
    • Inactive in participating community forest management due to reasons that they do not have membership in the CFUG or they cannot use community forest in a meaningful way. For Dalit, they cannot attend the meetings

Local administrative departments (Sapkota, Keenan, & Ojha, 2018a)

  • The women-only Executive Committee 
    • Hold objectives including harvesting of trees for firewood extraction;
    • Their rights to decision-making are questioned and constrained by elite men.
  • The Advisory Group
    • Formed by members of the former Executive Committee;
    • Prefer the protection of community forests.
  • The General Assembly
    • Higher power in decision-making;
    • Their objectives are dependent on different situations.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

The Nepalese government

  • Nepal’s Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation 
  • Department of Forests

They put conserving and maintaining forests rather than improving livelihoods as their primary objective. The use of forest is a method toward that goal (Thomas, 2008). The government has ownership of all Nepalese lands. Every decision made by Thuli community should be passed through related government department.

The Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

  • National NGOs (such as FECOFUN, financially support Thuli CFUG)
  • Local NGOs (such as Love Green Nepal, financially support Thuli CFUG)

They can influence the decision-making process by providing financial support to the local community. Their main objective is improving local livelihoods (Sapkota, Keenan, &Ojha, 2018b).

Bilateral donor projects

  • The UK Department for International Development’s Livelihoods and Forestry Programme (LFP)

They aim to improve local livelihoods and social equity through community forestry (Thomas, 2008). They can influence decision-making process by providing financial support to the local community.


The devolution of power in forest management to Thuli community

The devolution of power in forest management to Thuli CFUG led to a great success in forest ecological condition restoration. Through the adoption of protection measures such as volunteer reporting, watchman, etc., community forestry improved the provision of the forest products to its users. The involvement of local community in forest management can also increase villagers’ sense of ownership and responsibility to protect their lands rather than unlimited extraction, which ultimately led to sustainable resource use. (Pandit, & Bevilacqua, 2011). The tragedy of commons is avoided in this way. 

However, the devolution power to the local community is restricted by the bureaucratic control. The local forest user group has limited autonomy in decision making. Operational plans are always difficult to be approved by the District Forest Office. There is a mismatch between the Thuli community and government sectors. For example, for local people, they need forests for multiple livelihood uses, such as fuel, fodder, and timber. However, for national policymakers, their initial intention is the restoration of lands.Besides, the conservation politics are reinforced through local elites. Conservation-oriented policies favor those who own private lands, while the access to forests for people who live upon community forests is restricted further in this way. This kind of conflict could greatly impair the benefits of local people and negatively influence poverty reduction (Sapkota, Keenan, &Ojha, 2018b).

Social-economic marginalization

The social marginalization becomes more serious through community forestry management.  Landless people and the Dalit gain no benefit from community forests even though they are close to the forest or be part of the User Group. They cannot attend the General Assembly meetings, which means any decision made through administrative sectors cares little about this group. However, the local elites and the rich can always obtain the institutional benefits because they are the major participants of CFUG and have more power to speak and make decisions (Timsina, 2003). And because landless people and the Dalit do not own lands, their jobs mostly require seasonal migration, leading to insufficient  parental care to their generations. Therefore, this disadvantage passes through next generations (Sapkota, Keenan, &Ojha, 2018a).

Empowerment of women

The increased participation from women in community forest management did make huge progress for local development, however, the real power of decision making for Thuli women is still restricted by other factors. For example, literacy and lack of self-confidence limit their involvement in decision-making body of CFUG. Besides, many Thuli villagers think that the women-only Executive Committee is just a strategy to attract outsiders to invest more money in this community. This committee is “purely cosmetic” and their decisions are always hindered by local elite men (Sapkota, et al., 2016).


Affected stakeholders

  • LLFs and local administrative sectors are the benefited groups. LLFs favour conservation plans of community forests, therefore, their lands could be protected, and they could gain more interests from it. Local administrative sectors are usually dominated by these LLFs and elites due to one reason that they give financial support to local decision-making departments. Therefore, they are also benefited.
  • Landless farmers as well as the Dalit are impaired groups.

Interested Stakeholders

  • The Nepalese government has supreme power over all forest lands. Thuli CFUG is governed through “a constitution and a forest management operational plan prepared by the User Group which needs to be approved by District Forest Office (DFO)” (Sapkota, Keenan, & Ojha, 2018b).
  • The primary objectives of NGO, as well as bilateral donor projects, are improving livelihoods. Because they are the major financial resources for Thuli community, their attitude influences greatly in the decision-making process.


Devolution of power in forest management to marginalized groups is greatly constrained due to uneven resources distribution, elite domination, and exclusion of marginalized people in decision making-process (Sapkota, Keenan, & Ojha, 2018a). The vulnerability of disadvantaged groups is embedded in structural factors of Nepalese society. To address that, more efforts in its institutional reform are needed. For example, to ensure more even distributions of resources, local people should insist on proportional representation in key institutions that control common resources. Besides, the government should make relative policies aiming at addressing social inequalities, through heavier taxation on the revenues of large estates, or land reform (Chomba, Trenue, & Sinclair, 2015). Another possible change could be providing marginalized groups an equal access to forest resources, job opportunities as well as financial capitals (Sapkota, Keenan, & Ojha, 2018a).


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