Achieving Rural Development While Protecting Local Livelihoods in Sindhupalchok, Nepal
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Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. With the majority of the population living in rural farming areas, developing the country proves to be difficult due to the fact that many communities rely on the forests to sustain themselves, and provide for their families. The main goal of the community forestry sector within the country is to change how much the civilians rely on the forest. By improving livelihoods within small communities and steering the population away from agriculture as a means to survive, development of the forests and rural communities can be made, more jobs can be created, and therefore lives can be improved. This sounds all well and good, but there are an immense number of obstacles before livelihoods are going to be changed. Nepal is known for the spirituality and religion within the country. Most people in Nepal practice Hinduism, which steers people away from materialistic lifestyles. Because the civilians are accustomed to living without much, the poorer communities are not unhappy. Combatting poverty in a country comprised of people who live off the land and provide for themselves is very difficult and requires several degrees of government, regional and local cooperation.
Nepal is a small country in South Asia located between China and India in the Himalayas, with a population of 28,982,771. The country is landlocked, measuring 800 meters long and 200 meters wide.Nepal is situated within the Indian subcontinent and Eurasia, resulting in a vast array of mountain ranges, cliffs valleys, and rivers. The lowest point in the country is 59 meters above sea level, and the highest point is 8,848 meters above sea level. Nepal is most commonly associated with Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. The total area of Nepal is 14.7 million hectares (mha), and the forests cover 6.61 mha (44.74%). The capital of Nepal is Kathmandu, situated in the eastern part of Nepal. It is the largest metropolis in Nepal, with a population of 1.4 million within the urban city, and 6 million in the urban agglomeration across the valley.
Little is known about the early history of Nepal, due to the underdevelopment of the country. However, there is evidence that people have been living in the region for at least 40,000 years. Before being named Nepal, it was frequently referred to as the Gorkha Kingdom. This didn’t change until the Gorkali released control of many areas within the country. Nepal’s history remains consistent through its entirety until the 20th century. Until then, Nepal was ruled by a series of dynasties. Ruled by kings and families, it was more of a dictatorship until recently.
A large part of its history is the rivals between medieval kingdoms for control of the nation. After decades of feuding and fighting, modern Nepal was unified in the second half of the 18th century, when the separate states became unified to form the current country status.
The revolution of 1951 was a turning point for the government of Nepal. This revolution was a political movement against the rule of the Rana dynasty. This marked the beginning of the democratic movements, and resulted in the immediate abolition of the hereditary system in Nepal.
Due to the level of underdevelopment of the country, Nepal has many different languages spoken. According to the 2011 census data, 123 languages are spoken in Nepal. The diversity originates from three major groups: isolated indigenous languages, Indo-Aryan, and Tibeto-Burman. The mother language is Nepalese, spoken by the majority of the population. The languages are as follows:
In addition to spoken languages, there are also four indigenous sign languages home to Nepal. Being that Nepal is a very spiritual place, many civilians choose not to speak as a sign of devotion to their respective gods. These people do however use sign language; thus, the country has developed at least four.
There are several religions practiced in Nepal, but the most commonly practiced is Hinduism. The county regards Shiva as the guardian deity, derived from Hindu culture. Nepal houses the Lord Shiva temple, an internationally famous and spiritual place that attracts people from all over the world to come for pilgrimage.
The following are the main religions practiced in Nepal:
The culture within the country is largely influenced by the practiced religions. The two most widely-practiced religions (Hindu and Buddhism) go back more than two millennia. There are schools for Buddhism and many ancient temples that are still used today.
Nepal is divided into 7 states and 75 districts. Within those districts are 744 local units and 481 villages. The provinces have been created based on the geography, economic efficiency, and resources of the area . The states of Nepal do not have names; they are numbered from one to seven, from most influential to least influential. The districts and villages within the states however, do possess names.
Surviving on just the existing jobs in Nepal is very difficult. In the poorer communities, finding employment that services a livable wage is hard to come by. By having tourism, there are many related enterprises for the community to benefit from, such things include:
The most significant contributor in 2016 was the providing of beds (38242) and the trekking guides (13049).
Sindhupalchok is the 3rd province in the 13th district of Nepal, with a population of 287,798 in 2011. There are 82 towns and villages within the province, Chautara, Bahrabise, Melamchi, Jalbire, and Tatopani are the major towns. Although it is in close proximity to the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, it is one of the least developed districts in Nepal. Tourism (trekking, hotels, etc.) contributes to the economy of the province, but those who are not in proximity to climbing areas depend completely on agriculture for survival. The yield is very low due to the irregular topography, and adds to the struggle of the more rural communities.
Like the vast majority of the country, most civilians practice Hinduism and Buddhism. Language is a barrier because due to the fact that most people live in extremely rural areas that have different languages and dialects, making communication between communities and regional officials more difficult.
Nepal has an everlasting history about the rampant poverty in the country. In an effort to mitigate this problem, the government is pushing to develop the more rural areas of Nepal – Sindhupalchok being a large contributor because it is one of the least developed districts. The government is seeking to do this by developing the forests and villages in an effort to increase the population and attraction of the region and alleviate some of the suffrage and struggle of the poorer communities.
This is a complicated problem because although development is an attractive option, it threatens the ways of life, forest, and culture of the people, who rely on the agriculture to survive. Converting any land threatens their way of life by subtracting from their crop yields and farming area, which is sparse enough in the hilly and mountainous province. Not to mention the numerous legal barriers (i.e., tenure).
Previously, the poorer populations have not had a voice in the decisions regarding community forestry. In modern Nepal, the rich households have more power in voting than any number of poor communities. So, the government pushing that more money should be allocated to the poor is an unpopular argument.
Essentially, the poorer communities do not want development per say, but rather more rights to use the forest as they see fit, and in turn they can better sustain themselves. The rich communities want more development (leads to a more attractive environment), and they hold more votes than the poor households. So, it is the wishes of the poor versus the wishes of the rich, and the government must find a way to develop the country, while preserving, and ideally improving, the lives of the poor. Since the Sherpa are of the poor community in Sindhupalchok, they have little recognized rights when it comes to votes.
In recent years, community forestry has become an important element in the lives of the Nepalese, and especially the Sherpa. Because the concept is relatively new, it has taken more than 10 years to get going. To cover a majority of the country and user groups, community forestry in Nepal has been divided into three institutional structures:
The meso-level activities have been of particular importance for the poorer communities. It allows the scaling up of community forestry, allowing officials to reorient their skills toward co-management, extension, and assistance rather than their previous role.
By dividing community forestry into these three groups, the tasks and key roles are better defined, and objectives are more easily achieved. The main goal of community forestry in Nepal is to include all user groups. Previously, it was the rich that hold more votes and more power in respect to decisions, but the institutions and legislative documents in creation now are aiming to include all user groups, and give equal power to all.
The community forestry programs in Sindhupalchok fight on the side of the poor households. To date, community forestry has had a positive effect on livelihoods in the region. Some direct and indirect impacts on rural livelihoods include:
The community forest user groups (CFUGs) contribute the most to the poor communities. There are over 4,500 CFUGs in Nepal, and they have raised over 120 million dollars from non-forest and forest resources. Meetings are held and votes are made for various projects. The representation of the poorer population in meetings and council organizations is becoming larger and larger.
Infrastructure projects supported by CFUGs are:
Infrastructure projects already funded by CFUGs are:
Due to all these projects, community forestry has a net positive effect on the lives of the people in Sindhupalchok.
There are some discrepancies that hold back the activities of CFUGs and other organizations. These inconsistencies exist as follows:
These things exist because of the level of poverty in Sindhupalchok. There are no concrete ways no measure income in the poor communities, because some people work for themselves to survive. This is why data for income is not concrete, and not a good indicator of level of improvement. Different community forestry groups have separate interests and goals, which makes it difficult for all the goals to be achieved.http://ebrary.ifpri.org/utils/getfile/collection/p15738coll2/id/16969/filename/16970.pdf
Tenure arrangements in Nepal are not an ancient practice. Prior to the implementation of various community forestry programs, people living by the forests were able to collect most forest products for free, whenever they wanted. This access has been restricted to improve forest conditions. Improvements in governance practices has led to changes in governance outcomes. Some of the benefits include, but are not limited to:http://ebrary.ifpri.org/utils/getfile/collection/p15738coll2/id/16969/filename/16970.pdf
Because Sindhupalchok is underdeveloped, the land tenure is vague. Previous to the democratic revolution in 1951, all land was said to be owned by the Rana dynasty. Since then, most of the land has not been legally claimed.Only 2,360 ha of land are registered as private as private forests. So, many user groups and organizations have to carefully plan what they are going to do, because the definite boundaries of tenure do not necessarily exist. This is why development is a problem. Because most land is not technically owned by any communities (more so occupied), the government may want to develop an area, but not know that there are people that rely heavily on the resources.
There is a type of land tenure where land is regarded as common property of the local ethnic group. This is called Kipat.Because the government is said to own all the land, there are small things groups can do to claim some property. The ethnic group manages and runs the tenure, and adopt their own rules, such as:
This system is uncommon in urban areas of Nepal, but in Sindhupalchok it is very common due to the large rural communities.
The Community Forestry Act of 1993 was the first legislative movement towards decentralization. It gives local people the right to harvest and manage the forest resources, where the rights were restricted previously. It also allowed local communities to take full control of government forest patches, under the supervision of a community forestry program.
Regulation 1995 is the Community Forestry Act re-written to include more rights that belong to the Community Forestry User Groups (CFUGs). The rights are as follows:
This right encompasses all of the decision-making regarding CFUGs. These rights include electing officials to represent the executive committee, punishing members that break their rules, revising the constitution whenever they see fit, the right to form a CFUG whenever they please, and dismantling any CFUG.
This refers to the use of the forest resources specifically. These rights include freely fixing the price of any resource, seek support from any organization, grow cash crops with their forests, make optimal use of the forest, have no limit to the forest area that can be handed over to communities, and raise funds by various means.
Regulation 1995 was an important step in giving rights to community members. Because anybody can form a CFUG, there is ample opportunity to rally and protect the forest they live in, in an effort to relieve the rich of some of their power. This was important for Sindhupalchok because the only groups that the region can form are CFUGs, due to the level of poverty, and low population in the district.
The Master Plan was created by the Forestry Sector (MPFS). It was the first plan that saw the need for local participation and engagement of forest user groups.It was so new that it was supported by several international agencies. The reason it is called the Master Plan is because it is a 25-yearlong plan. The immense time frame comes from a long-term development plan.
There are two kinds of stakeholders in this case study. There are affected, which are people whose livelihoods and families are affected by what happens to the resources. Anybody else is an interested stakeholder, their dinner is not going to be affected by the outcome.
The affected stakeholders are the Sherpa people of Sindhupalchok. They are the only ones that rely on the resources and forest products to survive (along with other ethnic groups in the district).
Federation of Community Forest Users in Nepal (FECOFUN)
This organization was founded in 1995. It is an NGO that is important for Sindhupalchok. This group lobbies to protect the rights of the community forest users, which is nearly the whole population of Sindhupalchok. The goal of this organization is to protect (as stated) and develop the community forestry sector in poor countries in Asia.There are 75 total districts (in 2001), and plays a large international role. It is the only federation in Asia comprised of forest user.
Department of Forestry (DoF)
The Department of Forestry follows working plans based in British India.There has been lots of expansion over the last century. Originally there were 12 district offices, and today there are 74, with over 7,000 staff members.
The goal of the Do Fist to restore some of the deforestation that has occurred over the last 70 years or so. By restoring some forests, the DoF wishes to increase the number of exports, and make more profits, hopefully to alleviate the poverty status of Sindhupalchok, and Nepal.
The DoF used to patrol and protect the forests due to the deforestation following 1951. Now, due to the increasing presence of CFUGs and community groups, they are only technical advisors.The DoF is currently not expected to punish and control the people, but rather act as facilitators and guide people.
Out of country interests
Due to the fact that Sindhupalchok does not export many resources, there is little interest in the resources it has to offer. The deforestation has destroyed the only real product (timber) the region has to offer.
This section describes what each group below wishes to have happen in the coming years.
The Sherpa people living in Sindhupalchok wish to be better represented in the CFUGs and other organizations. The fact that the rich get a bigger vote in decisions regarding the country is upsetting, and better representation would allow their wishes to be heard.
In regards to development, of course the people would love for their lives to be improved and wealthier. However, they depend on the forest to survive, and they do not want the forest converted into anything. Many of the Sherpa feel that they are living a sacred life, with little monetary goods, and are content with that. Although to the outside world they are living in poverty, in their eyes they are doing really well.
Due to the confusion of the fall of the Rana dynasty in 1951, a lot of deforestation occurred within the country. Because of this, a very small amount of resources are being exported from Sindhupalchok. Outside investors would like to see the quality of the forest improve, so that perhaps some money can be made in the future.
The Government of Nepal ultimately wants the country to be wealthier. In order for this to be achieved, the government wants to develop the poorest parts of the country, such as Sindhupalchok. This means converting the forests and rural areas to have more hotels, housing, and room for businesses to increase income. The government also wants the income per capita to increase, which would be provided by the envisioned infrastructure (ie, hotels).
The CFUGs have had some success in campaigning for the rights of the poor people. The various groups have raised a significant amount of money to enhance local livelihoods (120 m.) Although slowly, the representation of the poorer households are becoming increasingly larger in the meetings of the community forestry groups.
Women are also becoming more present in the community forestry sector. Currently, women only represent 25% of the executive committee positions in CFUGs, but it is an improvement on the previous number – 0. It is a constant struggle to get more women in the executive positions, but it is slowly making progress. One strategy is to have CFUGs made up of only women. There are several in Sindhupalchok alone, and they operate successfully.
Although progress is being made, it is slow. Being that Nepal is new in the democratic world, there are many things that have yet to be accomplished.
The rich still have more voting power over the poor, even though there is more than double the number off low income population to high income. In order to change this, some major legal actions need to take place, which is not a priority before other important issues, such as development.
The cost of the community forestry operations outweighs the benefits to the poor communities in many cases.Although the CFUGs donate money to the poor communities, some of that has to make up for the cost the poor households have to pay to run the community forestry programs themselves. The poor and the rich have to pay the same amount, which hurts the poor communities greatly.
There are other aspects that affect the success of achieving rights for the poor, including the following:
Because of the poverty in Sindhupalchok, accurate data collection is hard to come by. This makes it hard to make arguments, when the data used can be contested by the opposing party.
Different opinions about long-term community forestry management goals
It is a good thing that there are many community forestry groups, however, many of these groups have differing opinions on what needs to be dealt with. With this, focusing on helping the poor might only be the intention of a portion of the groups.
Land tenure insecurity
This is due to the democracy revolution in 1951. The exact tenureship of the land is questionable, which makes it difficult to claim for resources.
Difficulties of implementing community forestry policies
Sindhupalchok is a very vast region with dozens of small villages sprawled all over the mountainous landscape. It is because of this that enforcing laws and regulations is very difficult. The country would have to employ a large number of legal enforcers to patrol the villages constantly, which is not feasible given the financial situation of Nepal.
This section is recommendations from my point of view on the case study.
If the poorer households had more of a presence in the meetings regarding development and expansion of rural areas, then perhaps some of the issues that affect them the most will be brought up and focused on. Along the same note, the rich and the poor should have equal voting power. If the rich continue to possess more power, then their wishes, and projects that will benefit them the most will be accomplished before anything else.
Also, it would make sense if each region had their own voting power. For instance, the people of Sindhupalchok would vote for policies existing in Sindhupalchok. This would not totally benefit everyone (especially for other regions with more even numbers of poor/rich people), but for the poorer regions, the solutions for the poor would be decided by them.
The land tenure issue should also be improved upon. I realize it is a huge task, but if there were more clear boundaries regarding ownership of lands, then it would be clear to all involved who is/is not allowed to harvest or use the land in question.
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