Mature forests, naïve policies: the need for critical policy engagement for transformative sustainability in Nepal’s community forestry (17073)
In Nepal, the news of Himalayan degradation in the late 60s elicited massive response in terms of reforestation and plantation projects. Both bi- and multi-lateral donors supported these initiatives, while local officials were also deeply concerned about the crisis. Since then, donor projects continued to catalyse local level innovations in community forestry, while the country also moved through radical political changes – notably the democratic change in 1990, followed by Maoist War and more recently the federal restructuring of the state.. As a result of these concrete on the ground innovations and enabling political environment, local Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) have received significant rights to use and manage the forests, especially following the Forest Act 1993.
Yet, as several studies in the hills suggest, CFUGs have been unable to generate livelihoods benefits from the forestry compared to the potential. The policy system is still not responsive to the needs of communities and to the emerging market opportunities for a variety of timber and non-timber forest products. Despite growing research and democratic reforms in governance, community forestry in practice has remained largely under protectionist regime – inhibiting active and wise use of the enhanced resource base. Lack of livelihood opportunities at local level has forced the village youths to leave the community for jobs abroad, and those who chose to stay in the village are also increasingly reluctant to invest efforts in forest management that is not yielding benefits as expected. All this suggests that social and institutional foundations of forest sustainability are at stake, and the situation is getting worse as the policy discourse fails to recognize the multi-faceted dimension of sustainability – in particular the livelihood benefits of forest. Building on the view that we need to go beyond the narrow view of sustainability to include social dimensions and community livelihoods, I argue that a critical policy engagement is essential linked to concrete research on the ground and also in alignment with the evolving channels of civic participation in governance. I also critique that current approaches to research and democratic engagement are not adequate, as they neither generate critical evidence, nor expose the lapses in political representation of the affected communities in shaping policies at different levels. Based on this, I suggest the idea of transformative sustainability to integrate critical action research and critical policy engagement as a potential way forward.