NDF - Financing for climate change and development projects

Welcome income for local communities from protected forests in Nepal

New sources of income for local communities in Nepal
New sources of income for local communities in Nepal. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN)
Wildlife Conservation Nepal’s natural resource management specialist Sanjeevani Yonzon Shrestha (with the laptop) has been involved in the training of local villagers.
Wildlife Conservation Nepal’s natural resource management specialist Sanjeevani Yonzon Shrestha (with the laptop) has been involved in the training of local villagers. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN)
Practical training has encouraged women to play an active role in managing tree nurseries and forest plantations.
Practical training has encouraged women to play an active role in managing tree nurseries and forest plantations. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN)
The project’s nurseries grow high-value tree species as well as plants that yield valuable essential oils.
The project’s nurseries grow high-value tree species as well as plants that yield valuable essential oils. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN)
Thousands of local schoolchildren have participated in lessons highlighting the ecological impacts of sustainable forest management.
Thousands of local schoolchildren have participated in lessons highlighting the ecological impacts of sustainable forest management. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN)
2.02.2016

Thousands of community forests have been established around Nepal to protect soils, watersheds and biodiversity by preventing forest degradation, flooding and erosion. But for forest conservation to be truly sustainable, ways must be found for local people to benefit from these forests.

Over the last two years NCF has been backing a project designed to build up small-scale businesses based on the commercial utilisation of non-timber forest products in community forests in four regions: Rasuwa and Makwanpur in the Himalayan foothills; and Nawalparasi and Chitwan in Nepal’s southern lowlands.

The project has been primarily realised in Nepal by the NGO Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN) in partnership with Danish Forestry Extension (DFE), who have decades of experience of forestry development in Nepal. 

“Earlier local people mainly saw community forests as protected forests shut off behind gates, but thanks to this project they now see them more as ‘our forests’, offering various useful products and opportunities for income,” explains WCN’s natural resource management specialist Sanjeevani Yonzon Shrestha. The project has aimed to build social, economic, and environmental resilience among marginalized forest dependent communities by providing skills and business opportunities that will help them to meet climate challenges.

Essential oils from Nepalese forests

The project’s primary saleable products are aromatic essential oils distilled from the leaves of two forest plants: patchouli, cultivated using agroforestry methods in the lowlands; and wintergreen, which grows wild in upland forests. “There is great potential for sales of patchouli and wintergreen oils organically produced in Nepal in international cosmetics markets including Europe and Australia,” says Shrestha. “It helps that these products have high value but low weight and volume for transportation.”

Since the project began in spring 2013 some 700,000 patchouli seedlings have been grown in the two lowland regions, which share a mobile oil distillation unit. Patchouli oil distillation is due to start this winter. Each of the upland regions has its own distillation unit due to start producing wintergreen oil later in 2016. Production and income forecasts are promising.

The project has produced practical Nepali-language pamphlets for growers, and trained hundreds of local workers in sustainable forest management, agroforestry, organic certification and essential oil distillation. DFE, the Nepali firm Chaudhary Biosys Nepal (CBNL) and their Danish agroforestry counterparts Biosynergy have all contributed their expertise on technical and marketing issues.  

More than 200,000 trees of high-value species have meanwhile been planted in the project’s tree nurseries and degraded areas of community forests, including cinnamon, neem, bamboo and vitamin-rich amala fruit trees. “Investing in nurseries and community forests is like paying into a pension fund that will provide income in a few years’ time,” says Shrestha. “The project’s Chitwan nursery is doing especially well – also supporting other community forests.” 

Raising awareness among the next generation

“In a parallel environmental education programme, 6,000 local primary and secondary school pupils have learnt how community forests can be sustainably managed to provide usable resources as well as ecological services including climate adaptation and mitigation,” adds Shrestha. “In this work it’s important to avoid scientific jargon, instead explaining concepts like climate change and biodiversity conservation by using familiar examples of the problems evident in their own environment.”

Improved cooking stoves have additionally been installed in some 200 households through the project, cutting firewood use and carbon emissions by up to 80%, while also reducing health problems caused by old, smoky stoves. In the upland regions specially designed metal cooking stoves also help to heat family homes. “The new stoves have led to real improvements in the lives of local people,” emphasises Shrestha.

Unforeseen challenges have inevitably arisen as the project has progressed. To reduce serious damage caused by browsing deer, portable “flying fences” had to be acquired to protect sensitive saplings, while planting schedules wereadapted in response to shifting pre-monsoon rain patterns.

Unexpected spinoffs from biofuel briquettes to plum jam

On the plus side, Shrestha explains how several unanticipated profitable opportunities have also arisen, thanks to the way the project has brought businesses, experts and local villagers together, with everyone keeping an open mind on possible new ways to use forest resources. “The project has really opened a lot of doors, helping local communities to realise many ideas that can improve their lives,” she says.

In an initiative brought into the project by WCN, weeds collected in community forests are compressed with clay in special moulds to make biofuel briquettes. The briquettes have proven popular with local households, and also sold well in local markets and in Kathmandu as an alternative to fossil cooking fuels.

During the project WCN and DFE also advised local villagers that locally growing wild plums could be harvested and made into jam for sale in Nepal and abroad. Training will be provided for keen jam-makers in 2016 through WCN’s volunteer network. After hosting forestry experts, international volunteers and other project visitors, local families also realised they could set up viable homestay businesses to improve their income, especially near Chitwan’s well-known national park and popular trekking trails in Rasuwa.

Empowering women

The new activities triggered by the project have enlivened community forest user groups, and particularly encouraged women to get more involved. “Members of our women grower groups have confessed that they used to sit quietly during meetings, but since they’ve become more active in nurseries and plantations they can now confidently contribute more in such meetings – and they are even actively seeking positions in the community forest governing boards,” says Shrestha.

“While giving local communities new perspectives on their forests, the NCF project has also opened many doors for us at WCN as a conservation organisation – including new angles for cooperation with business partners. It’s all about finding a balance and being flexible. We can’t just focus on conservation and exclude people from forests. People have to benefit where forests are conserved, otherwise protection will not be a success. Different opportunities can be found in different localities, and solutions must be tailored to local conditions,” she adds.

Shrestha rues that even with a nine-month extension to November 2015 the project still feels too short when it comes to demonstrating concrete results – not least because of the impacts of the devastating earthquake the struck Nepal in April 2015. But she emphasises that such projects should be seen as kick-starts for the growth of viable businesses based on sustainably harvested forest products:  “Such projects are not handouts. Local people are equal partners, and they have to be fully committed to make it all work.Though we’ve had to overcome many challenges, everyone has benefited, and it’s been totally worth it!”

* NCF has contributed approximately €360,000 towards the project, whose total costs are expected to amount to some €450,000.

By Fran Weaver
 

More information

Link to project webpage: Developing Low-Cost, Community-Based Innovative Solutions to Mitigate and Adapt with Climate Change while Creating Viable Local Business Solutions [NDF C3 D13]