This post is based upon an update report received from Dev Narayan Mandal, Founder/Chairman of our partner NGO in Nepal, the Mithila Wildlife Trust (MWT). Since June last year, MWT has been implementing a reforestation project at Bhatighadi community forest area and, since March 2021, another at the nearby Murgiya Hariyali community area. The sites are very close to one another and lie in the Chure range of hills to the north of Dhanusha District, Province 2, southeast Nepal. The primary funder for the project has been the Gemma and Chris McGough Charitable Foundation (UK), the other partner being Nepal's Department of Forestry. The key stakeholder though is the Community Forest Users Group (CFUG) that manages the area. Without their collaboration, not only would the project not run but also there would be no guarantee of sustainability in the future protection of the new forest.
This aspect of our project is a contribution towards the reforestation of a 102.5-hectare site that is managed by Bhatighadi CFUG. The CFUG has already been able to restore 64 hectares of this area through declaring it an "open-grazing-free zone" (allowing natural regeneration) and by planting some trees. However, they lacked the resources to complete the work. We had originally planned to assist with a further 32 hectares but our local partners have been able to extend this to 38.8 hectares while remaining within budget.
The project, in conjunction with the Division Forest Office (DFO) has so far been conducted in two phases:
- July 2020 - March 2021: The restoration of 16.2 hectares of riverbank, planting 21,951 saplings from 25 native species. The process involved planting, irrigation, maintenance, protection and constant patrolling. The latter element meant that only 30 saplings were lost in the recent wildfires that affected 40 of Nepal's 77 Districts.
- May 2021 - present: A second phase covering 22.6 hectares, necessitating shrub clearance, and ground preparation that involved use of organic manure, rice husk and the import of fertile soil from elsewhere on the Terai. The shrub clearance is being done in two phases so as not to totally remove the cover available for birdlife pending maturing of the new plantation. 31,980 new pits were dug, making these larger than in Phase 1 as experience indicates that this reduces sapling mortality. To date, not a single sapling has died in Phase 2.
Both phases provided work to desperate people from impoverished communities during COVID lockdowns. For the second phase, this had to be managed carefully to ensure that workers were still cared for through food relief when compelled to isolate. At the same time, there was a motivation to get the work done quickly during the rainy season to reduce the need for irrigation. To that end, CFUG members contributed one extra daily hour of labour time.
Cooperation with the DFO has been excellent in the form of technical advice and provision of saplings. The DFO has donated 32,000 saplings for Phase 2, 6,400 more than agreed at the start of the project. Moreover, Mithila Wildlife Trust and DFO have provided refresher training produced a 9-step planting guide, with DFO-funded posters, for the CFUG.
In total, both phases have now resulted in 53,751 saplings from 32 species planted across 38.8 hectares. This has provided employment to 164 people on a rotational basis.
The Murgiya Hariyali restoration project will see the reforestation of a barren 12-hectare riverbank site in the Chure range of hills, very close to Bhatighadi. It is an important site as it has its own water supply, the adjacent Baluwa river. The river provides water to the local community and to farmers up to 15km downstream and to the south of the site. The river is also vital to wildlife as a water hole, frequented by animals ranging from sloth bears, leopards, hyenas to a herd of wild elephants in Province 2 that is dwindling in numbers. This competition for water raises the possibilities of human-wildlife conflict. There is a further threat in the form of encroachment by trespassers and by the "sand-mafia", dangerous elements who illegally dredge Nepal's rivers for sand that is used in the burgeoning construction industry. The project will ensure sustainability and security for legitimate users, both human and animal. The planting of trees increases the water retention capacity of the land in a part of Nepal where water is becoming increasingly precious. It will also reduce the risk of soil erosion and flooding.
The first phase of the project has seen the vital community interaction with the CFUG and community members. Previously, villagers had tried to restore the forest but this has failed due to their not having the resources needed to transport soil, irrigate and fence off the land. The community meetings explained the plan and the support we would offer, but, most importantly, the need to protect the forest after the project has been completed. These interactions were very welcome and the community responded with excitement.
Another important initial activity has been a Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping of the site, conducted by three trained surveyors who delineated the project area. The community also agreed routes that could be used legitimately for foraging for firewood and fodder that would not impinge on the plantation sites. This fitted in with the subsequent clearance of invasive scrub. Members of Bhatighadi CFUG came to support the community and share experience on clearing scrub and pitting. The land is very sandy (largely from river silt), so it is easy to dig, but the pits need to be filled with fertile soil from elsewhere so that the saplings can take root and thrive. The next requirement is to place cement posts and fencing to prevent wildlife from eating the saplings and to deter human trespassers.
As a footnote, a tractor and tanker provided by Pipal Tree through a private donor has been indispensable in transporting soil and in irrigation at both Bhatighadi and at Murgiya. It has even been put to good use in supporting the planting of trees along the highway, a useful cooperation with the local authorities.
Both projects should be completed by July 2022. However, our programme will continue beyond that as we extend community forest areas, including an ambitious reforestation of the 15km length of the Baluwa river as it runs south across the Terai (Nepal's southern plains). This will provide a wildlife corridor that connects the Chure with the Dhanushadham Protected Forest, the last surviving piece of virgin forest in the eastern Terai.