The Ganeshman Singh Forestry Award
You might be surprised to learn that, in spite of urbanisation and the pressures on rural areas, Nepal has set an example to the rest of the world in what can be achieved in reforestation.
A 2019 study by the East-West Center showed that forest cover in Nepal between 1992-2016 increased from 26% to 45%, as evidenced by comparative Landsat satellite images. How has this been achieved? In large part through the collective efforts of Community Forest User Groups (CFUG's) to whom the management of government-owned land was delegated following the Forest Act of 1993. Under the terms of the Act, CFUG's are allowed to acquire, possess, transfer or manage property. They are also permitted to sell and distribute forest products according to operational plans approved by government officials.
By May 2020, there were 22,266 CFUG's in Nepal managing 2.24 million hectares of country's forest resources (35% of the total) and directly benefiting 2.91 million households. That is around 33% of the total population. There are 516 CFUG's in our operational area, Province 2 in the southeast of the country. The influence of these grassroots groups has become massive, extending to human rights issues and community participation in the management of natural resources and access to social justice. They have developed local and national networks, displaying sophisticated decision making and implementing mechanisms. In recent years, they have become critical players in the national response to natural disasters, including COVID. They are well placed to know where emergency relief provided by the government and non-governmental organisations should best be directed.
An outcome like this cannot have arisen if the forest planning and management had been in any way haphazard. Instead, operational guidelines have been produced and criteria and indicators of success developed. These have been linked to the annual award of the Ganeshman Singh Forest Conservation Award (GSFC Award) to the three most successful CFUGs nationally. The prize is awarded based upon results-based performance in forestry management and group mobilisation, decision-making processes, good governance, social development and transparency in line with community forest guidelines. Specifically, the criteria include:
- A comparison of the land before handover to the CFUG compared with its present state in terms of forest cover (natural and plantation)
- Previous year's income from forest products
- Percentage of expenditure on community development and forest
- Percentage of expenditure on administration
- Management mechanism of forest, wildlife and soil conservation
- Forest product distribution system - and how the products are distributed fairly to needy people
- Non-timber forest products income generating activities - incomes and employment
- Women's participation in forestry activities
This is a prize that isn't awarded lightly and this year first place went to our colleagues at Bhatighadi CFUG, the community area that we have been supporting since June last year. The award comes with a purse of NPR100,000 (taxed at 25%!) which equates to £625 and a plaque to be truly proud of given that Bhatighadi CFUG was selected out of hundreds of nominees across Nepal. The award was presented at a special ceremony in Kathmandu with the Prime Minister himself officiating. The DFO Dhanusha District, Sunil Karna, and Bhatighadi CFUG chairman, Mr. Shyam Gole (pictured) went to receive the prize that can now be invested in the CFUG's future work.
Of course, there have been other stakeholders apart from the CFUG, namely Pipal Tree, our NGO implementing partner The Mithila Wildlife Trust (MWT), the Nepal Department of Forestry and the Gemma and Chris McGough Charitable Foundation that has contributed a staggering £200k towards the 50 hectare reforestation programme. Well done to everyone!
Progress update - July to September 2021
Under the terms of our Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the MWT, we are provided with quarterly progress updates including a comprehensive financial statement. The latest report covers the project activities in two adjacent areas the first managed by Bhatighadi CFUG and the other by Murgiya CFUG. Here are the headlines:
Bhatighadi Community Forest (original site - June 2020 to present):
Bhatighadi Community Forest is located at Mithila Municipality-4, Dhanusha, 30km northeast of Janakpur, the capital city of Province No 2. Before our involvement, the CFUG had attempted to restore a 105-hectare river bank site by planting saplings, but this failed due to lack of resources to protect and irrigate the saplings. This time around, we have worked together to plant almost 39 hectares over two phases. This involved a total of 57,751 saplings of 25 native species, as provided free of charge by the Department of Forestry.
Aside from the environmental benefit, the social impact was massive as it provided employment to 164 people who were desperate for work during a time of COVID lockdowns. The community's sense of ownership is very high, as reflected in how just 30 of these saplings were lost during the wildfires that swept Nepal during the summer; that was all due to people being on standby, ready to intervene to protect the fruits of their labours.
The principal activities carried out during this latest reporting period were re-planting, site protection and research.
For re-planting, it was inevitable that many of the original saplings would not survive in the poor quality soil and harsh conditions. Indeed, in anticipation of a 30-40% mortality rate we brought 8,500 replacement saplings to the site. In the end, we were delighted that the actual mortality was at the lower end of this range, so, just 6,800 saplings had to be replaced. This follow-up of sapling welfare will need to continue for the next five years, with sapling re-planting an ongoing need.
Regarding site protection, this area is an open-grazing free zone from which domestic animals are banned. However, we are finding that deer - and especially the large Blue Bull - are coming to the plantation area in greater numbers. This is a very positive sign in one respect but comes with a downside in that these animals love to dine on saplings. For this reason, the site has had to be secured by placing additional (reusable) cement posts and barbed wire to protect the saplings until they reach a sufficient degree of maturity.
The research element to the work is important as the plantation area lies in the "Chure" hills just to the north of Nepal's southern plains, the "Terai". The Chure hills are considered to be the lifeline of the Terai, since they act as a water reservoir. Without forests, the Terai could rapidly experience desertification. So, MWT has employed the services of local students who have a background in forestry and environmental studies to mark out one hectare of the site as a research plot. Twenty different approaches to water retention are being trialled and at the end of the study we will know which species and approaches work the best towards maintaining and restoring this vital ecosystem.
As a financial note, the budget for the period 1st July - 30th September was £69,800. Expenditure has been £69,723.
Murgiya Hariyali site (extension site - March 2021 to present)
Murgiya Hariyali community forest is located at Dhanushadham Municipality-9, Murgiya settlement, Dhanusha, 33km northeast of Janakpur, adjacent to the above site. This project extension added a further 12 hectares to our reforestation programme. It is an important habitat as it has a year-round water supply that attracts a range of wildlife, including the hyena, leopard, sloth bear and wild elephants. In fact, the last remaining isolated herd of wild elephants in Province 2 spends most of its time in this locality. That increases the risk of human-elephant conflict in the area. Furthermore, the wildlife uses the Murgiya River (also known as Baluwa River) to travel south to reach Dhanushadham Protected Forest. MWT has had that Forest declared an "open-grazing-free" and "illegal-tree-felling-free" zone. Once the Murgiya Hariyali site is restored, our major goal will be to connect it with the Dhanushadham Protected Forest by reforesting the Murgiya river banks to create a 12 km wildlife corridor. That will be a ten-year programme but one that will deliver protection to the wildlife and reduce the risk of conflicts so that humans can go about their business in harmony with the environment.
The first quarter of the project period (April-21 to June-2021) included community interaction, mapping of the land, invasive scrub clearance, and purchase of a tractor and a water tank for transportation of water for irrigation purposes. In the latest quarter the major activities included continuation of scrub clearance, distance marking for plantation, pitting, transportation of fertile soil, sapling plantation and protection with cement posts and chain link mesh. It should be noted that 50% of the land area had invasive scrub which, although hard work to clear, on the plus side indicates an underlying soil fertility. The Murgiya CFUG has exceeded expectations, working diligently in spite of the hot sun to complete the various tasks. And they have been supported by four representatives of Bhatighadi CFUG who spent two days on the site, transferring know-how.
In total, 17,952 pits (half a metre across and deep) were dug, filled with fertile soil and saplings planted. The first two elements are of course heavy work, the third element requires some finesse and training, provided by the Department of Forestry. The hugely significant occasion for this community was marked by a ceremony with local dignitaries and all major stakeholders taking part. The final element of the work has been preparation of the cement posts (on-site to reduce costs) and chain mesh fencing material to prevent grazing.
Overall, we have been very pleased with this CFUG and its new and engaged Chairman. The members are from very diverse ethnicities but share a common extreme poverty. They were particularly pleased to have paid employment coming on the eve of major religious festivals which, like festivals elsewhere in the world, can be very expensive times of the year.
At these two sites we have planted a total of 75,703 saplings!