The World Bank/WBI’s CBNRM Initiative
Case Received: February 5, 1998
Authors: Ann Koontz and Bhishma Subedi
Fax: +1 202 293-4598
Community Based Natural Resource Management in Nepal Nontimber Forest Products and Biodiversity Conservation
Humla District is located in the far northwest corner of Nepal. This remote area of Nepal with its unusual confluence of geologic, climatic, and biological factors has exceptional ecosystem diversity and biogeographic isolation, which creates a region of high floral diversity. Its renewable resources include the Karnali watershed, subtropical, temperate and alpine forests, and alpine pastures. Humla and other areas like it in Nepal are rich in medicinal and aromatic plants - nontimber forest products (NTFPs) that have been traditionally harvested by the local Tibetan and Hindu communities for subsistence and trade uses. For poor isolated communities in Nepal the trade of NTFPs is an economic necessity, but at the same time an environmental downfall, as increased pressure to overharvest the NTFPs is placed on the communities by outside traders. Appropriate Technology International (ATI) and the Asia Network for Small-Scale Agricultural Bioresources (ANSAB) began assisting Humla with value-adding NTFP processing and biodiversity conservation in 1994 in an attempt to provide incentives for sustainable harvesting of NTFPs.
This program is closely linked to His Majesty's Government's effort to promote community forestry. The Humla project has adopted an integrated conservation and development approach. The key feature of this approach is that it does not attempt to divide biodiversity-rich landscapes into areas formally reserved for biodiversity conservation versus areas for human populations. Rather, the program treats the landscape as an integrated whole, attempting to develop direct links between biodiversity and the surrounding communities. The experiment, which includes institutional innovations at the local and national levels, is beginning to show results and the experience is now being spread to other districts in Nepal.
Nepal and specifically Humla have progressive community forestry laws and a rich variety of high value NTFPs, yet the Community Forestry User Groups (CFUG) management plans were not including NTFPs. ANSAB and ATI played a catalytic role in changing this and Humla became the first district where approved CFUG agreements included NTFPs. Demographic and socio-economic pressures in Humla were making sustainable management of NTFPs difficult if the people continued to only trade lower value raw materials. Tenure alone was not going to change this dynamic so ATI and ANSAB helped Humla become one of the few areas doing value adding processing. The first community owned essential oil processing company in Nepal, Humla Oils, Pvt. Ltd. was established. Threats to biodiversity include overharvesting of NTFPs, fodder and fuelwood collection, and grazing practices. Mr. Bhishma Subedi, Biodiversity Program Manager for ANSAB, and Ms. Ann Koontz, Program Director for ATI's NTFP Program have been involved with the Humla project for the last four years. Ms. Koontz took part in the original planning mission as the enterprise expert and has overseen ATI's implementation activities since 1994. Mr. Subedi has been providing direct assistance on biodiversity monitoring and CFUG formation to the Humla community groups since 1995.
The government of Nepal has pioneered an approach to community forestry through legislation that provides communities with secure tenure rights and the authority to manage and utilize common property resources. Following the Forest Act of 1993 and the associated Community Forestry Directives of 1995, communities have gained the right to constitute Community Forestry User Groups (CFUGs) which function democratically, and which in turn are able to claim government-owned forest and pastures as Community Forests. CFUGs can harvest and trade forest products as well as collect the royalties levied on forest products that previously were paid to the government.
NTFPs are a significant source of revenue for Nepal. In 1996 ANSAB conducted the first NTFP trade survey for Nepal and found that approximately 42 thousand tons, consisting of more than 125 different NTFPs were handled by about 100 traders in 1995. This trade amounted to more than $26 million in 1995, yet most left Nepal in raw form with no value adding processing and none had been incorporated into CFUGs.
The community of Humla had been harvesting several NTFPs and trading them in raw form to traders who then smuggled them over the border to India where the plant materials were processed into essential oils and incense. As high value NTFPs such as Jatamansi (Nardostachys grandiflora) and Sugandhwal (Valeriana jatamansi) were being depleted in India, traders stepped up buying programs in remote areas such as Humla where levels of the prized plants were still in good supply. In a short period of time traditional conservation and management practices were overwhelmed by the outside pressure. Since the lands were considered government property and not under the control of the communities there was the incentive to harvest all one could before someone else got to it. There was little or no awareness for biodiversity issues and no alternatives being offered to the communities that would change the unsustainable practices. Government bans on the exportation of the raw herbs had little or no impact on the destructive trade.
In 1994 ATI and ANSAB initiated a planning process with the communities of Humla for a Biodiversity Conservation Network Project (BCN). The BCN program has the hypotheses that "if communities are given control over their resources and access to technical and managerial assistance, then they will act to conserve their natural resources." The participatory planning process verified the NTFP trade dynamics that were effecting the people and proposed a multi-activity approach to conserve the area's biodiversity while increasing the incomes of the villagers. The key activities included institutional innovations at the local level (formation of Humla Oils Pvt. Ltd. and the Humla Conservation and Development Association) and the national level (close collaboration with the Forests Department and District Forest Offices and increased awareness for NTFP issues through a newly created Nepal NTFP Network). Specifically the project:
This case has provided us with several key lessons, most of which we feel are applicable to the majority of groups interested in community based resource management.