Community forest for people’s prosperity: 25years journey of Federation of community Forestry Users Nepal (FeCoFUN)



Community forestry program is a base for Nepal’s identity. We have lots of things to showcase for rest of the world. But, Nepal’s community forestry program is the world’s best model in terms of people’s participation for the conservation of natural resources and its judicious distribution among the conservers. FECOFUN is an organization with its lead role in establishing the concept of excellent community forest.

 

Current chair of FeCOFUN; Bharati Pathak said “Starting from 200, the number of community forest user groups has now crossed 22,000 in Nepal. The FECOFUN coordinated different campaigns from Mechi in the east to Mahakali in the west calling for handing over forests to communities and making communities accountable with the idea that, local communities are the owners of natural resources.”

Today’s such situation was not created out of blue. People had to wage lots of struggles to establish their rights on natural resources along with political and social issues to arrive in today’s point from 1950.

With the establishment of democracy in 1950, forest in Nepal was nationalized. State’s control over the forest continued even in the Panchayat regime. Community’s ownership to the forest was lessened as locals were kept far away for the conservation and utilization of forest. This ultimately resulted in deforestation and encroachment of forest areas. The hills of hilly region and plains of the Madhes turned naked land due to deforestation.

That had a direct impact on environment. National and international communities expressed their disappointments and concerns to that end.
The community exercise to protect forest from the locals by being organized is a very old practice in Nepal. The State ensured recognition to such a trend through policies only during early 1971. On the basis of a long practice and success of community forestry, the government in policy unveiled Forest Development Master Plan, 1989 and Forest Act, 1993. The community forest user groups established under such legal framework had initiated the process for their own organization development for capacity development for the fulfillment of responsibility through rights advocacy.
The seminar of representatives of community forest users from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines and Bhutan held in 1995 concluded that Nepal’s community forestry’s practice was exemplary for the world and recommended for the formation of user groups organization for the advocacy of the community forest. This created sufficient bases for the establishment of FECOFUN.

Against this backdrop, during a seminar of community forests and private forest user groups’, the FECOFUN was established in June 1995 (18 Jestha 2052). A 13-member ad-hoc committee was also formed. On the same day, a formal announcement was made about the establishment of FECOFUN amid the presence of representatives of community forest user groups and governmental and non-governmental organizations at the hall of Social Welfare Council. Among from the members of the ad-hoc committees, a statute drafting committee was formed under the convenership of Bhim Prasad Shrestha. Based on consultation with different experts and user groups, FECOFUN’s Statute was prepared and FECOFUN’s Statute was registered in 13th September, 1995 (Bhadra 28, 2052 BS) as per the Associations Registration Act 1977 in the District Administration Office, Kathmandu, along with the recommendation from the Ministry of Forest and Soil-Conservation.

Hari Prasad Neupane, the founding chairperson said, For most of the people residing in hills, mountains and inner belt of Tarai regions, firewood is the common source for cooking foodstuffs. In such settlements, people have sustained their livelihoods from firewood. They get water from the nearby forest which they use for drinking, taking baths and washing clothes. The users of the forest are dependent on agriculture, they are farmers. A forest given to a Finnish company by the government of Nepal that returned and handover to the local communities and furthermore has now achieved good results. Second, we constituted the community forest user groups from Mechi to Mahakali, where thousands of users are brought on board. The constitution of FECOFUN, we drafted was good, as chairperson could not repeat in the same post because s/he can do other things too.

FECOFUN was established in 1995 but the policymakers and the implementing partners were still reluctant to ensure benefit of conservation to the local residents. So, a number of struggles had to done to secure the rights of conservers who was engaged to achievethe results of conservation.
Series of movements from local level to national level were held for the cause of community forest. Some of them were really noteworthy that succeeded in bringing about changes in the journey of Nepal’s community forest conservation. Some of the notable movements and campaigns are as follows;
 Campaign against government forest management plan in Bara and other districts of Tarai
 Community forest rights campaign in Tarai
 Campaign for sale and distribution of forest products and establishing community autonomy
 Campaign for sale and distribution of herbs and non-wood forest products, establishing forest enterprises and environmental standard
 Campaign against government control on tax and fund mobilization
 Advocacy for formulation and amendment for Forest Act, Guidelines and Directives
 Movement against the expansion of conservation area and conservation forest area
 Campaign against Chure environment conservation area
 Advocacy for institutionalizing community forest rights in new forest policy and strategies
 Forest journey for good-governance and prosperity of the forest sector
 Campaign against expansion of National Park, conservation area
 FECOFUN’s campaign in solidarity to democratic movement.

Bhim Prasad Shrestha; formar chariman remembered the past and said, During our time, we encountered lots of problems. In issues of rights, the agendas of Act amendment were emerged; numbers of efforts were made to trample the rights as political upheavals had taken place then. We had to bring friends in Kathmandu from the east to west to organize protests in many issues. While recalling that situation, we were faced a very tough time.

The community forest campaign is not only limited to forest conservation drive rather this campaign has taken democracy to the grassroots level of society. As the issues to be raised by FECOFUN are linked to people’s rights, its impacts are also on political level. FECOFUN had an active participation in democratic movement and broader peace process. User groups remained active at the initiative of FECOFUN even in the absence of the government apparatus in the local bodies for long during the time of insurgency, which supported local people to experience democracy in the conflict-era too. Especially, FECOFUN openly advocated for republicanism and federalism in the democratic movement of 2006, which offered an impetus to the political movement. During that time, Mr. Ghanshyam Pandey; activist from FECOFUN was kept in police custody for 27 days. Dozens of national working committee members and district committee working committee members of FECOFUN were arrested and many others sustained injuries while expressing solidarity on behalf of FECOFUN in democratic movement. The user groups expressed their continued and active solidarity for massive rallies and demonstrations on behalf of FECOFUN during the period of movement. The national importance of FECOFUN further increased as such contributions could not be rejected from the political level.

 

Ghanashyam Pandey the next chairman said, Linking the community forestry movement to democracy, federalism, republicanism and social transformation, we joined the people’s movement in 2006 across the country, protesting the regression carried out by then King Gyanendra Shah. We have developed community forestry a center of identity for democracy, for federalism, for republicanism and we got achievements for the restoration of democracy by joining hands with political parties and civil society. We also amended the constitution of FECOFUN from the special general convention to make it inclusive to ensure representation of all class, caste and community. After amending the constitution of the FECOFUN, we practiced inclusion and inclusive representation in it.

 

Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli in a program orgqnized by FECOFUn said, We had a terrible situation about whether Nepal’s forest could be destroyed; Nepal could turn in desertification and forest destruction could not be stopped. In preventing such a dreadful situation, community forest user groups and their members have played crucial roles to grow forests like their own children through public participation. So, I would like to thank all the forest sector user groups of FECOFUN and its active members that comprises more than 40 per cent of the entire forest sector, who are involved in this holy jobs and have made huge contribution on this occasion.

Role of community forest campaign is very effective for the community empowerment and inclusiveness of marginalized class and communities along with democratization of Nepali society.
The FECOFUN from within initiated the task of empowerment and inclusiveness of marginalized class and communities. During the formation of ad-hoc committee at time of its establishment, bases for leadership selection were not determined. With the expansion of FECOFUN, the wish for taking its leadership also emerged and a set of norms were formed for the leadership selection. Until the first two tenures of FECOFUN, a provision was ensured to select one male and one female from each zone. However, realizing the need for making its organization more inclusive, the FECOFUN amended its constitution from the third general convention and ensured inclusive representation in the national working committee from Adibasi/Janajati, Dalit, underprivileged communities and representatives from Tarai and mountainous districts.

The special general convention held in Dang district in 2009 AD (2066 BS) amended the statute that had the provision of 77 members in the national working committee. As per the amended statute, 40 percent of the seats are selected through open competition with equal four men and four women from each development region and 37 others get elected from different categories and class on inclusive manner as per the amended constitution. So, from zonal to development region-level, the leadership selection modality of FECOFUN is not shifted to province-level structure after the country’s adoption to federal structure in the recent time. With this, the inclusiveness in leadership selection process has been further strengthened.

 

Apsara Chapagain; former chair said, Women’s participation is great identity of FECOFUN. We were only 4-5 women in FECOFUN during its establishment, while seriously struggling for 50 percent participation of women in FECOFUN’s network. We incorporated it in the FECOFUN’s policy and made it nationwide. Now, FECOFUN is continuously working for the capacity building and leadership of all women’s of CFUGs because we realized that the participation of women should not be limited into the committees and key posts rather all the women should be aware and informed about policy, laws, practice and in all forest related activities.

Institutionalization of community rights and emphasis on community forest’s resources in production in the Forest Act 2020 is the outcome of FECOFUN’s movements. Now, community-friendly procedure has been prepared and 15% taxation imposed by the federal government on Sal and Khayar trees for 20 years for community forests is not scrapped. Province No. 1 has scrapped the provision of 15% tax imposed on other species expect for Khayar trees in the income of community forests. Conducive environment has been created for community forests by replacing the provision of EIA and IEE in the community forests. The policy has been scrapped as per the recommendation of a committee formed to study the direct impact of rights curtailment of communities from scientific forest management Likewise, budget allocation has been made from all three-layer of governments for community forest user groups for the implementation of green enterprises aimed at sustainable forest development. Procedures, programmes and plans are on cards for localization of sustainable development goals (SDGs) and streamline the community forests towards entrepreneurship.

All community forest user groups in Nepal have not been empowered yet but those empowered ones have brought about sea changes in the livelihood of including health and education of the users. The user groups have not only supplied the forest products and received woods for building construction but also have paid teachers’ monthly salary in local schools, constructed roads, given social security allowances to pregnant women and have carried out other development works through mobilization of groups’ fund. Similarly, they have contributed to income generation and economic development of the members by providing hybrid he-goats to the economically poor ones, growing cash crops like cardamom, and bamboo trees and broom grass (Amriso) in forest.

Ganesh Karki; former chairman said, Now, forest-based industries should be running through management of forest as slogan ‘Forest for Prosperity’ has been adopted. Limited activities for achieving the prosperity have been carried out. Entrepreneurship development is to be carried out for employment generation and prosperity. Until we cannot give prioritize for entrepreneurship development; implement them and create employment opportunities, the local community cannot manage the forest as the forest now has remained as the bush.

FECOFUN at present is managing more than 2.27 million hectares of forest area from a total of 22,415 user groups. And, there is the direct involvement of 2.92 million households (2,927,329 households) in it.
Amid the harsh condition of the COVID-19 pandemic, the community forests user groups across the country contributed to awareness raising, arrangement of quarantine facilities in 1400 community forests’ buildings, distribution of health care materials and foodstuffs through the user groups themselves or the local government are some of the evidences of how the community forests in Nepal are working for the welfare of the citizens.

Since the very beginning, the fame of Nepal’s community forest had become worldwide and the fame has been further glorified from FECOFUN. Currently, FECOFUN’s representatives have working to enliven the community forestry movement globally serving in the community forestry’s Global Caucus, International Community Forestry Network, World Mountain People Association , World Social Forum, United Nations’ Forum on Forest, Rights and Resource Initiatives- RRI, International Advisor Committee on Social and Environmental Standards of REDD Plus and many other international forums.

Despite massive national and international fame, the community forestry has multiple challenges. Forest Offices and other external intermediaries’ unwanted intervention is ongoing to cease the autonomy of user groups in the name of implementing scientific forest management in the community forest. Conservation areas of different kinds have been announced frequently to curtail the rights of the community forests. Different hurdles have been created to carry out forest-based enterprises eco-tourism activities for lack of sufficient facilitation from the government agencies.

There is limited support for capacity building of user groups and promotion of good-governance while there still remains confusions over taxation for lack of coordination between the federal, province and local governments though the 15% tax imposed on community forest is scrapped.

The communities in the National Parks and Conservation Areas are left without rights and human rights violation are often. Lack of record in the government agencies about the contributions made by community forests and poor mapping listing about rights in groups, poor documentation and no delineation of forest area are also deemed as serious challenges.

There is a challenge in self-assessment on monitoring and evaluation of the community forest user groups for lack of their own data base system while preventing the user groups in internal forest products mobilization has become an obstacle for the user’ prosperity.

 

Bharati Pathak; current chair said, There are lots of resources in the forest. In regard to water, forest and land, the issue was limited to conservation in the past but now management through users is an emerging issue, with the increase in forest resources. But, the way government is acting is snatching away the community’s rights and presenting itself in an unnatural way on the use of natural resources is unlikely. No matter which party is leading the government, we have faced such challenges. We are struggling against such challenges and we have to move ahead by sensitizing the issue among the user groups.   In the past 25 years, we focused for conservation-driven methods and that was the need of the time. COVID-19 taught us a lot of things because many youths are in foreign countries and so is case with women. For them, we have forest resource; medicinal herbs and eco-tourism. Retaining them at home and ensuring income for them in the country itself from the community forests by linking them with the forest-based productions and creating employment is our next roadmap.

Community forest campaign is a campaign of struggle for right. It’s a campaign of prosperity from proportional and judicious distribution of local resources and this campaign shall continue until every local resources dependent Nepali individual realizes prosperity.