Forest management by Community Forest User Groups in the Mid hill and the Terai zones of eastern Nepal Buddhi Rejal Background In Nepal, the livelihood of the majority of the population is intimately concerned with the health of forest resources. More than 90 percent the population live in rural areas, relying on the forests as a major source of fuel, fodder, construction materials, some food and cash income. In the last few decades, the forest area of Nepal has declined rapidly due to over exploitation of forest and extension of agricultural lands to meet the food and other demands of the increasing population. Thus, deforestation and land degradation has a serious adverse effect on the subsistence farming system in the hills of Nepal (Ives and Messerli, 1989) Realising the peoples’ dependence on forests and importance of their involvement in forest management, the Nepal Government has initiated community forestry programs, with the ambitious aim of fulfilling the basic needs of rural communities as well as conserving the forest resources. Community forestry (CF) is a participatory approach to forest management where a rural community living around a forest organize themselves to form a “Forest User Group” (FUG) to manage the forest. The CF program has been recognised as one of the most innovative intervention in promoting local control and management of the natural resources of Nepal. Physiographically, Nepal is divided in to three ecological zones, the Terai, the Mid hills and the High mountains, which occupy 17, 68 and 15 percent of the total area, respectively. Nepal supports a population of about 22.3 million with a growth rate of 2.5 percent annually. The annual per capita income of Nepalese people is about USD200 per year, but the majority of the population earn far less than this figure due to high economic differences between the rich and poor people. About 37 percent of total the landmass of Nepal is covered by forest (5.5 million hectares) and because of the wide range of topographical condition, there is high biodiversity, with different forest types ranging from tropical to alpine being found. The Mid hill zone of Nepal, is situated between the Terai in the south and the High mountain zone in the north. Occupying 68 percent of the total area, the Mid hill zone supports about 50 percent of the total population of the country. Live for people in this region is difficult because of low land productivity, difficulties in transportation and communication, and low availability of services like schools, hospitals, electricity and safe drinking water. In addition, natural hazards such as landslides and floods can impeded normal activities at certain times and add to environmental dangers and problems. Deforestation in this region was very high (0.2 percent per year) which threatened the traditional subsistence farming system and serious environmental cosequences in this region. CF program was initiated in the hill region since the 1980s as an appropriate means to mitigate the problems. Presently about 25 percent of its total forests have been handed over to over 5000 FUGs and rest are also in the process of handing over rapidly. The lower plains landscape of Nepal, called the Terai zone, is situated between Indo- Nepal border in the south and hill region of Nepal in the north, extending from east to west for about 1000 km, and north to south for about 30 km. The Terai region is attractive to hill people because of its high agricultural productivity, relatively accessible transportation and other services (schools, hospitals, electricity etc). There has been a massive migration of people into the Terai from the hill areas since the 1960s following the eradication of malaria from this region. The deforestation rate in the Terai is very high (1.3 percent per annum), which has been lost its half of forest cover over the last 30 years period (Ives and Msserni, 1989). In spite of strict legal provisions to control the forest by the Government, the Terai forests have yielded to heavy pressure from illegal felling. High unemployment in this region has also added to this pressure and degradation of forests. Community forestry has recently been introduced in the Terai Region, following on from community forestry extension in the hills. Facing difficulties in protecting the forests without peoples’ participation, the local government authority (District Forest Officers) have been compelled to hand over some forests to the local communities as CF, though there was not any formal government program to extend CF to the Terai districts. The Rationale for this study The success of community forestry in the Mid hill region of Nepal is reflected in terms of conservation of forests and restoration of greenery in the hills. However, very few studies are available to evaluate the effectiveness of forest management by the FUGs in terms of changes of forest condition and sharing the benefits of forest in an equitable basis. In a feudal society like that in Nepal, the dominance of elites and the rich in FUG committees is obvious. It has been realised that the poor, women and marginalised people in rural areas are more dependent on pubic or community forests than the rich. The domination of rich people in FUG committees and regulation of forest products collection from community forests probably has potential to affect the livelihood of the poor. Maharjan (1998) reported that a significant number of poor households in a FUG in eastern region of Nepal gave up their membership because of their dis-satisfaction in distribution of benefits. In addition, the CF in the Terai region appears to be different to that in the hills because of its different physiography, size (both users and forest), socio-economic conditions and the management system of the Terai CF. Although there are some positive changes have been noticed in the forest condition of the Terai CF after the hand over, yet there are a lot of enamolies prevailed in its management aspects (Baral and Subedi, 1999). Presently, some forestry professionals in Nepal have emphasised the need for a different policy of participatory forestry for the Terai region (Acharya et. al, 1999). However, there is a strong debate on this view among the professionals and different stakeholders. Very few studies have described and evaluated the management systems of the Terai and hill CF and their implications for the national economy, environmental conservation and social justice. This study describes the management systems of selected CF in the Terai and the Mid hill region of Nepal, particularly focusing on the maintenance of forest condition and the distribution of benefits among the people, highlighting the problems and opportunities of CF development in the two areas of Nepal. Research aim and objectives General objective The aim of the study is to describe forest management systems by forest user groups in the Mid hill and the Terai zones of Nepal, with a view to identifying problems, and opportunities for improving the effectiveness of management by FUGs, in terms of income distribution and maintenance of forest condition. Specific objectives • To describe the physiography and socio-economic features in two study areas in general. • To describe the process of user group formation in one representative FUG in each study area. • To define good forest condition in the eyes of the communities. • To define effective forest management as perceived by people. • To determine the benefits from forest management and their distribution to different sectors of the community. • To assess peoples views on changes in the forest condition since FUGs were started. • To identify problems and opportunities for improving the effectiveness of forest management in the two situations. Hypotheses • Forest condition is improved after handing over the forests to local user groups in the both Terai and Hill regions. • There is inequitable distribution of income between segments of the population in communities. • Different wealth groups have different perceptions of A. Good forest condition B. effective CF management. • Community perceptions of condition and management will differ from those of forest department officials Research Methods The overall method adopted in this study is that of case study research, but within the construct of grounded theory. Case study FUGs were selected to representative to each study area. The selected FUGs were relatively well established in the district, moderately large in size, heterogenous in ethnicity and fairly effective in forest management as perceivedby Forest Department. In selecting the FUGs, the effectiveness of the FUGs were considered in terms of taking responsibility for forest protection and implementation of range of development activities through active participation of FUG members. As community forestry is a participatory approach to management of forests, participatory methods are appropriate for data collection and analysis. Various rapid rural appraisals (RRA) techniques were used, and these were supplemented with techniques from the participatory rural appraisal (PRA) in conducting the data collection and analysis. Some research questions were also studied through the grounded theory approach by adapting data collection techniques of social sciences such as informal interviews. Outline of thesis This thesis contains seven chapters. Chapter one describes introduction and research aim and objectives. Chapter second explains detail about research methods and description about the study area. Chapter three and four present two case studies that describe socio- economic feature of the study areas and forest management system adapted by the two FUGs. Chapter five analyses the data collected from the field, while chapter six presents result and discussion. Finally chapter seven outlines the problems and opportunities of CF development in Nepal and suggest some recommendations.