Social Science Baha

Forest and agrarian transitions in a Nepali village: 1980 to 2010

Jefferson Fox

Since the 1980s, Nepal has gained worldwide recognition for path breaking achievements in community forest management. Community forests currently occupy nearly 23% of Nepal’s total forest area, the management of which involves over 18,000 community forest user groups comprising 1.6 million households and nearly 40% of Nepal’s population (DoF 2012). The spatially-explicit impacts of this 30-year transition in forest management, however, have not been documented in part due to the lack of surveys studying the same forest patches through time. The author has studied forest and agricultural practices in a village near Gorkha since 1980 and conducted forest surveys in 1980, 1990, and 2010. This paper describes changes in the village between 1980 and 2010, with a focus on forest status, use, and management. In 1980, the vast majority of households were subsistence farmers growing rice, corn, millet, and other crops for household consumption; and raising livestock for labor, milk, and meat. Forests and grazing lands were essential components of the subsistence system because they provided tree and grass fodder for livestock feed, leaf litter for roofing and composting, wood for fuel, timber and poles, and various medicinal and food plants. In 1980, forests were badly degraded but amendments to the forest law in 1977 and 1978 had revolutionized the way forest-use rights were defined by recognizing that local participation was necessary for managing public lands. Between 1980 and 2010 farmers significantly reduced the number of cattle they kept and increased the number of goats by almost 5 fold; the number of buffalo kept did not change. Per capita firewood consumption in 2010 was significantly less than in 1980; primarily because in 2010, 58% of households used firewood and at least one other type of energy (liquefied petroleum gas, biogas, coal, and/or kerosene). While forest patches were degraded in 1980, the adoption of community forestry led to an improvement in forest conditions by 1990. Between 1990 and 2010, small forest patches were again degraded and were almost as bad in 2010 as they had been in 1980. Both the sal forest (shorea robusta) and the community’s religious forest, however, saw significant increases in both the number of trees and the mean size of trees through time resulting in a large increase in total wood volume. This paper will explore these changes and place them in agrarian and forest transition literature.