The Forestry Minister has stopped the handover of community forests in the tarai saying he wants to stop the logging being carried out by poachers in cahoots with rural big shots and the bureaucracy. But the Federation of Forestry User Groups says this goes against the principle that communities should benefit from local forest conservation and have threatened to bring the country to a halt if this is implemented. Both may be right, but neither side is trying to resolve the issue by looking at the root of the problem.
Nepal's community forest success story is premised on participation and consensus, transparency, local-decision-making and management and ownership. That is why there are provisions for the margninalised to also benefit from the handover of community forests. The Forestry Master Plan of 1990 laid out these principles and they have been followed till now.
Today, many of these principles are being violated. Forests are being handed over without consensus and participation to smuggler and poachers with local connivance. Local bureaucrats were never comfortable with decentralised decision-making on community forests. They were never converted from \'technical experts' to \'social experts' as envisaged in the Master Plan.
Donor experts assigned to this sector are also not knowledgeable or committed as they used to be. They are more interested in the \'inclusion' mantra than on the crisis in the forest management system that is threatening to undermine past gains. Donor-funded NGOs are similarly only involved in patchwork damage control. The minister sholdn't just pass an edict to stop handovers, but discuss the problems with the stakeholders first.
There is an urgent need to make the Forest Coordination Committee more inclusive and effective, scrap the contradictory rules and laws imposed after 1999, hold the fifth national conference in 2008 to evaluate the community forestry sector, aim to have a new Master Plan by 2010 crafted by Nepalis to conserve Nepal's forests.