13-19 December 2013 #685

The way we were

Pictures taken decades apart show how community forestry has restored Nepal’s midhill vegetation

The Himalaya in Nepal is the most-densely populated mountain region on earth. Its landscape is closely linked to land use patterns, especially forest tenure. When forests are nationalised and traditional community-management systems destroyed, they disappear. Handing management back to communities revive them.

Jiri 1968 PHOTOS SPEAK: Before and after photographs can give us a glimpse of the passage of time. The most dramatic pictures are those of the resurgence of forests in Jiri in Sindhupalchok in just 25 years because of community forestry.

Jiri 1994

The changes are starkly visible and the best way to tell the story is through before and after pictures, as Fritz Berger and colleagues have done in their new book, Changing Landscape in the Highlands of Nepal, Sikkim-India, and Pakistan: A Photo Journey. Nepal’s midhills forests vanished after the Private Forest Nationalisation Act was promulgated in 1957. It took a full 40 years for the canopy cover to be restored after a corrective legislation leased the degraded commons back to communities. “The photographs demonstrate that the forest landscape of Nepal has improved since the forest land tenure process started in the 1990s,” Berger says in the introduction to his book.

Sindhupalchok 1968

Sindhupalchok 1994

But the pictures also show the deforestation that follows the building of new roads, when pastures turn into farms, and new urban centres spread and put pressure on surrounding forests. The effect of out-migration can also be seen in pictures of Manang taken in 1973 and today: the millet fields are fallow because there is no one to work them. While the forests in Nepal and Sikkim are coming back, in Pakistan they are depleting.

Changing Landscape in the Highlands of Nepal, Sikkim-India, and Pakistan:

A Photo Journey

Bharat Pokhrel, Fritz Berger, Anupama Mahat Bidari, Robin Niraula

Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Nepal

www.helvetasnepal.org.np

Hardcover 86 pages

‘Photos speak’ is the conclusion of the authors and the most dramatic pictures are those of the resurgence of forests in Jiri in just 25 years. For the authors, this is a lesson: ‘One thing we can learn is that policy matters and so do institutions and their governance.’

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