Community Forestry in Bhutan: Putting People at the Heart of Poverty Reduction
The concept of Community Forestry (CF) appeared firstly in the area of international development cooperation during the late 1970s. It was generally perceived that extensive deforestation led to environmental degradation (RECOFTC 2008: 3). The idea of CF was established to address deforestation, firewood crisis and the resultant negative impacts on rural livelihoods (Chambers und Conway 1991: 7?8). Many Community Forestry approaches were developed, tested and institutionalized in countries like India, Nepal and the Philippines during the following 10 to 15 years with an aim to protect forests by involving rural communities.
At first, the focus of CF was mostly on reforestation of degraded areas and in 1990s it was shifted towards a sustainable livelihood approach. CF became more essential because forests are one of the most important renewable natural resources and for many rural poor people sustain their livelihoods depending on forest. Worldwide more than 350 million poor people are heavily and directly dependent on forests for their survival.
The predominant collectors of forest products and Non-wood Forest Products are the poorest households with limited agricultural land, livestock and labour force (Sam and Stepherd 2011: 4, 7; Gilmour et al. 2004: 1; Nurse and Malla 2005: 1; Warner n.d.: 12)
Forestry also plays an important role in Bhutan. About 72.5% of the total land area is under forest cover, 15% covered with snow, water, and rock ridge. Only a little more than 7% of the land is agriculture and 4% pastureland (Temphel and Beukeboom 2007: 2). According to the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (2005: 17). Almost 70% of 700000 residents live in rural areas and agriculture, including livestock and forestry are the main source of livelihoods. Farmers in the far-flung areas rely heavily on forest for timber, firewood, grazing for cattle and non-wood forest products. Therefore, forests form an integral component of the livelihood of the rural population (Office of the Census Commissioner 2005: 17; Penjore and Rapten 2004: 21). During the 1970s, the government realised that sustainable forest management could only be achieved with local people. Therefore, the concept of Social Forestry was introduced in 1979 and in early 1990s, the Department of Forests and Park established the CF program. In the beginning CF was primarily started to ensure forest protection but is now increasingly viewed to improve rural livelihoods and contribute to the overall goal of poverty reduction (Temphel et al. 2005: 10; Chettri 2009: 25-26; GNHC 2009: 42, 97).
This paper is based on a literature review of Bhutanese articles related to community forestry. It provides an analysis of the opportunities and challenges to increase forestrys contribution to poverty reduction. It is divided into three major parts. The first chapter will give an overview of the forest sector particularly CF in Bhutan. The second session analyses the challenges and opportunities of CFs in Bhutan related to poverty reduction and provides conditions for the success of the Community forests. Finally, conclude with restating the main concept of the paper.
2. Community Forestry in Bhutan
Community forestry (CF) in Bhutan is government reserved forest land for which communities, organized as Community Forest Management Groups (CFMGs), are being granted management and user rights and responsibilities under conditions set out in a management plan approved by the Department of Forests and Park Services. The management plan is valid for a period of ten years which is renewable after revision. The members of the CFMG elect an executive committee, typically including a chairperson, a secretary, a treasurer and a few additional members, from their midst. Community Forestry (CF) in Bhutan was first cautiously explored in the mid-1990s (Carter et al, 2009, p. 40) with the creation of the legal basis for CF in the Forest and Nature Conservation Act (FNCA) 1995 and the establishment of the countrys very first Community Forests (CFs) managed by CFMGs in Eastern Bhutan. At the end of September 2013, 556 CFs were approved all over the country, covering more than 63,115 ha of forestland and involving 23,808 rural households in forest management (CF database maintained by SFED). The establishment of CF in Bhutan is to make a shift from a regulatory approach to a participatory approach in managing and using the forest effectively through the involvement of community members. Through it, it inspired the community and improved its role in the management of forest resources and ultimately aid in poverty reduction. For instance, the CF management plan effectively curves the illegal activities, enhance forest condition for sustainability in the future. It involves monthly patrolling of CF, plantation of a minimum of 20 seedlings per household and monitoring by committee members of CF. CF is now considered to be the major component of the Social Forestry program and it contribute to the countrys overall goals of poverty reduction, socio-economic development, and improvement of the living environment of rural people (SFD 2010: 17).
3. Opportunities and challenges of community forests in Bhutan
Community forestry is established with an aim to promote the empowerment local communities for successful management of the nearby forest on a sustainable manner and to improve their subsistence living from the use of forest resources. There are many strengths and opportunities but does also have weaknesses and challenges for an effective contribution of CFs to poverty reduction.
3.1 Strengths and opportunities
Community forest can influence CFMG members socially through the strengthening of existing coordination and governance mechanism, improved relationships and networks, ownership and empowerment, capacity building, increased community participation, security, decreased conflicts among members and the establishment of local institutions. The formation of CFMGs and determining of by-laws enable the groups to organize themselves and build important social capital. CFMGs reduce conflicts of resource utilization and livestock grazing and allow members to develop a common harmony (Wangdi and Tshering 2006: 5-6; Temphel and Bekeboom 2007: 7-8). It brings people with different ethnic backgrounds, languages customs and beliefs together. There is also the potential to empower women, who are mostly involved in the collection, processing, and marketing of NWFPs by generating income and contributing to food security (SFD 2010: 38; Chetri et al. 2009:4; Mahanty et al. 2009: 270; Ndoye 2005:16). Member households can make income through the sale of excess timbers and non-wood forest products (NWFPs). Income generation from NWFPs offers considerable potential for partnerships between CFMGs and emerging private sector entities. Access to CFs takes minimal time in comparison to the long procedure for getting timber and firewood from government reserved forest (Dorji and Tenzin 2007:11).
3.2 Weaknesses and challenges
The establishment of the Community forest does not necessarily lead to poverty reduction. There are different challenges, which lower success. Most of the members of CFMGs are poor household people and therefore many benefits generated from CFs contribute directly to poverty reduction. But as experiences have shown distribution is frequently an issue, benefits often flow to local elites and make poor people relatively off. Equity aspects are often ignored. It is a challenge to ensure that poor people are not made absolutely or relatively worse off by participating fully in CF activities. In Bhutan, especially poor people are encouraged to become members of CFMGs by reducing the conditions like less labour contribution (SFD 2010: 39-41, Buffum et al. 2007: 1-2). The remote places where there is no access to motorable roads and market are another challenge as it hampers the sale of timbers and other products leading to high transportation costs. The lack of financial capital and limited capacities of people lose confidence in harvesting and marketing and thereby not able to establish enterprises and improve livelihood (Samdrup 2011: 10; Tshering 2009: 3). There are no concrete guidelines for timber marketing procedures to support CFMGs in selling excess timber (Barrosi 2009: 1-2; Tshering 2009: 38).
4. Conditions for the Success of Community forestry
There are numerous conditions to be satisfied to accomplish the objective of poverty reduction. Firstly, one must comprehend that the poverty in every communities are not the same. CF could be a way to deal with identifying CFMG members under poverty and to build up a system to address them through the development of by-laws. In any case, the mechanisms for the CF establishment must identify individuals who are under the poverty line with the goal that CF can contribute in poverty reduction. It is not enough to alleviate poverty by bestowing CFMG members with right to access and make income from the CF, if effective implementation of CF management plans and the development of forest-based enterprises are not properly planned. CFMG members must be trained on basic skills to manage forest resource effectively. Government must make staff available to support the CFMGs in all aspects of planning, management, marketing, and sales. Besides the application of good governance principles like accountability, transparency, inclusiveness, decision-making, ownership and equity and group governance to achieve the expected socio-economic outcomes, it is necessary that CFMG members are willing to improve the livelihood of poor members. Therefore, social capital and cohesion within the groups are required to come to an agreement on how to reduce poverty. It is recommended to introduce and implement a pro-poor provision in the by-laws, especially to reduce the inequitable burden of high transaction costs. To ensure that CFs lead to poverty reduction, it is important that poorer households are included in the processing and marketing of NWFPs and forest products. Besides the marketing of forest products and NWFPs, there is also a potential for marketing ecosystem services provided by forests-like supply of drinking water or community-based tourism. But to realize this, a strong market orientation, explicit pro-poor focus and simple procedures for sale of timber and other forest products and services are indispensable. To date, there are no guidelines for timber marketing procedures. It is essential to develop guidelines to assist CFMGs and forest officers in marketing excess timber. Due to the lack of experiences CFMG members as well as forestry staff are often not sure how to go about it. Experiences from the past have shown that CFMGs harvest far below the allowed annual harvest limit. But to ensure also in future sustainable resource utilization and to achieve the CF development as well as conservation goals the application of the principles of sustainable forest management is key. Resource assessments and inventories should be carried out in participation with CFMG members. If people are fully involved in the process, they will have a better understanding and respect for the outcomes of the resource assessment. In addition, to increase the chance of overcoming the vicious poverty circle, poorer households should diversify their sources of income through access to agriculture and off-farm activities. A strong focus on forest can lead to a dependency on it instead of widening livelihood options. Therefore, it is highly recommended to follow an integrated approach. Further, the CFMGs should be allowed to sustainably manage all-natural resources such as stones, sand, wildlife, etc. to increase the effect on poverty alleviation (Meijboom and Peldon (n.d.) 5; Tshering 2011: 24, 28; Warner n.d.: 13; Schmidt 2009: 3; Schmidt 2011: 77-79; Chhetri et al. 2009: 6-7; Samdrup 2011: 12-13; Mahanty et al. 2006: 85-87).
In Bhutan, CF has great potential to contribute to poverty reduction since 70% of the land is under forest cover and almost 70% of the population lives in rural areas. Within the last few years, the importance of CFs increased significantly. While till June 2006 only 31 CFs were established the number increased to 556 CFs by the end of September 2013. The framework of CFs was enhanced steadily during the last years and is now quite favourable. Rules and regulations were adjusted in favour of CFMGs. Nevertheless, Bhutans CF program faces challenges. Most of CFs do not yet generate the expected revenue, but the number is increasing. In the few cases of CFMGs, which sell excess timber and NWFPs, it is not guaranteed that income generated from CFs does automatically lead to poverty alleviation. It must be ensured that costs and benefits are shared in an equitable way amongst the members. It is also necessary that poorer households are encouraged to participate in CF and that transaction costs are minimized so that they can become active and effective members. To increase the possibility of income generation from CFs members as well as forest staff have to be supported in developing skills and capacities to manage forest resources and groups, record and bookkeeping, processing, value addition, marketing and sales of a wide range of forest goods and services (including timber, NWFPs, sand and stone). Consequently, it is possible to draw the conclusion that the concept of CF gained significantly in importance in the last year. Foresters and policymakers created an already enabling environment by adopting rules and regulations in support of CFMGs. With continuing efforts, a participatory approach and the consideration of the above-mentioned aspects the framework can be further improved and will contribute to the expected outcome of poverty alleviation.
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