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1 November 2009 Pro-poor Commercial Management of Non-timber Forest Products in Nepal's Community Forest User Groups: Factors for Success
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Abstract

This article explores the factors that influence pro-poor commercial management of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in 3 community forest user groups (CFUGs) in the Dolakha district in Nepal. Management of NTFPs through CFUGs is an important poverty-reduction strategy in rural Nepal. National policy documents encourage management of NTFPs by CFUGs for commercial purposes, particularly by involving marginalized communities. It is therefore important to understand the existing mechanisms of their involvement. We followed a case study approach and collected data through key informant interviews, focus group discussions, formal and informal discussions, participant observations, and study of secondary data, such as the constitutions and operational plans of the CFUGs. Because institutional arrangements varied across the 3 study CFUGs, the ability of marginalized people to benefit from the commercial management of NTFPs also differed. Results suggest that the involvement of external agencies, and the consequent conducting of NTFP-based pro-poor programs, positively influences commercial management of NTFPs and minimizes elite domination. Likewise, inclusion of representatives of marginalized people in the CFUG executive committees empowers them to lobby with external agencies for pro-poor programs. Furthermore, the geographic location of the community forest limits the involvement of external agencies and marketing of NTFPs. Therefore, because members of CFUGs in remote areas are heavily dependent on collection and sale of NTFPs for their livelihoods, we suggest increasing the focus of external agencies in such areas and including marginalized people in CFUG executive committees.

Introduction

In Nepal, non-timber forest products (NTFPs) have great conservation and economic value. NTFP-related economic activities can contribute up to 90% of a rural household's income (Bista and Webb 2006). The importance of NTFPs is also reflected at the national level. In 2002, the government earned US$ 1.11 million in revenue from the sale of NTFPs or almost 18% of the total revenue from the forest sector (HMG 2003). Olsen (2005) estimates that from 7000 to 27,000 tons of NTFPs, with a value of US$ 7–30 million, are harvested and traded in Nepal every year. In recognizing this economic value, the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1997–2002) recommended sustainable NTFP management for poverty reduction (NPC 1997). The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2002–2007) aimed to further strengthen this by incorporating NTFP management plans in the operational plans of community forest users groups (CFUG) (NPC 2002).

CFUGs are the local institutions authorized to manage, consume, and sell excess forest products, including NTFPs, from the forests handed over to them by the government. NTFP management in community forestry is considered one of the approaches for reintegrating marginalized communities in the mainstream of development (HMG 2004). In the socioeconomic context of Nepal, marginalized communities refer to communities that are marginalized because of historical discrimination on the basis of caste, ethnicity, and sex. For the purpose of reintegration, a growing number of CFUGs are including NTFP management plans and provisions for the betterment of such communities in their operational plans and constitutions. These documents have to be approved by the district forest office (DFO).

Commercial management of NTFPs for livelihood improvement has been well researched in Nepal and elsewhere. The factors that determine the commercialization of NTFPs are mostly socioeconomic, technical, financial, and political in nature, or are related to market access (Marshall et al 2003; Nygren et al 2006). Most of the studies focus on commercial collection of, and trade in, NTFPs in government-managed forests. Such forests often have free access and non–pro-poor management (Olsen and Larsen 2003; Ghimire et al 2008). However, poverty reduction is one of the objectives of community forestry (Pokharel 2009). Pro-poor commercialization of NTFPs in community forestry, that is, delivery of optimum benefits to poor users, must be an integral part of NTFP management. Such management is determined by the institutional arrangements in the CFUG and consists of both formal and informal rules for managing resources. Acharya (2005) mentioned that the development of different institutional arrangements in CFUGs is influenced by various factors such as resource characteristics, community dynamics, and occupation type. Furthermore, Hertog and Wiersum (2000) added the economic value of NTFPs to the list of factors.

However, it is still unknown which of these factors in particular influences such arrangements for pro-poor commercialization of NTFPs in CFUGs. Therefore, this article presents our analysis of the factors at 3 levels of NTFP management: production, marketing, and benefit sharing. The production level describes the arrangements for managing NTFPs within the forest, the marketing level deals with their marketing within the district, and benefit sharing deals only with NTFP-based pro-poor programs in CFUGs.

General overview of the study site

The study was conducted in the Dolakha district, which is located about 150 km east of Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. It lies between 27°28′N to 28°00′E and 85°50′N to 86°32′E. The district is 1 of the 20 mountainous districts of Nepal. Many CFUGs in the district have been managing NTFPs commercially (Paudel 2004). For selecting study sites, DFO, a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and CFUGs were visited, and their personnel were consulted, as were several traders. Finally, 3 CFUGs, Suspa, Kalobhir, and Mahadevthan, were selected based on 3 criteria:

  1. Forests had been handed over to the CFUGs at least 5 years ago.

  2. The CFUGs were managing the NTFPs commercially.

  3. The distance between the CFUG and the closest major town varied across the 3 sites.

A general overview of the study sites is presented in Table 1.

TABLE 1

General characteristics of the selected CFUGs.

i0276-4741-29-4-298-t01.tif

Suspa lies near the largest headquarters, Charikot, which is also the biggest town in the district, whereas Kalobhir lies very close to Jiri Bazaar, the second largest town in the district. Among the 3 CFUGs, Mahadevthan lies farthest from any town. The users of Kalobhir are better off economically than those of Suspa and Mahadevthan, because Kalobhir lies closest to a town, so that its users can sell their labor and agricultural goods more easily. Moreover, a few of its households run businesses in Jiri Bazaar. The poorest users' households were identified through participatory well-being ranking