Assistant Professor Ram Pandit from the School of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UWA has won research collaboration funding for his project ‘Forests, ecosystem services and communities: Lessons from Nepal Himalaya’, in collaboration with the University of Leeds and the University of York in the UK. The funding will take Assistant Professor Pandit to Nepal, as well as to the UK, to conduct his research.
Nepal has been embracing a program in its forestry sector referred to as ‘community forestry’ since 1978 to engage and empower local people in forest management. “There is an interesting history about this program that highlights the need of stakeholder engagement in policy design and delivery processes” said Assistant Professor Pandit. “Although forest nationalization in 1957 was done with good intentions, the command and control policy approach taken by the government in the 1960s created problems, which did not address the dependency of local communities on forests”. Subsequently, this spurred unabated deforestation in the hills impacting local and regional ecosystems which has been called ‘the Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation” by some scholars.
Over time there was a wider recognition of the dependency of people on forests for a variety of forest products such as timber, fuel-wood, fodder and medicinal plants, as well as ecosystem services such as watershed protection. With support from the Australian Government the Nepal-Australia Community Forestry Project was implemented, to regain local peoples’ support in forest management and to empower them. This was initially launched in just two hill districts. By the 1980s the program had spread throughout numerous hill districts and, by 1993, it had spread throughout the country.
Community forestry programs in Nepal, in which the government hands over the use and management rights of forests to local communities, have remained dominant to this day. To date, almost 18,000 communities comprised of over 2 million households manage about 30% of Nepal’s total forests as community forests.
Assistant Professor Pandit’s research will examine the ecosystem services generated by these community forests, incentives (or disincentives) for forest user groups to act collectively, and any tradeoffs that exist between ecosystem services for upstream and downstream communities in the hills; lessons that can perhaps be used in other parts of the world.
Assistant Professor Ram Pandit (School of Agricultural and Resource Economics) (+61 8) 6488 1353