Nepal almost doubled its country’s forests in three decades

While a World Bank report in 1979 had warned that the country would lose forests on its hills by 1990, the landmark legislation of 1993 that handed over the national forests to community forest groups is credited for the turn-around



Three decades after Nepal handed over its national forests to community forest groups, the country has nearly doubled its forest cover, a recent study, funded by the NASA, has found.

The increase in forest cover is significant especially as the World Bank, in a report in 1979, had warned that the forests in Nepal’s hills would by and large go missing by 1990.

The maps released by the NASA, from 1992 and 2016, show that Nepal’s forest cover has nearly doubled from 26 percent in 1992 to 45 percent in 2016.

The researchers have credited the community forest management for this significant increase in forest cover in the Himalayan country that was once starting at an ecological crisis as the country’s forests were fast dwindling.

However, in the decades of 1980’s and 90’s, the Nepal government re-assessed its forest management practices that culminated in legislation ‘Forestry Act 1993’. Under the act, the government transferred the national forests from the forest rangers to the community forest groups which helped in the turnaround.

Under community forest management, the local forest rangers worked with the community groups to develop plans outlining how they could develop and manage the forests. While it allowed the people to extract resources from the forests like fruits, medicine, and fodder, it restricted grazing and tree cutting, and limited cutting of fuelwood. The community members formed group t patrol the forests.

“Once communities started actively managing the forests, they grew back mainly as a result of natural regeneration,” said Jefferson Fox, the principal investigator of the NASA Land Cover Land Use Change project and Deputy Director of Research at the East-West Center in Hawaii. “Before Nepal passed the 1993 forestry act, government management of forests was less active. People were still using the forests. They just weren’t allowed to actively manage them, and there was no incentive to do so.”

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