The Middle Hills region of Nepal are home to 44% of Nepal’s population, 66% of whom derive their livelihood largely from a combination of agriculture and forest products. The forests and agricultural lands are closely linked systems, providing food, fodder, fuelwood, grazing, timber, and non-timber forest products. Over the last 35 years, under the purview of a national community forestry program, about 30% of the forest lands have been handed over to local communities by way of more than 19,361 Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs). However, the management of community forests and subsistence agricultural systems in the Middle Hills is sub-optimal and livelihood outcomes remain limited and inequitable with the result that food insecurity is widespread.
Factors that impede the ability of community forestry and agroforestry systems to provide adequate livelihoods are complex and manifold, and are situated in social, cultural, political, economic and ecological domains. Some of the critical factors include: low productivity of agricultural lands; sub-optimum management of community forests; persistent inequity and marginalisation of some community members; limited marketing opportunities for community forestry and agroforestry products and centralised planning and service delivery, limited uptake of research findings in policy making and implementation processes.
This aim of this project, known locally as EnLiFT, was to enhance livelihoods and food security from improved implementation of agroforestry and community forestry systems. It set out with the objectives to:
1. To improve the capacity of household-based agroforestry systems to enhance livelihoods and food security;
2. To improve the functioning of community forestry systems to enhance equitable livelihoods and food security of CFUG members;
3. To improve the productivity of, and equitable access to, under-utilised and abandoned agricultural land.
In the agroforestry domain, participating households immediately benefitted by the increased incomes from the horticultural cash crop components of these interventions. They learnt nursery skills for further development of their on-farm fodder trees, and business management skills to more efficiently engage in commercial farming. The capacity to promulgate this knowledge and skills has been captured in a suite of extension products. Impact monitoring of project interventions has shown that it is possible to reduce poverty and increase food security with relatively simple agroforestry interventions on private land within a relatively short period of time.
To reflect the principle that active and equitable forest management is a pathway to food security, EnLiFT1 produced a bioeconomic model that integrates the farm-forest interface. It can be used to project likely impacts on food security from agroforestry and community forestry interventions. With this model we also learnt that not all farmers will benefit from the horticultural commodity interventions and those without regular off-farm income (e.g. through remittances) will have better opportunities in livestock systems with intensive on-farm fodder systems and/or woodlots of high value trees on currently under-utilised land.
EnLiFT1 articulated the institutional, regulatory and policy barriers to further development of timber production on private land, finding that the regulatory process for selling timber from private farms is so complicated and time consuming that there is little incentive for farmers to participate. In 2015, following an EnLiFT policy lab on this topic, the government amended the Forest Regulations to enable farmer to harvest and sell 23 commonly grown tree species from private land, after undergoing a one-time registration and transport permit process. The project has laid the foundations enhancing farmers’ livelihoods and food security based on privately-grown timber.
In the community forest domain EnLiFT1 demonstrated improvements to the functioning of community forest systems, through adoption of a new framework that integrates biophysical disciplines with the participatory silvicultural practices of Active and Equitable Forest Management (AEFM); and the social disciplines via the process of Strategic and Inclusive Planning (SIP).
AEFM, by providing striking visual examples of well-managed forests, had a powerful impact on perceptions of all stakeholders. Over the five years of the project we witnessed a shift from resistance and reluctance to actively manage community forests to enthusiastic engagement and encouragement to up-scale the activity.
The SIP activity developed a strategic consultative process in the renewal of community forest operational plans that significantly reduces time and resource demand without compromising critically needed inputs and ownership of CFUG members. Women and disadvantage groups are actively engaged so that it is truly inclusive. It is an activity that includes significant capacity building of CFUG members. It is the foundation for further consultative planning process that need to occur as federalism is instituted where there will be new layers of government involved in forestry planning and management.
EnLiFT1 also produced a comprehensive foundational knowledge base of the current status of community forest markets and the attendant problems. The project enabled the reactivation of a community sawmill at Chaubas through the establishment of a community-private partnership, that enabled 330 local households to obtain sawn timber to use in house reconstruction following the 2015 earthquakes. We also learnt that there needs to be a rethink on modes of collective management of community forest enterprises, and that a community-private partnership has provided early promising results.
In the domain of under-utilised and abandoned land (UUL) EnLiFT1 was not able to achieve on-ground examples of bringing UUL back into production. Unfavourable currency exchange fluctuations and the unexpectedly high costs of labour (compared with the usual in-kind partner commitments in other ACIAR projects) meant that we had very limited resources for this objective. Nevertheless, EnLiFT1 delivered two high-quality and complementary accounts of the drivers and dynamics of UUL that is currently informing policy: e.g. inputs into the 14th Plan of National Planning Committee.
Overarching the three objectives was the highly successful EnLiFT Policy Labs (EPL). The EPLs proved to be an integral component of our action research process. By creating real-time research-policy interface, EnLiFT team has been able to translate scientific insights into ongoing policy cycles covering the three project objectives, thus escalating EnLiFT impact on enhancing livelihoods and food security from agroforestry and community forestry.
EnLiFT also generated important conceptual and methodological contributions to the literature on mountain forest development, such as: 1] pathways approach to link forest and food security; 2] modelling the farm-forest interface; 3] silvo-institutional model for sustainable forest management; 4] AEFM for participatory silviculture; 4] Rapid Forest Appraisal for participative assessment of forest quality; 5] Strategic and Inclusive Planning processes; 6] Community-based entrepreneurship; and 7] EnLiFT Policy Labs to foster the science-policy interface.
The Government of Nepal has recognised the success of EnLiFT by encouraging a more focussed phase 2 project, EnLiFT2, which aims to enhance forest management in community forests and private land to improve livelihoods, social equity and environmental impact. That project will do this by: 1] enhanced adoption and benefits from AEFM and improved private forestry practices; 2] developing community forestry planning, governance, and gender equity frameworks within the context of new local government system; and 3] designing and facilitate the establishment of pro-poor small-scale forest enterprises.