The rainfall pattern has changed in intensity and quality as a result of which paddy production is decreasing

Communities that manage the forests in Nepal are grappling with the vagaries of erratic rainfall, drought and depleting water for drinking and agriculture.

The rainfall pattern has changed in intensity and quality as a result of which production of paddy is decreasing, says Eak B. Rana, project coordinator, REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) Ecosystem Services at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu.

While the people have adapted in some ways to the changing rainfall pattern and lack of water, migration has increased. An ICIMOD study on community perceptions and responses to climate change impacts in Nepal, India and Bhutan points to increased migration, though not due to climate change alone. The study says income generation options are inadequate in Nepal, apart from poor social capital and support systems, leading to labour migration.

Interestingly, it was the people's movement to regenerate forests since 1972 that led to them eventually managing the green areas. In 1988, community-based forest management groups were formally approved, with the Kavre and Sindhupalchowk districts being the pioneers. There are now 16,000-20,000 community-managed forests in Nepal, covering 25 per cent or 1.2 million hectares of the country's forest land, Mr. Rana says.

Communities also earn revenue by selling non-timber forest produce (NTFP).

Rejuvenating the land

A little ahead of Dhulikhel in Kavre district is the Gaurkhureshwor community forest area, spread over 24 hectares. Badri Prasad Jangam, chairperson of the group — which has been managing the forest for 19 years — says this was a bare region earlier, but the community living nearby decided to rejuvenate it by planting trees.

The first area to be managed by the community, the region now is a lush forest with a variety of wild animals, including leopards.

The 60 houses in the village get their fuelwood requirements and the water streams have been recharged in the area. The community grows cardamom and broom grass as cash crops. In addition, the forest gets tourists who are charged from Rs.500 upwards for a visit. The area has local varieties of trees, including rhododendrons and is also known for its orchids.

Saryu Jangam, one of the four women on the nine-member forest management committee, says the earnings are used to train women in tailoring, conservation and in using improved cooking stoves. A guard has also been hired to patrol the forests at Rs.2,000 a month. The community forest is held up as a model and anyone caught felling trees is punished with a fine.

Depleting water sources

However, things are not so happy further ahead in Panchakhal, which is part of the Ratomate community forest area spread over 108.12 hectares. There has been a drought for six years in the area. Khilbahadur Nuitel points to a natural water source that trickled to a stop four years ago; this water had been enough for the entire village. A well that was dug nearby dried up a year ago.

The people blame the extensive pine forests — which were planted in the 1970s to regenerate degraded forests as part of an Australian project — for the depleting water table. Mr. Rana, however, says the pine forests are not the only reason: in fact, there is no research or scientific study to show that pine trees have a high evapo-transpiration rate. He says the streams and water sources in many parts of Nepal are drying up due to prolonged drought and climate change.

In Panchakhal, Mr. Nuitel says, it now rains in May though traditionally rainfall occurred during June-September. With help from an NGO, the village has dug a 250-foot borewell and pumps water to a tank. Villagers get 80 litres a day for their use, but the 11-hour load shedding does not help. Most families use biogas to reduce dependence on forests.

Jamuna picks up her aluminium cans to trudge uphill to fetch water from the tank. “I spend an hour each in the morning and evening bringing water,” she says. The people are planning to plant broad-leaved species of trees to mitigate the effect of the pines.

Ironically, Panchakhal used to be called ‘Mudepani,' which means enough water. It was also noted for its banana crop.

Mr. Rana explains that Nepal still does not have a concrete framework in terms of a policy under REDD, but is part of two programmes: the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, and the United Nations REDD Programme. The country has gotten $200,000 for a readiness preparation proposal and an additional $3.5 million from the World Bank to work on six different components related to REDD.

To adapt to the changing scenario, ICIMOD has set up a demonstration centre in the Jhikhu Khola watershed at Lamdihi village, where Saraswoti Bhetwal shows other farmers the techniques of roof-water harvesting, making farm ponds, drip irrigation, composting and terracing. From growing one maize crop a year, she now harvests rice, potato and vegetables thrice a year. Last year, she says, the rain was scanty and the roof-water lasted only for five months. But now the people come to learn from her.