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Trees of life: agroforestry and Tearfund in Nepal

How forests (and Tearfund partners) are helping communities in Nepal be economically and environmentally sustainable.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 22 Sep 2023

Forests and farmland in Nepal where 80 per cent of rural households rely on subsistence agroforestry to make a living.

Nearly 80 per cent of rural households in Nepal rely on subsistence farming to survive. Agroforestry (where farming and forestry go hand-in-hand) means that small-scale farmers depend heavily on the forests. Credit: Gaurav Sharma/Unsplash

You might be surprised to learn that it is currently the year 2080 in Nepal. The Vikram Samvat – the lunar calendar widely used in South Asia – means that Nepal is about 56 years ahead of the Anno Domini date of the Gregorian (or Common Era) calendar that puts us in 2023.

Another piece of interesting information about Nepal is that nearly 80 per cent of rural households rely on subsistence farming to survive – growing crops, rearing livestock and collecting forest products (such as herbs). This is called agroforestry (where farming and forestry go hand-in-hand) and it means that small-scale farmers depend heavily on the forests alongside their land to provide them with important things like wood for fuel and construction and fodder for their animals. The trees are also important to help control soil erosion, consume carbon dioxide and conserve biodiversity.

Benefits of community forests

About 30 years ago, in an attempt to deal with the growing problem of deforestation – often caused by herds of grazing livestock – the government in Nepal began a phased handover of state-owned forests to the communities who rely on them. This gave back control and responsibility for their local areas of forest to the people most affected.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development, a UN agency who introduced the approach, reported that within five years, this programme had the following impacts:

  • annual household incomes in the communities rose, which increased food security and improved diet for children;
  • the number of goats per household increased as the amount of animal feed available (from the forest) increased; 
  • women spent around 2.5 hours less per day collecting forage and firewood, so they had more time to spend on income-generating activities and to attend meetings, training and literacy classes. This led to increased self-esteem and confidence;
  • school attendance increased because children were no longer spending their time herding grazing animals;
    environmental degradation reversed at most sites, with ground cover increasing from 32 per cent to up to 100 per cent; 
  • biodiversity (of plants and wildlife) increased significantly.

There are now more than 22,000 Community Forest User Groups who manage one third of the total forest area in Nepal. Since these groups started, the country’s forest cover has increased from 26 per cent to 45 per cent.

Planting new life (and livelihoods)

Protecting forests is an economically and environmentally effective and sustainable way of improving the lives of people facing poverty in Nepal and one of the ways a Tearfund partner has helped support a local community is by providing 240 walnut saplings and support and training to turn a piece of bare land back into a life-giving, life-supporting forest.

Here is their story: 

A problem of deforestation

Baushekailashmandau Community Forest in Bajura district of Nepal was first established in 2055 BS (or 1998 AD). This community forest benefits a total of 180 households in an area where subsistence farming is the main occupation.

The forest itself covers an area of 68 hectares and is home to many varied types of trees and fragrant herbs, as well as a diverse population of wildlife – including deer, monkeys, leopards, horses, bears and birds.

Nearby one of the villages that rely on this forest is a piece of land about 500 square metres large where livestock had been allowed to graze freely. Over time, this had resulted in the land becoming barren and unproductive.

This situation greatly affected the 60 households who rely on this area of forest for their living but, despite trying to get trees planted on this unused land, the local community had not managed to get any outside assistance.

A goat in its stall eats green leaves. Farmers in Nepal have been encouraged to feed their livestock in their stalls to prevent deforestation by grazing.

As part of protecting forest land and promoting its reforestation, farmers in Nepal are encouraged to feed livestock in their stalls, rather than allowing herds to feed by grazing. Credit: Chris Hoskins/Tearfund

Restoring the forest

Since 2077 BS, Tearfund’s local partner, International Nepal Fellowship (INF) has been working with communities around Baushekailashmandau Community Forest – supporting people to make a living and provide for their families. INF also focuses on looking after the environment. As part of this work, the forest has a committee who meet each month to discuss issues affecting the community and to come up with solutions and put them into action.

Last year, the committee decided to plant trees on unused land within the community forest. They considered the types of trees that would be best and walnut trees were chosen because they grow quickly and have many uses. Tearfund’s local partner agreed to provide the necessary tree saplings.

After carrying out a study to make sure the plan would work, they dug a trench to mark the area designated for walnut tree plantation. Each household in the village agreed to contribute five kilograms of animal manure from their livestock for the trench and soon 240 walnut grafted saplings arrived – each one marked with a green colour to prevent the possibility of being stolen.

Tearfund’s partner provided fencing to protect the trees while they grow and one community member was elected to be caretaker of the newly-planted trees. In return, the committee agreed that each household will contribute a portion of their grains at harvest time to provide for the caretaker.

Thriving green environment

The thriving walnut saplings have now created a pleasant and green environment within the community forest, they are helping with environmental conservation and soon the reforested land will also provide economic benefits to the community. The chair of the committee says, ‘INF Nepal supported us with high quality walnut saplings to be planted in this barren land. We are grateful to INF Nepal and donors for the support.’

Pray for Nepal

    • Thank God for the success of projects like the community forests that benefit people in so many ways. Pray for more wise solutions to large scale problems that affect the lives of people at risk of poverty in Nepal and around the world.
    • Pray for people in Nepal who are struggling to feed their families. Ask God for his provision and that they will find solutions to provide for their needs.
    • Praise God for the new trees that have been planted in Baushekailashmandau Community Forest. Pray that they will continue to thrive and will be a great source of economic and environmental benefits for the community.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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