REDD+ in Dolakha, Nepal: Making a Community Economically Independent

Eileen Lemke
Trishna Singh Bhandari

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) has finished testing a mechanism that provides financial incentives to locals for good forest management in Charnawati watershed, Dolakha, central Nepal. Real-time REDD+ payments have been made based on a combination of performance, and social and economic criteria – the enhancement of carbon stock, the number of indigenous and dalit (oppressed groups placed at the lowest end of the traditional caste system) households, the ratio of men and women, and the overall number of households in the 60 square kilometer area.  

Dolakha, Nepal
Photo: Eileen Lemke

The REDD+ initiative has been working to build the capacities of resource persons in the area, and the newly formed REDD+ working group. It works with the Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal (FECOFUN), ICIMOD, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). Till date, the initiative has overseen the plantation of paulownia saplings, the setup of a REDD+ desk, and the distribution of solar units for the local community in Dolakha. 

The initiative’s efforts affect the lives and livelihoods of the local people, as well as their forest resources. The REDD+ team spoke to the head of the local Community Forest User Group (CFUG), Ram Krishna Shrestha, recently about the changes that have taken place in the Charnawati watershed lately. Excerpt from the conversation: 

For how long have you been associated with the CFUG?

I have been head of the CFUG for eight years now. Our forest spreads across 3.32 hectares, and supports 108 households, of which 60 percent are dalit.

Ram Krishna Shrestha speaks about changes related to local forest resources to the REDD+ team 
Photo: Eileen Lemke

What were the beginnings of the CFUG like?

In the beginning I was a beneficiary of the CFUG. My family and I used to take our cattle into the forest to graze. We were not aware of how to protect the forest. When I was about 20 years old, I participated in a study tour which took me to Pokhara and Baglung. It was a 20-day trip, and I learned a lot about how community forest management works during this time. I was impressed by what I saw and thought a similar kind of management would present a great opportunity to Dolakha as well. I wanted to protect our forest. When I returned from the tour, I started working as deputy director for the CFUG. 

What challenges did the CFUG face along the way? 

At first it was very difficult getting people involved in the protection of the forest. The CFUG stopped allowing cattle into the forest to graze, and the people simply did not like that. Many villagers would come to my house and start arguing with me. My family asked me to leave the project. But after some time people started realizing that protecting the forest is very important, and the CFUG started getting support. My family also realized that whatever I have been doing through this project has been very good. These days, I get their full support. My involvement with the CFUG has changed my life. I started with misusing the forest, but I protect it now. 

Blacksmith Common Facility Center established by a local dalit community
Photo: Eileen Lemke

How has REDD+ supported the CFUG and the community at large?

The REDD+ project was first conducted here from 2010 until 2013. It carried out carbon studies, and distributed NPR 116,000 to the CFUG over the course of three years. Some people in our community were cutting down trees and selling forest products at the time. They changed their means and methods of earning money over the years. They learnt that they can generate income through other means. The money the project distributed was a boon. It contributed to skill development in our community, especially for marginalized groups – dalits, women, and the poor. We were able to support them with small contributions. They could start small businesses or expand pre-existing ones with the loans that were handed out. This made our community economically independent. Besides vegetable and mushroom farming, CFUG members started farming chicken and goat, and making agricultural tools.

What plans does the CFUG have for the future?

We need to protect the forest in the long term for ourselves and for future generations. The forest influences our everyday lives, and protecting it will benefit us all.