Working towards red panda habitat conservation and the reduction of carbon emission in Ilam and Panchthar

   TwitCount
Shuvani Thapa
Julia Haack

The REDD Implementation Centre (RIC), a body of the Nepal Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC), is responsible for the development and implementation of REDD readiness activities. It is currently piloting emission reduction measures in 12 districts of the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL). As the middle hills and high mountains of eastern Nepal also have potential for the implementation of REDD+, the RIC now seeks to expand REDD preparedness activities to the districts of Ilam and Panchthar. ICIMOD has been requested to provide technical assistance in developing a District REDD+ Action Plan for Ilam. Depending on future funding, an expansion of REDD+ measures to the entire Kanchenjunga Landscape in eastern Nepal is possible.   

Sarita Rai and her husband cooking in their kitchen
Photo: Shuvani Thapa/ICIMOD

The growing size of the human population in this transboundary area has increased demand for agricultural land, fuel and infrastructure resulting in higher rates of deforestation, forest degradation and ultimately habitat loss for wildlife. Considering this, the REDD+ team and the Red Panda Network (RPN) collaborated to conduct a scoping study – “Exploring Synergies between REDD+, Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods” – in the districts of Ilam and Panchthar. The objective was to explore how REDD+ can be promoted in the districts for the conservation of red panda habitat and compliance to emission reduction targets while promoting ecotourism.  

During a two-week field research, the REDD+ team met Sarita Rai, a 38 year old woman who manages a tea shop and mini hotel in Goruwale Bhanjyang in Panchthar. Rai’s daily chores are interwoven with the forest in the area as she and her family are dependent on it for firewood, saplings and grass for their livestock. Her brother is also head of the local community forest user group. As Rai has extensive knowledge of the forest in the surrounding area, she is able to inform her brother about any changes that take place inside the community forest. She also shared her insights with the REDD+ team. Below are excerpts from the conversation:

What motivated you to start this business?

I am originally from Sidin and my husband is from Prangbung, but we shifted to Goruwale bhanjyang so that I could run this hotel and support our children who are 12, 8 and 4 years old. Every rupee that I earn goes into their tuition fees and living expenses in Ilam bazaar. I really want them to study, mainly because I was deprived of this opportunity as I was born a girl. Therefore I am obliged to live this difficult life. But times have changed now and I want them to be educated. Many children in this village loiter and wander, leave school and work as a porter either because they have no motivation to study or don’t have enough money to support themselves. In the future, I would like to open a medical shop but to my dismay, I can’t read English.

Ongoing construction for livestock shed
Photo: Julia Haack/ICIMOD

What does your average day look like?

I wake up at six in the morning and the first thing I do is fire up the mud cooking stove, the chulo, to prepare tea. In the winter this is really important because this place gets very cold and foggy. I then clean the kitchen and take my livestock to graze into the Kanya Devi community forest. After this I prepare lunch and take care of local customers. I feed my pig and two calves. Some days I am busy working on our land planting or harvesting potatoes and vegetables. In the evening I wait for the goats to return. After that, we eat dinner and go back to sleep if there are no more customers.

What type of energy do you use to cook?

Since we live in a remote area where vehicles hardly ply, we have no alternative but to rely on firewood as a source of energy. This year, the Red Panda Network installed improved cooking stoves in Goruwale Bhanjyang which has lessened the amount of firewood we use and improved indoor air quality. Thankfully, there is solar power (20-40 watt) to light up our rooms as our village is not connected to the electrical grid.  

Degraded eastern Himalayan broadleaf and coniferous forest (left). Intact eastern Himalayan broadleaf and coniferous forest (right). Sidin VDC, Panchthar
Photos: Julia Haack/ICIMOD

How connected are you with the forest around you?

Everything I do is interlinked with the forest. We depend on it for everything from cooking food and preparing medicine to collecting fodder for my livestock and constructing our houses which are made of bamboo. If forest products were not available, it would be very difficult for us to sustain ourselves. My husband, who left school in order to feed our children and me, would not have come this far if we were not able to extract forest products.

What do you know about the red panda?

We frequently encounter red pandas in this region. We used to think they were a kind of monkey and paid no attention to them. The Red Panda Network sensitized us about what they are and why they are important for the area. That is how we learnt more about the species. We have learned that many tourists come to this region, especially to Chintapur, to see red pandas and the mountains. We now know that tourism can create different income opportunities for our villages. However, we lack knowledge on how to market our villages as tourist destinations.

Do you think you should conserve forests and do you know about REDD+?

The forest provides us multiple benefits and we are very dependent on it. Consequently, I think we have to nurture our forests. As part of conservation, we carry out plantation activities in our area on our own. We plant chestnuts and medicinal plants such as chiraito which are sold to India for prices as high as NPR 5,000 for 10 kg. These plants are used as raw material and processed into many medicines. However, we only export the raw material as we don’t have any knowledge on processing it. Also, I did not know much about REDD+ before my interactions with you.