This project aims to enhance the capacity of household agroforestry systems and community forests to generate livelihoods and food security in the mid-hills region of Nepal.
Nepal is the 17th poorest country in the world; 41% of the population are under-nourished and 30 of its 75 districts are food insecure. 66% of the population live off a combination of agriculture and forest products. Low productivity, sub-optimal management, limited marketing opportunities, and inequitable centralised planning and service delivery prevent forestry systems from providing adequate livelihoods.
This project will improve management of agroforestry and community forestry systems through biophysical practices and institutional and governance models. It will also provide insights into improving existing markets, creating markets for forest products, and bringing abandoned agricultural land back into productive and equitable use.
The project has made important progress in various aspects of fieldwork, enhancing clarity of roles, improved communication channels, and defining procedures for research and research communication activities. The significant achievements of this first year concern the development of working relationships among project researchers, stakeholders, participating landholders and community forestry user groups (CFUGs). We have worked through some of the vagaries of roles, responsibility and accountability that existed after the Inception workshop by appointing an in-country project leader, Dr Naya Sharma Paudel, 3 Research Group Leaders, 5 disciplinary leaders (modelling; market; institutions, access and equity; policy; GIS;) and 2 activity coordinators (baseline survey; field action research).
This required a lot of discussion and documentation within the project team to develop:
roles and responsibilities of partners, especially among Nepal members;
resource allocation and acquittal processes;
research methodology integrating quantitative and qualitative research methods; and
system of communication and coordination across research teams /themes
The project structure is working well. However, the engagement, coordination and delivery are uneven across the 7 research activities. We started liberally with a large group of individuals suggested by the partner organisations in Nepal, and now we are settling on a more realistic number of researchers. Only about a third of the individuals listed on the project appear to be actively engaged. We expect that the team membership will evolve and we will continue to revisit the roles of marginally active researchers in the upcoming action research meetings for better streamlining the research investment and teamwork. This achievement will provide a solid foundation for effective work for the next four years.
The engagement of stakeholder-partners such Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation (MFSC) and Federation of Community Forest Users in Nepal (FECOFUN) is critical for the success of this project and considerable effort has been directed to secure this. We have been able to hold several rounds of meetings with the heads of DoF and Secretary of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, and have been able to work collaboratively with DFO at the field level. The relationship with FECOFUN at the district level has become firmer but still needs to be field-tested and nurtured especially on the role of FECOFUN centre.
We have engaged six village research sites (aligned with six village development committees - VDCs) across Kavre and Lamjung districts and 24 CFUGs around them. A comprehensive baseline survey of 600 households across the sites has gathered quantitative and some qualitative data. This base-line survey will inform our discussions with farmers and CFUGs as we develop innovative agroforestry and community forestry systems and institutions in a participative process. The baseline survey data will also inform the modelling activity which will be used to estimate the impact of these innovations on food security and livelihoods. We have also planned qualitative baseline report covering household, community and district level data to complete the household survey. We developed both qualitative and quantitative baseline framework through extensive face-to-face and basecamp-based meetings and discussions (Refs: 2014_ 38 to 41).
The overarching research framework is that of action research that integrates biophysical, market, social,institutional and policy research activities. In this reporting period the project has had one full action research cycle: from Inception in May 2013 to Action Research Planning Meeting (ARPM) #1 in January 2014. It is also been through most of the second cycle as we schedule ARPM#2 for July 2014. This framework is working effectively because the Nepal partners, all with a long history in community forestry, are well-acquainted with deliberative action research processes. We are still refining the methodology to suit various research objectives, and anticipate that one of the science outcomes of the project could be more refined version of AR methodologies that can work better in Nepalese context. Our use of the online project management platform, Basecamp has been very useful for facilitating some deliberative processes.
The year 2014-2015 has brought significant changes to the project implementation structure and outputs, following the mid-term review process and also in view of changing policy contexts and exceptional events that influenced the project direction. The EnLiFT project team has been fully engaged with on-ground activity, has re-structured the expected delivery of outputs, and faced with the task of adapting to the consequences of the series of major earthquakes beginning 25th April 2015. Research teams have also produced a number of outputs including draft journal papers and conference presentations.
Action research engagement is now fully in place with stakeholders at all levels under two of the three project themes - agroforestry and community forestry. The work on the third theme ‘under-utilised land’ is still developing with significant changes on the scope of work and its methodology. Engagements with the priority research community forest users groups (CFUGs) and local research groups (LRGs) in the main research sites of the two project districts have been to implement action research on: community forest operational plans and silvicultural trials, new agroforestry products and fodder trials; market development for agroforestry and community forest products; and modelling to understand the farm-forest interface. Delivery of outputs on under-utilised land has been delayed.
During this reporting period, there has been an extensive consultation with government agencies at district level, e.g. District Forest Office, District Agriculture Office, District Soil Conservation Office, District Livestock Development Office and the District Development Committee to encourage contributions of both national and local governments. EnLiFT has also established and strengthened collaboration with these and other non-government agencies in impact pathways, as well communicating initial project findings which need immediate policy intervention. There have also been consultations with senior ministry officials as part of the EnLiFT Policy Labs to create a working science-policy dialogue, which has led to a remarkable policy uptake of research findings and insights on issues related to community forest management and private forestry development.
Two meetings were also held with the Project Advisory Committee composed of senior officials of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and key project representatives to discuss project operations and policy issues for action. One of the outcomes of these meetings was the visit of the Director General for Forests and Australian Ambassador to Nepal to Chaubas sawmill in the light of understanding how community-based timber enterprises may be operated by local people. In the post earthquake scenario, EnLift is also actively contributing to Nepal government’s policy exercise increasing timer supply for the post earthquake reconstruction by harvesting mature trees from community forests, drawing on our ground level silvicultural and community forestry planning works from the project sites.
The key performance indicator for this period was framed as a publication on “Drivers of farming systems adaptation, farmers’ existing agroforestry practices, and perceptions of limitations to their livelihoods across six agroecological settings in the Middle Hills region”. This has been delivered in the form of the paper Factors of adaptation and future of agroforestry in Nepal by Nuberg, Cedamon, Pandit and Shrestha being prepared to submission the journal Agroforestry Systems. The data for this paper was derived from an analysis of the quantitative and qualitative surveys undertaken in 2014.
A significant change of project structure is proposed as a response to the Mid-Term Review conducted in January 2015, with the original 14 research activities re-bundled into 7 research sub-themes. However, this will need further consideration after a stock-take of what activities will be possible following the recent serious earthquakes in the project districts.
Two major earthquakes, 24/4/15 and 12/05/15 are regarded as the worse natural disaster to strike Nepal since 1934. Only one of the six project sites is relatively unaffected. EnLiFT has an interim earthquake response strategy, which has been discussed among project leaders in Nepal and within the Project Executive Team. The plan will be elaborated and confirmed by July 2015 through joint meetings of Australian and Nepalese researchers in Kathmandu in June/July. Our preliminary strategy is to conduct an assessment of earthquake impact in the project sites and then consider any conceptual adaptations (such as integrating disaster risk in the food security and livelihoods research agenda) policy development needs, which the project can support. For example, as timber is urgently needed for reconstruction efforts, activities facilitating the flow of timber from community forests and private farms can be given priority.
The Enhancing Livelihoods and Food Security from Agroforestry and Community Forestry in Nepal (EnLiFT) project has, in its third year, managed to achieve all its scheduled outputs despite the significant challenges of: 1] dealing with the aftermath of the major earthquakes of 25 April and 12 May 2015; 2] the fuel blockade imposed by India from September 2015 to February 2016; and 3] a prolonged winter drought that only broke in last week of May 2016.
In the agroforestry domain, the project has completed a participatory market chain appraisal of agroforestry products, trained farmers to develop business plans for these products, undertaken further promotion of nurseries and demonstration plantings, and documented the barriers to the commercialisation of agroforestry trees in Nepal.
In the community forestry domain, the project has completed a number of meetings and interviews with stakeholders to better understand the link between regulatory framework, community institutions and community forest planning, generating rich action research insights into community-private sector partnership in forest enterprise development, and the interface between community forestry planning and local level planning. It has conducted a number of ‘policy labs’ by engaging policy actors, researchers and communities. It has also made great progress in establishing participatory silvicultural demonstration plots, field days, and assisting CFUGs to harvest trees in more active and sustainable ways. Great interest is being shown in the equitable forest management and silviculture from both government and local sources and the Department of Forests has requested EnLiFT to run a National Silviculture Workshop in late 2016.
EnLiFT’s successes in the domain of under-utilised land has been the production of a paper explaining the genesis of under-utilised land and hosting a National Workshop on Under-Utilised Land in collaboration with National Planning Commission, the recommendations of which were delivered to the National Planning Commission for their 14th Plan.
Other activities, which required no specific output for this report also maintained momentum: characterising the EnLiFT farm-forest bioeconomic model and eliciting women’s attitudes to EnLiFT activities. In this period EnLiFT has also submitted 2 publications to scientific journals, 7 conference / seminar presentations, 2 student theses, and has 6 papers ready for submission within next few months.Four papers and one book chapter have been accepted by international scientific Journals, with EnLIFT research being acknowledged for at least partial contribution.
There were two Key Performance Indicators for this period.
1] ‘A policy brief on options for improving livelihoods and equitable benefit flows from community forestry conveyed to relevant policy makers’. This was achieved through 3EnLiFT Policy Labs with key policy actors, and also the associated notes and briefs shared with policy actors. Research findings on linking community forest with livelihoods and food security were shared and discussions were held on key questions covering the options for improving livelihoods and equitable benefit flows.
2] The’Review of lessons from community-private sector partnership in natural product businesses from Chaubas and other locations’ was only partially achieved. Efforts to develop innovative community-private partnership arrangement are ongoing. Nevertheless the lessons so far are documented in a conference paper and one the journal papers due for submission later in 2016.
Now completing its fourth year, the EnLiFT project has achieved all its scheduled outputs, and in addition sponsored and helped organise a National Silviculture Workshop in collaboration with the Department of Forests, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation . This 3-day workshop resulted in 31 recommendations that will inform much needed forest policy reforms.
In the agroforestry domain, we focussed on training activities of agroforestry system establishment and entrepreneurship. Half of the 300 participating farmers have received this 5-day training so far with backstopping support from Nepal Agroforestry Foundation trainers. An agroforestry entrepreneurship train-the-trainer manual, and associated extension material, is being published. A survey of participating farmers (n=289) found that household income was increased by 37 to 48% mostly due to EnLiFT agroforestry innovations, which can provide up to additional six months of food to the poorest households. Over three years an average of 14% of participating farmers have moved above the poverty line (range 2% to 34% across 6 sites), and 16% have moved to being food secure for more than 12 months (range 4% to 34% across 6 sites). A science-policy interface has become a platform to discuss on various policy issues, mostly related with agroforestry product marketing and to make appropriate recommendations to concern authorities.
In the community forest domain, the core activity of the silviculture team for this reporting period was on scaling-up and scaling-out of innovative silviculture practices trialled in demonstration plots. Silviculture boot camps were held in the six research sites covering 35 CFUGs covering 3,604 hectares of community forest managed by 5,080 households. Training in scientific forest management was also given to forest technicians and CFUG representatives in Kavre district. Project partner FECOFUN also delivered 11 training events on women empowerment in forest entrepreneurship, and district level interaction workshops on forest-based enterprise. As a consequence of EnLiFT engagement the harvest volumes per community forest has increased from between 9 to 16-fold where CFUG internal demand are fully met. Net revenue per hectare of forests thinned under the new silvicultural regimes was on average NRs750,632 (AUD 9,877 range $1,702 - 21,712 across 7 sites). Moreover, the project team has continued to engage with CFUGs and government officials to identity issues and opportunities for inclusive planning practice. The project team also identified the weak research-policy link in Nepal’s forest and agroforestry sectors, and explored innovative methodological approach in the form of EPL (EnLiFT Policy Lab) to link research with policy process.
In this period EnLiFT has had 5 publications in scientific journals, 9 conference / seminar presentations, 6 papers published in our online Research Paper Series called Agroforestry and Community Forestry in Nepa1, 1 PhD student publication, and 1 Honours student thesis.
Reflecting on our successes so far, we can show that EnLiFT has: contributed to a shift in the government and local mindset from passive to active forest management; improved agroforestry systems to lift households above the poverty line and reduce food insecurity; established the link between food security and forestry, identified issues and opportunities of local level planning practice of CFUGs, explored innovative methodological approach in the form of EPL to link research with policy process, and analysis of the drivers for under-utilised land; revitalised the Chaubas sawmill ( a legacy of the 40-year Nepal Australia Forestry Project) with a private-community partnership; and materially contributed to post-2015 earthquake recovery efforts. We have learnt: that it is possible to achieve results in physical forest management against prevailing preconceptions; interdisciplinary research, though difficult, is more likely to have a real-world impact; interdisciplinary projects don’t necessarily need a large team; and government partners need an incentive to be involved.
The Key Performance Indicator for this period was a report and policy brief on interactions and options for improving links between community forestry planning and local level planning. This work articulated the need for collaboration and reconciliation of local government and community forest regulations in order to facilitate inclusive and integrated planning of forest, livelihoods and food security. With the advent of recent local government election under the new Constitution, there is a good prospect for linking these planning processes and realise positive contributions in both social and environmental outcomes.
This bodes well for work in this sphere in any follow-on project after EnLiFT.