“Harnessing Synergies between Agriculture and Forest Restoration’

Communities work together to restore forests – an example from Nepal
By Lila Nath Sharma, PhD

Blog from IUFRO Member Organization ForestAction Nepal

Jalthal forest is a 6,000 ha forested land in the densely populated region in the lowland of Southeastern Nepal. It is a remnant moist tropical forest with diverse ecosystems and habitats comprising swamps, rivers, ponds, hillocks and plain areas. It is an important biodiversity hotspot with several threatened floras and faunas including the Asiatic elephant and pangolin. The forest has unique assemblages of tropical and subtropical plant species found in the sub Himalayan tract. Floristic elements from different bio-geographical regions – Sino Himalayan, East Asian and Indian, for example – makes the forest diverse and unique.

The forest is an important source of environmental services including fresh water and multitudes of forest products for people living around the forest.  It is currently managed by 22 Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) and is an important livelihood source for over 80,000 people. In spite of high ecological and social significance, the Jalthal forest is subjected to multiple pressures. These include invasive species, human-wildlife conflict (particularly human-elephant), wildlife poaching, illegal felling of trees and timber focused forest management.

Mikania invaded portion of the forest. Photo by Dr Lila Nath Sharma

For the last two decades the forest has been vastly invaded by Mikania micrantha, popularly known as ‘mile a minute’, locally called as ‘pyangri lahara’. The weed is one among the 100 worst invasive species ever found in the world and is spreading rapidly in Nepal. Mikania is accompanied by another very bad invasive species, Chromolaena odorata. However, Mikania appears far more challenging than Chromolaena in terms of management burden.  Its rapid growth, production of enormous seeds, easy reproduction by both sexual and vegetative means, seed dispersal by wind and persistent soil seed bank make Mikania control challenging and complex. Local people noticed its growth, but they were not aware of the consequences of this weed that came all the way from South America. The small-scale and scattered efforts by the local communities to contain the weed have not been effective so far. It has rather been spreading and has seriously impacted the forest biodiversity, hindered tree regeneration, smothered and killed seedlings and saplings and created problems to local people impeding access to the forest and forest products.

Local people clearing Mikania and another invasive species Chromolaena odorata from the forest. Photo by Lila Nath Sharma

Drawing from local experiences and inputs from invasion and restoration ecologists, the local communities have realized that without restoring the forest, control of Mikania may not be effective. Now Mikania control is within the broader framework of forest restoration. Local people have started removing the weed and protecting advance regeneration. The biomass of the invasive species will now be used in making compost manure which is expected to substitute the chemical fertilizers used in the local farms. In the open areas, native trees will be planted and in others, natural regeneration will be nurtured. It is evident that with growth of saplings and closing of forest crown, Mikania gets suppressed. Local people further agree not to introduce exotic trees in the forest as experiences have shown that they have little benefits to offer.

ForestAction Nepal, one of the IUFRO Member Organizations in Nepal, in close collaboration with the Division Forest Office (DFO) and collaborating partner organization has provided technical support to communities in the difficult and long but necessary battle against the weed. ForestAction along with CFUGs have organized several workshops to sensitize local people and stakeholders in invasive species management and forest restoration. Now the management interventions are informed by phenology and ecology of invading species and site specific conditions.

Local people preparing field for plantation in a Mikania cleared area. Photo by Lila Nath Sharma

As an early step towards a long journey, in the last year, local communities have cleared Mikania in over 150 hectares of the forest, planted more than 20,000 seedlings along with protection of hundreds of advance regeneration. Communities have invested over 12,000 person days’ work in clearing the weed and promoting plantation. CFUGs have adopted slashing rather than uprooting strategies depending on labor and financial resource availability.  Considering the local labor price, the cost is estimated to be around six million Nepalese rupees to clear 150 hectares of the forest, of which a major portion of investment was covered by the CFUGs through wage labor and voluntary labor contribution. A Darwin Initiative UK funded project (project ref: 26-022) implemented by ForestAction Nepal provided technical inputs and supported CFUGs through small funds in the Mikania removal campaign. So far the local peoples’ beginnings are very inspiring. Forest restoration and controlling Mikania demands time, endurance and investments. Given the persistence of Mikania, weed control activities will need to be continued on the same area for several years, if combined with biomass production it can provide some incentives to local people to engage in forest restoration activities. Adequate acknowledgement of the local communities’ role in biodiversity conservation, invasion control and forest restoration by local, provincial and federal government would encourage CFUGs in the battle against Mikania and would help restoring forest for both social and ecological benefits.

ForestAction Nepal is an IUFRO member organization.
Visit their website at: https://www.forestaction.org/