Symposium: Involvement of local communities is important in the management of mountain forests and preventing environmental degradation, it was pointed out by representatives of countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas at the ongoing Transforming Mountain Forestry symposium in Dehradhun, India.

It was also pointed out that the bottom-up approach of co-managing forests has been in existence for the past three decades, and has increased participation of communities in planning, research, development, management and policy-making of forests.

The community forest model has been successful in countries like Bhutan, India, and Nepal, it was also highlighted by member countries.

However, it was also pointed out that, despite successes, co-management is fraught with multi-layered challenges.

For instance, while community-based forest management has contributed to forest conservation, limited access to forest resources and skewed sharing of benefits havE not allowed for maximum livelihood gains.

Centre for People and Forests, also referred to as the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre for Asia and the Pacific executive director Tint Lwin Thaung said the decision-making and management of community forest at the local level provides for realistic solutions to become available to communities.

“But development is very slow because of a lot of issues; adequate legal frameworks are very complicated, difficult and complex bureaucratic processes are involved including time consuming,” he informed the audience. “We should give a chance and trust people to remain as a custodian of the forest.”

A panelist, Lobzang Dorjee, from the department of forests and park services from Bhutan said the government has provided 100 percent of the total area of forest to the communities for management, which include community forests.

“Although we’re in the learning stage but we’ve totally handed over the management of forest to the communities, which is why Bhutan almost has more than 500 community forests across the country,” he said. “But many challenges were faced since the start, and once the community forest program was (halted) but was resumed about three months back.”

He added that office bearers of the community forest management committee indulge in malpractice without the knowledge of members and communities are not informed about what has been sold and earned.

Many of the members acknowledged that information to local communities must be passed, preferably in a local language, without legal or technical jargons.

S Aminullah Fakhri of Afghanistan remarked that community participation is easier to achieve in dense forests, but has been difficult in degraded open forests for lack of income accruing from them.

Many shared that co-management needs a bottom-up approach, collaboration, sharing of information, transparent decision-making, accountability, well-defined property rights, and a proactive forest management.

More than 200 regional and global experts – including cross-sectorial policy makers, scientists, practitioners, donors, civil servants, media, market actors, and legal experts are discussing to outline options for sustainable forest management practices and policies that address the changing conditions in the Hindu Kush Himalayas at the symposium.

Organised by the Forest Research Institute, in collaboration with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the five-day symposium ends tomorrow.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Dehradun