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Forest Resource Conservation in Nepal

Final Report Summary - FORCONEPAL (Forest Resource Conservation in Nepal)

Halting and reversing forest loss while alleviating poverty is a key aim of emerging sustainable development agendas. Over the past 40 years, numerous national and international governmental and non-governmental organizations have promoted community forest management as a way to enhance both sustainable forest use and reduce rural poverty. Today local communities are estimated to manage ~15% of the world’s forests. Yet despite the rich literature that has emerged around community forest management and natural resource rights, the evidence linking community forest management to reductions in deforestation and poverty remains insufficient. This is because most studies to date have relied on case studies at single points in time and used qualitative poverty assessments that are difficult to compare across space or time.

This International Outgoing Fellowship - which linked the School of Biology at Newcastle University, the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield and the International Forestry Resources and Institutions research network at the University of Michigan - developed a new approach to assess community forest management outcomes in Nepal. The project compiled and analyzed a large, national-level longitudinal dataset combining national census-derived poverty estimates and high-resolution forest cover change data with near-complete information on Nepal’s >18,000 community forests and a suite of additional socioeconomic and biophysical datasets. Doing so, allowed the fellow (Dr. Oldekop) to gain a suite of state-of-the-art analytical techniques and develop a large international network of collaborators.

Results from these analyses provide several new insights. First, they show that community forest management has reduced both deforestation and poverty in Nepal, and - critically - that the two outcomes are synergistic. Results also show that baseline levels of poverty moderate the reduced deforestation impacts of community forest management, and that the size of community forests and longevity of community forest management arrangements are key contributors to the effectiveness of community forests. These results make several important contributions to our understanding of drivers of forest cover and rural livelihood change with important implications for local stakeholders, national governments and international organizations; the finding that community forest management has led to synergistic reductions in deforestation and poverty confirms the evidence collected by 40 years of case-based research. Importantly, results suggest longer-term investments and larger areas committed to community forest management lead to greater benefits. Second, our finding that poverty acts as an important moderator of community forest management environmental outcomes suggest that community forests established in poorer areas likely require additional support to reduce socio-environmental tradeoffs. Further analyses also show that international migration - a key feature of globalization in the 21st century and the largest socioeconomic and demographic change in Nepal’s recent history - is a significant driver of reforestation. These results show that the effect of international migration is mediated by reductions in population density and lower levels of household agricultural activity, particularly in more agriculturally suitable areas. These results suggest that actions to reach global sustainability, biodiversity targets, and reduced emissions can be better designed and targeted by taking into account the effects of international migration on natural resources and ecosystems.