Nepal is blessed with a rich diversity of wildlife – a consequence of the varied landscapes in the country, from high mountain meadows, to mid-hills forests to the plains of the Terai. This diversity of nature is also what underpins much of the economy – at household level, for the millions of people dependent on natural resources for food and fuel-wood, to the income the country earns from international tourists coming to see our rhinos, tigers and red Pandas.

With some justification, Nepal is well known around the world for its pioneering work on community forestry, which has helped restore degraded land and improve the livelihoods of communities. Now, in the latest national plan for biodiversity, the Government of Nepal has committed to integrating biodiversity conservation into its community forestry program – to create a strategy that is good for people and good for nature.

On 4th & 5th August, Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN – the BirdLife International Partner in Nepal), in collaboration with the Department of Forests (DoF) and Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN), organized a two-day workshop to launch the project “Mainstreaming Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services into Community Forestry in Nepal” Funded by the UK’s Darwin Initiative, this three year project aims to ensure that communities maximize the range of potential benefits from biodiversity within community forests preserving cultural values, creating employment and incomes maintaining water supplies, enhancing resilience to climate change and conserving traditional medicine

The workshop was opened by a short welcome speech delivered by Dr. Narendra M B Pradhan, CEO of BCN, before being formally inaugurated by Dr. Rajan Kumar Pokharel, Director General, DoF. Mr. Billy Fairburn (BirdLife International) and Mr. Parbat Raj Thani (BCN) provided further introduction to the work of the project partners, and the objectives of the project highlighting the need for collaboration.

Mr. Krishna Prasad Pokharel, DDG from Department of Forests reaffirmed the government’s resolution of mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystem services in community forests, and outlined the opportunities and challenges ahead. He was followed by Mr. Thakur Bhandari, Central Committee Member, FECOFUN, who described the ongoing practices and issues around the topic. The program was concluded with influential remarks by Dr. Udayraj Sharma, former Secretary Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and Forest and Environment Expert, who supported the significance of the project in further developing the contribution of community forests in Nepal to equitable, sustainable development and to the conservation of nature.

During the second day of the workshop, 20 participants from a range of government and non-governmental organisations presented papers which provided important insights into how biodiversity is being conserved through community forestry, the benefits that biodiversity has brought for communities, but also the challenges that many communities face.

Pragyajan Yalamber Rai (Presenter, UNDP) described how communities at Chihaan Danda Community Forest User Group are restoring degraded land by planting a diverse mix of multiple use tree species, as a measure to increase resilience to climate change. Arati Khadagi (Program Officer, WWF) described how communities upstream of Jagdishpur reservoir are conserving their forests and managing land in ways which reduce the siltation of the reservoir – benefitting downstream users of irrigation water. These downstream users are paying the upstream CFUGs (‘Payments for Ecosystem Services’) to manage their forests in this way. K P Yadav (Project Officer, UNDP) presented a case study which described how the Kalika CFUG of Dang District is benefitting from the conservation of vultures and their roosting and nesting habitat. Tourists are willing to pay to come to see flocks of vultures feeding at so-called ‘vulture restaurants’. In each of these cases, local communities are benefitting from management and conservation of biodiversity within their community forests.

At the end, Dr. Narendra M B Pradhan, CEO, BCN asserted the necessity on the active involvement of all the forestry organizations both governmental as well as non-governmental in tackling the issue of biodiversity and ecosystem services in Nepal.

Learning the lessons from ‘good practice’ examples such as these provides a promising opportunity to introduce biodiversity conservation more directly into the management of community forests – creating forests that are ‘Good for People and Good for Nature’.