Changing forest governance and community institutions in Nepal
Forests are a central component of Himalayan culture, livelihoods, and farming practices. Starting in the 1960s and 70s, government-owned forests were transferred directly to communities to be managed by common pool resource practices. The resulting network of Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) have become highly effective community institutions for decentralized forest governance. They are also commended internationally for operationalizing community-driven sustainable forest management by improving forest conditions while maintaining access to wood products forest resources (Ojha 2014, Nightingale 2005, Agrawal and Gibson 1999).
CFUG management is considered conservation-oriented, with maintaining access for user group members as top priority. However, there is rising interest within the Nepal government to diversifying management strategies, and specifically, to create more income generating opportunities within community forests. The adoption of such new management strategies has the potential to radically alter both social, ecologic and economic systems across CFUGs in Nepal and especially in the mid-montane regions, where CFUGs are a dominant social and political presence.
We are using policy and document analysis alongside interviews and focus group discussions to examine and track the impacts of changing forest governance structures on community institutions and specifically the role and capacity of CFUGs. Data collection and analysis for this project are on-going. Funding for this research has been provided by the University of California Social Science Research Matrix Team Grant and the Mountain Geography Speciality Group of the American Association of Geographers.