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Population and environment issues in Nepal and the need for community development policy.


It is widely recognised that environment, economy and social well-being are inextricably linked (Ness and Golay 1997; UNCED 1992). In Nepal, the livelihood of the rapidly growing population and the national economy mainly rely on forests and agriculture [United Nations Development Programme Nepal (UNDP/Nepal)] 1997; Central Bureau of Statistics/Nepal (CBS/Nepal) 1995). Concomitant with population growth, governmental initiatives for a faster development of infrastructure base such as construction of roads, irrigation dams, hydroelectric projects, and housing exert pressure on the country's forest and agricultural land (Pant and Acharya 1988; Soussan et al. 1995) which is increasingly associated with long-term environmental degradation (UNCED 1992).

Progress in preventing long-term degradation requires effective policies (World Bank 1997: 1). The government of Nepal has expressed growing commitment to combating the population and environmental problems in the country. It has established national institutions such as the Ministry of Population and Environment, formulated and revised laws regarding forest resource management and adopted an antinatalist population policy [National Planning Commission (NPC) 1997]. However, despite the government's effort the achievements have so far remained well below expectations (Gonzalez 1990; Subedi 1995). One major reason for this failure is the lack of effective community empowerment policy (World Bank 1997: 1; McNicoll 1975: 1).

The analytical framework given below presents the population and environment relationships in the form of a flow diagram (Diagram 1). It identifies four factors influencing land use change. Population dynamics and economic and infrastructure development activities are major causes of change in land use pattern. The policy of central government and the response of local community groups are also directly associated with the change in the pattern.

The changing land use pattern is in turn associated with environmental degradation. The framework attempts to depict linkages between population dynamics, economic and infrastructure development activities and land use, which are influenced by policies and regulations of the Central government and by the activities of local community groups. The resulting intended and unintended ecological consequences, in turn, would affect the land use pattern, population dynamics and central government policy.

The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to describe the changing relationships between population and environment in Nepal in terms of the changing pattern of land use, because land use change is often a precursor to degradation (UNCED 1992). The paper also aims to analyse the changing pattern of land use in terms of population pressure, socio-economic development and government policies and to discuss the environmental consequences of the changing pattern of land use. The paper also draws out the population and environment policy implications of the above analysis and makes some recommendations with regard to community development policy. The paper begins with a comment on available data on land use, then outlines changing patterns of land use, its causes and ecological consequences. It then reviews and comments on the government's population and environmental policies in the past and considers the potential value of a community empowerment policy for achieving ecologically sustainable land use practices.

Date on Land Use

The discussion of changing population and environment relations with regard to land use in Nepal is hampered because detailed and comprehensive data are unavailable (UNCED 1992). The survey of the Land Resource Mapping Project (LRMP) of the Water and Energy Commission which provides data for 1978/79 undertaken by LRMP (1986), still provides the latest land use information (Table 1). However, this survey alone cannot provide all land use information. So, some other sources such as the Statistical Year Book of Nepal 1995 (CBS 1995) and the LRMP survey report of the Water Resources and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) 1964/65 are also utilised. The LRMP reports are based on aerial photographs (producing maps at a scale of 1:50,000). Besides these, other national and international publications related to the topic are also used. Nonetheless, it is important to understand some limitations of the data on land use change in Nepal.

The principal data limitation concerns the extent of forest resources. All land with at least 10 per cent crown cover, excluding private land, comes under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department and is considered `forest land'; land with the same crown cover including private land is considered `forested land' (WECS 1986:7). The extent of forest resources in the country was unknown until the first detailed survey undertaken in 1964/65 based on aerial photographs. Since then, a number of forest surveys have been undertaken. Unfortunately, the resulting databases are often inconsistent and not comparable because of differences in methodologies, coverage (widely varying geographical areas), units of measurement and definitions (Soussan et al. 1995).

The first aerial photograph survey produced comprehensive information for two of the three broad ecological regions of Nepal [terai (plains) and hills] and provides data by administrative forest divisions including forested areas, timber volumes, and yields. The next comprehensive survey was undertaken in 1972, using satellite imagery. The figure obtained (5.2 million ha. forest) is only a rough estimate, as the technique used was poor at assessing the smaller blocks of woodlands which are characteristic of many hill areas in Nepal (Soussan et al. 1995:6). The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), UNDP and the Integrated Watershed Management Project made another estimate based on 1975-satellite imagery. Using a definition of forested area based on a 50 per cent crown cover, the total estimated area was 4.1 million hectares (Nelson et al. 1980). However, this definition is not considered appropriate for the natural conditions of the Himalayan region, where forests are far less dense than those of many other parts of the world (Soussan et al. 1995:7).

The second aerial photograph survey was undertaken in 1978/79. This survey presents data for physiographic zones, and estimates forested land based on at least 10 per cent crown cover, similar to the 1964/65 survey. The land use type of the 1964/65 survey was re-estimated by the Water and Energy Commission using the same definition as the 1978/79 survey, thus allowing comparisons to be made.

Changing Patterns of Land Use

The distribution of forest cover and agricultural land (Tables 1, 2 & 3), which is discussed below, indicates the changing land use pattern in Nepal.

Land Use Condition: Forest cover can be used as the best yardstick to study environmental stress in a nation. Forests are not only the source of such vital resources as timber, fuel wood, fodder, pastures and fresh water but also the alternative source of agricultural land expansion. Land productivity is also related to forest resources for the raw materials of compost manure and water for irrigation.

According to the LRMP 1978/79 classification, the land use pattern in Nepal is divided into five physiographic zones. Table 1 shows the relative proportion of land use in each zone. The sum of the total percentages of open forest and well-stocked forest gives the total area covered by forested land. In total, 38.0 per cent of the country's total land is covered by forested land; 18.0 per cent is considered suitable for agriculture, of which 59.4 per cent is irrigated (khet) and the remaining 40.6 per cent is rain-fed (bari). Most of the land in the high Himalayas includes rocks (66.7%), and grazing and shrubs while most of the land in the terai is irrigated land followed by well-stocked forest.

It is unknown how the proportions of different categories of the land shown in Table 1 may have changed after 1978/79. However, the data from the two land resource mapping projects 1964/65 and 1978/79 permit analysis of the changing pattern of forest cover for two ecological zones (Table 2).

Forest Cover and Deforestation

The forest cover in the country is decreasing due to rapid deforestation (UNDP/Nepal 1997). The total forest cover fell to 41.5 per cent in 1978/79 from 44.0 per cent in 1964/65 (Table 2). The forest cover in the hills alone decreased by 3.4 per cent between these periods, whilst in the terai it decreased by more than 24.0 per cent.

Deforestation can be defined as the permanent loss of old growth forests in the nation. Over the past 15 years, the terai had a much more rapid rate of deforestation with 2 per cent per annum compared to the rate of deforestation of 0.2 per cent in the hills. The main causes of deforestation are associated mainly with the expansion of agricultural land and commercial logging (UNDP 1997; UNCED 1992). The destruction of many forests in the terai is the result of commercial logging (UNDP/Nepal 1997: 1). As underscored by UNDP:
 It is estimated that about 84,000 ha of land is deforested every year. The
 annual rate of deforestation in the terai alone is estimated at 3 per cent
 and the quantity of the growing stock of wood in these forests has fallen
 from an average of 150 [m.sup.3] per ha. in the mid 1960's to less that 90
 [m.sup.3] per ha. now. In the past 30 years, Nepal has lost forest cover at
 an average annual rate of nearly 2%. If the present trend of deforestation
 continues unabated, whatever remains of the forests will disappear in less
 than three decades (UNDP/Nepal 1997:1-2).

Agricultural Land Use

Eighty one per cent of the labour force in Nepal depends on agriculture (UNDP/Nepal 1997: 1; UNCED 1992:29) and is exerting pressure on agricultural land. As shown in Table 3, the total cultivated land area in Nepal increased by about 53 per cent from 1971 to 1991. This expansion in cultivated land over 1971-91 was highest in the hills, followed by the mountains and the terai zone. As mentioned above, the cultivable land area is estimated to be only 18 per cent of total land area of the nation. But the total estimated cultivated land area of nearly 21 per cent (Table 3) already indicates the over use of marginal, steep and forested land.

Using population data from the 1994 medium projections of the United Nations and land data from the 1993 Agrostat database of the FAO, Engelman and LeRoy (1997:45) projected per capita cropland for 125 countries of the world for the period of 1960/61, 1990 and 2025. The projected data for Nepal show that the per capita arable land was 0. 19 hectares in 1960/61. It declined to 0.14 ha in 1990 and to 0. 07 ha in 2025. This decline in per capita arable land in 2025 can be seen more clearly through the lens of the scarcity benchmark, which indicates the serious challenge in growing enough foods to improve diets and to reduce malnutrition for the growing number of people (Engelman and LeRoy 1997:25).

Causes of Changing Pattern in Forest and Agricultural Land Use

There are a number of factors associated with the changing pattern of land use. The main associated factors are population pressure, and economic and infrastructure development activities.

Population Pressure: The levels of classical variables from social demography such as population size, age distribution, and crude birth and death rates are exceptionally powerful indicators of the extent of population pressure (Ness and Golay 1997:99).

The continuously increasing total density by total and cultivated land area in Nepal is the result of a high crude birth rate at 41.2 births per 1000 population and moderate and a declining crude death rate at 13.3 per 1000 population per year and a high proportion of under 15 population (43 % in 1991) (CBS 1995).

The above factors indicate that the period required for the population to double is becoming progressively shorter. According to Joshi (1992:225), the projected population size of Nepal in 2011 is 32.7 million under a scenario of high fertility (TFR= 4.5) and low mortality ([e.sup.o] = 70 years) and 27 million under a scenario of low fertility (TFR= 2.5) and high mortality ([e.sup.o]= 63.5 years). Given the pace of socio-economic development and the limited impact of population program efforts in Nepal, the total population will probably continue to grow fast into the twenty-second century (Karki 1993:24).

Poverty: It is still widely assumed that the farmers and the poor are the main agents of deforestation (UNCED 1992). In Nepal more than 45 per cent of the country's population are estimated to be living in abject poverty (UNDP/Nepal 1997). Recently, for the year 1996 it has been reported that 42 per cent of people were below the recommended nutrition-based poverty line while 53 per cent had daily income below US$ 1 per day (UNDP/Nepal 1997; World Bank 1997). These people are assumed to be relying on natural resources for their livelihood and are frequently blamed as the root cause of environmental degradation (NPCS 1991; Karki et al. 1993; UNCED 1992). However:
 ... there is a mistaken belief that deforestation is largely due to the
 growing' rural (poor) population and their fuel wood and fodder needs.
 Actual studies have shown that, whereas poor rural people use twigs and
 leaves and dung, it is the urban market that prompts contractors, often
 with the connivance of the guardians of the forest, to fell the trees
 illegally for a growing and a very profitable urban market. The tribal and
 rural poor also indulge in selling head-loads of fuel wood to urban markets
 for earning a few rupees, but the scale of these operations is tiny
 compared with the massive transport of logs by the contractors from
 reserved forest areas to urban markets (Chowdhury 1991:46).

The problem in this context is how to manage the natural resources effectively. As argued by Reardon and Vosti (1995), the major concern in the context of sustainable resource management is that relevant sub populations are "investment poor" (in the sense that they lack the ability to make minimum investments in resource improvements) rather than being simply the "welfare poor" (as measured by income, consumption, or nutrition criteria). Communities that are investment poor lack the capital needed for investing in sustainable resource management.

A number of case studies in Nepal show that some poor communities have been able to successfully preserve their forests under certain conditions. For instance, a settlement named Sitalpati in Sankhuwasabha district has succeeded in conserving its forests (Soussan et al. 1995:72-73). Similarly, studies carried out in Fabling Panchayat (council) in Salyan district (Zurick 1990), Pandrung and Majh Lakuribot Panchayats in Gorkha district (Exo 1990),. Ganeshthan and Maina Bisauni Ban in Sindhu Palchok district and Nalako Thulo Ban in Kabhre Palanchok district (Gilmour and Fisher 1991) demonstrate genuine examples of preserved forests through the initiatives of poor local communities.

This preservation has been done through the agreed community rules, which include the share of cash or kind for the payment of forest watchers and equal distribution of the sustainably extracted forest products for all community members. This situation is similar in many places in the rural hills in Nepal. This evidence shows that the frequent tendency to blame the poor for environmental degradation is unfounded and that the poor can care for their environment if they have the kinds of capital needed to invest in resource management. Later I will clarify further the different levels of capital needed.

Economic and Infrastructure Development: Being an agricultural country, Nepal provides employment in this sector to the vast majority (81%) of its labour force, although the proportion of labour force in this sector is declining over time (CBS 1995:215). Due to its poor economic base, Nepal has not been able to transfer much labour from agriculture to non-agricultural sectors. So, economic development that improves the quality of human life (Ness and Golay 1997:17) relies mainly on agriculture in Nepal. In this context, the ever-increasing population pressure has been a problem in enhancing economic development. This is because, on one hand, the nation has not been able to fulfill the basic requirements of infrastructural demands in providing the services and resources needed to enhance economic development (CBS 1995). On the other, the unsustainable management and use of resources in the process of infrastructural development, for example roads, hydroelectricity and housing, as discussed below, exacerbate land degradation.

Construction of Roads: Because of the government's commitment to linking all parts of the nation with road networks, road construction has been a major development activity of the Nepalese government since 1950 (Chalise 1991). Although road construction in Nepal is very important for economic development, unsustainable resources use during construction practices, such as felling more trees than actually needed and poor engineering, have been factors of environmental problems. There are two reasons for poor engineering in road construction (Schaffner 1987). One is the inadequate mixture of cement with sand needed for wall construction from the base of the roads. Another is the alignment of roads on riverbanks where bank cutting of river systems creates conditions more likely to cause land movement. The changing river regime due to the dumping of road cuttings into the river system is another serious problem (Laban 1979 in Chalise et al. 1993). These processes are responsible not only for destroying the forests and fauna but also for erosion and floods.

Hydro-electric Projects: Nepal is a country with the second highest hydroelectric power potential in the world (CBS 1995). Hydro-electric power could be one of the most important sources of energy to preserve the forest resources replacing the existing overexploitation of forest resources in the country. However, unsustainable uses of forest and land resources in the process of power generation Schemes have an adverse impact on the local environment (Soussan et al. 1995). According to Soussan et al.'s research findings, the Trisuli and Devighat Hydro Projects (completed at 1983) had not only a major impact on the forest area but also resulted in loss of much fertile agricultural land. There are many other power schemes similar to Devighat and Trishuli Hydro Projects, which suggests a similar impact on the environment. However, such adverse impacts can be minimized or avoided if rigorous environmental impact assessment (EIA) is made even in small-scale projects. Based on the report of the EIA in 1995, a large-scale hydro-electric project, Arun Ill, was not implemented because of its potential adverse impact on environment.

Housing And Settlement: Land use for housing is one of the many human requirements for normal living. Daily human actions necessitate frequent interactions with the environment: Although the land area occupied by housing and settlements is less than 1 per cent of the total land area with 2.8 million dwelling units, unplanned housing and unsustainable use of forest products as well as other resources needed by the rapidly growing population have been serious problems in the country (UNCED 1992:35).

Ecological Consequences

The above discussion shows the status of land use change and its major underlying causes, which are related to the ecological consequences. It is also important to understand that besides human induced factors natural processes are also important for ecological degradation in Nepal.

Natural Processes: By the 1980s, most writers (Eckholm 1976; Caine and Mool 1981; Pandey et al. 1983; Myers 1986) held the view that a rapid growth in the subsistence population was the main cause of deforestation, consequently bringing serious problems of soil erosion and flooding in Nepal. However, Smadja (1992:2) in 1992 found that natural factors were also responsible for the ecological degradation such as gully erosion. This finding was based on an inter-disciplinary (agronomists, ethnologists, ecologists, and others) study of Salme slope, located about 20 kilometres south of the Ganesh Himal in Nuwakot district. The reason is that the natural factors by themselves play a major role in shaping the land structure. The Himalayas in Nepal are the youngest, loftiest and most rugged mountain systems in the world with their sharp relief and the most highly fragile geological system with constant tectonic uplifting (Soussan et al. 1995). Consequent uplifting is causing the down-cutting of river systems, mass wasting, land slides, river bank-cutting, flooding, avalanches; and glacial lake out-bursts are exerting pressure on the environment and vegetation. This finding might be applicable to all Himalayan regions in the country.

Soil Productivity: Despite the continuous expansion of cultivated land area, crop yields are diminishing and the cost of production is increasing. The reason for this is the mismanagement of soil and water resources combined with poor administration of chemical fertilisers (Hamal 1991; UNCED 1992; UNDP/Nepal 1997). The use of marginal and steep land for agricultural use has accelerated the loss of top soil and water runoff, which, combined with the natural process of erosion causing destructive flooding and siltation, have also contributed to the decline in agricultural productivity (DFAMS 1985). One major reason for declining productivity is continuously depleting forest reserves. This created an increasing scarcity of fodder supply and compelled farmers to reduce the amount of compost manure, made from livestock bedding, which is useful for cultivation (Hamal 1991:71).

Nowadays, there is an increasing interest in organic and traditional farming techniques as a means of maintaining soil fertility. Engelman and LeRoy (1997:37) have noted that a growing number of farmers in Europe and the United States are experimenting with organic techniques. In developing countries traditional farming techniques may a!so offer lessons in sustainability. The promising strategies for sustainable agriculture in developing countries including Nepal are described as follows:
 ... some of the most promising strategies for sustainable agriculture are
 "low-tech" and well tested by experience. These include composting, mixing
 and rotating crops, and cultivating such "green manure" plants as beans and
 clover, which add to the soil's carbon and nitrogen content. Trees draw up
 nutrients from deep in the sub-soil, which can then be transferred to
 topsoil by way of mulch and compost. Animals convert forage crops into
 energy and manure. Such strategies can be applied more creatively in the
 developing world to supplement and minimize the need for expensive and
 environmentally problematic fertilizers and pesticides (Engelman and LeRoy

Erosion and Flooding: Development programs, although not intended to destroy the natural environment, in practice frequently have this effect (Chalise 1991). Development activities, including those related to infra-structure development, such as road construction, irrigation dams, hydro dams, generators for irrigation and electricity, irrigation channels, power lines, and buildings put direct pressure on the natural environment (Chalise 1991). Increasing deforestation is one of the best examples:
 Increasing deforestation has added to soil erosion because of the increased
 run-off from rainfall. Deforestation also means more frequent floods and
 droughts downstream causing immense damage to crops, cattle and people.
 Deforestation can also alter the local hydrological cycle, diminishing
 water tables for agricultural use. Deforestation in the Himalayas also
 means that cow dung and crop residues must be used as fuel, thus depriving
 the soil of nutrients and organic matter that would help to maintain a
 healthy soil structure and productive land (Chowdhury 1991:44).

The destabilisation of fragile mountain slopes, caused by earth cuttings, blasting, blocking or hampering of natural drainage flow, and silting of reservoirs and canals consequently causes destructive erosion and flooding and damage to life and property in the nation. For instance, in July, 1993, floods killed over 1,100 people, 25,000 livestock, and destroyed 28,000 houses, 40,000 hectares of farmland, 347 km. of roads, 206 bridges, 26 dams, 405 irrigation channels, and 337 public buildings, and inflicted a total loss of over USS 76 million (HMG/N 1993).

Implications of Ecological Consequences in Policy Role for Development

Application of effective population and land use policy is important in keeping balance between population and environment. Box 2 summarizes population and environment policies and goals since 1850 and documents how the policies including land use have been changing in response to the ecological consequences.
Box 2: Summary of the Government's Population and
Environment Policies in Nepal 1850-1997.

 Plan and Period Main Features

Indigenous (Talukdari -- forest management by local people
system) Rana regime, 1850- and by community-paid watcher
1951, before starting plan systems, managed for basic needs
period) of timber, fodder and fuel wood
 and also agriculture land

First five-year plan -- focused on increasing agricultural
(1956-61) production, extracting more
 revenue from forests, implementing
 resettlement schemes in the terai.

Forest nationalisation -- state took control of forest;
(1951-76) `Green forests Nepalese wealth'
 was the main slogan, restriction
 to subsistence needs of forested
 products, reduction of the
 degradation of forests, loss of
 indigenous management systems,
 forests virtually became nobody's

Second Plan (1963-65) Land -- emphasis on food production,
Reform Act, 1964 continuous resettlement scheme in
 the terai, increased production and
 productivity through the equitable
 distribution of agricultural land,
 discouraged the holding of excessive
 land in agriculture.

Land Survey (LRMP, -- survey of natural resources, forest
1964/65) demarcation, construction of fire
 lines and forest roads, and
 promotion of forest-based industries.

Third Plan (1965-70) -- realised the need to reduce
 population growth, population
 pressure experienced in the hills
 compared to the terai and mountains,
 priority in resettlement schemes in
 the terai, set target to reduce CBR
 from 39.1 to 38.1 but achieved 43
 births per 1000 population at the
 end of the plan.

Fourth Plan (1965-70) -- importance given to curbing
 population growth, reducing the
 birth rate, reclamation of forest
 land and increased agricultural
 production through the resettlement
 program, increased revenue from
 forestry sector.

Fifth Plan (1975-80) -- emphasis on reducing birth rate
 through family planning and maternal
 child health programs, regulation of
 external and internal migration,
 provision of basic facilities for
 education and health, set target to
 reduce CBR to 38 per 1000 population
 but achieved 42.2 births per 1000 at
 the end of the plan.

Green Revolution -- emphasis on irrigation, chemical
 fertiliser and high yielding varieties
 of seeds, intensive cultivation and
 credit subsidy policy.

The National Forestry -- restoration of the balance of the
Plan, 1976 enacted nature (manage forests, control
 floods, land slides and soil erosion),
 economic mobilisation, practice of
 scientific management, promotion of
 public cooperation, and initiation of
 the concept of community forestry.

Sixth Plan (1980-85) -- demographic targets set to reduce TFR
 from 6.3 to 5.8 children per woman,
 achieved 6.1 children per woman,
 maintain population growth rate at 2.3
 percent per annum but achieved 2.5
 percent per annum, improve soci-
 economic conditions, fulfil unmet
 demand for family planning, first
 formulated integrated policy on
 population and socio-economic
 development relating to agriculture,
 forestry, environment and rural
 development, emphasis on immigration

Seventh Plan (1985-90) -- set targets to reduce TFR from 6.1 to
 4 children per woman.

Sources: CBS 1.995; HMG/N 1976; HMG/N 1988: 67-69; Gilmour and King
1989: 77-79.

Population Policy

Nepal started its series of five-year development plans in 1956. Regarding population policy, the first (1956-61) and the second (1962-65) development plans were focussed on population resettlement program in the terai (NPCS 1991), aiming to rehabilitate the landless peasants and to relieve population pressure in some neighboring hill regions (Tuladhar 1989). The eradication of malaria, combined with the provision of land at nominal price with basic facilities such as roads, schools and health posts, induced hundreds of thousands of migrants to move from hills and mountains, as well as from India, to the terai (CBS, 1987).

The government realized the need to reduce population growth during the third development plan (1965-70) and antinatalist population policies emphasizing family planning have been adopted since then (Box 2). In each five-year development plan, government set demographic targets (Box 2). However, the achievements were well below the expectations (NPC 1997).

Environment Policy

As mentioned in Box 2, Nepal has revised forest and agricultural policies with its series of five-year development plans. Increasing agricultural production and extracting maximum revenue from the forests have remained constant policy aims in all development plans. In order to increase agricultural production per unit land area, a `green revolution' policy was introduced during the fifth development plan period (1975-80). However, it could not be sustained for the long run because of poor application of agricultural technology.

The forest policy also changed after the overthrow of the Rana regime in 1951, when a new government who brought in a new Nepal Private Forest Nationalisation Act 1957. This Act brought all forests including those privately owned by communities and by private individuals under the control of the state with the intention of preserving forest resources, and by controlling their use by the local people in order to maximise national revenue (Mahat et al. 1986). However, because of two major flaws the forest resources were increasingly destroyed in later days (Soussan et al. 1995). Firstly, the forest ceased to be community wealth and secondly, government machinery failed to provide adequate management. The destruction of forests was the result of the expansion of agricultural land, unsustainable domestic consumption of forest products and commercial logging (Soussan et al. 1995).

During the fifth development plan (1975-80), the National Forestry Plan 1976 was enacted in order to restore forests and to control massive erosion and floods. The Community Forestry program was recognised for the first time following the 1978 promulgation of the Panchayat Protected Forest Acts (Community and Private Forestry Division 1997; Dahal 1994:19). By this Act, each Panchayat could be given official control over the local resources in order to manage and protect local degraded forests under a scientific forest management plan prepared by the Forest Division Office (Community and Private Forestry Division 1997). However, the result was disappointing.
 One major reason for the disappointing results was the impractical nature
 of the Panchayat protected forest rules, which failed to create an
 environment for the full participation of all users. Neither did they
 provide a clear procedure for the transfer of authority for protection,
 management and utilisation of forests to the users. The handover
 certificates of Panchayat protected forest were issued to the Panchayat. In
 effect the management authority was transferred from the District Forest
 Officer (DFO) to the Pradhan Pancha (chairperson of the Panchayat) while
 the status of custodial element remained the same. The forest remained as
 Government Forest in another name (Community and Private Forestry Division

Although the concern about natural resources, especially of forests, was highlighted in all five-years development plans, the environmental issue is a relatively recent concern of development planners and policy makers in Nepal (NPCS 1991:46). Land use and environmental management policies were formulated for the first time in the sixth five year plan (1980-85). This plan included population control measures to alleviate population pressure on the environment, especially on forest and agricultural land. Emphasis was also given to public awareness on environmental issues such as erosion and flooding resulting from deforestation and over-use of steep and barren land in order to gain community participation to preserve the environment. The seventh five year plan (1985-90) went one step further to envisage the involvement of non-governmental agencies in environmental protection. Thus forest policies have been the main aspect of the government's overall environmental protection policies.

New legislation, the Government Forest Act 1992, came as the most recent legislation from the new established democratic government during eighth development plan (1992-97). Its main aim was to hand over all accessible hill forests to the local communities for protection, use and management through forest user groups (FUGs). However, there are some ambiguous laws in this Government Forest Act, 1992 by which local communities cannot be assured that the forests have been handed over to them for protection, use and management (Dahal 1994:119).

Clause 26, Sub-clause 2, Amendment in Management mentioned that "if any amendment in the original management plan of community forest has deleterious effects on the environment, the District Forest Officer, after receiving the amendment, will notify the users within 30 days not to amend the original plan and it is the duty of the users to follow his instructions". There are two gaps in the law: first, the clause does not specify the conditions that can bring about deleterious effects on the environment and second, the District Forest Officer plays a major role in making the final decision (Dahal 1994).

Another clause, Clause 68, mentioned that "whatever may be stated in the Act elsewhere, in any national priority project, if there is no alternative except to use the forest, provided it does not affect the environment, the Government can give permission to such a project to use a part of the CF, Contract Forest, and Religious Forest." These laws clearly show that there is still strong government control over the forests, and a decisive role for real protectors for effective management is lacking.

The government policies and programs discussed above suggest clear gaps (Subedi 1995). So, despite the favourable expectations, unintended negative consequences have been experienced over the years (Box 1). Hayes's observations in the following paragraph reflect the true reality in this context:
Box 1: Goals of Development Activities and Their Unintended
Environmental Consequences in Nepal

 Development Goals

Deforestation Conversion of
 forested land for
 industries and for

Expansion of To increase total
arable and food production
including steep,
marginal and
forested land

Intensification of To increase food
cultivation using production and
modern technical reduce pressure on
input natural resources

Infrastructure To facilitate
development (e.g. infrastructural
roads, hydro- needs, such as
electricity, and transportation,
settlements communication
 and settlements

 Development Unintended Environmental Consequences

Deforestation 1. Massive soil erosion and excess
 2. Affects hydrological cycle (Gilmour
 activities 1991:22; Chowdhury 1991)
 3. Pushing people to move from hills and
 mountains to the terai and urban areas
 (K.C. 1992)

Expansion of 1. Massive soil erosion and soil loss (Pant and
arable and acharya, 1988:178; Joshi, 1981; UNDP/Nepal
including steep, 1997).
marginal and 2. Loss of 30 per cent revenue per year by
forested land flooding (UNCED 1992:53).
 3. High sedimentation in river beds in the terai
 rising at the scale of 16 to 30 mm annually
 and possibilities of river widening over a
 vast tract of fertile crop land (IUCN/HMG
 1983 in UNCED 1992).

Intensification of Often land degradation and loss of land
cultivation using productivity (DFAMS 1991)
modern technical

Infrastructure Mass soil wastage, erosion, change in river
development (e.g. regime and loss of lives and properties
roads, hydro- (UNCED 1992; Joshi 1981)
electricity, and
 Successful development policies depend on a realistic appreciation of the
 relations between policy and community. Large-scale development projects
 promoted by political leaders as in the national interest but which in fact
 do not meaningfully relate to the development efforts and aspirations of
 most of the population rarely produce appreciable social benefits and
 sometimes prove economically or politically disastrous (Hayes 1992:196).

The past and current policies on population and environment issues in Nepal are not satisfactory. It needs to be realized that natural, physical or produced and human capital (excluding social capital) can have only a partial effect on development processes (World Bank 1997). World Bank underscores that:
 It is now become recognized that these three types of capital determine
 only partially the process of economic growth because they overlook the way
 in which the economic actors interact and organize themselves to generate
 growth and development. The missing link is social capital (World Bank

In this respect, the working policies in Nepal are not adequate for dealing with the current population and environmental issues. Thus, understanding the value of social capital, the link, which is still missing in the process of development in Nepal, is important.

Social Capital

The term `social capital' has found its way into economic analysis only recently (World Bank 1997). In the sociological and anthropological literature social capital generally refers to the set of norms, networks, and organizations through which people gain access to power and resources, and through which decision making and policy formulation occurs (World Bank 1997:78; Coleman 1993:9-10). So, social capital is capital that is embodied in social organization. It is a resource in the same sense as other forms of capital. It can be drawn on to yield security and well-being. For example, in a family system, social capital takes the form of a network of obligations. In local community group social capital facilitates coordination and cooperation for the mutual benefit of the members of the groups (Putnam 1993, World Bank 1997:78). In this sense, community empowerment is the important aspect for the better mobilization of social capital.

A social organisation in the form of cohesive association maximises the utility of the group and creates trustworthiness that occurs in horizontal and vertical associations. The creation of trust and reciprocity is more likely in horizontal groups, especially based on kinship or other dense networks (for example, based on gender, ethnicity or caste) (World Bank 1997:80). However, in Nepalese context, the increasing rates of seasonal and long-term migration of the members in the communities tend to weaken the social capital. In this regard, World Bank underscores:
 One implication of a trust-based functioning of networks and associations
 is that it is helped by stability of membership and damaged by mobility. A
 development path characterized by massive rural to urban migration thus
 runs the risks of eroding social capital. Rural associations may be thinned
 out by departing members and lose critical density. Urban areas may not
 readily provide a suitable environment for recreating these associations.
 However, in some .cases migrants have formed urban groups (often along
 ethnic lines by common region of origin) to share information about
 available jobs and to channel this information back to their place of
 origin to help prospective migrants. Like migration, involuntary
 resettlement due to dams or other development projects can damage social
 capital (World Bank 1997:80-81).

Community Empowerment

Nepal, as all other developing countries today, espouses the major aim of promoting development, which can sustain and enhance the people's quality of life. National policies should be able to translate levels of wealth into the highest possible levels of human welfare. Development without conservation of resources robs future generations welfare but conservation without development equally robs the current generations welfare (Ness and Golay 1997:18). Development cannot be sustained by simply transforming the natural capital into physical capital.

Social capital cannot be mobilised if the local communities are not empowered (World Bank 1997). The most encompassing view of community empowerment is that the local community should be granted the social and political environment that enables norms to develop and to shape social structure in the interest of the community (World Bank 1997:78). This view also includes the more formalized institutional relationships and structures, such as government, political regime, and rule of law, the court system and civil and political liberties (World Bank 1997:78).

Specification of community empowerment in Nepalese perspective is an important aspect. However, it is also important to keep in mind that Nepalese communities are generally divided into several sub-communities along caste/ethnic and class lines with different norms in mountains, hills and terai. Those communities are also active in domains of customary laws and justice, principally based on caste, ethnicity and religion. Those customary laws among the diverse caste, ethnic and religious groups often evolved independently (UNDP 1998:12). In this context, specification of a particular community empowerment policy covering all diverse communities is a complex phenomenon in Nepal.

Countries, regions and communities with similar endowments of natural, physical and human capital have achieved different levels of economic performance (World Bank 1997:77). It has been found that if government policies provide an enabling environment, characterized by institutional arrangements and organizational designs that enhance efficiency, exchange of information and cooperation between government and local communities, security and well-being have been achieved (World Bank 1993).

Better achievement of social well-being is possible in the full participation and partnership of both women and men. Although decision making in Nepal is primarily dominated by men, women spent most of their time related to family well-being. HMG/IUCN in this context underscores that:
 The time spend by women in field work, animal husbandry, food processing
 and fuelwood, fodder and water collection is nearly double that of men -
 4.9 compared to 2.6 hours per clay. When income earning activities and
 domestic work are added, the average workday for women is 10.8 hours and
 for men 7.5 hours. Much of women's daily activity centers on the basic
 resources - wood, water, land, fodder, crops and livestock, the production
 of food, shelter, energy and clothing and, ultimately, the concern for
 human health and family well-being (HMG/IUCN 1988:9-10).

It is found that if women in the local communities are empowered in decision making, they can eliminate many disorders in the local communities. It is not only effective to conserve natural resources such as forest but also effective in birth control practices. For example, organized women's groups in Bajura district of Western Nepal have been able to conserve forest (UNDP 1998:8) while Sisters' Savings and Credit Cooperative Society in Amarapuri VDC in Nawalparasi district with a membership of 60 women show another excellent example of this kind:
 The group has eliminated gambling in the community and continues to mount
 an increasingly successful campaign against drinking, a predominantly male
 indulgence. Immunization of children ... and birth control after two
 children have been other successful activities of the group (UNDP 1998:8).

The above instances show how women's participation in organized fashion is effective in solving the problems related to resource conservation, birth control practices as well as other local social problems.

Similarly, some locally formulated forest user-groups in rural Nepali communities where female members are also involved have already proven that local community groups are more effective at enforcing common agreements and cooperative actions when the local distribution of forest products is more equal and the benefits are shared more equally. This then provides a local case of how efficiency and equality go together. Better sharing provides an incentive for better coordination in managing local public goods, which increases productivity for everyone (World Bank 1997:81).

Ness and Golay (1997:19) suggested three major benefits to be derived from broad-based popular participation of local community groups. Firstly, more knowledge and information about local needs and resources will be put into the planning and implementing process. Secondly, adaptation to local conditions will be better; and thirdly, more effort will be mobilized by local people and groups committed to the achievement of the plans. It can be argued from the above discussion that government alone cannot act for successful development without the broad participation of local communities for which community empowerment is a basic necessity.


Though the notion `population growth as the cause of environmental degradation' is common, environmental outcomes in fact, depend on people's ways of life and the organization of their economies which, in turn, mainly depend on the effectiveness of government policies. The failure to increase food production despite the expansion of agricultural land, to preserve forest resources and to reduce population growth, despite the government's efforts in Nepal, imply the ineffectiveness of government policies. Based on the above analysis, this study concludes that not only population pressure but also ineffective population and environmental policies and inefficient development activities are the major reasons for environmental degradation. In addition, natural factors, which are mostly out of human control, also often contribute in degrading the environment.

It is also recognized that government direct interventions cannot be helpful in protecting the environment. Similarly, natural, physical and human capital without social capital cannot have full effect in the development processes. So, recognition of social capital is very important. The mobilization of social capital is not possible without community empowerment. Community empowerment could be the basis for better population and environmental policies.
Table 1: Distribution of Land Use and Land Condition by
Physiographic Zones, Nepal 1978/79

Land condition Terai Siwalik * Middle

Open forest 2.2 8.6 18.1
Grazing and shrub 4.4 6.7 35.8
Well stocked forest 25.8 68.1 22.3
Rain-fed agricultural land 6.1 5.3 15.1
Irrigated agricultural land 50.4 7.4 7.3
Others (Gravel, rocks etc.) 11.1 3.9 1.4
Total Percent 100.0 100.0 100.0
Total area ('000 ha) 2122.0 1879.0 4350.3

Land condition High High Total
 Mountain Himalaya

Open forest 14.7 2.1 10.3
Grazing and shrub 29.7 28.5 24.7
Well stocked forest 40.4 2.3 27.7
Rain-fed agricultural land 5.5 1.4 7.3
Irrigated agricultural land 1.4 -- 10.7
Others (Gravel, rocks etc.) 8.3 66.7 19.3
Total Percent 100.0 100.0 100.0
Total area ('000 ha) 2900.2 3497.0 14748.5

* Siwalik is the area ranging in altitude between 300-1600 meters.

Source: Land Resource Mapping Project, 1986.
Table 2: Distribution of Forest Area in Nepal, 1964-79

 Forest area
Ecological (percent of total area Percent Annual percent
zones of 147181 change change

 1964/65 1978/79
Hills 38.6 37.3 -3.4 -0.2

Terai 5.3 4.0 -24.4 -2.0

Total 43.9 41.5 -5.9 -0.4

Source: Land Resource Mapping Project, 1986
Table 3: Distribution of Total Area and Proportion of Land
Cultivated by Ecological Zones, Nepal 1971-91

 Proportion of land area

Ecological zones Total Land (1) 1971 (2) 1981 (1) 1991 (3)

Mountain 51817 1.9 2.4 3.1
Hills 61345 9.9 15.5 22.8
Terai 34019 38.0 41.0 44.0
Total Percent 13.6 16.7 20.7
Total area ('000 ha) 147181 19960 24637 30520

Source: (1) CBS, 1987: (2) Dhital, 1975: (3) HMG/ADB/FINIDA, 1988
Table 4: Population Density (persons per sq. km) in
Ecological Zones, Nepal, 1971-1991

 Ecological Zones
 density in total land area Total

Year Mountains Hills Terai

1971 22 99 128 79
1981 25 117 193 102
1991 28 137 253 125

 density in cultivated land area

1971 700 690 330 490
1981 800 820 500 640
1991 880 960 660 780

Sources: CBS 1987: 15; CBS 1995: 135


I would like to sincerely thank Dr. Adrian C. Hayes, Fellow at the Graduate Program of Demography, Australian National University not only for his suggestions and comments during its write up but also for his encouragement to write paper in this field.

I am also indebted to Professor Geoffery McNicoll and Dr. Terence Hull of the Graduate Program in Demography, Australian National University for their many useful comments and suggestions. I am grateful to Marian May for editing and Jacob R. S. Malungo and Yohannes Kinfu Ashagree for their comments and encouragement.


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Author:Dahal, Govinda Prasad
Publication:Contributions to Nepalese Studies
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:9NEPA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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