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Forest certification and FSC standard initiatives in collaborative forest management system in Nepal/Certification forestiere et initiatives standard FSC dans le systeme de gestion forestiere collaborative au Nepal/Iniciativas de certificacion forestal y estandar FSC en el sistema de gestion forestal colaborativa en Nepal.


Forest Certification (FC) is a voluntary third-party process that ensures forest products are generated from well-managed forestland in accordance with the fundamental principles of sustainable forest management (Clark and Kozar 2011). It is also a widely accepted mechanism that gives consumer assurance that their purchases do not contribute to ecological degradation (Bhattarai 2005, Acharya 2007). It came into the existence to help combat the massive deforestation and degradation that occurred around the world from the 1960's to 1990's (Jaung et al. 2016) and uses market-based incentives to improve forest management (Bass 2002). It is a powerful tool for forest management throughout the world, which advances the advantages to entrepreneurs, workers, managers and society (Hensbergen et al. 2011).

Forest certification schemes have been piloted in community forests of Nepal since 2005, facilitated by the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN), Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bio-resources (ANSAB) and Nepal Foresters' Association (NFA). A total of 89 community forest user groups (CFUGs) with their 12,282.18 ha forests are involved in certification, which is meant to ensure that 24 non-timber forest products (NTFPs) including handmade paper, essential oils, herbal products, are sustainably harvested from sustainably managed forest (Rainforest Alliance 2017). However, attempts to apply forest certification in Collaborative Forest Management of Nepal has yet to begin.

Collaborative Forest Management (CFM) in Nepal

The last four-decades of participatory forest management in Nepal, have focused on community forestry and have often been hailed as a success (Kanel 2004, MoFSC 2013), but these practices also have limitations (Chakraborty 2001, Kunwar and Bhattacharya 2008, Dhungana et al. 2017). Most notably, people living farther form forests have not received an equitable share of the benefits of forest products nor have they been allowed to utilize the forests as much as those living closer (Baral 2002, Rai et al. 2017). Because of the poor management of valuable large tracts of Sal (Shorea robusta) forest and forest governance in lowland Tarai (Ojha 2000, Khadka 2000, Springate-Baginski and Blaikie 2007), and in line with the statement of Master Plan for Forestry Sector (MPFS 1989), the Government of Nepal (GoN) initiated a new decentralized forest management modality, named Collaborative Forest Management (CFM), in 2003 by promulgating collaborative forest guidelines. CFM was enacted with the major objectives of: (i) fulfilling the need for forest products, (ii) reducing poverty by employing more people, (iii) maintaining high levels of biodiversity, and (iv) promoting national and local income through active management of the Tarai and Inner Tarai forests (DOF 2012). The guidelines and policies for ensuring the proper management of CFM in Nepal are as follows: The Forest Policy (2015), Forest Sector Development Strategy (2016-2025), Forest Act (1993, 2nd amendment in 2016) and the CFM Guidelines (2012).

In CFM, the government intends to manage large tracts of national forests of Tarai through involving of local government and communities in decision-making, implementation, benefit-sharing and monitoring through well defined policies and structures. It generally develops a working partnership among the key stakeholders (public, private and policy makers) in the management of forest. According to Carter and Gronow (2006), all three key stakeholders bolster the CFM mechanism. Thus, the CFM is a successful means of mitigating the complex problems of multiple interest groups through a social learning process (Lama 2007) and reiterating socio-cultural mores (Bhattarai and Kunwar 2017). The ongoing CFM policy and practices attempt to create social harmony (Figure 1) in addition to increase forest productivity (Bhattarai et al. 2017).

CFM is recognized as one of the successful models of participatory forest management in the Tarai (Paudyal 2007, Bhattarai 2019), which is being implemented with the active roles of three major collaborators: communities, Division Forest Office (DFO) and the local government (Figure 2).

Equitability within the management structure of collaborative forests is one of its most important components of their success but also one of the hardest to ensure. In particular, establishing a close partnership between proximate and distant users, and between local and central government, is integral to ensuring all stakeholders are heard and conservation measures are followed. Here we referred the distant users as they are not the members of the newly formed forest group but they are indigenous in the area and have long been using the forest (Dhital 2006). Today, CFM is in position to supply wood in the urban areas (Bampton et al. 2007, MSFP 2016), since it is a mainly production-based forestry (MPFS 1989). As the CFM process incorporates larger forest areas, users and population in Tarai, there is a high potential for synchronizing forest certification standards and CFM management activities.

In this paper we assume that if adherence with the criteria and indicators of the Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) economic, social and ecological attributes was met then the forest under considerations would be able to generate sustainable forest products and maintain their integrity of biological diversity and livelihood through enhanced forest governance. In this pursuit, we appraised the eligibility and potential of two collaborative forests of lowland Tarai to test how currently aligned their management is with FSC forest certification requirements and where changes must be made to meet these guidelines.


This study was based on a qualitative inquiry approach. We used participatory rural appraisal through focus group discussions, participatory observation, semi-structured interviews and checklist surveys to collect information related to socio-economic and ecological potentials and trade-offs of CFM. Field visits were carried out between September and November 2018. Semi-structured checklists were written in local dialect, and questions about CFM policies and practice, practicability of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) standards in CFM, and readiness for SFM were administered with the help of local assistants. Altogether 20 users (10 from each CFM sampled) were included for information collection. From these, only 15 CFM users including 10 men and five women from Tilaurakot CFM of Kapilvastu district and Lumbini CFM of Rupandehi district agreed to be enrolled. We consulted five officials of CFM as key informants. The study sites were selected based on approval by the District Forest Officials (Figure 3).


There are currently 30 registered CFM groups in Tarai, Nepal, which at the end of 2018 included 827,225 households and managed 73,334 ha forests. It is estimated that 4,262,516 residents have benefitted from CFM in Tarai (DOF 2018). The collaborative forests selected in this study are large in size in terms of productivity, users and management, and are representative of about 10% of area and population of the total Tarai CFM. The selected collaborative forests are also rich in biodiversity, culture and the people within them are more economically advantaged (Table 1) than those in the surrounding forest areas. Between the two study sites, Lumbini CFM was found to report better social and environmental outputs in comparison to Tilaurakot CFM. In addition, both outcompeted the peer groups since they acknowledge the potential of Tarai forests as an asset and capital of production, conservation and social welfare through the better networking and fair sharing of resources among the users and stakeholders.

The rich plant biodiversity found in collaborative forests was generally associated with large and heterogeneous areas of productive forests that are nurtured by indigenous and local communities (Table 1). Socio-cultural and highly populated collaborative forests are consistent with the biodiversity riches and productive refugia. The CFM guided to accommodate landless and poorer households who have evolved traditional ways of harvesting resources for their livelihood, without depleting them. The records showed that under CFM, the landless and poorer households are getting spaces and their voices are increasingly heard. The forests are better managed by local and indigenous communities since the forest management collaborated local communities with their concerns. Earlier the forests were overexploited because of unattended management. They were adversely affected (Ojha 2000) when restrictions were posed and their connectivity to nature was jeopardized, aggravating loss of biodiversity (K.C. et al. 2014) and traditional knowledge used for subsistence and primary health care was unattended. Nowadays there are many fewer cases of disputes and conflicts because resource access was simplified and distant users were also accommodated for sharing benefits (Table 2).

Although complete handing over of forest to local communities is not yet finalized, in reality the forest is now collaboratively managed by local forest user group. Before giving local people governance over the forest, there were large amounts of degradation in the area and illegal collection of poles, NTFPs and timber was rampant (Acharya et al. 2011). Today, the reemergence of threatened plant species such as Dalbergia latifolia, Rauvolfia serpentina and Pterocarpus marsupium suggests that forest management has improved. Regeneration was found successful than earlier record and found that there were 6000 [ha.sup.-1] Sal seedlings in Tilaurakot and 3000 [ha.sup.-1] in Lumbini (Table 1). Similar observations of regeneration were also recorded from forests close to our study area (Awasthi et al. 2015, MSFP 2016). In the five-year period of collaborative forest management, plant species composition has markedly been improved while also a more equitable use pattern of the forest was established. Significant changes in plant species composition were also recorded by Department of Forest Research and Survey (DFRS) (2015). The collaborative forests are now in position to supply woods in the markets (MSFP 2016) and could be the source of sustainable products (Kesari 2012) if the SFM criteria and indicators are adopted.


A CFM operation plan, which provides information on how forests are managed to maintain their continuity for providing services to both nearby and distant users and numerous other benefits, is co-developed by the forestry professionals, local experts and communities. The plan tries to balance both social harmony and environmental integrity. A sign of how CFM guidelines have tried to include all users are their provisions for Dalits, women and indigenous peoples to participate in CFM committees. However, the full and effective participation of these marginalized groups was not yet ensured at the time of data collection. Notably, users were also not fully aware of their roles and responsibilities within the CFM. The role of divisional forest officers was still sometimes overarching, which jeopardizes the effectiveness of participatory forest management, and diminishes the voices of indigenous communities and distant users. The executives of CFM were sometimes found mislead to CFM and exploited the users at the cost of participatory and equitable benefit sharing. For example, hundreds of forest members were hired to harvest trees, log and conduct other forest management activities, but were not contracted formally.

Many government policies regarding CFM's have still yet to be enforced when data was collected. These included social security, insurance and other occupational health and safety measures as well as Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) reports that were never reviewed or implemented after the approval of CFM management plans. The precise role of three partners of the CFM was yet to be defined and gender based wage discrimination was also reported. Honest commitment from stakeholders and active implementation of policies are yet to be institutionalized (Khadka 2000). Furthermore, the ongoing federal restructuring process seems to complicate CFM most in comparison with other forest and tenure regimes, since central and local governments are two of the three key parties in the CFM partnership equilibrium (Dhungana et al. 2017). The tree management strategy was pervasive and the plans to fetch immediate and higher economic returns were common. Some other impediments include ambiguity in tenure rights and benefit sharing mechanism (Rai et al. 2017, Dhungana et al. 2017). We hope that applying FSC standard initiatives and forest certification could help CFM to deliver better forest and livelihood outcomes.


Participants of our study area were thankful that the CFM tried to ensure equitable distribution of forest products to their members regardless of the distance where the members are from. According to CFM policy, about 50% of the forest products is allowed to use for community use and 50% for local forest offices for administration and government's revenue. CFM users have been exercising democratic practices such as electing the executives, handling grievances, transparency and decentralization of the authority during formation of groups and implementation of forest management plan. The CFM plan has set up a unique governance model to engage all kinds of users in the committees (Paudyal 2007). CFM users in the study area have formed a governance hierarchy of ward level units (smallest unit), VDC level units and CFM group at the top, resulting in a mechanism to embrace all sectors of communities in the structure, which are quite innovative from the rest of the participatory forest management regimes being practiced in the country.


The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), is the world's largest forest certification agency, integrating social, economic and environmental attributes in their sustainable forest management plans. It was established in 1993 as the first forest certification institute and its certification schemes have become widely accepted by both environmental groups and consumers (Higman et al. 1999, Acharya 2007). There are ten FSC principles, which cover social, economic and environmental aspects of the management of forest (FSC 2016) (Table 3). FSC principles, criteria and indicators are not directly implemented in CFM sites in Tarai but there is a huge potential in implementing these principles for sustainable management. In this study, we compared and valued the FSC principles in CFM practices (Table 3).

Forest certification is a voluntary market-based mechanism that helps to ensure sustainable forest management while supporting the livelihoods of forest dependent communities. If forest a management unit (FMU) such as CFM intends to be certified by FSC, the mechanism outlined in Figure 4 would need to be applied.


CFM has been deliberately developed to have inclusive mechanisms at different organizational levels. Moreover, it provides skill development training, insurance, safety equipment, and appointment to the users and workers that are in line with the FSC goal of establishing community relationships. We have seen that CFM groups routinely assemble, which theoretically allows for effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities, and supports the third and fourth FSC principles. CFM management plans, which provision the management of forests, high value conservation, monitoring and effective implementation, are also in line with the FSC. However in practice, governance of CFMs was not completely successful in terms of participation, representation and benefit sharing when assessed. Forest accreditation could augment CFM to guide sustainable forest management processes and ensure the better participation of indigenous communities and equitable benefit sharing. Acharya et al. (2015) argued that FSC certification is a facilitative tool to maintain good-governance in forest management. Thus, FSC certification would be a supportive device to strengthen sharing of benefits to all users including distant users, women and disadvantaged groups and maintaining forest productivity and environmental integrity (Kandel 2007). Forests are life supporting systems of rural communities in Nepal and also an integral part of the rural and national economy providing goods and services such as fuelwood, fodder, timber, and NTFPs (Rai et al. 2017, Kunwar et al. 2019). It should be noted that fuelwood, fodder and NTFPs are the main source of energy in rural Nepal (Chaudhary et al. 2016).

We propose a model of CFM that better acknowledges sociocultural, economic and environmental variables as envisioned in FSC criteria and principles. Johannes (1993) suggested that the appreciation of indigenous communities, their traditional ecological knowledge and management systems that reference the taxonomic (plants), spatial, temporal and social trade-offs is key to sustainable forest management. We considered that the collaborative forests are centers of bio-social and culturally cultivated space. We found that the objectives of CFM sustainable management forest, strengthening forest governance and conserving indigenous species and knowledge are complemented when advancing the compliances of FSC protocols.


The CFM approach in forest management is innovative as it gives local communities autonomy with the forests they have lived with for centuries, but it is challenging to truly create sustainable forest management in the rapidly developing Nepal. Due consideration to impediments of holistic forest management, forest health and benefit sharing which were recorded in this study and frequently mentioned in earlier reports, must be directly approached and resolved for the CFM experiment to work.

The maintenance of large tracts of forest, equitable involvement of indigenous communities, incorporation of traditional knowledge, and insurance of more economic productivity from forests through a multi-stakeholders' approach is sometimes seen as a pipe dream. The capacity of CFM users and members to network with wider stakeholders to create solutions is also yet to be fully realized. While there are no set standards for CFMs, forest certification could be an efficient tool in shaping all these socio-economic and ecological issues through a tried and tested method of enhancing governance, sustainable production and marketing. In such circumstances, certification would only be achieved once all the accompanied national and international forest management protocols and FSC criteria and indicators were accommodated. Adherence to the FSC forest certification standards will be very useful in maximizing forest productivity and sustainable supply of forest products as well as other socioeconomic benefits in CFM. Having the large and continuous patch of forest areas and commercially important tree species, the forest certification scheme in CFM demonstrates a high potential to co-benefit forest management as well as local livelihoods.


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B.P. BHATTARAI (a), R.M. KUNWAR (b) and R. KC (c)

(a) Kathmandu University, School of Education, Lalitpur, Nepal

(b) Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, USA

(c) Department of Forest and Soil Conservation, Kathmandu, Nepal

TABLE 1 Characteristics of study collaborative forests

                                     Tilaurakot CF, Kapilbastu

Area (ha)                                 6612.60
Household                                22622
Area covered                                23 VDCs and one Municipality
Elevation                                  200-300m
Population                              148631
Distant users                            90650
Women                                    72673
Number of ethnic groups                     20
Average annual income (in NRs)       1960038300
Average annual expenditure (in NRs)   339683000
Gross annual production
Timber (cft)                            595000
Firewood (Chattta)                        1110
Annual allowable harvesting
Timber (cft)                             59500
Firewood (Chattta)                         111
Gross annual employment in Man-days     923715
Number of plant species                   ~500
Number and percentage of NTFPs            ~300 (60%)
Major tree species                   Sal, Saj, Sissoo, Sadan, Siris,
                                     Rohino, Botdhaiaro, Karma, Barro
Regeneration of Sal                  800/ha before
                                     6000/ha now

                                     Lumbini CF, Rupandehi

Area (ha)                                 1321
Household                                25934
Area covered                                16 VDCs
Elevation                                  100-1229 m
Population                              165157
Distant users                            98230
Women                                    80235
Number of ethnic groups                     18
Average annual income (in NRs)       574370000
Average annual expenditure (in NRs)  145240000
Gross annual production
Timber (cft)                            665000
Firewood (Chattta)                        1360
Annual allowable harvesting
Timber (cft)                             66500
Firewood (Chattta)                         136
Gross annual employment in Man-days     198810
Number of plant species                   ~400
Number and percentage of NTFPs            ~200 (50%)
Major tree species                   Sal, Saj, Karma, Rohino Botdhairo,
                                     Bhalayo, Jamun, Jingat, Barro,
Regeneration of Sal                  500/ha before
                                     3000/ha now

TABLE 2 Socio-economic and governance practices in studied CFM

Category            Tilaurakot CFM, Kapilvastu
Demography          The population is 148, 641 (as recorded in 2001 by
                    the Central Bureau of Statistics) with 22622
                    houses, including 23 VDCs and a municipality.
Economic potential  It is estimated that their annual income is
                    approximately Rs, 150-210 million through the
                    management of about 200000 cubic feet timber and
                    300 chatta firewood from 6612 ha forests.
Environmental       There are 14 forest guards working for forest
concerns            protection. Forest patrolling is being done
                    effectively through upgrading and repairing
                    fire-lines. The mobilization of up to 25
                    fire-fighters has been provisioned in March to
                    June, 2018.
Governance          An Implementation Unit with representative group,
                    committee elected by the group, and the committee.
                    Personnel/staff of Government of Nepal assigned to
                    conduct daily affairs and to implement the forest
                    management plans
Benefit sharing     Members have free access to collect fodder, leaf
                    litter, and non-timber forest products. In order
                    to access timber, members in need should apply to
                    CFM with detail of the demand and the purpose of
                    use. The committee grants the access based on the
                    available resources and need of members.
Opportunities       Promotion of alternative energy to reduce the
                    pressure of firewood collection.
                    Skill development and income generating activities
                    can be promoted.
                    Contribution of CFM under Payment of
                    Environmental Service (PES) mechanism can be
                    considered. A number of ethnic groups are
                    co-working, easing conflict management.
Challenges          Open international border has created easy access
                    to poachers and illegal traders.
                    Lack of scientific forest management skills and
                    techniques impede sustainable management.
                    techniques impede sustainable management.

Category            Lumbini CFM, Rupandehi
Demography          21874 households are affiliated with this group
                    and manage 1118 ha forest. 15 VDCs are
Economic potential  According to the management plan, the annual
                    average income of this CFM is NRs. 12286721
                    per year.
Environmental       This CFM has developed forest management plan
concerns            with IEE. For environmental protection, they have
                    planned for wider plantation, species conservation
                    and biodiversity conservation.
Governance          Three level of committee including ward, VDCs
                    and main CFM group to work on the improvement
                    of CFM.
Benefit sharing     Free access to members to collect fodder, leaf
                    litter and non-wood materials. They distribute
                    timber to all villages equally at a minimum price
                    fixed by District Forest Sector Coordination
                    Committee (DFSCC).
Opportunities       Lumbini CFM has a very good quality of forest.
                    Likewise, there is high potential to promote
                    private plantations in the south.
                    CFM members have clear understanding and
                    traditional knowledge of forest management
Challenges          Benefit sharing is yet to be optimized at equity
                    Gender based wages.
                    Lack of scientific forest management skills and

TABLE 3 Values and practices of CFM in accordance with FSC principles

FSC Principles                           CFM Practices

Compliance with laws                     Forest Policy 2015, Forestry
                                         Sector Strategy 2016-2025,
                                         Forest Acts 1993, Forest
                                         Regulation 1995 and CFM
                                         guidelines, 2012
Workers rights and employment            Providing occupational
conditions                               health and safety training
                                         and equipment, insurance and
                                         allowance to workers has
                                         been practiced.
Indigenous peoples' rights               Identification,
                                         representation in committees,
Community relations                      DFSCC, Inclusive governance,
                                         three major actors, role of
                                         Association of Collaborative
                                         Forest Users Nepal (ACOFUN)
                                         Employment generation,
                                         capacity building, provide
                                         Occupational Health and
                                         (OHS), Insurance, equipment
                                         to the workers
Benefits from the forest                 Direct-Forest products
                                         timber, firewood, non-timber
                                         etc.) & indirect services
Environmental values and impacts         IEE developed, monitoring of
                                         IEE etc.
Management planning                      Well-developed plan,
                                         approved by DOF
Monitoring and assessment                Multi-stakeholder
                                         monitoring process,
                                         DFSCC/sub committee
High conservation values                 Identified sites,
Implementation of management activities  Separate unit,
                                         silvicultural management,
                                         activities carried under
                                         annual plan
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Author:Bhattarai, B.P.; Kunwar, R.M.; Kc, R.
Publication:International Forestry Review
Geographic Code:9NEPA
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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