From lawyer to RECOFTC trainee to environmental journalist, Krishna Murari Bhandari has played a variety of roles in his career. Given his diverse background, perhaps there is no one better to act as an intermediary between international decision-makers and local stakeholders. Chandra Silori tells us how this RECOFTC alumnus is trying to resolve this disconnect in Nepal.
In some ways, Krishna Murari Bhandari is your typical print journalist – he works hard, is dedicated to his job, and hardly receives any recognition. For two decades now he has been writing a popular column for two of Nepal’s most widely circulated national dailies – Kantipur and Annapurna Post. As vice president of the Nepal Forum for Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ), he has written numerous environmental articles over the years. However, there are a number of things that set him apart from his fellows. For one, he is a lawyer by training. For another, he has a demonstrated passion for serving marginalized groups in the agrarian sector in Nepal, including forest dependent communities, ethnic minorities, and women.
Speaking on his first exposure to global climate change discussions, he immediately pointed out the disconnect between international discussions and situations on the ground: “The technical language that is used by the experts in their writings is far away from what local people can speak or understand,” says Bhandari, referring to the international event on climate change at the Eighth UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP 8) in 2002 in New Delhi, where he represented the NEFEJ. Similarly, references to sea level rise as an indicator of global warming hold little resonance in a landlocked country like Nepal. One has to find equivalent evidence, such as early or late flowering of local trees like rhododendrons, to bring the message home to grassroots stakeholders.
Basing his arguments on long years of interacting with local stakeholders, he said that despite the considerable amount of ongoing research to explain the complexity of climate change, the understanding among grassroots stakeholders on such issues is still inadequate. Complex concepts and terminologies result in poor capacity to respond to global changes at the local level. Even in urban centers, he says people may be aware of environmental issues like pollution, but their knowledge on climate change is still very new.
From journalist to REDD+ trainer
In 2009, RECOFTC’s Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ project paved the way for this lawyer-turned-journalist to become one of Nepal’s staunchest advocates for climate change adaptation and REDD+ grassroots capacity building. Bhandari immediately recognized the importance of communicating technical knowledge on REDD+ and climate change to local stakeholders. After attending his first international training organized by RECOFTC in 2009, he said, “I now feel more confident in my writings, as I am better informed about issues concerning grassroots stakeholders on climate change and REDD+.” He also added: “The grassroots project provided me a platform to directly talk to the local communities, ethnic minorities, women, students, youths and local government officials and learn about their issues and concerns.”
Realizing the opportunity at hand under the grassroots project, he helped mobilize, guide, and train local journalists to write, edit, and publish several articles on environmental issues, including climate change. This innovative project has trained over a hundred barefoot journalists. Sometimes, all you need is one champion to get things moving.
A well-deserved recognition
Not surprisingly, partner organizations of the RECOFTC Grassroots project, such as the Federation of Community Forest Users, Nepal (FECOFUN), also recognized his invaluable contribution to the project: “Mr. Bhandari has contributed significantly in the grassroots project and advocated the concerns of the forest user groups at different levels through his writings,” says Apsara Chapagain, FECOFUN chairperson.
Recently, his article on land rights issues of the high profile Rashtrapati Churia Conservation Program in the Terai (lowland) region of the country, so impressed the President of Nepal that he was invited to several rounds of discussions to get firsthand information on their land rights. Since then, Mr. Bhandari has been attending high profile meetings related to the Churia conservation program as well as a number of other expert group discussions on climate change and REDD+. His priority at these meetings is to represent the grassroots and civil society viewpoints, to give voice to their concerns in an arena where they might otherwise not be heard. Nurturing this channel of communication is an essential part of our project’s strategy of ensuring that the concerns of grassroots stakeholders are heard at the highest level in the land.
To read Bhandari’s article, ‘The President Chure Conservation Program’: Good Project-Bad Management” (Nepali), please see ForestAction Nepal’s website. For more information about the project in English, please click here.