Forest Connect: Prioritizing Scarce Resources for Facilitated Support of Small and Medium Forest Enterprises

Kathmandu, Nepal, February 12-15: RECOFTC’s Senior Program Officer for Livelihoods and Markets, Martin Greijmans, reports on the growing alliance of countries around the globe organized in a network called Forest Connect, which has devised a new mechanism to support small forest enterprises (SFEs). In its effort to ensure focus and smart use of scarce resources the alliance deliberated if further support should concentrate on sub-sectors or follow a wider landscape approach, or rather a mix?


Participants of the 3rd Forest Connect event meet the producers of Lokta paper.

Forest Connect, established in 2007 by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) is a global association of 10-15 in-country teams supporting SFEs, further supported by a network of over 900 members. This year’s conference attracted 30 individuals and institutions from 19 countries. Forest Connect also played an active role in designing the new FAO-hosted Forest and Farm Facility that aims to support groups of forest and farm producers to engage with more cross-sectoral policy processes.

Locally controlled forest enterprises (SFEs) are known to accrue wealth locally, empower local entrepreneurship, strengthen social networks, and engender local social and environmental accountability. The environmental, social, and financial sustainability with which they operate is also fundamental for the success of Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plans, strategies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), and attempts to build green economies that deliver food, fuel, and construction materials to those who need them most.

In least developed countries, structures that connect with and support SFEs are weak, and have resulted in economic failure, social conflict, and degradation of forest resources on which these SFEs depend. The Forest Connect alliance addresses this lack of connectedness and helps to build social, economic and environmental sustainability amongst SFEs by connecting them to:

  • each other by strengthening associations and alliances;
  • service providers by building business capacity to access financial and business development services;
  • buyers and investors by enhancing market links and brokering fair deals; and
  • governance processes by securing commercial forest rights and incentives by shaping policies and institutions that control the broader business environment.

For this 3rd Forest Connect event – hosted by Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bio-resources (ANSAB) in Kathmandu, country teams from Nepal, Vietnam, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Mexico, DR Congo, and Brazil prepared forward-looking reports in response to increasing threats of global climate, biodiversity loss and excessive nitrogen use associated with changes in forest land use. The increasing need to secure social foundations among the poorest groups to facilitate income generation, and food and energy security for both men and women fueled some serious discussions. The Forest Connect alliance – also attended by invited forest institutions concerned with SFEs from Guatamala, Uganda, Mali, Ghana, Canada, Finland, USA, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Great Britain – strives to support SFEs in sub-sectors that are likely to deliver solutions for these multiple challenges.

SFE sub-sectors blockThe forward-looking reports confirmed the challenges which SFEs face, each responding distinctively to its social and physical context. However, no matter what prioritized sub-sectors were identified, alliance members agreed that no single sector can provide communities with guarantees to benefit all its members. In many of the identified sub-sectors, participants identified weaknesses in terms of equity, socio-economic security, and environment, indicating that overall community needs have to be addressed carefully. Consistent for most countries is the promise to commercially develop timber and bio-energy, complemented with products and services coming from coffee, rubber, and natural NTFPs. This framework confirms a key COP 18 outcome: to adhere to a landscape approach [see also Are ‘Landscapes’ the new ‘Forests’?]. For RECOFTC this fits well with its approach in putting people first. And, by ensuring that communities obtain more and guaranteed rights to forest resources, even new sub-sectors with additional benefits may become viable.


Himalayan Bio-Briquettes

Based on the country presentations, subsequent lively discussions, and a field trip to the successful Lokta paper and briquette manufacturing producer groups, Forest Connect members envisioned a renewed strategic focus to effectively support SFEs in partaking in fair and green economies. Its prioritized components are: a) linking social enterprises with SFEs; b) capacity building of SFE facilitators, and of c) emerging SFEs; d) research and documentation of effective business models; e) communication to document best practices; f) national and international advocacy to invest in SFEs; g) development of SFE models attracting climate change and carbon finance; and h) learning and/or networking events, and where possible, f) supporting the development and commercialization of bio-energy SFEs. Where appropriate, member countries will invest in (some of) these initiatives at national level, while at regional and global levels, exchanges take place to exchange and learn. In cases where additional resources are required the alliance will require to mobilize funds, especially for initiatives where effective learning and replication between members takes place.

For RECOFTC the outcome of this event is well placed showing a mix of what its strength are: capacity building, research, communication and piloting. Interestingly is that the alliance chooses to let the market – socially and environmentally inclined – decide whether a sub-sector view or a wider landscape mode is required. Both seem to be equally important to achieve a mix of social, environmental and business goals by investing in SFEs. Choosing Lokta paper and briquette business models as an example of CSR project, Nepal shows that communities can benefit from community forestry: if they have commercial access rights to resources, are well organized and managed in a transparent manner by locally elected leaders, have a common vision, are respected by local governments, have clear social equity built in their business models and clear benefit sharing mechanisms. However, it should not be underestimated that these SFEs require time to emerge and support from organizations like ANSAB to provide readiness investment before becoming economically viable.

FAO and IIED have governed the Alliance since 2007 and are inviting RECOFTC to join as the Forest Connect hub in SE Asia to coordinate learning and sharing of national and regional SFE best practices, and also to engage in building better understanding and cooperation among SFEs, private sector and policy makers. These efforts are meant to create attractive investment opportunities for socially inclined private sector both willing to invest in poverty alleviation while also financially benefiting.

Community Forestry Must Go Beyond Subsistence to Bring Prosperity

In an honest and inspirational speech, Dr K.C. Paudel, Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, tackled some of the big policy challenges for Community Forestry in his country and the region.

Dr. Krishna Chandra Paudel

Dr. Krishna Chandra Paudel

Leading community forestry professionals from 11 countries in Asia and RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forest’s top management made up a team of 31 delegates who met for a week in Nepal for a Community Forestry Champions Meeting supported by the Rights and Resources Initiative. Nepal was chosen as the host country for its significant advances in community forestry – it has some 18,000 registered Community Forestry User Groups (CFUGs) – and the opportunities it offers to demonstrate how community forestry initiatives can contribute to addressing multiple rural development challenges, following a decades-long forest regeneration program supported by AusAID in and around the Kathmandu valley.

On the last day of the meeting, delegates had the opportunity to listen to Dr K.C. Paudel, Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation (MFSC). In a speech that went to the heart of the challenges facing people, forests and governments today, Dr. Paudel raised some important issues before ending with his vision that “Community Forestry must go beyond subsistence to provide prosperity.” Both inspirational and honest about the challenges facing the government of Nepal, Dr. Paudel exemplifies the rare combination of having the right person in the right job at the right time, given his long years as a forester and his stewardship of the ministry at a time of political uncertainty. Here are some highlights from his speech:

“It has taken two and a half decades to build trust with local communities. We have some 18,000 CFUGs today with various constitutions; some are fairly primitive, others are advanced and they differ due to customary practices, composition of forests, the level of understanding of the community and our own ability to demonstrate and impart impact with truthfulness. There are some forces such as an unstable political climate which leads to weaker law enforcement so illegal smuggling of high value products, deforestation, poaching are some challenges we face at present.

“Nevertheless, we are now revising our 20-year-old Master Plan for the Forestry Sector, taking into account our experience and international conventions that we abide by, such as the one on biodiversity. We are having high level national consultations to decide some key questions: How much forest do we need? How much increase do we need in agricultural productivity? The interim constitution is favorable to forestry and we intend that 40% of our land should have forest cover, so we intend to halt deforestation by 2020 – or at least to halve it.

“This is also important for climatic patterns, REDD and biodiversity negotiations.  What are the pros and cons of these negotiations?  Why should poor countries pay for the historic pollution from rich countries? We agree with the fundamentals of reducing carbon emissions but what is the right balance for growth? Should the levels be the same for India and China as Nepal?

“The other question is: if half of Nepal is under forest cover, should we not be delivering half of the national GDP?  These are some of the questions we need to respond to when we ask for more budget allocation. Government investment is nowhere near enough and we are facing new challenges. Should we change our behavior on consumption for instance? Is the same amount of timber needed for construction today with new technologies?

“When it comes to governance, I sometimes wonder if people are not behaving as well as they used to. There is more competition for, and depletion of, natural resources thanks to pressure of population and the failure to deliver goods and services. Corruption is a challenge and one wonders: is the political system itself exploitative in nature? Forestry is more about governance and social aspects and this needs to be reflected in university curricula so that more attention is paid to the needs of local people instead of technical aspects. We also have to balance this with other sectors that have an impact of forests and ecosystems.

“In community forestry we are often working with people who never went to school. Making all of them good foresters will take time. The involvement of local people in preserving biodiversity, sequestering carbon, subsistence livelihoods – ultimately the forests are in the hands of these indigenous people who are the custodians and rights holders. So how can we keep them profitably engaged – imagine if one million can do good what a huge positive impact that would have.

“However, benefit sharing is the biggest challenge.  What is an equitable threshold? Disputes arise either at the beginning when boundaries are being set or later when it comes to sharing benefits from mature forests between users. This picture becomes even more complex when it comes to sharing benefits from carbon without clarity of land tenure. This also requires a lot of investment – training people to calculate carbon, manage their natural resources  – but it’s the only way to keep them happily engaged.  After all, if a bank is hijacked you only lose money. But if a forest is destroyed you lose a hundred years of investment – timber, NTFPs, biodiversity, climate impacts – community forestry is vital to protect this.

“We have different community forestry management systems and we have used several strategies to regenerate our forests. We have a vision of “forests for prosperity.” Subsistence is not enough: we need to deliver something bigger. But how?  By prioritizing employment—both small scale and industrial. We want forest-based industries like small size furniture production. Should we build capacity for NTFP harvesting for private sector? Provide more infrastructure for development of eco-tourism? How flexible are our policies? Because right now some of this is being challenged as unconstitutional under the Forests Rights Act.

“We have 790 CFUGs in the uplands where government is making a big investment in planting 1.5 million ha with 1.25 billion trees. The communities are working in 85 areas developing seeds for trees, coffee, cocoa etc. All this falls under different ministries  – industry, environment and forests. Private sector is investing because of CSR and some for profit. We encourage them to be facilitators not exploiters of communities. Why should they not share in benefits from hydropower or home stay under eco-tourism?  We need to create perennial sources of sustainable forest management and where poverty is acute, the need for benefits is immediate.  Poverty is a problem, land tenure is secondary. With community forestry we have given 100% legal rights to communities.”

Can the Research Process Itself Bring About Change in Forest Governance?

Mani Ram Banjade reflects on 10 years of work with local communities, NGOs, networks and government in Nepal, and finds it is possible to make a positive change through critical action research, in a new book chapter on rethinking participation, learning and innovation.

How can action research contribute to equitable governance of community forestry in Nepal? Communities, governments and donors are increasingly concerned that despite the efforts of three decades and some notable contributions to forest conservation, community forestry has made limited contributions to livelihoods, equity and poverty reduction. Despite a third of Nepal’s population being engaged in managing about one-fourth of its forest area, why are the intended returns so disappointing?

A number of reasons are highlighted by several research and policy initiatives in Nepal. First, the existing local social structures are hierarchical in terms of gender, ethnicity and economic class requiring a major overhaul for inclusion, equity and poverty reduction to take place through community forestry. Similarly, though community forest user groups (CFUGs) are legally recognized as autonomous institutions, patron-client relationships with state officials still limit the opportunity to mobilize resources for the benefits of society at large.

Inclusive deliberations to foster change

We also were aware that no one actor could make this change happen. Therefore, we integrated active reflection and learning in our investigation into the community forestry system in Nepal, which involved diverse groups of forest dependent people as well as other stakeholders in the complex and dynamic socio-ecological system. That is, to address these challenges we forged a collaboration with local CFUGs, government forest agencies, NGOs, forest-based entrepreneurs and donors.

Our assumption was that by facilitating inclusive and deliberative processes at CFUG, meso and national levels as well as democratizing the interface of these levels, we could significantly trigger change. For that to materialize, we encouraged the CFUGs to experiment through various institutional arrangements to embolden marginalized members to participate in decision-making. Similarly, we facilitated reflective processes on how they were progressing in terms of inclusion and equity. At the meso and national levels, we promoted multi-stakeholder learning forums, which included mechanisms to include representatives and the voices and lessons from the lower level.

Did it work?

In this chapter, I include the ups and downs that I experienced as an engaged researcher. This retrospective analysis of my journey could be useful to others interested in engaged scholarship. Indeed, change resulting from our presence at all levels – from CFUGs to national policy deliberations – was very impressive. The changes include an increase in representation of, and benefits to, marginalized groups in the CFUGs, increased responsiveness of meso level actors to the CFUGs, and increased space for non-state actors at meso and national level deliberations.

Throughout the participatory action research process, sensitizing for significance of learning and integrating this learning into existing practices, was very challenging. This reminds us of the classic challenges faced by those attempting to embed research within an agenda of change. Similarly, deliberation within a governance process is usually subjected to existing power asymmetries caused by the differential possession of economic, cultural and symbolic resources within a community.

Establishing links between different levels through networked governance or deliberative multi-level forums often proved very useful in improving community forestry governance. Skilled facilitation and coordination functions were central to the success of this process and demanded additional resources and institutional commitment to sustain engaged scholarship at meso and national levels.

Our experience shows that challenges increase in promoting and sustaining deliberative forums at the meso and national levels. Nonetheless, this would help forge effective linkages between communities and these institutions.

The journey was, however, at times very exciting and challenging. We had to encounter enormous resistance and challenges in many institutions, and had to muddle through vested interests and power dynamics at different levels, while also managing frustrations and excitements within the team. The material expectations at local level, an interest in retaining control over forest governance, the limited competency of the researchers and facilitators, and mechanistic expectations of the donors constrained these worthy initiatives. Similarly, there is very limited support from the public sector to promote multi-stakeholder and discursive policy processes.

This chapter describes how we, as a locally-based action research team, tackled the challenges and contributed towards inclusive and equitable forest governance in Nepal.


Banjade, Mani Ram (2013). “Learning to Improve Livelihoods: Applying Adaptive Collaborative Approach to Forest Governance in Nepal.” In: Hemant Ojha, Andy Hall and Rasheed Sulaiman V. Adaptive Collaborative Approaches in Natural Resource Governance: Rethinking Participation, Learning and Innovation. London and New York, Routledge: 216-256.

Contact Mani Ram Banjade at:

Please see our previous blog post in which Hemant Ojha reflects on the book as a whole, which documents on-the-ground struggles of those promoting  and facilitating adaptive collaboration, their strategies, tactics, tools and techniques to address various issues impeding learning and innovation.

Bridging the Gap Between the International Arena and Local Stakeholders

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.

A disconnect

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.

Green Business in the Himalayas

This year’s World Environment Day theme is “Green Economy: Does it include you?” The below video, from ANSAB‘s YouTube channel, highlights the community forest enterprises of seven communities in Nepal — all taking part in a green economy.


From ANSAB’s YouTube channel:

The video features ANSAB assisted enterprises in seven districts of Nepal involved in production and marketing of several non timber forest products including handmade paper, essential oils, juice and bio-briquettes. The video captures the enterprise initiatives and activities in Darchula, Baglung, Myagdi, Parbat, Dolakha, Sindhupalchok and Kathmandu districts of Nepal, and also includes views from ANSAB supported four entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs took the initiative to establish Community based enterprises, which are currently creating employment opportunities at local level, and also preventing the locals to go to Kathmandu and Khasa (Tibet) in search of work. Along with the views from the government officers, local representatives, local collectors, traders and business persons working closely to the forestry and small community enterprise sectors; the video also captures the principles adopted by ANSAB to support local communities for enterprise development.

Carbon Money or Felled Timber?

RECOFTC’s Program Officer for Gender and Rights, Bhawana Upadhyay, writes on the implications of a proposed amendment to Nepal’s Forest Act 1993.

Community forest in Nepal

Community-managed forestland in Nepal (Photo credit: Regan Suzuki)

The forest means everything to 31 year-old Laxmi Tamang of Dadeldhura, Nepal. She nodded while saying, “We will fight to the death, but won’t let our forest pass into the hands of encroachers,” to a passerby who asked her about the news of Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC) passing a proposal to amend the Forest Act 1993.

I wondered if our politicians and lawmakers have adequate ears to listen to hundreds of thousands of voices like hers. To date, there are more than 1.6 million households engaged in conservation and sustainable management of community forests in Nepal.


Proposed Forest Act amendment could derail community forestry in Nepal

Ganga R. Dahal provides a viewpoint on a proposed amendment to Nepal’s Forest Act of 1993 that would threaten the vitality of community forestry in that country. 

A recent proposal to amend the Forest Act of 1993,  put forward by the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation of Nepal, has generated concern among people and organizations involved in the promotion of community forestry and the establishment of forest resources rights for  communities and indigenous peoples over the last 30 years.


Closer to Nature: women, livelihoods and community forestry

RECOFTC’s Program Officer for Gender and Rights, Bhawana Upadhyay, writes on the importance of including women in natural resource management decision-making, using a case study from Nepal.

I had a great belly laugh last week while I was reading through case studies of Nepali rural women and their roles in natural resource management for my presentation at an upcoming conference. One case study explaining what happened when women were excluded from the decision making process in a Community Forestry User Group (CFUG) was a particularly entertaining read.

Here’s the story:


Mainstreaming Gender in REDD: Beyond Livelihoods to Identity

By Regan Suzuki, REDD-Net Asia Pacific Coordinator

Experience from Nepal shows women value forest resources, but taking part in public meetings on REDD provides a democratic space for engagement that enhances their sense of identity

Haven’t we been talking about gender and the need to mainstream it for decades?  Why then does it seem to re-emerge every time a new ‘development’ or international issue (such as climate change) makes it into the spotlight? More to the point, what about gender in the context of climate change could possibly be new?

While climate change negotiations have breathed new life into efforts to improve women’s conditions around the world, the reality remains: if the push to mainstream gender over the last decade had succeeded, we wouldn’t need to be having these discussions now. If mainstreaming efforts thus far have fallen short of ambitions, what makes us think we will be any more successful under the rubric of climate change and REDD+?


Two Decades of Community Forestry in Nepal: What have we learned?

Jane Carter and Bharat Pokharel of HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation provide insights into the development and findings of their new publication on lessons-learned from community forestry in Nepal over the past two decades.

In July 2011, the Nepal Swiss Community Forestry Project (NSCFP) came to an end after 20 years in originally two and eventually four districts of Nepal’s middle hills. All those concerned with the project felt that it was important to draw out the lessons learned from this long experience. They included members of community forest user groups, the Nepal Forest Department, a variety of service providers, project staff (both past and present at the time), the implementing agency Întercooperation, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Representatives of these various stakeholders participated in a “capitalization” process that began in early 2010, and took shape during a number of sharing events, focusing on self-reflection and the identification of lessons learned.


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