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Green Economy And Poverty Alleviation

By Marianne de Nazareth

07 November, 2011

Different colours of green swirled around us as we walked through the leafy canopy of the thickly growing trees,in the Godavari Project Centre in Kathmandu.Godavari is a 40 hectare pilot project of The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development better known as ICIMOD in Kathmandu . Ferns grew in thick profusion, springs of water gurgled down the hill slopes into tanks where rainbow trout flashed and a variety of wild flowers grew in the undergrowth. In the branches of the trees a large diversity of birds called and the fresh ferny scent of the air was sublime.

“ It was in 1993 that ICIMOD was granted this land which was totally degraded. There were no trees and it was just scrub land which was barren and dry, where cattle were grazed,” explained Samden Lama Sherpa,the Godavari Centre's Manager. “ The trees that have grown by protection, regeneration and simple planting of local species, native to the area. By regenerating the forest our project proves that a healthy forest can be the source of sustainable income generation for the impoverished mountain communities.”

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, ICIMOD, is a regional knowledge development and learning centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas which include,  Afghanistan Bangladesh , Bhutan China India Myanmar Nepal , and  Pakistan  – and is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.

According to ICIMOD, globalisation and climate change have an increasing influence on the stability of fragile mountain ecosystems and the livelihoods of mountain people. So ICIMOD assists mountain people to understand these changes, adapt to them, and make the most of new opportunities, while addressing upstream-downstream issues.

Mountain poverty is exacerbated by environmental change and according to ICIMOD, livelihoods in the mountains are considerably more susceptible to environmental and economic change than those in the plains. The mountain dweller reacts more immediately to and tends to be much more strongly linked with, the management and availability of natural resources. ICIMOD monitors ecological and socio-economic changes, it analyses the consequences on the livelihoods of mountain people and of downstream inhabitants, and it helps mountain people to facilitate the development of appropriate policies, with innovative and equitable compensation mechanisms for ecosystem services, including freshwater and carbon sequestration.

In a talk given to us by Dr Golam Rasul, Head of the Economic Analysis Division at ICIMOD, he asked, “ Why do we need to save our forests? Why do we need a green economy? Since the conventional growth oriented economic model has failed to sustain economic growth, reduce poverty and protect the environment, a green economy aims to enhance human well being, social equity and reduce environmental risks.” This green economy he says is important for the mountain regions, because most of the regions communities depend on the forests and nature for their daily living. By conserving forest cover we can reduce poverty and also conserve natural resources.

The benefits of forest ecosystem services are larger than tangible benefits as economic security and human well being are fundementally dependent on ecosystem goods and services said Dr Rasul. Almost half of the world population lives on the fresh water supplied from the mountains, energy from hydro power and for irrigation.So maintaining healthy mountain eco –systems, both the mountain people and indirectly those living down stream are benefitted.

Later we were taken to the Phulchowki Mountain forests where we met the forest conservation committee members. This is a very successful participatory conservation project where the community took over protecting ‘their' forest. Ganesh Bahadur Silval the treasurer said that 35 years ago the community forest approach was begun where a patch of land was given to the community to look after. An executive committee was selected from among them,which was between 7- 15 people. “ At least 50% of the committee were women and besides a president and a vice president, we also had appointed a forest guard.”

Over the years according to Ganesh Bahadur, they found that the community became closer to one another and there was inclusion and harmony in the house holds. The land which was completely denuded now became green and fresh and most of all the forest began to pay dividends and they began to earn from it. The area was 147 hectares and in it were both timber and non timber products of value. Trees were not allowed to be cut, but people were allowed according to the guidelines set down, to cut firewood for their needs. Initially they did not allow any cutting of trees, but later pruning was undertaken only after the committee decided which timber was to be pruned and sold. Mainly those were diseased trees which were cut down.

Ruku Bhujel a woman committee member said the women kept the forest clear of weeds so that medicinal plants and fodder could grow.”By protecting the forests, we made our lives easier because all the time wasted collecting water and firewood was reduced because the regenerated forest gave us all this and more. We also did not have to go to the nearby government forest to steal and that was frightening, as there we could get caught.”

Rama Chettri the vice president explained that they divided the area into four blocks and took three months to clean up one block at a time. Now they had enough firewood for their 120 households plus they were able to sell off the extra branches and discarded leaves. What was a big money spinner was since the area had now become a big picnic spot for Kathmandu they had built an open picnic area which they leased out for 50 thousand per annum. That money they used for scholarships for the poorer homes, cleaning up the water sources and looking after those who came from the lower castes with no proper income.

In recent years, new economic growth, shifting population dynamics, and climate change have taken place so rapidly that the established adaptation mechanisms of the local people of the  Hindu Kush-Himalayan  (HKH) region had become ineffective. The result has been an increased risk of living in poverty and further marginalisation for mountain populations. It is indeed a good sign, that community forests in Phulchoki, which is a big success story can and should be replicated through government policy across the whole of Nepal . Infact, under the first-ever pilot Forest Carbon Trust Fund in Nepal, representatives from three watersheds in Dolakha, Gorkha, and Chitwan districts received a total sum of US$ 95,000 on behalf of community forest user groups at a ceremony organised at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) on 15 June 2011.

“ I am so happy I can die knowing I am giving back the forest that was there when I was a very small child, back to my grandchildren to enjoy. At last the community realises that the forest, if we protect it, can give us long term benefits like fodder for our animals and also timber for building our homes. We just have to manage it well and in return the forest protects us,” says Rama waving her arms pointing to the forested slopes,with happiness and pride.

“ The region's people must be enabled and empowered to cope with, adapt to, and benefit from the changes they are experiencing so that they can enjoy enhanced livelihoods along with increased social and environmental security. ICIMOD monitors and analyses the poverty situation and its main drivers, and helps to develop policy-relevant information with a special emphasis on high value products and value chains, innovative livelihood options, and economic analysis. It promotes resilience to help alleviate poverty by providing sustainable livelihood options. Innovative rural income generation strategies are at the heart of adaptation strategies that allay the effects of socio-economic and environmental change,” explained Dr Madhav Karki, the deputy director general of ICIMOD.

Over the years, forestry has become a critical part of the climate change agenda. Therefore ICIMOD's role – ‘to enable and facilitate the equitable and sustainable well-being of the people of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas, by supporting sustainable mountain development through active regional cooperation' is crucial and should be supported by all governments in this region.

(The writer is a PHd scholar,independent media professional and adjunct faculty in St Joseph 's PG College, Bangalore )






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