Human society and our life support system are experiencing multiple challenges and heading towards an existential threat. The impacts of climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and extreme poverty and inequality have begun to manifest from local to global levels. There are attempts to find better ways of addressing these multiple challenges. Redefining nature-society relations and reframing our approaches to managing forestlands and associated ecosystems for enhanced productivity, sustainability, and equity are at the core of these initiatives. Accordingly, local innovations, policy initiatives, and academic inquiries have focused on community forestry in its diverse forms and frames to address multiple and sometimes competing objectives.
Modern forms of community forestry have seen four decades of experimentation, piloting, consolidation, and expansion at national and regional levels. While in many countries, it has become a dominant forest management system, in others, it is still being gradually expanded at different scales. Meanwhile, its core objectives and rationales have significantly expanded over the decades: from meeting forest product needs of local communities and supporting their livelihoods to mitigating climate change and supporting resilient economies.
Nepal’s community forestry has evolved into a robust system of community-based natural resources management, with legally secure devolution of forest rights to local communities through a legally recognised and perpetually self-governed institution. Over 22,000 registered groups operate across the country, benefiting 16.6 million people through active and sustainable management of over 1.8 million hectares of forests. Nepal’s community forest has not only been considered as one of the most successful development programmes in the country, it has also been globally acknowledged as an effective community-based forest management approach. In recent years, however, there is a growing realisation regarding the lack of vitality and dynamism in this program of global reputation. Concerns over efficacy and impact have been raised by community leaders, front-line government staff, and their large base of supporters. In fact, a large body of research has also emerged, confirming that community forestry’s contribution to the livelihoods of people is currently much less than its actual potential. These issues have emerged as a result of fundamental shifts in the socio-economic context in the country; demographic dynamics, income levels, and agricultural practices have changed substantially, creating a mismatch between what community forests can deliver and what local communities expect from it.
In such a rapidly changing context, it has become urgent to revisit community forestry so that it remains fully attuned to the changing context and becomes more relevant in the future. There is a further need to assess the relevance of the current modality of community forestry. An updated analysis of the governance, institutional, and technological changes and the challenges and opportunities they bring would provide insights of the transferability of Nepal’s community forestry lessons and its efforts towards building resilient landscapes to regional and global scales.
In this context, the international conference on community forestry aims to provide a productive platform to share lessons and insights from practitioners, professionals, policy actors, and researchers through plenary talks, presentations, panel discussions, audio-visual presentations, and field visits. It is designed to forge productive dialogue between practice-based insights, theories, and policy questions. It is expected that the conference will draw relevant lessons, help address emerging policy questions, and re-energise momentum towards ecosystem restoration through community forestry.