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Nepal Terai Forest Restoration


Introduction

Treesisters has been supporting Eden Reforestation Projects in Nepal since October 2017. The 'Terai forest Restoration Project' aims to empower and engage local communities to regrow and protect the vibrant lowland tropical forests in the Terai region, where Terai in Nepali means low-lying lands. With proximity to remaining natural forests, the reforestation sites create the dual opportunity to avoid further natural forest encroachment and expand semi-natural forest ecosystems, which are crucial for wildlife and local communities. TreeSisters is currently funding the reforestation of a total area of 51 hectares (equivalent to 71 football fields) spread across two districts: Central Nepal (Rautahat) and Southeastern Nepal (Jhapa), which are located at the foothills of the Himalayas, along the Indian border. Jhapa is a Nepali word which means 'canopy', a name that reflects the vibrant tropical forest that once covered the entire region. The areas to be replanted have been heavily deforested, burnt and cleared 30 years ago for mostly grazing purposes. Eden Reforestation Projects empowers and employs local people to grow, plant and guard native trees on their lands.


Location

Low-lying Terai, at the foothills of the Himalayas, stretches from East to West along the border with India. Terai is Nepal's portion of the theTerai-Duar savanna and grassland ecoregion, a landscape spanning four countries in southern Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) - formed with a variety of tropical forests, tall grasslands and savannahs. According to World Wildlife Fund, it is one of the planet's most outstanding and representative areas of biodiversity.

(Image Source: WWF downloaded from https://goo.gl/images/YskMGf)


Forest State

Today, the Terai forests cover around 20% of Nepal, with 17% under protection6. Remaining forests exist along a narrow belt uphill, 8 to 12 Km wide, as the northern last frontiers of the Terai. "Hariyo Ban Nepal Ko Dhan" was a Nepali saying translating into "Green Forests are the wealth of Nepal". It was for a good reason, as lush, dense tropical, temperate and alpine forests used to cover respectively the country's lowlands, midlands and high mountains (WWF Nepal). Today, the southern low-lying part of the Terai is densely populated and mostly under cultivation. In just half a century (1927 – 1977), the forest cover of Nepal's Terai declined by almost 60% and continued decreasing at an annual rate of around 0.4% until 2010. (Image: Terai forest at Chitwan National Park).


Tree Variety and wildlife


The Terai-Duar ecoregion contains the world's tallest grasslands and is home to Asia's highest densities of tigers, rhinos and ungulates. The most dominant tree species of the Terai forest are Sal (Shorea robusta), and the most dominant shrubs are Bhanti (Ardisia solanacea), Dhaiyaro (Woodfordia fruticosa). (1) Out of the 65 mammal species found in the Terai forest, eight are enlisted as 'Endangered' in IUCN Red List. Near-threatened Terai Grey Langur (Semnopithecus hector). (This Langur is found in the Terai belt of Nepal. Al images © Eden Reforestation Projects.)


Drivers of deforestation


Forest Nationalization: While deforestation started under the Rana autocratic dynasty until the democratic revolution in 1953, the government taking over the forest management responsibility in 1957 led to important unintended forest clearings. (3) The Rana, from the Indian subcontinent, ruled the Kingdom of Nepal for a century from 1846 to 1953, encouraging deforestation and agricultural development in the region. Feeling threatened by the 1957 Forest Nationalization Act, the then-private landowners converted as many forestlands as possible into agricultural lands to keep their lands. And yet, the Act aimed to protect, manage and utilize national forests and promote public welfare.


Migration & population increase: Prior to the 1950s, the Terai was largely undeveloped, but massive in-country migration led to important clearings of forests for settlements and necessary agricultural lands. Terai was originally populated by non-Hindu ethnic groups with distinct indigenous nationalities, religious beliefs (animist and nature worshippers), social practices and cultural values - Some nomads and some forest dwellers, some only found in the Terai. At the same time, others were also found in bordering the Indian state of Bihar. (5) Then, Hindu-Indian dignitaries and royalties were encouraged by the Shah Dynasty, which ruled what will be called today Nepal from 1559 to 1768. They were followed by Indians who came during the Muslim invasions and then as labour in such a number that they drove the indigenous people to the slopes of the Terai hills. Terai's population had then multiplied more than tenfold. In the late 50s, growing Nepalese population pressure in the Hills led to massive in-country migrations to the Terai. (6) They migrated in search of more fertile soils and comfortable living. This movement was facilitated through a government-sponsored resettlement program and the eradication of malaria from the Terai. In the 1960s, refugees came from Tibet and Burma to flee political instability. In the early 1990s, Bhutanese refugees flocked to Eastern Terai (mostly Jhapa). Today, 50% of the population of Nepal lives in the Terai - making it the most highly populated region in the country.


Extractive industry: Domestic consumption of timber, firewood, and illegal logging have also contributed to the rapid disappearance of Terai forests in Nepal. The Terai has been Nepal's major area for logging and wood-based industries. Today, illegal logging in the Terai is increasing due to the growing Indian demand for timber.


Fires: Forest fire has been a major agent of land cover change in the Terai. While some have been unintentional, some burnings were set intentionally by grazers, hunters, poachers, and other non-timber forest products collectors. In Rautahat, which had been largely affected by fires in the mid-1990s, out of 120 thousand hectares of the total area, around 14 thousand hectares of forest cover remain today. (7)


Project description


The approach: Villagers, particularly women, are employed to grow, plant and guard the regrowing forest. To Eden Reforestation Projects, one key element to successful reforestation in southern Nepal is that: "you have to benefit the local population. People suffering the impact of deforestation live in extreme poverty because of the connection between the land and the local community." They call their approach the 'Employ to Plant' methodology. Reforestation helps with poverty relief, and people build a relationship with trees so they value forests and become stewards.


What are the expected environmental outcomes?

The project aims to establish semi-natural community forests by providing the local villagers with meaningful employment and impactful ecological gains. The project plans to plant 100,000 trees annually. The reforestation efforts in this area will not only bring back a healthy, diverse and native forest; it will also improve soil quality and water tables, improving local farming and agricultural productivity over time.


What are the expected socio-economic outcomes?

Villagers, mostly farmers, particularly women, are employed to grow, plant and guard trees. The 'Employ to Plant' strategy provides the poorest poor with a job, a consistent income, and a sense of accomplishment. As a result, it helps families dealing with childhood malnutrition, famines, and the inability to afford childhood education. In Nepal, at old projects sites, Eden Reforestation Projects reported that more children are in school because their parents can now afford to send them, and there is a decrease in alcoholism. Families are able to save money for the first time. Income generated through the community indirectly encourages the development of village micro-enterprises.


What's the restoration method?

It is a true reforestation project. Trees are planted with diversity in mind at a planting density of 1 tree per 2 meters over cleared lands. Seeds are collected from remnant nearby forests or procured from government seed banks.


Which trees?

The project seeks to move away from (mono-culture, exotic) plantations, reintroducing native biodiversity - occurring naturally in Nepal that is indigenous to South and Southeast Asia to a maximum extent.


For example, planted species include Sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo), native to the Himalayan foothills in Northern India and a pioneer species which colonise the land rapidly; the world's biggest teak (Tectona grandis), near the top of the list of world hardwoods; the Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia), which has been overexploited and under pressure from illegal logging.


Along with growing, planting and guarding native tropical broad-leaved tree species, the forest users groups of the project plant a minimum of 10% of agroforestry species in each area to support the livelihoods of local people, some non-native but proven non-invasive. For example, nature's gift to human beings, Amla (Phyllanthus emblica), is one of the agroforestry species planted for ayurvedic purposes. Moringa (Moringa Oleifera) is planted for medical/food use.


What is the reforestation site like?

The reforestation sites are cleared former forestlands. In the Rauhatahat district, the sites are located 30km from the Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki wildlife corridor, a complex of 3 protected areas home to rhinos, elephants and tigers (Panthera tigris). According to IUCN, the Chitwan National Park is one of the most important forest remnants in Southern Nepal. It is home to over 150 tigers and a prime breeding ground for tigers that spread out to neighbouring Parsa and Valmiki reserves under carrying capacity. In the Jhapa district, the reforestation sites are close to the remaining Jalthal forest, home to the critically endangered Asian Elephant, the Common Leopard and the Clouded Leopards. It covers an area of 6,300 hectares, 8.55% of the Jhapa district. (15)


Who's involved?

Eden Reforestation Projects works through a small team of local staff. Reforestation activities are run through Forest Users Groups. They are paid to grow, plant and protect trees in degraded and cleared lands and manually clear land before planting. Reforestation occurs in "Community Forests" and in one "Collaborative Forest" (16) as an experiment. Community Forests are for subsistence (timber used by the group) and/or commercial purposes (selling timber to outside markets). They are governed by strong social organisation, by both written and unwritten rules. Cutting is thus allowed by the communities. They are cycling the cut zones to let natural regeneration self grow back what was cut down.


What's the place of women?


Eden Reforestation Projects supports women to work in high managerial positions within the local team, including assistant director Racchya who graduated from Kathmandu University with a degree in Environment and Natural Resources. At a minimum, 60% of Eden's village employees are female, directly benefiting through employment and consistent income. Finally, the project aims to build the capacity of female village employees in order for them to become managers and nursery leaders.


What will happen next?

Thriving forests and farmers with increasing soil fertility. The project is also extending wildlife habitat, providing them with food, water and shelter. In that respect, Eden Reforestation Projects reported the following: "In Jhapa, we have seen evidence of wild boars, elephants, snake varieties and different birds and insects in our reforested areas". Human-wildlife conflicts are of concern, and the project is already looking into innovative ways of keeping the wildlife away from farms (e.g. tree fences).


History and Future of the project

The project partnership agreement signed between Eden Reforestation and TreeSisters began on October 1st, 2017.


By the end of the planting season (mid-September 2018), Treesisters will have planted 200,000 trees in Nepal, spread between the two project areas of Jhapa and Rautahat.


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