IMPACT OF DEFORESTATION ON LIFE IN NEPAL

By Sushank KC & Vincent Lyn

WHEN YOU LIVE OFF THE LAND, TREES ARE CRITICAL.

In order to care for those affected by poverty, it’s important to understand what poverty really looks like. You may envision an overcrowded urban slum. Globally, however, 85 percent of the world’s poor live in rural settings and rely on agriculture to survive.

When things are going well, farming can produce enough food for people to feed their families and a surplus to sell for a sufficient income. Trees restore land by anchoring topsoil, increasing organic matter, and helping the soil absorb water. They also contribute to healthy water cycles by pulling water from the ground to the air. Roots allow water to infiltrate soil and refill aquifers. Habitats for wildlife are created as trees provide homes, food, and shade. Environmental damage disrupts this process. Every year, the planet loses 50,000 square miles of forest — about 50 football fields each minute. Without these trees, soil deteriorates — erosion is dramatically accelerated and farmers are no longer able to produce enough food.

Deforestation is a cruel process, having its most devastating impact on the most vulnerable populations. Farmers around the world have to work harder and harder to produce less and less. There are many causes for deforestation, including logging, grazing, and commercial agriculture. One of the saddest causes, however, is the fact that many subsistence farmers contribute to the removal of trees out of desperation. Many farmers understand that trees are important for the long-term health of their land, but when faced with the immediate needs of their families, they must take down trees for a quick profit. Some people will harvest trees to turn into charcoal too quickly earn cash. In other places, forest areas are cleared and burned to be used as extra land for farming. Eventually, these areas lose so many trees that soil and water are left unprotected.

Some of the immediate effects of deforestation are food insecurity and hunger. Families begin skipping meals. Kamuno in the Democratic Republic of the Congo notes that some days, his children would only have cassava leaves to eat. Over time, this can cause stunted growth and malnutrition. Parents will take their children out of school for additional labor, or sometimes simply because school fees are too high. This brings the threat of poverty to a future generation. Families suffer when parents migrate to cities or other countries to find labor. Once in a city, these populations are particularly vulnerable to dangers like forced labor or sex trafficking. In addition to all the physical threats, this takes a spiritual toll on a community. Khamsee in Thailand knows the despair that comes with being unable to put enough food on the table for his children. He hopes nobody has to experience this feeling. Today, Khamsee is able to grow enough food to feed his family. Kamuno has seen his children start eating more, healthier food. In Mexico, parents abandon their plan to migrate to the United States after seeing their communities change.

Plant With Purpose NGO plants trees in deforested areas. These areas include the hills in Northern Thailand, the border region of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and areas surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro. Efforts have restored soil fertility. Farmers now grow more crops and earn more. Plant With Purpose doesn’t just plant trees, but provides sustainable agriculture training. Farmers can now see a way out of the tension between caring for the environment and feeding their families. While the world continues to lose its forest cover, in the areas where we work vegetation is on the rise.

People who flock to Nepal in ever-increasing numbers are offered an idyllic vision of rural life, seemingly unchanged for centuries, set among some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world. Yet this image is illusory; despite revenue from tourism and massive injections of foreign aid (now totaling over half the national budget), the rural population in the Hills of Nepal is caught in a cycle of impoverishment. The only resource, the land, is literally slipping away from them.

Nepal is a relatively small mountainous country surrounded by India to the south, east, and west and China to the north. Forest is one of the most important natural resources of Nepal. Some 35 major forest types occur in Nepal that change abruptly, owing to a wide variation of topography, climate, and edaphic conditions. Forests are the source of livelihoods of millions of people, in particular, for rural communities. Deforestation is one of the major environmental issues in Nepal. Deforestation pressures occur throughout Nepal but are most strongly felt in many parts of Tarai and Churia. In general, the drivers of deforestation and degradation are the mixture of direct and in- direct causes, such as high dependency on forest resources, unsustainable harvesting practices, illegal harvest of forest products, infrastructure development, forest fire, natural calamities, encroachment, overgrazing, lack of good governance, and ambiguous policy. Deforestation has immediate consequences for the local population in terms of increased fuel scarcity, reduced supply of fodder, and leaf-litter manure. The unpredicted erosion, landslide, and lowland flooding, due to deforestation, are also major concerns in Nepal as well as in downstream countries. Several attempts have been made so far to control the deforestation and mixed success has been achieved. The focus of the government is on good forest governance through its long-term and short- term policy provisions. Community forestry and protected areas systems in Nepal have contributed significantly in forest conservation. A priority has also been given to private forestry. Since the fuelwood is still the major energy source, alternative sources of energy should be provided on a subsidized basis throughout the country to reduce dependency on forests. Public awareness about the importance of forests and the consequences of deforestation are also important to control deforestation.

The Hills comprise the broad band of mountainous land, between 600m and 3,000m in altitude, which lies between the high snow-capped Himalayas to the north and the Ganges plain to the south. The traditional mixed farming system in this area involves a delicate and crucial balance in the use of arable and forest land. The fertile valley bottoms and the steep hill slopes are intensively cultivated by constructing terraces, often with complex irrigation systems. Above the arable land the natural forest has always provided a wealth of products and benefits. As well as fuelwood and construction timber, villagers collect leaf fodder for dry season animal feed, litter for animal bedding and subsequently (mixed with manure) for compost, and many other important products including fruit, mushrooms and medicinal herbs. The forest also provides grazing land for livestock. Equally essential is its role in soil and water conservation. Tree roots bind the soil of the steep upper slopes and at the same time reduce run-off from heavy monsoon downpours; this has the dual benefit of stabilizing the slopes and improving water supply from springs and wells.

The stability and fertility of the agricultural land thus depend absolutely on the maintenance of a healthy forest. It has been estimated that a forest area three times the arable area may be necessary for the maintenance of the agricultural system as a whole. Yet over the last decades the forest area has declined dramatically, and the trend is continuing. The problem of deforestation in Nepal is not one of exploitation by outsiders; there are almost no roads in the Hills, and logging on a commercial scale would not be feasible. The problem stems rather from the acute and increasing pressure on the land. The Hill population is now estimated at 1,500 people per square kilometer of cultivable land, with livestock numbers comparable to the human population.

Throughout the Hill districts of Nepal the cycle of environmental degradation is frighteningly clear. Land that once supported healthy regenerating forest is now covered with scrubby, largely unpalatable bush vegetation in which continuous overgrazing and lopping for fodder has prevented any regeneration and gradually removed the valuable edible species. Women have to walk farther and farther to collect fuel and fodder for the family’s needs; in many parts of the district the round trip takes a full day. In local markets and centers of population a backload of wood may sell for the equivalent of two days’ wages.

As the productivity of the forest declines through relentless over cutting, its ability to provide nutrients to the arable fields, through fodder and leaf litter, is also reduced, and crop yields start to fall. This, combined with direct population pressure, pushes cultivation on to steep and marginal land, greatly increasing the risk of landslides and soil erosion. In Doti, a district typical of the remote far west of the country, monsoon floods in 1983 did unprecedented and permanent damage to the land. Old farmers remembered similar rains, but the recent imbalance between forest and cultivated land makes the effects this time far more severe. Every year the story repeats itself somewhere in the Hills.

Elsewhere in the country, other new pressures are making themselves felt. Tourism is Nepal’s biggest growth industry, and every year thousands of foreign visitors take the well-known trekking routes — to Everest Base Camp, to Langtang, or the circuit of the Annapurnas. The pressure of this influx on both the local culture and the environment is extreme. The sudden monetization of a previously subsistence economy brings with it disruption and change in both the society itself and the relationship with the land; traditional systems break down as young people find work instead with the tourists, as porters or guides. At the same time the trekkers provide an insatiable market for fuelwood, and deforestation in the tourist areas is even more severe than elsewhere. The problem is exacerbated by the routes tending, by definition, to go to high altitudes where not only is tree growth very slow, but wood is needed for heating as well as cooking. In Sagarmatha National Park, on the route to Everest, an attempt has been made to control this growing problem by strictly prohibiting the cutting of wood and requiring trekking groups to bring kerosene fuel with them, but despite these measures the problem remains acute.

In the late 1970s the government of Nepal recognized that deforestation throughout the Hills could only be tackled by enlisting the active support and cooperation of local people. New land tenure laws were introduced by which forest land, which had been nationalized in the late 1950s, could be returned to ownership and management by the local community in the form of the panchayat — a local administrative unit comprising several villages, usually with a total population of about 5,000. Within this framework, “community forestry” activities were initiated throughout the country, funded by a variety of aid donors. Such projects aim to establish new plantations on panchayat-owned land, to distribute seedlings to farmers for planting on private land and to bring existing but degraded forest under more sustainable management. So far the most popular and successful of these activities has generally been private planting, because people are confident in this case that they will reap the benefits of their work. There is also a tradition of planting trees, particularly for fruit and fodder, on private land, whereas forest products from public land have traditionally been regarded as a “free good” in which no investment is necessary.

If deforestation is to be reversed, or even slowed, this attitude will have to change. Any attempt at reforestation on the massive scale that is required will only succeed if there is commitment among local communities to invest their own time and labor in planting and protection of trees on community-owned land; and this will happen only if they believe that the benefits to them will be worth this investment. Management of common property resources is a complex business, and unlikely to succeed if imposed from outside; but to have any significant effect on the agricultural system as a whole there will have to be much more planting on public land than could be achieved by any project working in isolation. Communities will have to develop all sorts of rules governing protection, permissible livestock numbers, distribution of benefits and so on. In the past there have been many cases in Nepal of traditional management of existing communal forest, but many of these systems collapsed following the nationalization of all forest land in 1957. Rebuilding of the necessary institutions at the village level will inevitably be a slow process, but in the long term it is the only path by which Nepal’s forests can be saved from further destruction.

How Can We Stop Deforestation? Solutions to Deforestation

How can we stop deforestation? The human population is expected to continue to increase and reach over 9 billion possibly 10 billion people by 2050. At the current rate of consumption, and with more people inhabiting Earth, the need for more space to grow food and extract natural resources is only likely to increase — depending, of course, on tech development such as artificial foods. As the demand for food or raw materials like cotton or minerals increases, so does the need to turn forests into farmland, pastureland, or mining spots. Under this broader perspective, how can we stop deforestation?

  1. Eating Less Meat Helps Stop Deforestation

How can we stop deforestation? Livestock-caused deforestation is responsible for the discharge of 3.4% of current global emissions of carbon to the atmosphere every year. That’s why in late 2018 reports stood out that reducing meat consumption by 90% is the single biggest way to reduce global warming.

Some studies also show that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by over 75%. In this way, reducing your meat consumption is also a big step to stop not only deforestation but also global warming on a larger scale. Remember: a lot of space is needed to grow both animals and the food they consume, while other nutritious foods could be grown and result in larger food quantities using the same space. Why not saving meat for important occasions only?

2. Consuming Less and More Consciously Helps Stop Deforestation

As consumers we can choose to buy less industrial and transformed products such as cookies, crips, noodles or cosmetics that use plenty of palm oil. Instead, we can go for a home-made approach with fewer chemicals and food preservatives which is better for both the planet and our health. However, if you are not willing to make such changes — because they are time consuming — you can still consume more responsibly while keeping your lifestyle. To this regard, you can buy products from brands adopting eco-friendly business practices. When it comes to food, buying directly to small farmers using agroforestry practices is the best choice for the planet.

3. To Stop Deforestation, When You Consume: Use, Use, Use

Your smartphone, your laptop or your car, to name a few, are all made of aluminum, plastic and rare Earth minerals, among other materials. To get these, (just like foods like coffee or cacao) land was clear to build mining sites, roads and factories and where built to transport and transform them, power plants provide them with energy…

The longer we use our products for, the higher the changes that demand doesn’t grow (it won’t likely decrease either — there are more people in the planet every day). Economically-speaking, if the demand doesn’t grow, production won’t grow either and it it is not necessary to clear more space to extract natural resources and build human infrastructures might, deforestation (and carbon emissions from the industry) might just not increase.

4. Leaving Fossil Fuels and Palm Oil Behind

Nearly half of U.E’s imports of palm oil are used as biofuels — although proposals to ban subsidies are currently under debate. Since diesel and petrol are mixed with biofuels, choosing other transportation methods such as walking, cycling or car-sharing can be good ways of reducing palm oil importations (and production) and to help stop deforestation.

5. Lead by Example and Spread Awareness

If you start adopting the behaviors mentioned above to help stop deforestation you can lead by your example. Teach your family, friends or colleagues what deforestation is and why it is happening, the causes and consequences of deforestation, and what solutions individuals, consumers and organizations can adopt.

Vincent Lyn

CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children

Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization

Economic & Social Council at United Nations

Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency

Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts

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Vincent Lyn

Vincent Lyn

CEO-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, ECOSOC at United Nations. International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)