On 25 April 2015 news broke of a devastating earthquake in Nepal. For Indu Sapkota, Associate Regional Manager – South Asia, based in the Rainforest Alliance’s Asia Pacific office in Indonesia the news was incredibly worrying. Nepali-born Sapkota’s family still live in Kathmandu. The days and weeks that followed have been challenging ones for Indu’s family and his nation. There were more quakes after the initial one that continued to do damage – physical and psychological – to his homeland.
After spending time in Nepal ensuring the safety of his family, Indu is back in Indonesia continuing his work with the Rainforest Alliance. The Nepalese are slowly rebuilding their nation, including the capital Kathmandu, with assistance from the international community. It will be a lengthy process but this is a country of incredibly resilient people.
Not only is Nepal Indu’s home, it is also home to one of the most remote FSC certified community-managed forests in the world. The Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) is a formal network of Forest User Groups (FUGs) from all over Nepal. FECOFUN emerged from the idea that forest users from all parts of the country should be linked in order to strengthen the role of forest users in policy making processes.
Since its inception in July 1995, FECOFUN has grown into a national federation of forest users across Nepal dedicated to promoting and protecting users’ rights with about 8.5 million people represented all of whom are forest users.
From more than 15,000 Community Forestry Users Groups (CFUGs) and other Community Based Forest Management Groups (such as leasehold forestry groups, religious forestry groups, buffer zone and traditional forest management groups) in Nepal approximately 13,000 are affiliated with FECOFUN. Out of these community forestry user groups, 35 were FSC certified by the Rainforest Alliance.
FECOFUN is supported by thousands of volunteers and community forestry facilitators as well as by several national and international organizations. They have received many prestigious awards nationally and internationally including Rainforest Alliance Standard Setter Award in 2012.
Indu Sapkota explains: “From my experiences as an auditor, apart from evident improvement in forest management and conservation on-the-ground, community forestry user groups have been continuously improving in the areas of good governance, transparency, and particularly empowerment of the poor, women, and other disadvantages groups in the communities.”
In many certified CFUGs, a number of activities directly benefit the poorest group of the communities, such as pro-poor fund allocations for income generation activities, entrepreneurship training and capacity building, inclusion of poor and women in the executive committees, etc. These groups also commission and/or support local development activities such as road construction, school buildings, water supply, which are crucial in these rural areas given limited government support. Support that is likely to be even more limited as the country heals after the earthquake.
Many of the groups collect non-timber forest products such as wintergreen (for essential oil), lokta/argeli (for handmade paper), which they sell to Sustainable Bio Trade Group, which is an FSC CoC certified company. SBTG aim to provide a small price premium to these certified community groups so as to incentivize and recognize their efforts in sustainable harvesting.
Sadly this community-forestry group has had to let its FSC certification lapse due to the impact of the earthquake which seriously damaged one of the certified districts, Dolakha, where 18 of the 35 certified groups are located. It is a testament to this community’s resilience and commitment to FSC certification that they are already talking about being reassessed against the FSC standards in October or November this year.
“I am very proud that these communities who live in the most outlying parts of the world, are probably the poorest people of the world and have just suffered such devastation, want to continue to meet the highest standards in the world in terms of sustainability,” Indu reflected.