International Forestry Review Vol.XX(X), 2016 1
Edible forest? Rethinking Nepal’s forest governance in the
era of food insecurity
J. ADHIKARIa, H. OJHAb and B. BHATTARAIc
aCurtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia
bUniversity of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
The problem of food insecurity is growing, triggering global debates on the gap in understanding alternative ways of accessing foods, including
those from forestlands. This paper aims to address this gap by demonstrating a variety of ways in which forests carry the potential to contribute
to food security, drawing on the case study of community based forest management in Nepal. It shows that forests not only complement
farms in providing foods in critical periods, but also provide an important platform for collective actions, which have the potential to enhance
smallholders’ entitlement to food. The paper, then, identifies barriers in the current policy framework to capitalize on the potential of forests to
enhance food security. An important implication of this finding is that there is an urgent need to reframe forest governance to incorporate food
security concerns, without necessarily compromising forests’ role in biodiversity conservation.
Keywords: forest, food security, agriculture, governance, and forest policies
La forêt est-elle comestible? Réflexions sur la gouvernance forestière au Népal en période
J. ADHIKARI, H. OJHA et B. BHATTARAI
L’insécurité alimentaire en hausse provoque des débats mondiaux sur le manque de compréhension des moyens alternatifs d’accéder à
l’alimentation, en particulier en provenance des zones forestières. Cet article, qui s’appuie sur une étude de cas de gestion forestière commu-
nautaire au Népal, vise à combler cette incompréhension en montrant comment les forêts peuvent contribuer à la sécurité alimentaire. Les forêts
apportent non seulement un complément alimentaire aux agriculteurs pendant les périodes difficiles mais elles permettent aussi l’expression
d’actions collectives qui peuvent améliorer l’accès des petits propriétaires à l’alimentation. L’article identifie ainsi les limites de la politique
forestière actuelle concernant l’amélioration de la sécurité alimentaire. Une implication importante est que la gouvernance forestière doit
être reformulée pour y incorporer les enjeux liés à la sécurité alimentaire, sans compromettre le rôle des forêts dans la conservation de la
¿Bosque comestible? Reconsiderando la gobernanza forestal de Nepal en la era de la inseguridad
J. ADHIKARI, H. OJHA et B. BHATTARAI
El problema de la inseguridad alimentaria es cada vez mayor, detonando debates globales acerca de la brecha en la comprensión de alternativas
para acceder a los alimentos, incluidos aquellos de tierras forestales. El presente artículo busca abordar esta brecha mediante la demostración
de una variedad de maneras en que los bosques tienen el potencial de contribuir a la seguridad alimentaria, recurriendo al estudio de caso del
manejo comunitario de bosques en Nepal. Se muestra que los bosques además de complementar las granjas en el suministro de alimentos en
períodos críticos, proporcionan una plataforma importante para las acciones colectivas, que tienen el potencial de mejorar el derecho de los
pequeños productores a la alimentación. A continuación, el artículo identifica barreras en el marco actual de política a fin de capitalizar el
potencial de los bosques para mejorar la seguridad alimentaria. Una implicación importante de este hallazgo es que existe una necesidad urgente
de replantear la gobernanza forestal para incorporar las preocupaciones de seguridad alimentaria, sin comprometer necesariamente la función
de los bosques en la conservación de la biodiversidad.
IFR Adhikari et al.indd 1 2016-8-3 4:38:57
2 J. Adhikari et al.
on the availability of land suitable for cereal production
(Tester and Langridge 2010, Gregory and George 2011,
Toenniessen and Adesina 2008, Evenson and Gollin 2003). In
this context, what remains puzzling is that agriculture faces
acute land scarcity and land degradation (Achary and Kafle
2009), whereas forestry continues to remain outside of food
security1 debates (Shrestha and Dhillion 2006, Bharucha and
Pretty 2010). This is true across the entire developing region.
A variety of factors have been identified to account for the
existing state of weak forest-food linkage. Forest lands in
most developing countries are largely under the control of
government, and the state forest agency sees food production
as a behaviour destructive to forest ecosystem (White and
Martin 2002, Bharucha and Pretty 2010). While community-
based resource management systems have been recognized
and supported by governments (Charnley and Poe 2007, Ojha
et al. 2008), communities are often restricted to explore
sustainable food production options in the forests, including
traditional ways of generating foods from the forest (Ribot
et al. 2006, Edmonds 2003, Dhakal 2014). As a result, the
main option for food production and food security resides in
the privately owned agricultural lands. Moreover, efforts to
improve food security have remained fragmented, too often
lacking co-ordination between forestry and agricultural
sectors. At times, the two sectors operate at opposite ends –
one (forestry) advocating long-term conservation goals while
the other (agriculture) emphasizing immediate benefits to
farmers. Such a lack of coordination – and even contradiction
– has undermined food security goals (Brussaard et al. 2010).
This has been realised as a matter of concern in Nepal
(Shrestha and Dhillion 2006) and more generally across Asia,
Africa and Latin America.
While there have been some attempts to understand forest-
food security linkages (e.g. FAO 1992, 2011, 2013, 2016b),
this has not been fully understood in the contemporary
practice of forest governance in Nepal. In this paper, findings
from a primary research and a review of available evidence
are drawn to analyse the state of community forestry’s contri-
bution to food security, and then use this analysis to identify
opportunities to improve community based forest manage-
ment system for enhancing food security outcomes. In the
next section, we present methodology, which blends authors’
field works in eight districts of Nepal with the review of
available evidence. In Section Three, a review of global
debates and emerging trends in food security is presented.
The general context of food insecurity in Nepal is presented
in Section Four. In Section Five, insights from the fieldworks
are presented, which demonstrate that forest conservation and
food security are not mutually exclusive and incompatible
issues, but are made incompatible by government policies that
tend to operate in silos. Section Six discusses the outcome of
content analysis of forest and environmental conservation
Globally, food insecurity is escalating due to variety of
contextual factors including low food production (Rosegrant
and Cline 2003), the inequitable distribution of arable land
resources (Maxwell and Wiebe 2002), rapid increase in food
prices and fluctuations in food availability (Godfray et al.
2010), increased reliance on energy-dense and meat-based
diets as well as imported food (Stoksted 2012), and increased
vulnerability of food production systems to climate change
(Schmidhuber and Tubiello 2007, Ericksen 2008). Evidence
is mounting on how these factors escalate food insecurity, as
exemplified by a report of Food and Agricultural Organiza-
tion of the United Nations The State of Food Insecurity in the
World 2015, which shows that 794.6 million people in the
world are chronically malnourished, of which 779.9 million
live in developing regions. The past two decades have also
witnessed significant improvements in overcoming hunger
and malnutrition (Spielman and Pandya-Lorch 2009). Despite
significant global achievement on the first goal of Millennium
Development Goals “cutting by half the proportion of people
who suffer from hunger by 2015”, South Asia has seen
limited progress on this important human development goal
(FAO 2016a: 4). Moreover, the global achievement has not
been equitably distributed to the marginalised groups. What
all this means is that communities in the developing region,
particularly poor households, children and women, are the
ones to suffer most from food shortages and malnutrition
In the context of Nepal, the general lack of attention to
increase the availability of, and access to, food through the
management of forested land has indeed become a matter of
increasing concern (Dhakal et al. 2011). As only about one-
fourth of land area in the country is arable, and with most
farm lands less than 0.6 hectare in size, Nepal’s food insecu-
rity problems cannot be resolved without proper attention
to forest land, which covers about 45 percent of the area of
Nepal (DFRS 2015: ix). Besides, the value of forest-based
foods is significant as they have the potential to supply crucial
micronutrients among the children and women, particularly
from poorer and food insecure households with limited access
to arable private land (Ojha et al. 2008). This is indeed a
well-accepted fact as globally one billion people rely on wild
harvested products for nutrition and income (Seymour 2011).
However, Nepal’s forest sector in general, and community
forestry system in particular, has not been seen as a significant
source of food security. In this paper, food security has been
defined in terms of four pillars suggested by FAO: production,
access, utilization, and stability (FAO 1983). Although the
challenge of food insecurity has roots in diverse sectors of
environment and development, debates addressing this prob-
lem are centred mainly in the agricultural sector, particularly
1 The concern here is both possibility of producing food itself or planting other crops in forest that generate income that could help people
buy food items. These crops/food can also be produced in the forestland (barren or covered by the forest) without compromising forest and
biodiversity conservation goals. Management, cultivation and collection of different types of non-timber forest products and timber are also
included here as they generate income that can be converted to food.
IFR Adhikari et al.indd 2 2016-8-3 4:38:57
Edible forest? Rethinking Nepal’s forest governance in the era of food insecurity 3
policies and examines the barriers to an effective forest-food
security interface. Finally, the paper concludes by discussing
the main issues that have emerged in the fieldwork and policy
This paper draws on three complementary methods of
research: a) field research conducted by authors in eight dis-
tricts of Nepal (Pyuthan, Rolpa, Rupandehi, Kaski, Lamjung,
Nawalparasi, Kavre, and Dolakha), b) review of available
evidence, both published and grey, on the role of Nepal’s
community forestry to food security; and c) a critical analysis
of relevant forest and agricultural policies in Nepal. The main
analytical strategy involves pooling important ground level
insights from different field studies on the theme of forest’s
contribution to food security, and then exploring opportuni-
ties and challenges in the prevailing policy framework of
Nepal. Forests’ direct and indirect contribution in terms of
availability and access (including income generation and
exchange/barter provisioning) to food and its utilization have
been emphasized along with their safety-net roles.
The first co-author brings insights from three successive
rounds of fieldwork conducted in 1990, 1997 and 2011. The
1990 study examined household livelihoods across various
class and caste/ethnic groups, including Dalits, which are
considered as low caste and are socially and economically
marginalized. It was conducted in two villages of Lachock
and Rivan in Kaski district, where community forests have
been a key part of the livelihoods. In this study, a survey of
300 households and oral histories were used to examine liveli-
hoods and the ways in which forest contributed. The findings
of this study in 1990 have been presented in Adhikari (1996).
In 1997, the author made a study of the whole watershed of
Seti-Madi rivers in Kaski district of which Lachok and Rivan
villages were also a part, and conducted an intensive study of
two most marginal villages (Siding and Karuwa-Kapuche)
located in the uppermost part of the watershed. The research
tools for this study included the household survey (256 house-
holds), key informant interviews with different groups of
people including women, children, and elderly about their
food consumption patterns and sources of food including how
forests helped in accessing those sources of food. Similarly,
the traders’ traffic surveys were conducted to understand how
village products, including forest products, were taken to
markets or exchanged locally and how this contributed to
food security. The findings of the research along with maps
showing the location of study sites are presented in Adhikari
and Bohle (1999) and Bohle and Adhikari (1998).
In 2011, the first co-author conducted a detailed study
of how mobility of people for work in foreign countries
especially in the Gulf and Malaysia affected the resource use
including the management and use of forest resources. This
two-village study used both quantitative (household survey of
all households of the two Village Development Committee)
method and qualitative methods (focus group discussions
and intensive interviews with key informants, especially with
women, and work-division analysis based on observation and
discussion with key informants). The analyses of the results
were based on the wealth-ranking of the households and
their ethnic/caste background. The results of the study are
presented in Adhikari and Hobley (2013 and 2015). Findings
related to forest-food security linkages are presented, which
give a new perspective of how high mobility has impacted this
linkage. Such longitudinal study has enabled us to analyse
changes in livelihoods and land use over time. For example,
the study area in 1990 research was under the jurisdiction
of Forest Department, but by 2000, it was placed under
Annapurna Conservation Area Project – an NGO instituted
through special Act of Parliament. This means that policy
affecting the use of forest was guided by Conservation Area
Management Regulations 1996.
The second co-author conducted studies in Lamjung
and Kavre districts during 2013–2015, and Nawalparasi
and Dolakha during 2009–2015. His work was based on
Australian Center for Agricultural Research supported project
(Kavre and Lamjung), which has an aim to explore ways and
models to improve food security from the management of
community forestry and agroforestry. The other study was
supported by Dannida Fellowship Programme on local insti-
tutions and climate change, in which part of the fieldwork
focussed on community forestry system at the district level
(Dolakha). The field study included focus group discussions
with men and women members of community forest groups,
transect walks across the forest and agricultural landscape
in and around the community forestry, and key informant
interviews with district level stakeholders, mainly District
Forest Officers, Local Development Officers, Agricultural
Staff, and local NGOs. This study strongly complimented the
long-term observation of the first author by bringing fresh
dynamics involving some of the rapid change in land use and
shift in livelihoods strategies.
The third co-author conducted studies in Rupandehi,
Rolpa and Pyuthan in 2010 and 2011 and in Hanspur village
of Kaski district in 2012 and 2013. Her work brings important
gender lens in the analysis of food security and community
forestry as a means of livelihoods. In the former three dis-
tricts, 70 household survey, seven focused group discussions
and nine key informant interviews were conducted in seven
community forest management sites to collect field data
about the contribution of forest to food security, as well as
challenges and opportunities. In Kaski, 50 in-depth inter-
views and four focus group discussions were conducted to
explore the interface between forest biodiversity, agricultural
production and food security. In these studies, we captured
the oral history of the elderly respondents and the insights
of participant in several informal and cultural events to
compliment interviews and focus group discussions. The
outcomes of the results were presented in three international
conferences in 2013 and 2014.
The second method, the review of available evidence,
included the review of published literature on community
forestry and food security using Scopus search. We located
almost all published papers with three words – ‘community
forestry’, ‘food security’ and ‘Nepal’ under ‘title, abstract and
IFR Adhikari et al.indd 3 2016-8-3 4:38:57
4 J. Adhikari et al.
Apart from food, which could be directly consumed,
forests also increase food security by improving the access to
food through cash income and health care. In the developing
world, about 20 percent to 25 percent of income of house-
holds living near and around forests comes from forests
(Seymour 2011). Invisible global trade of wild food is esti-
mated at $90 billion a year (Sunderland 2011b: 29). Similarly,
80 percent population in developing countries depends on
forest biodiversity for primary health care (ibid). Poor house-
holds and women are the primary collectors of the forest food,
and therefore, their access gets improved because of the forest
food. However, this depends upon the tenurial condition and
management decision-making system (Powell et al. 2011).
Similarly, utilization and stability components of food secu-
rity are supported by the forest food. The herbal medicine and
greater nutrition in forest food improves the utilization of
food. In Tanzania, a study reported that households consum-
ing wild foods from forest areas had better diets (Powell et al.
2011). By providing fuelwood for cooking and heating, forest
contributes directly in the utilization of food. In developing
countries, fuelwood provides a primary source of energy for
this purpose. In terms of stability in food security conditions,
forest foods are especially useful when there is slack season
in farm food supply. At the same time, forest provides as
cushion during the time of famine and food crisis. But, the
gradual erosion of traditional knowledge about forest biodi-
versity and forest foods has been a general feature all over the
world and this has affected food choices leading to dietary
simplification and negative repercussions on human health.
There is less demand and consumption of forest food causing
less nutritious diets (Vincenti et al. 2008).
The indirect linkage between forests and food security is
also equally important, even though it is difficult to quantify
its contribution to all components of food security. This is
forest’s role in sustainable agriculture production through
ecosystem services – which is not adequately studied and
understood. Forests contributes to food production through
regulating hydrological services, improving soil fertility,
providing habitats conducive for biological interactions that
maintain crops and livestock including pollination of crops
and other trees (by bats and bees), and mitigating the
impacts of extreme weather at the landscape level (Ferraro
and Hananer 2011). Bio-diverse multi-functional landscapes
are more resilient to extreme weather (Seymour 2011;
Sunderland 2011a) than uniform landscape of farm fields or
forests. As such landscapes have high biodiversity, it helps
to increase the production of diverse food types and thus
adequate nutrition. Therefore, forests help in increasing the
production and productivity of crops and livestock on the
sustainable basis, and thus contribute to food security. High
biodiversity along with forest-supported farms is considered
as climate smart agricultural system (Oyebade, Aiyeloja and
Ekeke 2010). It is estimated that about at least one-quarters of
key words’ category (September 2015). We also followed key
community forestry and food security related organizations in
Nepal – covering both the government and non-government
agencies (documents of five NGOs, six governmental
agencies, and two international agencies working in Nepal
have been cited).
The third and final methodological tool was the critical
review of existing forest policies, particularly Forest Act 1993
and Conservation Area Management Regulations 1996, in the
light issues and challenges that surfaced in the process of
analysing the fieldwork data. Policy analysis was undertaken
so as to advance the understanding of how several barriers
in the study sites were found to keep ‘forestland’ out of
agriculture or food security related management2.
FOREST AND FOOD SECURITY: WIDER DEBATE
AND EMERGING TRENDS
Forest foods contribute directly and indirectly to all compo-
nents of food security – availability, access, utilization includ-
ing provision of food rich in micronutrients, and stability,
especially supporting the households when there is threat in
food supply from farm production and market distribution.
However, the role of forest foods is mainly as a supplement to
foods produced in the farm. It seldom provides staple items
in diet (Arnold et al. 2011:259). Furthermore, these authors
argue that forest contributes to food security in three main
ways: forest provides a diversity of healthy foods, high in
micronutrients and fibre and low in sodium, refined sugar and
fat; products from forests are often culturally valued, integral
to local food systems and food sovereignty; and they help
households fill seasonal and other cyclical food gaps and
act as a ‘safety net’ or ‘buffer’ in times of shortages due to
drought, crop failure, illness or other kinds of emergency or
external shock (Arnold et al. 2011:259).
In terms of availability of food, one important way in
which forests contribute is to supply foods for direct con-
sumption. These foods include fruits, leafy vegetables, honey,
mushroom, roots and tubers, grains, nuts, and bush-meat and
fish. A study reports that in Central Africa, critical portions of
proteins and fats in the diets comes from hunting of wild
animals from in and around the forest. In 2008, it was
estimated that 5–6 million tones of bush-meat was eaten
in Congo, which was equivalent to that of beef produced in
Brazil by destroying the forest (Nasi, Taber and Van Vliet
2011). Up to 80 percent of the protein intake in Central Africa
came from bush-meat (Nasi et al. 2008, 2011). Another study
reports that wild harvested meat provides 30 percent to
80 percent of protein intake for many rural communities
(Sunderland 2011b: 28). These ‘hidden harvests’ are usually
not taken into account in the analysis of the contribution of
forests and trees to food security.
2 According to the regulation, any land registered as forestland is called forestland whether that particular land has trees of not. These lands are
just left barren, as cultivation of crops or NTFPs is not permitted in such lands. Squatters, some of which are not landless but land-grabbers,
have occupied a part of these lands.
IFR Adhikari et al.indd 4 2016-8-3 4:38:57
Edible forest? Rethinking Nepal’s forest governance in the era of food insecurity 5
green house gases (GHGs) are produced from agriculture
if production as well as handling of all food is considered
(Scialabba and Mullet-Linden 2010: 158) although IPCC
estimates that 10–12 percent of GHG emissions from agricul-
tural sector accounts 10–12 percent of all anthropogenic
annual emissions of CO2 equivalent (IPCC 2007). But, if
agricultural systems are supported by forests, then emission
of such gases will decline and if generated forest will sink the
carbon. In such farms, forests could also provide shelterbelts
and windbreaks, which will be useful to cope with drought
and heat waves. Forests are also important to control land-
slides and erosion and prevent such disasters, which essen-
tially mean reduction of the vulnerability context and thus
better food security (Oyebade et al. 2010).
NATIONAL CONTEXT: THE STATE OF FOREST-FOOD
LINKAGE IN NEPAL
The contribution of forestry to food security in general, as
well as overall livelihood security, is critically important in
Nepal. Over 70 percent of Nepal’s population depends on
agriculture as a major component of their livelihoods, involv-
ing complex interactions between agriculture, forestry, and
livestock systems. Farmers depend on green fodder from
forests to feed their livestock, particularly during the dry
season when forests are often the only available source of
fodder and grass. The primary cooking fuel in the country is
firewood, with 69 percent of households using firewood
as their main source (AEPC/GoN 2014: 4). Forest also
contributes to food security by generating income for house-
holds. Forest products derived through community forestry
accounted for 20–25 percent of the mean household income
for 50 households surveyed in one middle hills district,
regardless of wealth class (KC 2004). The annual community
forestry-based income was NRs. 20,496 (USD 265, or 20
percent of total income) for wealthiest households, NRs.
18,730 (USD 242, or 22.8 percent of total income) for medi-
um households, and NRs. 11,815 (USD 152, or 23.4 percent
of total income) for poorest households. For poorest house-
holds, forest products accounted for a 6 percent greater
contribution to overall income than earnings from agriculture
and livestock (ibid: 42). In the case of wealthy and medium
households, farm-income was higher than the forest based
income by 4 to 8 percent (ibid: 42). In another study of 763
Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) in 2006 in three
districts in Nepal, 121 CFUGs (15 percent of total) were
involved in some kind of commercial enterprise, creating
income and employment opportunities for the poor and disad-
vantaged (Pokharel et al. 2009: 12). This income was mostly
used to purchase food and other necessities by these poor
households. Still another study showed that forest-based
commercial enterprise has a role to contribute to poverty
alleviation and subsistence livelihood (Baral et al. 2009). It
showed that a CFUG included 11 percent very poor and
18 percent poor households and they derived 17.7 percent and
31 percent of the total cash and subsistence benefits from the
forest respectively. In another CFUG under the same study,
there were 15 percent very poor and 27 percent poor house-
holds, who derived 17 and 32 percent of the total forest
benefits respectively (Baral et al. 2009: 3). These studies
demonstrate that very poor and poor households obtained
proportionately more benefits from commercial forest enter-
prises (i.e., cash income) than subsistence goods and com-
modities. Even though this finding contradicts the general
argument that forests benefits are captured by elites and that
community forests are underutilised (Khanal 2002, Pokharel
and Nurse 2004), it also demonstrates that there is a possibil-
ity to enhance poor people’s access to food through appropri-
ate forestry programmes. In addition, there are other indirect
ways through which forest contribute to food security, such
as through provisioning of ecosystem services, nurturing
agro-ecological system. More importantly, forests supply
diverse types of foods to supplement foods produced in farm,
especially benefitting the poorer families during the critical
Poor people’s dependence on forest and common land for
food is not a new practice in Nepal. However, its prevalence
has declined drastically in recent times. For example, a study
has found that people in a village were using sixty-two types
of uncultivated or wild food plants in the forest belonging to
36 families; 80 percent of them had multiple uses (Shrestha
and Dhillion 2006)3 like for preparation of alcoholic bever-
ages, cooking oil, juice, pickles, snacks species, tea and veg-
etables. These forest foods mostly provided snacks for the
families, and were important nutritionally. These foods sup-
plemented household food stock generally prior to harvesting
of main crops, which is usually a slack period in terms of food
supply. The collectors of such foods were mostly women (see
also Daniggelis (2003) in case of eastern Nepal). These foods
also led to the establishment of small-scale community enter-
prises. There is also a continuity of domestication process –
farmers bringing in new food plants from forest to cultivate in
their farm (Shrestha and Dhillion 2006). Use of wild or forest
food is common throughout rural areas but its degree differs
from one location to another depending upon access to culti-
vated land, distance from market and availability of forest and
Generally, the practice of consuming wild food is more
common in remote areas and especially among the indige-
nous people. In fact, using wild food has been a way of life
to supplement dietary requirement in rural areas. But the
knowledge is being lost due to development intervention,
rural exodus and decline in oral tradition about wild plants
(Chaudhary 1998; Manandhar 1995). A study reports that
people in Manang, central mountain region of Nepal, collect
3 Of these 62 edible species, 39 percent were herbs, 37 percent trees, 14 percent shrubs and 10 percent climbers. Of them, 46 percent were
consumed as fruits and 37 percent as green leafy vegetables. Some of these species were also good for nutrition and taste. Such species
included – Asparagus racemosus, B. asiatica, Dryopteris cochleata, Myrica esculanta, Rubus ellipticus, and Polystichum squarrosum.
IFR Adhikari et al.indd 5 2016-8-3 4:38:58
6 J. Adhikari et al.
food from 41 plant species in the forest, which are used as a
sources of fruits, juice, vegetables and achar – local relish
or pickle (Bhattarai, Chaudhary, Quave and Taylor 2009:16).
These authors further writes that local people know some of
these foods are very nutritious and thus give them to children,
pregnant and lactating mothers and elderly and frail people
who are prone to diseases. Moreover, the traditional process-
ing methods followed for these foods free them from harmful
effects if any. Introduction of packaged food and other ready-
made food from outside is mainly responsible for the decline
in collection of wild food in this agricultural community.
Another study on collection of wild edible fungi in
Nepal reported that as much as 228 species of wild fungi
(mushroom) are used as food, which was found to be more
widespread in high mountain region among Tibeto-Nepalese
community. The collection rate was, on average, 18.1 kg per
year per household and some households collecting up to
160 kg. The commercial collectors of such fungi tend to be
poor (Christensen et al. 2008). In Karnali region in Nepal,
which has been suffering from food deficit and malnutrition,
and sometimes famine, forests have been a respite to fill the
food shortages period until external help or other strategies
are made to secure food. In the mid 1990s, when this region
suffered a famine and led to the death of 150 people, many
people depended for some 2–3 months on forest food. There
was a wide range of knowledge on forest food or uncultivated
food, but this has declined significantly (Adhikari 2008).
Nepal faces a double whammy with regard to production
and use of forest-foods for food security. Firstly, the policy/
institutional framework, as discussed below, is constraining
the production and supply of such foods. The forest policies
developed, especially under the influence of international
donor agencies, in recent times are aimed at decentralized
management of forest, but the influence of government and
international donors in the implementation process has led
to wrong results, especially in marginalizing the traditional
use of forestry users. For example, Dhakal (2014) argues
that international intervention spoiled centuries old forestry
practices, which had contributed to the evolvement of socio-
ecological condition, sustained local economy and environ-
ment systems and that the new forestry institutions and
practices locked local opportunities of multipurpose uses of
forest, worsened water yield and local knowledge, and ham-
pered local economic activities. Food production/collection,
Dhakal (2014) argues, declined because of reduction in live-
stock population and increased plantation of pine trees under
the donor agencies’ pressure. Consequently, habitat diversi-
ties for forest-based species, and forest resource supplies
for sustaining agro-biodiversity and local food security were
adversely affected (Dhakal 2014: 58). In another study of
Karnali, Nepal – the region where there has been food crisis
and intermittent hunger deaths in the last forty years, unculti-
vated foods like those produced in forest and common lands,
contributed a significant part of food until the late 1970s, but
such foods are consumed rarely nowadays because of decline
in their availability owing to erosion of knowledge about
it and changes in forest composition because of emphasis
on timber producing trees in reforestation programmes
(Adhikari 2008). Secondly, a new tendency to depend on
major staple like rice supplied through regional and interna-
tional market networks and food-aid has led to a perception
that forest-foods are not to be consumed in a civilized society,
which caused a drastic change in food-habits.
Despite dependence of a large majority of households on
agriculture as a major source of livelihood, about 60 percent
of farm households cannot produce food sufficient for more
than 6 months in a year, because of low productivity and small
land holdings (CBS 2012). In terms of land availability, Nepal
is a land-scarce country – there are almost negligible numbers
(0.4 percent) of farm families having more than 5 ha of land,
which consist 5.2 percent of total farmland of the country. On
average, a household farm size is of 0.7 ha (CBS 2012:12).
There are about 2.3 million people (10 percent of the total
household population) who are absolutely landless and home-
less in Nepal and about 60 percent are functionally landless
(Wily et al. 2009: 38). As a result, farmers derive livelihoods
from a variety of sources including migration of one or more
family members for work in distant places to bring remit-
tances or to escape the scarcity of food at home (Adhikari and
Bohle 1998 1999, Gartaula et al. 2012), and questions have
been raised whether migration-based food security strategy of
households will be sustainable (Sunam and McCarthy 2015,
Sunam and Adhikari 2016). On the other hand, a significant
portion of land, i.e., almost seventy percent of the land, is still
under the control of the government and remain as public
land; a large part of it has remained under different land
use systems such as forest (40 percent, of which a quarter is
managed as community forests), degraded forest, pasture,
and community lands, and only about 23 percent is farmland.
Given the geomorphological condition, there is also no pos-
sibility of expanding farmlands for field crops. In this context,
policy emphasizing only private agricultural lands, whether
through industrial agriculture or sustainable intensification
(Royal Society 2009, Godfray et al. 2010, Harvey and Pilgrim
2011), would mean that a large chunk of ‘public lands’ remain
outside food security debate. This situation undermines the
possibility of harnessing the potential of enhancing food
security from public land.
INSIGHTS FROM THE FIELD RESEARCH
In 1997, a study was conducted by the first co-author in
Siding and Karuwa-Kapuche villages, in the uppermost fron-
tier of the Mardi-Seti watershed in Kaski district, west-central
Nepal (Bohle and Adhikari 1998). Three follow up visits were
also conducted afterwards. These studies revealed that these
two villages were severely food insecure, and forest areas
strongly underpinned people’s livelihoods. The 1997 study
showed that in both the villages, about 14 percent households
could produce food sufficient only for less than 3 months,
27 percent for 4 to 6 months, 25 percent for 6–9 months, and
26 percent for 9–12 months. Only 8 percent households could
produce surplus food. Subsequent field visits showed that
food production had consistently declined over the years.
IFR Adhikari et al.indd 6 2016-8-3 4:38:58
Edible forest? Rethinking Nepal’s forest governance in the era of food insecurity 7
The deficit food, in both villages, was fulfilled mainly
through the purchase and bartering of foods. Forest products
were useful to support these purchases and barters. For
example, the strategies used by poorer households (less
food self-sufficiency) were to produce alcohol and to make
bamboo-baskets. These products were sold within the village,
in other villages or exchanged with foodgrains or sold in
the city. Women were responsible for the barter and sale. In
addition, these households depended primarily on forest and
uncultivated lands for vegetables and fruits (mainly barberry
or Kafal, bayberry – Chutro, and raspberry), a small part of
which was also sold or bartered with food. From late July to
end of August, men, especially from poorer households,
would go to high altitude areas (3000–3500 meters) to collect
young shoots of Arundinaria sps (locally called tusa). These
non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are demanded highly in
villages. Because of their high price and high demand in the
city nowadays, collection of this vegetable has increased
in recent times, despite the restriction from (Annapurna)
Conservation Area Project. Similarly, villagers would sell
different types of young fern shoots (locally called niuro) in
the villages as well as in city, which require about 3–4 hours
walk. Alcohol making, which generates, a good income for
poor households required significant amount of firewood, and
thus support from forest for poor households is essential to
secure the food. In addition, villagers would also sell timber,
especially to the low-lying villages, which have low access
The other main source of income for these villagers was
livestock. People of these villages sold ghee (processed
butter) as well as live animals (cows, buffaloes and sheep/
goat) to low lying villages. And these animals were raised
solely with the contribution of forest – either for grazing or as
a source of fodder/grass for animals. The study revealed that,
on average, these villages derived one third of income (apart
from home food production) from wages (mainly in other
villages and city), one third from the sale of alcohol, timber
and bamboo baskets, and one-third from the livestock.
Clearly, forest was crucial for the two-thirds of the income
(first and third strategies) that was mainly used to buy food
(see Fig. 1 and 2 in Bohle and Adhikari 1998: 326). Villagers
were also found to collect vegetables (like Khole Saag – leafy
vegetables, mushrooms, berries of different types) from the
forest, a part of which was used for household consumption
and a part was sold or bartered. These products were mainly
collected either in August-October or in April-May, when
these products were available in the forest, also coinciding
with a time when they faced lean food seasons. Village people
had the knowledge of which plant is consumable and which is
not. This was especially so with regard to wild mushroom,
with various edible and poisonous species thriving in the
same locality. These products (especially mushroom) were
also sun-dried to be used during winter, when there is a short-
age of food. These villages, being the frontier villages and
with access to large forested area, also obtained bush meat
from time to time through hunting. The meat was consumed
in the village as well as supplied, secretly, to urban areas,
where it fetched higher price. All this shows that forests have
been part of the local livelihood system in a number of ways.
Similarly, another study in Lachok and Rivan villages in
the same district by the first co-author in 1990 revealed that
forest products had helped to generate 17.6 percent of income
to poorer (all low caste) households, who were functionally
landless. Their total income from forest products was almost
three times that of wealthy households. This income was used
to buy food – imported cheap low quality rice, as local rice
was expensive. These poorer households obtained firewood
and charcoal from the forest, as these were used to produce/
repair farm implements and household utensils – the
traditional occupation of some ‘low’ caste families. They
also collected different types of bamboos from the forest and
made bamboo mats and baskets and sold them to generate
cash. Within villages these products were also bartered with
foodgrains. On average, forest products helped to generate
6.8 percent cash income to households, and also supported
both livestock and crop production, the mainstay of villagers’
livelihoods (see Adhikari 1996: 210).
In the early 1990s, there was much interest among all
socio-economic groups to have access to forest, but often
conflicts resulted from time to time in the use and manage-
ment of forest (Adhikari 1990). Traditionally, only wealthy
and high caste households had their own forest close to the
settlements and low caste households did not have their
forest. Low caste households did get some forest products
at the discretion of high caste households to whom they
provided their occupational services. The new community
forestry developed by District Forest Office followed the
existing pattern of access to forest, denying low caste house-
holds the formal rights to forest. But, then as a result of resis-
tance by low caste households and advocacy of their rights by
civil society groups, this exclusionary practice of forest use
has been corrected in early 2000s. This was established in
the subsequent visit, which also showed that despite such
changes various caste-based discrimination persists in the use
of forest and in the distribution of benefits.
In the past fifteen years, there have been enormous agrar-
ian changes as people’s involvement in long-distance contract
work (in Malaysia and Gulf countries) rapidly grew so much
so that even the lower middle-income families were among
the ones to migrate out from villages for jobs. However, the
poorest households continued to stay and depend on forests
for livelihoods. For example, a study in the same villages in
1999 revealed that poorest 20 percent households were not
able to take the advantage of this newfound employment
opportunity as they were not able to conjure up the initial
investment required for this (Seddon et al. 2001). Their
dependence on forest further increased as the size of their
landholding declined – thanks to population growth and
fragmentation of land holdings. Similarly, a new tendency
of growing vegetables and stall-fed animals, especially cows,
buffaloes and goats, has emerged as the market access
improved due to road connection. These new enterprises
required more leaf-litters and fodder and grass from the for-
est. The changes in city life and new interest of city-dwellers
in wild foods and vegetables for health reasons have led to
high demand of forest foods and products like leafy vegeta-
bles, mushrooms, berries of different types, meat of wild
IFR Adhikari et al.indd 7 2016-8-3 4:38:58
8 J. Adhikari et al.
even for a small amount they could collect, and it takes a long
process to get this permission.
ACAP’s conservation effort in this area has led to rapid
increase in the forest cover and wild animals. As a result,
incidences of depredation of crops by monkeys and killing
of small livestock by the leopards have increased. But,
compensation for the loss of crops and animals is almost
non-existence. Unlike community forests, ACAP, and for that
matter all Conservation Areas, works in a different way. It
makes committee called Conservation Area Management
Committee (CAMC) at Village Development Committee
(VDC) level only, and thus covers larger area and many
settlements as compared to community forestry. In such cases
(i.e., CAMC), many poor people have no representation in
decision-making bodies. In most CAMCs, the representation
is from the dominant social-groups in the villages, and minor-
ity groups are often left out from decision-making process.
While talking to ACAP’s field staff, it was reported that
the progress is seen in the measurement of increase in forest
cover and protection of wild animals, which shows the protec-
tion oriented nature of the programme even though the
concept of ICD (integrated conservation and development) is
supposed to inform the activities.
In a CFUG at Dhamilikuwa VDC of Lamjung district,
Dalit (low caste) groups were denied access to public forest-
land, which could have provided benefits to livelihoods
without major effect on forest condition. The field research
conducted by second co-author in 2013–14 showed that
despite Dalit groups were willing and interested to take part
of community forest on lease and use it for agroforestry, local
community forestry leaders were reluctant and the govern-
ment authorities stood against any such moves which they
thought could undermine the ecological integrity of forest.
Interactions with forest officials also showed that cultivation
of certain cash crops such as ginger and turmeric does not
qualify as compliant with forest regulations. Moreover, both
local community leaders and forest officials were apprehen-
sive of landless and land poor families using forest for non-
timber forest products, as this practice could eventually lead
to forest encroachment as per the prevailing forest regulation.
This is consistent with the findings of other studies, which
report that there are severe regulatory and bureaucratic
hurdles in NTFPs development in community forestry (Pandit
et al. 2009). In another instance in Kavre district, community
forestry leaders were found to be unable to harvest over
mature trees from forest, which could have yielded some
income to poor households beside government royalty, and
also to open up some fertile part of the community forestland
for cash crops. The field study also revealed that while
community forestry was growing as a jungle of species –
including some invasive weeds – private land had seen the
plantation of fodder and high value medicinal plants. These
show that community forestry remain heavily regulated
through conservation or timber oriented principles and
practices, limiting the possibility of food security oriented
management of forest areas.
In a study carried out in 7 CFUGs in Pyuthan, Rolpa and
Rupandehi districts by the third author, it was revealed that
birds, wild honey and leaf-plates. Poorer people of the study
villages, especially women, were found to have taken the
opportunities to earn income from these emerging trends
despite some problems in collecting these products as dis-
cussed below. The new socio-economic changes brought
about by the growing involvement in distant contract work
(migration to Malaysia and Gulf States) that was observed in
these villages was also observed in Khotang in east Nepal
where the author did a similar research in 2011. Here also,
the dependence on forest for the wealthiest households, who
could derive more remittance income, declined, but this
created marketing opportunities for poorer households to
sell forest products like firewood, berries and vegetables like
mushroom, and even fodder/grass. As a whole, workload
related to forest use and conservation increased for women
(Adhikari and Hobley 2013, 2015).
Despite dependence on forest products for food and to
support other livelihood strategies aimed at meeting deficit
food, most of these forest-food collection activities were
organized in such a way that government authorities (now
Annapurna Conservation Area Project –ACAP-Authorities)
would not notice that. So, most of the selling is done under the
cover of dark or being undercover. For example, collection
of tusa, which is very lucrative, is done in the night inviting
several risks. By the evening the collectors hide in the forest
at high altitude and collect these products in the night; by
the dawn, they reach the market place with their collection.
People also resort to bribing the inspectors/forest ranger
employed to control these collections. Villagers, and even the
forest ranger, would not know what are permissible products
and what are the limits for collection. So, the rangers imposed
blanket restrictions in the collection. But, as the people
lived so close to the forest that it was difficult to monitor
their movements and collections of some products. People
expressed that they face considerable risks when they are
found selling banned forest products in other villages or in the
town. From time to time, even the sale of alcohol (made using
a lot of firewood) is restricted and, if found, their alcohol
would be spilled on the soil. Collection of charcoal is strictly
restricted as well as the collection of bamboos of different
types. As a result, poorest people (especially low caste house-
holds) struggle to continue the livelihood strategies so as to
meet the deficit food production. In recent times, this problem
has eased to some extent as there is now more tree cover
in private land, thanks to migration of people for work and
then their settlement in urban areas and market centres. This
migration has led to abandonment of land, where trees have
grown, and poorer households have some access to these trees
because of their traditional relations with the landowners.
Local CFUGs in Lachok village started cultivating herbs
in the forest in 2003. But, this was also restricted previously
from Forest Department and then from ACAP. People in
Karuwa-Kapuche reported that it is possible to collect more
honey from the wild honeycombs in the forest and sell it in the
market. They, in the fact, collected it for home use and for
barter with food within the village and in nearby villages in
the past. But, now, they need to take permission from ACAP
IFR Adhikari et al.indd 8 2016-8-3 4:38:58
Edible forest? Rethinking Nepal’s forest governance in the era of food insecurity 9
“Goat meat can be sold quicker than gold and withdraw-
ing your own money from your bank account. To withdraw
money from bank, you have to wait until the time office
opens in the morning say 10 am (in villages, withdrawing
money from the bank is only available through cheques),
but we can sell goat meat even early in the dawn.” –
Chairperson of one of the studies CFUGs- cited in
Bhattarai (2011: 18).
This shows that forestlands have the potential to support
economically viable enterprises such as goat farming that
is already being undertaken at household level as a source
of cash income. However, community forests appeared to
operate in silos- forest-management strategies are yet to
incorporate fodder production strategies to support livestock
enterprise. The study concluded that although community for-
ests were/are a source of food (both directly and indirectly),
CFUGs have not taken this issue in their regular management
strategies. Furthermore, there were opportunities for house-
holds to expand goat-farming using resources in community
forests, which would have surely increased the income. This
income could have been easily converted into cereals and
other foods. Moreover, consumption of goat meat itself would
have improved the diet of the people. This study, along with
other studies (Dhakal et al. 2011), showed that the potential
of forest to contribute to cash income through livestock
remains underutilized, as the policy system fails to encourage
effective integration of forestry with agriculture and livestock
(Dhakal et al. 2011). The following section explains what are
these barriers and why have they persisted in forest policies.
NAITONAL POLICY SPACE FOR LINKING FORESTRY
WITH FOOD SECURITY
The empirical studies revealed that policies related to
community forestry, conservation area, and agriculture are
directly linked to the governance of management of landscape
– forests, farms and other common lands. The main policies
related to these issues include Forest Act 1993, Conservation
Area Management Regulations 1996, and Agricultural Pro-
spective Plan – APP (1995–2015). Government has approved
ADS (Agricultural Development Strategy) in 2016 to guide
the agricultural programmes, but it, in principle, is based on
APP. Here both policies are briefly analysed in relation to
forest-food security linkages. Government of Nepal has also
nominated Ministry of Agriculture as the focal point for food
security, and thus it is essential to examine the co-ordination
between Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (dealing
with forests, which are common property) and Agricultural
Ministry (dealing with private farmland).
A review of the current policy framework related to
forestry and agriculture reveals that there are a number of
barriers to food security (across production, trade and use).
There has been an absence of institutional element to link
forest and agriculture, and there is no unit within forest and
agriculture ministries to look after forest and food security
linkages. More fundamentally, there is no policy framework
members of CFUGs collected naturally grown forest-food
from the community forests. These included at least 10 fruit
species including guava, mango, pomegranate, and butter-tree
(Bhattarai 2011:4). Apart from these fruit species, the com-
munities were collecting and using more than six types of
wild vegetables including young fern shoots and mushrooms.
The study also found that in one of the CFUGs, members
collected 15–20 varieties of mushroom from their community
forest. Poor people, mainly women, collected most of these
vegetable products primarily for their subsistence (Bhattarai
2011: 4–5). As analysed in this study, due to lack of attentions
to manage these food-giving plants in the forest, wild fruits
and vegetables had become less abundant (ibid). Despite
acute dependence of poor on these forest-based foods, the
community forest management groups had focused on the
production of timber. It was observed that in all the new
plantations carried out by CFUGs, the first priority was given
to timber species.
As far as edible products from forest were concerned,
several products were collected and consumed: Mushroom,
butter tree (Diploknema butyracea), wild fruits, vegetables
and medicines. Out of the four wellbeing categories of the
respondents: well off, medium, poor and poorest, poor and
poorest households were found to have collected larger
amounts of edible forest products as compared to other eco-
nomic categories. Apart from food, these poorest categories
also benefitted through increased grass and fodder produc-
tion. In the study area, Bhattarai (2011) found that fruits like
Bel (wood apple) had no use at all. In some of the studied
community forests, bay leaf and mango trees covered more
than 10 percent of the forest area, but these trees and their
fruits were not used fully for income generation. A study
conducted in another district showed that the sale of bay leaf,
after applying some value addition techniques, generated a
good income for the members of community forestry groups
(see Bhattarai et al. 2009). Unfortunately, in the above three
districts studied, these were just used as litter, and there
seemed compete lack of information about market and value
Bhattarai (2011: 14–15) further notes that due to lack of
enterprise culture, CFUGs under the study rarely utilized the
land they had. For instance, as opined by its members, forest-
land of some of the CFUGs is suitable to grow shade tolerant
crops (locally called Ool), which they could grow underneath
the planted forest trees. Despite the fact that these crops have
high market value and are important from cultural point of
view, their production is limited only for local use. In the
study villages, forest contributed to food security indirectly
through supporting livestock, especially small livestock like
goats, by producing grass and tree fodder for livestock.
In these villages, goat farming was found to be a popular
activity, specially among small farmers. CFUG members got
support for goat farming from a forestry development project.
The irony here was that, the same project had supported
community forestry and goat farming, but lacked plans and
activities to grow fodder and grasses required to feed goats.
The following narratives show the high demand of goat meat
and its future potential.
IFR Adhikari et al.indd 9 2016-8-3 4:38:58
10 J. Adhikari et al.
on agro-forestry that could have stipulated some strategies for
enhancing the food-forest link. The forest policy has ignored,
and at times actively suppressed, the emerging livelihood
opportunity around livestock – forest link (Dhakal et al.
2011). Agricultural policies that aim at intensification of
farming through commercialization miss the opportunity to
make farming resilient (for biodiversity, organic matter and
risk averse mechanisms) by integrating with forests. This
is especially so in the context of a challenge posed by the
climate change and possibility of extreme weather events.
How forest is governed is also linked with other crosscutting
legislations. Contradictions with local self-governance act is
a key issue – the primacy of sectoral act means that forest is
more under the central government authority than the local
government. There is also limited coordination among vari-
ous policy formulation and implementation arms – parlia-
mentary committee, environmental council, planning bodies
like National Planning Commission, and ministry. Neither
stakeholder voice nor scientific evidence effectively informs
forest policy making in Nepal (Ojha et al. 2015).
Despite impressive space for decentralized management
of forest, the Forest Act 1993 and Forest Rules 1995 do not
allow sustainable food production practices in forestlands.
There are some provisions to plant certain cash crops compat-
ible with forest, but not so significant in relation to food. This
is totally forest centric and oriented to forest conservation
rather than sustainable management of forest for livelihoods
and food security. There is high potential of community-based
forest management (CBFM) to increase food security of poor
households by cultivating agro-ecologically sustainable food
crops. However, the current forest policies are not explicitly
designed to address food security concerns, and, by and large,
the policy framework discourages communities from explor-
ing and cultivating agro- ecologically sustainable food crops
In the context of CBFM, the equity agenda has not been
adequately supported by the policy. Elite concerns dominate
local forest decisions – which are mainly about timber.
At times, despite CFUGs generating significant financial
resources locally, they lack capacity and visions to invest in
productive sectors such as enterprise and environmental secu-
rity measures (Paudel, Jana and Khatiwada 2012). In another
form of CBFM (Leasehold Forestry), a key assumption was
that by giving access to a piece of degraded land to the group
of poor households, it overcomes some of the equity issues
seen in Community Forestry, and that it is compatible with
enhancing opportunities for the poorest including food secu-
rity (Bhattarai et al. 2005). Evidence shows that while the
forest condition improved, the supply levels of forest products
decreased after implementation of Leasehold Forestry due to
restrictions in the production of foods in forestlands.
Despite the development of NTFP policy and programs,
NTFP enterprises have not been a significant success for local
communities. This is because the policy has remained as a
wishful statement alone, without making self-enforceable
regulatory instruments. The formal policy frameworks are
hardly implemented in the spirit of legislative will. Whereas
the Forest Act 1993 recognises the CFUG as a perpetually
self-governed institution, with rights to independently
manage forest products and fix the prices of forest products,
Community Forestry (CF) directives 1995 (clause 3c) enables
District Forest Officers (DFOs) to set conditions of forest
management. There are several legal and administrative
hurdles that forest entrepreneurs have to face, making the
establishment of forest-based enterprises neither beneficial
nor cost-effective (Pandit et al. 2015).
In the recent years, climate change and the emerging
agenda of REDD+ is further pushing the forest management
system towards selling forest carbon. This endeavour has
overlooked the intricate links between forest and livelihoods
involving a range of subsistence and commercial use of forest
products (Ojha et al. 2013). Nepal Government’s Readiness
Plan Proposal (RPP) for forest carbon promotion has empha-
sized carbon trade (GON/MFSC 2015). However, it is not yet
clear how potential carbon benefit and food security outcomes
could be reconciled and optimised at the level community
forestry management unit (Paudel et al. 2015).
The Conservation Area Management Regulations 1996
and The Conservation Area Management Directives 1999
requires the formation of conservation area management
committee (CAMC) from the people of VDC (Village Devel-
opment Committee), and CAMC may include the non-users
of the forest also. The CAMC prepares a VDC-level conserva-
tion and development plan, which it implements in collabora-
tion with local government and other line agencies. The plans
developed by CAMCs are to be approved by ACAP officials,
who imposes more of protective conservations agendas like
no harvesting of trees, reforestation and no poaching of wild
animals even that which comes to the villages and destroys
the crops and domestic animals. Therefore, outside interest
dominates the CAMC’s plans rather than the interests of the
local people, particularly poorer people. Moreover, this
approach doesn’t fully recognise community’s heterogeneity
and differentiation within the community (see also Bajracha-
rya at al. 2007). Development tasks that CAMCs have
prepared include construction of trails, irrigation and other
community development activities, and decisions on what to
construct or use funds for development are controlled by pow-
erful people within the village. In sum, conservation areas are
more restrictive in using the forest for food security purposes
than the community forests. Government of Nepal has shown
its interest to expand more of the protective forest regimes as
it has in recent times expanded the conservation areas and
other approaches like ‘protective forests’ in Terai.
Agricultural policies until now, including the recent ADS,
emphasise commercial agriculture. No agricultural policy
talks about forest and possibility of using forestlands for
producing food, because the mandate of Agricultural Ministry
is to look only after privately-owned farmland for the produc-
tion of crops and animals. Nepal embarked upon economic
liberalization from 1986 during which government expendi-
ture (budget) on agriculture reduced consistently and it
reached to about 2 percent of the budget in 2010. The APP
(Agricultural Perspective Plan 1995–2015) was also an out-
come of economic liberalization approach of the government.
While APP aimed to replicate green revolution success in
IFR Adhikari et al.indd 10 2016-8-3 4:38:59
Edible forest? Rethinking Nepal’s forest governance in the era of food insecurity 11
Punjab and Haryana, India, and was pushed through by donor
agencies, it was not implemented the way it was envisioned.
Again, growth of farm production was the main aim of the
plan with the assumption that this growth would generate
employment and enough off-farm employment for the poor
and marginalized having no access to land. It aimed to create
a food-store storing about 5 percent of the total food produced
as food-bank for food security reasons, and all other programs
and activities were not aimed food security as such. There was
also no link to forests and forestry policies for taking full
advantage of forest and forestland for producing more food.
Again the basic assumption in both APP and ADS is that
‘food’ comes only from farmland, and that it can be increased
through green revolution technology using a combination of
high yielding seeds, fertilizer, and water.
The forest and farm policies discussed above have rein-
forced the present compartmentalized institutional set-up for
farm production and forest management as discussed above.
Its impact is seen even at the local level where there are
separate officers looking after agriculture and forestry issues.
There is no co-operation and co-ordination among them while
planning their annual and long-term plans. This has also
meant that it is difficult to formulate and execute a compre-
hensive plan to manage the resources on a landscape basis so
as to maximize forest-food linkages. As a matter of fact such
comprehensive plans have not been developed. Accordingly,
the synergy among different land-uses to improve food secu-
rity through a diverse source of food has not been achieved.
As a result, the traditional management of resources that had
a legacy of managing the resources on an integrated way on a
landscape basis has also been eroded. The overall impact was
that a new tendency grew among government official and
professionals to undermine the role of forest in food security.
This paper has analysed how forest is linked to food security
in Nepal, and in doing so, also identified barriers and oppor-
tunities to link forest more effectively with the system of food
production and access. Drawing on the review of literature as
well as field research insights from eight districts in Nepal
over the past several years, the analysis presented here shows
that there are opportunities for strengthening this linkage, but
several policy related hurdles stand in the way. At a practical
level, forest can not only directly help in enhancing the avail-
ability of food, especially uncultivated food of diverse types
during the critical food shortage periods, but also help
enhance the access of the poor and disadvantaged groups to
food through generating income and employment opportuni-
ties. As forests usually provide diverse and often nutritionally
valuable foods, the utilization aspect of the food security will
also be strengthened if forests are managed for food security
outcomes. In addition, in the context of the increasing trend
of decentralised management as in the case of Nepal’s com-
munity forestry, forests are likely to enhance smallholders’
voice in decision making, with a potential to safeguard
equitable access to natural capital, including edible forest
products. All of this suggests that forests have a high possibil-
ity to contribute to food security.
However, this possibility has not been fully realized in the
case of Nepal’s community forestry system, as policies have
not been conducive to realise forests’ potential to enhance
food security outcomes. Three main policy-related barriers
have been identified. Firstly, despite the promotion of partici-
patory forest management agenda, the eco-centric conserva-
tion orientation and the continuation of various forms of
centralized control over forests are less conducive to food
security oriented innovations in forest governance. Both in
government and community-managed forests, the emphasis is
on conservation of forest ecosystem, often leading to either
‘passive management’ or timber-focussed ‘scientific forest
management’ of forests in Nepal.
Secondly, despite significant progress with decentralized
and community based systems of forest management, the
regulatory framework offers limited space to local people
to capitalize opportunities for enhancing food security at the
local level. The analysis shows that none of the policy frame-
works related to forest, agriculture and land have prioritized
the need to integrate agriculture–forestry processes. Thirdly,
despite limited support systems, several forms of innovative
practices have emerged at local level, and yet, there is a lack
of enabling capacity in the food security policy system to
scale up, promote and strengthen such innovations. There is
also a lack of cross-sectoral and cross-scale institutions to
support and enable planning and service provisioning for
integrated management of forest, agriculture and food
In view of these conclusions, a key challenge ahead is to
explore how bottom up innovations can be expanded, and at
the same time, how more transformational changes can be
induced at the national policy frameworks and institutions to
link forest management with food security goals. This calls
for a critical and locally engaged policy research that could
unveil constraints and opportunities at multiple scales and
demonstrate ways to foster greater collaboration across
communities of activists, researchers and policy makers –
associated with three historically differentiated governance
arenas around forest, agriculture and land in Nepal.
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