Community Engagement: A Key to Successful Plantation Campaigns

- Bikash Ghimire, Pokhara

     Bikash Ghimire    
     Sunday July 18, 2021

Thank you so much sir! Green School Team came at the right time and place for us. The school infrastructure was obliterated by the earthquake (2015) and we were all shaken. Green School team healed us with well-designed program that included student and community centric environmental concepts, kitchen garden, plantation and many other extracurricular activities. It was a blessing in disguise for us.” words of Mr. Choodamani Chhatkuli, Principal of Chakradevi Basic School, Dhading. As we were discussing about Green School Project implemented in their school via a phone call, he reiterated the success of Plantation Campaign organized back in 2017-18 in high spirits.

Green School is a holistic approach of creative teaching and learning process establishing a enabling environment in schools. Environment being at the core, this approach not only focuses on students health and school’s environmental vitality, but also encouraged  students to be environment friendly in practice and to harness basic knowledge on environmental sustainability. The harmonized teaching, learning and working practices enhance their ability to  to tackle with the concurrent environmental problems in school and in its vicinity. One of the missions of this educational approach is to equip school students with the skills and dispositions that will transform them into future environmental champions who will advocate the issues related to environmental problems of their community.

In order to accomplish the mission, Friends of Nature (FON) Nepal collaborated with Welthungerhilfe (WHH), Germany and jointly pioneered two pilot Green School Projects in two schools at Korak VDC (Now Rapti municipality) Chitwan and Salyantar VDC (now Tripurasundari Rural Municipality) Dhading between 2013 and 2018. The approach and the projects were pioneer in Nepal.

Among plethora of activities with Green School, School Plantation was one of the most appreciated but the hardest to implement activity too. It was not easy to establish forest plantation (reforestation activities) involving range of stakeholders from planning to implementation phase.. The deforested land was open access to local communities, and hence grazing was widely practiced in the area. Closure to livestock grazing and reforestation of the open access forest land was not a palatable idea among the stakeholders in the beginning.

In the beginning of the projects, FON Nepal had formed Eco-club at school level and Eco-committee at community level. The institutional structures were instrumental in the establishment of plantations. Through Eco-club and – committee, FON mobilized students and committee members to raise the awareness about and the importance of forest plantations among local communities. Besides the giving up the land for livestock grazing, the failure of forest plantations in the past was one of the major reasons that the locals were not interested for the task. Obviously, they do not want to invest their resources for the task with no outcomes. However, following the several meetings and informal consultations, the locals eventually agreed to allocate community land for the plantations. FON Nepal’s formal and informal network in the area, similar activities carried out by FON in other areas in the past, and recognition of FON, Nepal by community leaders at district level collectively further contributed to take the locals on board. A plantation management committee involving locals including women members was formed. The committee led the planning (land preparation, seedling transportation, execution of plantation and fencing) and execution of the forest plantations with technical and financial support by FON Nepal.  

Division Forest Office (DFO) of Dhading and DFO Kathmandu provided seedlings  of native tree species available in their nurseries. Tree  species of economic and cultural importance, for example, Shrikhand (Santalum album Linn), Raktachandan (Pterocarpus santalinus), Rudrakshya (Elaeocarpus ganitrus) were bought from different private nurseries. Local political leaders, social workers and other dignitaries were present when the villagers and students voluntarily commenced  the tree planting. The tree planting ended in three days. The contribution of the students was exemplary and encouraging.. Green School team, along with Eco-committee and Teachers participated and supervised the entire forest plantation activities. Involvement of local people including major groups women, youth (students), civil society and key actors (teachers, political leaders)  addressing their cultural values and recognition and linking the project activities with persistent problems is the key to accomplish the planation as it is envisioned.  

Forest plantations on public lands are generally susceptible to forest fires, illicit feeling and grazing. Therefore, a long-term protection plan is crucial to ensure the establishment of forest plantations. For the first couple of years, weeding and cleaning operation are necessary. In addition, regular monitoring of the plantations to ensure enrichment planting and other necessary cultural operations is another key to accomplish the task satisfactorily. The Eco-committee took the responsibility to ensure the protection and regular monitoring of the plantations. The Eco-committee put up sign-posts written with dos-and-don’ts messages. They develop a penalties/ fines system in case of rule violations. Four  sign-posts in each direction of the plantation area were installed in order also to inform the locals that the property is theirs too and a sense of ownership among them was built in a due course of time.

Ram Itani, a participant of the plantation program and advisor of Salyantar Eco-club expressed that, “the plantation area is so well-conserved till now, with more than 70% of the seedlings now thriving very well”.  

A total of 17 different species ranging from Acacia species, Bamboos, Sandalwood and Red Sandalwood and all of them are flourishing. “Locals decided not to plant the area with a single species, and that decision proved to be a good idea”, said Krishna Man Shrestha, Vice Principal and advisor of Chakradevi Eco-club.

Over the years, thousands of hectares of forest plantation campaigns are carried out in different occasions  in Nepal.  The campaigns are frequently covered by media and different social networking platforms. Massive number of seedlings have been distributed free of costs  by Division Forest Offices across the country. However, due to the lack of regular monitoring, information on the actual state of forest plantations and plantations in other lands, and the changes taking place in the plantations sites, e.g., survival, growth etc. are not available.  In most of the occasions, the plantations are taken place merely to celebrate a day of international importance and to accomplish the annual targets of the respective government agencies without a rigorous management plan: purpose, long-term protection and conservation, and monitoring. Enormous amount of financial, logistics and human resources invested in forest plantations should not be used just to harness irrelevant benefits.  This is not only a waste of scarce resources but also the failure of such plantations to achieve its goal may discourage the stakeholders to establish a legitimate forest plantations in the area in the future. ? This is a major oscillating question in most of the developing countries including our case.  

Forest plantation in order to enhance local biodiversity is one out of many activities of the Green School pilot projects. “Green School Project has been a rewarding experience for us”, says Raju Acharya”, Executive Director of FON Nepal. “It is a concept every school of the country should embrace”, he adds.  The immediate outcomes of the two pilot projects between 2013 and 2018 were: low drop-out rate from school, boosted motivation in extracurricular activities, improvements in students’ class performances, reduction in waste, increased environmental literacy, and enhanced overall environmental health of schools. Replicating these concepts would be a massive contribution to our school education and learning system. Personally, I learnt more about communities, schools, teachers and students of Salyantar. It is a blissful memory and for me the Green school was a life changing experience.  

(Mr. Bikash Ghimire is a forestry post-graduate with avid interest in wildlife research and conservation, community outreach, green school, and sports.