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September 26, 2014

‘SABIHAA model’ Supports More Than Forest Conservation in Nepal

photoTil Kumari Thapa gives a speech at a seminar discussing post-project policy.

“Various type of assistance by foreign aid has been provided in Nepalese villages in the past, but this is the only project that actually included impoverished villagers, picked up on their needs and reflected them in action.” Til Kumari Thapa, a representative of a women’s group involved in the Participatory Watershed Management and Local Governance Project that JICA started in 2009 said.

As this project shows, JICA’s cooperation in the field of forestry conservation for Nepal has a long history. In regional areas of Nepal, local residents traditionally relied on forest resources for their livelihood. However, a lack of appropriate resource management for many years accelerated deforestation, due in part to excessive logging.

To improve the situation JICA started its cooperation in 1991 and since then, for 23 years, it has greatly contributed to forest conservation in Nepal through extensive trial and error.

The SABIHAA (1) model, the culmination of past cooperation, implemented village-development with a focus on improving the lives of residents, something in which they have great interest. In addition, it succeeded in breaking out of a vicious circle of poverty and deforestation, by introducing forest conservation activity as part of village-building. It is a developmental method led both by government and residents, to improve the lives of locals, as well as to manage natural resources and put forest conservation plans into practice.

The SABIHAA model has now been approved as a formal developmental method of the Nepalese government, and it is about to be widely deployed within the country.

JICA’s 23-year cooperation history

With beautiful Himalayan mountains and a rich natural environment, Nepal is thought to be a Shangri-La. The country traditionally protected its resources through residents’ co-management of the local forest. However, that traditional management method collapsed when the government put private forests under state control in the late 1950s. In that period the forest for the people changed from an object of “protection” to “usurping.” After the government ousted the forest, people continued illegal logging for their livelihoods.

It was in the 1990s when the local people claimed back their right of forest management, after the policy was thoroughly re-examined. By that time the memory of the traditional co-management had faded among the local people as it had been over 30 years. Also, the number of people involved in forest conservation decreased because of depopulation in regional areas, and disasters like soil denudation and mudslides occurred constantly because of deterioration of the forest. Above all, it struck the lives of local people who were engaged in agriculture and forest industry in the harsh natural environment.

photoLeft: An intentional burn to fertilize farmlands results in a mountain fire. 2009 was very dry and over 4,000 fires destroyed a wide area of forest. Center: When it rains over the soil weakened by reduced forest, the soil flows out and the land capability deteriorates. Right: after the surface soil has flowed out, there is no covering forest and landslides result.

JICA started the Forestry Extension Project (1991-1994) to recover the original Nepalese structure of forest management and encourage it to develop. It worked on drafting a plan for disseminating forestry and on surveys of residents’ needs. In the process, the following two points were found to be the most important in promoting forest conservation in Nepal: 1) getting a comprehensive picture of the peoples’ needs is a key to success, 2) people-centered projects based on their needs are required. And it has been the guiding principle of JICA’s cooperation since then.

So JICA launched the Community Development and Forest/Watershed Conservation Project Phase 1(1994-1999) to commence holistic village-development activity, not limited to forest conservation. The main body of the activity was “Users Groups (residents)” who use the forest resource, and Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) were dispatched as supporters of their activity, as well as local NGO staff members who worked with them.

It was followed by the Community Development and Forest / Watershed Conservation Project Phase 2 (1999 – 2005) that targeted “members of village community” (2) which was an end organization of the local administration to improve the organizational strength, in the light of sustainability of the activity. It also formed women groups to support the vulnerable, and started capacity building activities aimed at improving literacy, saving, livelihood and others.

However, this was the period when the armed uprising of the Maoist movement became active in Nepal, and security situations greatly deteriorated throughout the country. In March 2000, the JOCVs and the NGO evacuated from the village areas, driven by an incident where the project office was attacked by an unidentified group. With that the Nepalese people had no choice but to assume roles that became vacant to continue the project. Engineers from District Soil Conservation Office who, until then, used to work beside the JOCVs and the NGO staff, took over the major responsibility for each project site. “Motivators,” nominated by the local people, also acted as a pipeline between the districts’ staff and the residents, and the people started to rely on them.

With this, the players who would act as a base of the ongoing project came together, and a prototype was formed of the “SABIHAA model,” a model in which the people and public administration work together on development in a self-sustaining way. It became a trigger to improve self-initiative of the Nepalese side.

From 2005 to 2009 the SABIHAA model was deployed under the leadership of the Nepalese government with financial support from Japan. During the time ideas to improve and implement the model were accumulated and the independence of the people and the public administration increased even more.

Responding to diverse needs and connecting them to forest conservation

photoPeople attend a “debriefing meeting on fund use” by a village community.

In 2009, the Participatory Watershed Management and Local Governance Project, a long-awaited project with the primary object of supporting dissemination of the SABIHAA model, began. To respond to distrust toward the government due to the long, unstable political situation, the project also focused especially on transparency and equality, to realize a model people could trust.

Expert Koji Terakawa, the project leader, gave an overview of the project. “In this project we picked 34 villages from eight districts and launched “Ward Coordination Committees” within 306 wards (settlements) to designate them as a core of the activity. The role of the ward committee is to take the initiative in the process from finding out the needs of residents to implementing activities that respond to the needs and working on evaluation afterward. Since it is difficult to attract the interest of villagers solely with “forest conservation” or “soil conservation,” the Ward Coordination Committees were free to discuss any matters related to village-development, and the idea of resource conservation was effectively incorporated as one agenda,” Terakawa said.

Each committee first creates a local “resource map” showing resources and public facilities such as forests, water sources, roads, schools and clinics. Based on the map, the committee then discusses its future vision of the village and drafts a mid-long term development plan on how to realize the vision. Lastly they create a yearly schedule listing all the required activities.

photoMembers of a women's group participate in “Fund management improvement training.” The project worked on supporting livelihood improvement for the socially vulnerable.

“An important thing in the process of drafting the plan is to conduct a careful facilitation (3) at the residents’ own pace in order to keep fairness of the plan, and for the contents to be feasible. In JICA’s projects, usually Japanese experts take on the role of facilitator. However, in this project, engineers from soil conservation offices that the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC) assign in each district play that role so they can drive the project on their own after Japanese staff members are gone,” Terakawa continued.

A new experiment this time involves innovation in fundraising. JICA coordinated not only with the MoFSC, which it had worked with in the past, but also with the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development,and created a mechanism of directing resident needs to government by sharing yearly plans created by each ward with village offices and district offices. With this, for any issues not related to resource conservation, village offices started to provide the development budget.


Furthermore, a rule was set to include a certain number of women and ethnic minorities in the ward committee to realize a project with high fairness and transparency based on the “aggregated opinion of the people.”

“I have seen over 100 JICA projects, and this project can be ranked among the best,” said Akira Matsumoto, a consultant who has long been engaged in evaluation of JICA projects. “The good things about this project can be summarized in the words 'affordability and familiarity.' For example, a fund of 64,000 rupees (approximately 66,000 yen) provided to support the project was appropriate in a way that people of each village could efficiently use, by also utilizing their own resources and labor. They were able to participate in the activities energetically and proactively with a high level of satisfaction, as it was based on needs on the ground and always secured high fairness and transparency. I feel it is a development model that came from the long years of trial and error among the people involved, and also from a people-centered philosophy” he praised.

Trust and expectation toward SABIHAA model in 100 million yen

photoBasnet, right, listens to residents.

On May 28, a seminar was held to report on five years of the Participatory Watershed Management and Local Governance Project and to discuss directions after the project's completion, in the capital of Nepal, Katmandu. Senior officials from the Nepalese government, engineers of districts’ Soil Conservation Offices, representatives of the local residents and others participated and gave speeches on the purpose and outcome of the project as well as future efforts in their own words toward the audience.

Thapa, introduced earlier, is a representative of Bhakunde village, Baglung district, one of the districts targeted by the project. “Women in our village used to be too busy with their housework and their husband could sometimes harass them saying ‘You make no money,’ however, the participation in the women’s group in this project brought many changes. First, with the annual project budget of 16,000 rupees (approximately 18,000 yen) we decided to buy goats. Each group member, starting with the poorest, borrows the funds to buy goats to raise and sell to obtain cash income. Once they earn a profit, they pay back the principal and interest, and the next member borrows the principal for raising goats. The interest and monthly reserve from all members increased the group’s funding ability, and they were able to set up a small sum loan system with low interest. Through this activity the women built confidence and were empowered in the society, and began to proactively participate in village meetings with men. We will do our best to keep working on this activity in future,” she emphatically said.

Prakash Basnet, from the Soil Conservation Office in Parbat district, who has been involved in the JICA project for 13 years, talked about his own progress: “As an engineer, I did not have any coordination capability to summarize opinions from the people, reflect them in a plan, implement the plan, then supporting audit and self-evaluation. However, now I strongly feel that without these skills, it is not possible to win the trust from the people. Now the people come to me with various troubles and issues for solution. From just an engineer, I became a social engineer who can stand close with voice of the people.”

“SABIHAA model turned into a development model that works efficiently on each position, from administrative officers, engineers, to the villagers, and is supported by a wide range of the people involved. It will further contribute largely to Nepalese resource conservation in the future. The Department of Soil Conservation and Watershed Management (DSCWM) will spare no effort as its driving force,” Pem Narayan Kandel, director general of DSCWM, which is under MoFSC said as a closing remark of the seminar.

At the end of the meeting when it was announced that the government of Nepal allocated 90 million rupee (approximately 100 million yen, 4) for further deployment of the SABIHAA model, there was a stir of excitement among the people involved in the project. MoFSC won this budget over a few hours of negotiation with the Ministry of Finance.

JICA’s project was completed in July and from then on, Nepalese people will disseminate the SABIHAA model on their own. Their determination was visible on their faces.

Notes:

1: Saamudaayik Bikaas Tathaa Hariyaalii Aayojanaa in Nepalese, meaning Community Development and Greenery Promotion Project.
2: It consists of committee members and representatives from the residents.
3: To support meetings of enterprises, schools and local communities independently so that its group activity can be implemented smoothly.
4: The amount announced at the seminar. Later, due to the financial situation of the Nepalese government, it was reduced to 70 million rupees (approximately 75 million yen).

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