Co-evolving dynamics in the social-ecological system of community forestry—prospects for ecosystem-based adaptation in the Middle Hills of Nepal

Sapkota, P. K., et al. , 2019. Regional Environmental Change

Original research (primary data)
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This paper analyses prospects for ecosystem-based adaptation, through examining diverse forest-people interactions in Nepal’s community forestry as a social-ecological system (SES). We examine the linkage between social-ecological resilience and societal adaptation in the Middle Hills of Nepal and, based on this, discuss the prospects of this system for climate adaptation. In doing so, we also discuss the prospects of community forestry for ecosystem-based adaptation in the rural agrarian context, focussing on a few attributes of resilience: diversity, modularity, and flexibility. We find that community forestry provides multiple pathways for both reactive and anticipatory adaptation, often reinforcing community resilience. Our finding also shows that, while ecological processes in community forestry (CF) are being managed by local institutions with an explicit goal to enhance the overall resilience of the SES, the underlying social and political dynamics of CF tend to be neglected in adaptation policy and planning. This prevents local organizations from harnessing the benefits of ecological resilience to enhance their adaptive capacity. The contribution of ecological resilience to societal adaptation has been constrained by large scale social and political drivers, especially bureaucratic structures underpinning the governance of forest in Nepal. Based on these findings, we recommend that ecosystem-based adaptation is fully informed by, and takes account of, local power dynamics. For instance, aligning governance and decision-making with the needs of marginalized groups can increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of social-ecological systems.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-246-1
  • Intervention type: Combination
  • Intervention description:

    Community Forestry User Group (CFUG): Plantation of multiple species, gradual conversion of monoculture to diverse forest of more than 20 species; Harvesting of grass and fuelwood, which is guided by operational plan of CFUG; No grazing allowed but grass cutting 3 times a year; Owned by government but managed by CFUG; Decisionmaking: Limited power devolved to community and intra-decision-making is domi- nated by local elite

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Loss of other ecosystem goods  Mixed results "Loss of ecosystem goods – Mixed effectiveness No quantitiative outcome measure but based on inferences from interviews with stakeholders Positive outcomes: “We do not have any fixed time and period for opening the forest to extract grasses and leaf litter; we decide based upon people’s need. Farmers usually face a scar- city of grasses in their private land during prolonged droughts and in response we call a meeting and decide immediately about opening the forests for extraction of the required products.” “Positive changes in forest ecological condition and the regularized distribution of access to forest products were the dominant aspects of CF. When asked about their impressions of the Thuli CF, most respondents revealed that CF has had positive impacts on their livelihoods.” Negative outcomes “Most of the respondents perceived that with intensifying climate change, pine is impacting on other values. For instance, pine hinders the growth of other species. Pine is not particularly useful in their household activities as it does not make good fuel and fodder. The needles do not provide good quality compost for their farms (which is already affected by the exc” … “Women forest product collectors indicated that agave in the forest makes leaf litter collection and grass cutting very diffi- cult because of its thorns. ”"
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    Thuli Community Forestry User Group (CFUG), from Panchkhal Region of Kavre District

  • Country: Nepal
  • Habitat/Biome type: Tropical and subtropical forests |
  • Issue specific term: Ecosystem-based adaptation


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: "Effectiveness determined by assessing change over time since intervention ""investigation of the historical transformation taking place since the implementation of community forestry and how this supports adaptation to climate change."" through multiple methods ""qualitative surveys and triangulation of multiple methods, including in-depth in- terviews, historical narratives about changes, participatory ru- ral appraisal tools (focus group discussion, transect walks, historical trend analysis, direct observation of respondents), and artifacts such as aerial photos of different times supple- mented by old documents."" Mixed effectiveness for loss of ecosystem goods/services concluded by authors b/c of varying effects for different people “we argue that, while com- munity forestry institutions provides a measure of risk reduc- tion and enhancement of community resilience, they do not genuinely address the key needs of many within the community that are at risk in a changing climate.” Mixed social effects for this reason as well" Did not code for plantations in phase 2 of management because don't analyze how intervention affected climatic impacts
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: Yes
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Positive
  • Ecosystem measures: Measures of ecological resilience – increasing tree species diversity, reduced rates of forest degradation (b/c local people agreed with new forest management rules so less illegal extraction), improving ecological condition, increased diversity inferred to reduce susceptibility to forest pest/disease outbreaks, increased modularity “modularity led to improved forest condition. Forest vitality was maintained by structuring the forest into six blocks with different age classes and composition of tree species. This ensured that not all blocks are affected in the same way by climatic shocks.”
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: Yes
  • Impacts for people: Mixed
  • People measures: Same as climate impacts b/c linked explicitly to specific group of people Additional social outcomes: Womens empowerment Rights and responsibility to forest management Adaptive capacity e.g. “Some key informants indicated that the social networks instigated through community forestry have become useful in enhancing overall adaptive responses. ”"
  • Considers economic costs: Yes
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Mixed qualitative/quantitative
  • Is it experimental: No
  • Experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Empirical case study
  • Study is systematic: