Ethno Political Ecology of Social Exclusion: A discourse in Community
Forestry of Nepal
Nirmal Kumar BK * and Nanda Raj Gywali**
*DFID/LFP Dhankuta and ** NPC Kathmandu
Community Forestry (CF) Programme of Nepal is the most successful common property resource
management strategy which is well documented and replicable around the world. However, it is wider
debate why the programme has not been supporting the livelihood of the socially excluded section of
the groups but additionally it marginalizing the livelihoods strategies of them. Based on the study of
community forestry user groups in Parbat district and the long experiences of the writers working
development sectors and community forestry we argue that ethno based politics of social exclusion is
the major obstacle which misappropriate the forest resources and its institutions that marginalized the
livelihoods of the target groups. We will present, in this report, the political ecology of structural and
institutional exclusion, nature social exclusion and benefit sharing, cost of exclusion found in the study
Key Words: Social exclusion, Political ecology, Structure, Institutions, community forestry, Politics
Community Forestry (CF) Programme of Nepal is the most successful common property resource
management strategy which is well documented and replicable around the world. Here are about 14500
community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) which are managing around 1.3 million hectare (25% of total
forest) in Nepal (NPC, 2007). This is only one rural institution that has more valuable resources for wider
benefits for all section of rural people.
Community Forestry User Groups are regarded as autonomous, self‐governing and self‐regulating
institution. This has well developed structural and institutional aspect of forest management. However,
forest policies of Nepal to change resource ownerships and property right to increase wider investment
for sustainable management of the resources has been primarily focus on improving the physical
attribute of the resource instead of livelihoods aspect of the users (Adhikari, 2006).
Despite good decentralized forest resources management and well said participation of rural people,
positive change in environmental condition through good forest growth, its contribution towards
supporting the poorest, most vulnerable and excluded members of society has been at best limited and
at worst, negative (Pokharel and Nurse, 2004). The output of this decentralization is that only some
people i.e. elite, local landlord, local politicians are more benefited from it while women, dalit, poor
janjati and socially advantaged caste, traditional occupational groups etc. who derive their livelihoods
from this resources are even depriving from multitude of this resource management. Forest dependant
communities are even more poor than those well of and their rate of poverty is high (Allison‐2004;
Sundalison, 2008). Therefore, social exclusion is now regarded as more critical issue in this sector that is
creating multi‐disadvantage to the excluded CFUG members. This dimension can affect the different
aspect of rural livelihoods. Also, this condition results resource scarcity that leads to bad governance
and conflicts at rural area.
As society of Nepal is heterogeneous, it is given less attention that how different social groups actually
use these and derive livelihoods objectives from these resources (Paul F. et al., 2004).These
contemporary situations of community forestry (CF) raise different debate whether such common
property right is suitable to the poor and excluded or not? Is existing social inclusion debate applicable
in the current social structure situation in regards to common property or not. Is existing politics of
forest management is suitable for the well being of target groups of not? Though the community
forestry is well known for its research ecology for social inclusion perspectives, it exerts pressure to
study how the poor and excluded remembers of the groups are marginalizing from it. How they are
socially excluded from the structure and process of the programme and how social structure and
construction has been blocking or controlling access to forest resources and blocking the livelihoods of
such section of the society.
2. Framework of the Study
Community Forestry Structure
• Decision Making Body
• Decision making key posts
Politics of forest
Community Forestry Process
• Decision making process
• Benefit sharing process
• Distribution of opportunity
• Caste relations
• Gender relations
I have used sustainable rural livelihoods framework developed by DFID (1999) to structure the writing of
the article. This framework is very academic to analyze the rural livelihoods in the case of social inclusion
and exclusion. This provides the theoretical framework about the policy, Institution and Process that
determine the livelihoods assets and strategies of the rural people. It advocates that there is structure
(hardware) and process (software) of any institution from where social inclusion and exclusion
perspective can be analyzed.
Community forestry programme entails both structure and process from micro level to macro level.
Community forestry user groups have structure: CFUGs, CFUG Committee, different sub‐groups and sub
committee, Networks of Caste, gender, religion etc. Also, there are various processes in CFUGs which
exists in both formal and informal context. Non‐participant in such process and policy is also exclusion as
most of the decisions about CF are taken in such kind of institutions. In short, exclusion from community
forestry related structure and process could be perceived as the social exclusion in community forestry.
From this framework, I will argue that though community forestry programme is the common property
resource management, social exclusion is the resource management politics which is based on the
ethnic social structure of the countries and how it is controlling the access of the socially marginalized
community to derive their livelihoods from the programme.
3. Methods of Data Collection
The study was conducted in 45 CFUGs of Parbat district for membership and institutional exclusion data
collection. During the study, I have collected data intensively from three community forest user groups
namely Chalallung CFUG of Vorle, Kharendada CFUG of Huwas and Thamarjung CFUG of Tilhar VDC of
Parbat district to examine the political ecology of the forest management. The data were collected
through focused group discussion, key informant survey, household survey etc. For secondary data
document study particularly operational plan and District Forest Office report were studied.
Additionally, I have used my own long experiences of writer working on the subject in the district. The
data collected during the field works were categorized into separate variables as required by the study
objectives. Then, the data were processed and analysed using computer based software like MS Excel
and SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Science). Quantitative data are analyzed by using simple
statistical tools such as descriptive Statistics, frequency distribution, mean, standard deviation,
percentage and probability distribution. Qualitative data in formations, attitudes are analyzed by
ordering, ranking with descriptive manner. Pie charts, bar diagrams & histograms are used for simplistic
4. Finding of the Study
There are different types and Stages of social exclusion and controlling of livelihoods of the historically
marginalized community in Community Forestry. I have categorized the finding into following different
categories. These are:
4.1 Structural Exclusion and Livelihoods Strategy of marginal community
Structural exclusion is one of the agenda of participation, power relations and is directly linked with the
political ecology of natural resource management. It is that type of exclusion in which individual,
household and groups of community are excluded from major structure i.e. CFUG, CFUGC, different
subgroups, networks. Exclusion from CFUG membership is the major and first stage problems in CFUGs.
Secondly, exclusion from decision making structure is also is a structural exclusion as most of the
decision are taken it this structure.
Table 1 shows how politics of membership exclusion exists in the access of community forestry. The data
shows that the dalits, the poor, women headed households who have less voice in the rural politics are
blocked the reach of the resources. It shows that 996 HHs are excluded from membership in Parbat
district in 2005. About 45% of the total households left to be a members of forest are from the dalit
community while about 43% from Socially Advantaged (Brahamin, Chhetri, Thakuri) , 12% from Janajties
HHs were excluded. Though the data is almost equivalent with socially advantaged caste, it is very high
in proportion of their population in the district. There are about 20% of households of dalits in the
district while their exclusion is about 45% in the access of the forest. Also, the data shows that 80% of
excluded member are from D (very poor) and C (poor) wealth category of the groups. Within the wealth
category, most of the excluded are from D category. This wealth category is also different according to
the ethnicity of the member. Within D category more dalit people are excluded from the category.
Table 1: Glimpse of membership exclusion in Parbat district in 2005
A (Rich member) B(Medium) C (Poor) D (Very Poor)
Sex Male(M) Female(F)
(Source: BK, 2005)
One case can be drawn from Vorle VDC of the southern part of the Parbat district. This case raised more
issue even in the district level. There are 43 dalits households in Hile village, which is between the
Chalalung, and Tulsikharka village. Forest is in left side of residence and covers all range villages. During
handover process the 43‐dalit communities were excluded. Other 2 villages took 2‐community forest as
Chalalung and Tulsikharka CFUGs. Dalit community shared labor during plantation of forest but they
could not share money just before the hand over process. They say that they could not get information
during hand over. Two CFUGs say that they could not share money during hand over process. SLF, a NGO
and Range Post tried most to include them. In last one CFUG agreed to include but not other. Now there
is huge conflict among them. CFUGs are unable to harvest and manage forest technically due to this
conflict. Dalits are excluded due to lack of information and investment
The block is not limited within the stage of membership’s exclusion. After the inclusion as a member or
within households who are member of the forest, the exclusion can be seen in the decision making body
which is community forest user group committee (CFUGC) which is the main structure of the
community forestry user groups where major decisions are done and power is exercised. There is
unequal representation of different castes. There are 61% HHs of CFUG are from Socially Advantaged
(SA), 21% from janjaties and 18% from dalits. The high castes occupied 68% post, janjaties are occupying
20% and dalits are occupying 12% of total number of committee member in 2005. It shows that in the
politics of proportionate representation there is fair participation of the Janjaties while the position of
dalits is occupied by the socially advantaged caste. Concurrently, there were only 30% women are
representing in CFUGC. Within the women, women from dalit caste have countable percentages of
participation in CFUGC than others. Many CFUGs have tradition that dalit women fulfills the criteria of
both women and dalits representation in CFUGC. This the aspect of discursive power accumulation
showing thata increasing participation of women but counting the participation of both women and
dalits and creating vacant post for other.. There is high variation among different caste in the
representing of CFUGC key posts (Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer). These posts mostly decided the
CFUG activities. There is 71% representation of SA in CFUGC key posts, 22% representation of MC and
6.3% of dalits in these posts. Women are occupying only 11.7% of total key posts while men are
occupying 88.3% of these posts.
4.2 The cost of membership exclusion in Community Forestry
4.2.1 Cost to collect basic forest product needs
About 83% of cases reveal that they have no own their source of forest product while 7% have sources
in private forest. People who search forest product from outside should bear extra cost in time and
labor to collect these needs. Table 2 shows that 52% cases purchase forest product needs that directly
cause to bear monetary cost.
Table 2: Sources of forest product to excluded household
Source of products
No of cases
(Source: BK, 2005)
4.2.2 Other Costs
As CFUGs are major structure and forest is major source of livelihoods strategy in rural area, exclusion
causes to bear huge cost for individual and society in rural areas particularly for the poorest and
marginalized society. As most of the livelihood strategy of the poor rural people depends on natural
resource particularly on forest it causes to increase vulnerability in this area. It also inflicts huge cost on
rural economy and natural resource management particularly in forest management. Following are the
noted costs of social exclusion in case of community forest management in Parbat district.
Cost to the household: The excluded should pay extra cost and time for these products. As cutting
forest product from national forest, though far from their residence, is illegal, it causes to bear social
and economic cost to the poor. As membership of CFUG provides legitimacy to participate and benefit
from CFUG and its networking, excluded HH should pay extra cost for the goods and services.
Cost to the community: Exclusion may lead conflicts within and outside the community. It develops
antagonism between (among) included and excluded groups. It decreases the belief with service
providers and institutions. As common property resource management requires consensus, it breaks the
system of it and add extra social cost to the community.
Cost on sustainability of Institution: Institutions need actors of game and rule of game. Both structural
and institutional exclusion is threat to the sustainability of this institution. Exclusion may make reluctant
to work for common property resource management. There is weak team sprit among actors of this
institution. There should be fair decisions and implemented impartially for sustainability of rule.
Exclusion may create bias decision and may create threat to implement decisions. This can hinders the
institutionalization process of community forestry.
4.3 Institutional Exclusion and Struggle for Opportunities
The management of forest is partially a ‘war of word’ and partially policy argumentation between
different protagonist (Baginski and Blaike, 2007). After handover of forest to local community , it
created struggle between powerful members of CFUG who have hidden interest to control the
management of the forest and powerless poor people who have open interest to utilize forest resources
for making living.
Institutional exclusion is that types of exclusion in which individual, household and groups of community
are excluded from policy and process of the community forest management. It is interesting that
category of people who are excluded from structure of community forestry mostly excluded from
institution of the groups. This is the political ecology how social structure exercised the power in the
forest product distribution, management of the group finance and allocation of forest in prioritized
activities and knowledge generation and distribution are appropriated.
Both formal and informal institutions of society play crucial re in the institutional exclusion and struggle
and distribution of opportunities created through the forest resource increment. In these regards, how
timber product which is valuable resources for the well being of individual and group are utilized is
critical matter. After hand over f the forest to local community, the growing stock of timber has been
increasing which can be utilized for the benefit of the poor and groups (Pokharel and Nurse, 2004).
However, due to the unequal social structure and power relationships between the members of the
groups, it is not utilized for the benefit of the needy people. The case shows how decision of committee
marginalized forest dependent people who are actual beneficiaries of the timber.
A case how poor and dalits, through the decision process of committee, are excluded from access and
benefit from timber product. It is a case of the Thamarjung CFUG of Tilhar VDC of Parabt district. This
CFUG has huge mass of timber that can be used to improve the livelihoods strategy of the poor CFUG
member. The poor CFUG members have aspiration to utilize the timber for making furniture for income
generation activities while CFUGC want to increase its fund by selling it outside. CFUGC favored auction
system of timber sale while poor CFUG members favored equitable distribution system with price
included in operational plan. Ultimately, in one case of that time, CFUGC decided to sale timber product
by auction. They fixed minimum price 4000 NRs. The poor could not exceed 5000 NRs while the richest
bought all timber with 10000 NRs. It was the internal auction. This member sold timber to outside finally.
On the other hand most timber products are soled to outside that excluded the poor CFUG member.
Some poor CFUG member has interest to install furniture machine to utilize this products but due to the
decision of the CFUG the poor are excluded from their livelihoods strategy. CFUG soled timber products
without fulfilling the needs of its member. The poor blame that CFUGC member particularly elite fulfill
their needs any away. They can decide to get timber product.
One can argue that the fund generated through the sale of forest product is for the groups and will be
available for the benefit of wider community development. Yes, community forestry user groups are
developing themselves as believable rural financing institution in Nepal (LFP, 2008). However, politics of
CFUG financial sources and its mobilization is not seems equitable and justifiable. Who are benefiting
from the fund; who has easy access to this resources, who scarify in the increase of fund is the
important aspect of political ecology of the group fund.
The evidence from Parbat district shows that, in an average, 23 CFUG members have access to CFUG
funds in the form of revolving fund or other kind of the loan. In this regards, 52%, 4% and 44% of total
fund are in the hand of high caste, Janjaties and dalit CFUG members respectively. 35% of women CFUG
members mobilized CFUG fund, at least onetime, through their own hand. It seems justifiable in the
distribution of fund among different social groups with respect to the proportion of the member of
dalits and socially advantaged in the groups but not for the Janajties. Additionally, if we count the
poverty level of the members and the objective of the fund is to reduce the poverty of the member, it is
not equitable distribution because there are more poor people from Janjaties and dalits.
From decision making perspectives, proposing agenda, making decision and implementing decision
stakes high concern in the power relations. One an average 1490 agenda were submitted in assembly
and meeting of 24 CFUGs in the district in 2005. Of which 86% were decided through that forum. The
evidence shows that women and dalits proposed very few agenda in decision‐making forum. But there is
high percent of decision of proposed agenda. Women and dalit proposed about 9% and 6% of total
agenda in the meeting of committee. Of which about 72% of women agenda and 86% of dalit agenda
were decided through decision‐making forum. It shows that women and dalit have low articulation of
proposals in the CFUG decision‐making forum.
Not only formal power relation and dialogue affect the benefit sharing and influence in the groups.
Informal institutions also affect the CFUG decision‐making process in rural area. Culture mostly affect in
this regard. For case, Sister in‐law cannot submit proposal and take stand in decision‐making process
when there is present of brother in‐law.
It is a case of Kharendada CFUG of the Huwas VDC, southern part of the Parbat district where a woman
realizes it. Shobha Basyal, sister in‐law of Jaya Ballava Basyal say that she cannot sit together with her
brother older in‐law and cannot oppose him though there is wrong decision. Same case is applied to dalit
CFUGC member in that CFUG. Karna Bahadur Nepali, a member from dalit community cannot sit‐
together with higher caste CFUGC member. He cannot submit proposal and oppose decision taken by the
higher caste. If he opposes the decision, he has fear, he cannot get wage work.
4.4 Community Forestry Policy and Livelihoods of the poor
After community forestry programme, the livelihoods strategies of the forest dependant people
drastically blocked. As, forests are an alienable part of Nepalese livelihood systems, as is recognized by
existing policies and reflected in the legislative instruments currently in force (Sing and Chapagain,
2006). There are well established literature that the programme was conservation and protection
oriented during its inception in the county. This protection oriented strategy of the programme has
marginalized the livelihoods of the more people who dependent upon the livestock management as
there were prohibition of the grazing inside the community forest. As a result it has reduced the number
of livestock of the rural people as it required stall feeding. More importantly, it has negative impact on
the wood workers of the area who subsist through making furniture and charcoal from timber products
(Pokharel and Nurse, 2004). It is evidence from field that the black smith caste people left their
traditional occupation of iron making because they could not make charcoal in the forest and harvest
timber applicable for the charcoal.
This protection oriented strategies of the government and participatory application of local elites is
straight forward that it was for the objective of growing forest and restoring the degradation of land.
However, it was ethno‐politics of local elites and forest bureaucrats who intentionally created space for
power gain through the controlling social relation between local elites and socially excluded section of
the society and controlling forest resources utilization decision making process by local elite in the
consultation with forestry official. It is evidence from the field that, there was prohibition of grazing and
extracting timber for charcoal, even well vigor forest that was handed over to local community.
Not only from the community forestry policy and practices but also its associated policy for establishing
forest based enterprise inhibiting the livelihoods strategies of the marginalized people. There is policy
that the forest based enterprises should be established 3 kilometer from the nearest forest (LFP, 2008).
For this District forest official should prove the distance for the enterprise establishment. This has
created the opportunity for local elites who have well connection with forestry official, who prove the
distance of place of the enterprise establishment from the forest. Before the community forestry
programme, in the rural area, the dalits did the work of timber processing and furniture making through
which they made their living. Now, it is replaced by other local elites and higher caste people by
establishing furniture making machine in the area. They have been establishing such enterprises within
3 KM because they have well relation with forest staff. There are sufficient evidence in rural area that
this policy is only compliance with dalit community who cannot get permission to establish the
4.5 The Politics of Social Exclusion and status of forest
The conflicts between different stakeholders of the groups and rigidity in the utilization of the power
depended on the condition, types and species of the forest they have. As good condition forests have
greater amount of resources, socially connected people like to maintain exclusive right on these
resources. The evidence shows that 92.3% of total household are excluded from good and very good
forest. All caste households are excluded from good forest condition. However, about 80% of total
excluded members are from poor category (C+D). About 95% of female headed HH are excluded from
good and very good forest condition of which SA are 44%, MC are 28% and dalits are 24% female HH.
Also, it is data that more members are excluded from Shorea robusta forest which is very valuable
timber species in the country.
From abovementioned finding, following issues and discussions are emerging in the case of social
exclusion, livelihoods strategies and right over the community forestry from different section of the user
• Intra‐Household exclusion and livelihoods strategies: The article tries to explain the inter‐
household exclusion and livelihoods strategies relevant with common property resource
management. There are also intra household exclusion i.e. exclusion of women and children
who are actual manager of the community forestry. Therefore, it is essential to study the
nature, types and extend of such exclusion and its impact upon the livelihoods of the section
and forest management activities.
• Multiple exclusion and inclusion: In community forestry programme, one household have
opportunity to be a members of more than one community forestry user groups and its
committee. There is duplication, triplication or more of such memberships particularly from
local elite who enjoy the full from resource politics. Therefore, it is issue that what the criteria of
number of memberships in forest are. Also, what are the relationships between multiple
memberships of the elite groups and membership exclusion of the marginalized community?
• Forest vs Resource Tenure: Leach et al. (1999) demonstrates that social stratification, unequal
distribution of property and use right make it impossible to impose single resource management
strategies on local community (cited from Schumber, 2005). Additionally, Ostrom (2000) argues
that within common property resources, it is beneficial to create property right over resource.
Why not we make policy that can provide exclusive right of the poor and excluded on forest
product like timber, Non Timber Forest Products from where they make their living.
• Political Contribution of Community Forest User Groups: In the rural area of Nepal, due to the
people’s war and political transition, community forest user groups are only viable and
functioning institution where rural people exercise political power. After the functionless of the
local political unit in the area, more influential political leader joined the groups and took
decisive role in the groups. Both politics and resource management in the forest have been
merging. In these regards, what is the mutual contribution of both each other is a area of
• Resource Exclusion and Armed Conflicts: Hommer‐Diction (1998) hypothesis that resource
scarcity and exclusion induce armed conflict (cited from Schumber, 2005). He also exerts that
some people can cope with environmental scarcity. How people can cope, how people join or
not with armed conflict in spite of resource exclusion is the area of study.
6. Conclusions and Recommendations
The households are excluded from membership, participation in decision making forum and process,
benefit and opportunity sharing mechanism, and the policy process of the community forestry. Women
headed household, dalit and poor are more excluded from this perspective. More CFUGs are excluded
from good and very good condition of forest. Based on this condition following recommendations seems
Policy level recommendations
There should be clear rule and regulation about participation of excluded community i.e. dalit, women
headed household, poor etc on CFUGC, benefit sharing and opportunities etc. It should include
proportionate representation of these groups in this sector. Policy should indicate that IGA activities
should be implemented based on poverty level of different category of society. Also, the CF handover
process should be restructured. Forest act and regulation emphasize handover process based on access,
traditional users, and interest of management. It does not consider the size of user and forest, demand
of users and supply capacity of the forest and the coverage of users etc. So the act and guideline of CF
on handover process should include this sector.
Additionally, monitoring format of the DoF, i.e. guidelines of reporting should focus on disintegrated
data. It should clearly show who benefited from what activities. The evaluation system of the SPs should
base on performance on social inclusion.
Operational level recommendation
It is essential to implement empowerment programme to both excluded and elite CFUGC member
particularly for change agents of the community. In these regards, mix‐group capacity development
activities seem fruitful. Subgroup of marginalized community within forest user group formation and
empowerment programme to this level may provides fruitful results. CFUGs have some sort of entrance
fee when people like to be a member of particular group. This fee is very expensive where the poor
cannot afford. This fee should be categorized based on well‐being category of the immigrant that means
more amounts to the rich and less amount to the poor. Also, some sort of incentive to CFUG that
implements inclusion activities provision seems fruitful. More importantly, CFUG constitutions and
operational plans must be made inclusive. Then, Participation, decision making process, benefits
sharing, and membership inclusion of excluded implicitly legitimized in this document. Informal
decision‐making should minimize as possible as and formal decision‐making process based on
constitution and Ops should be formalized.
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