The Kanchenjunga conservation area

The New Nation: Bangladesh’s Independent News Source, Internet Edition. May 26, 2008

The Kanchenjunga conservation area

It was 10 years ago when the staffs of DNPWC and WWF Nepal who had gone for feasibility study in KCA were chased away by locals fearing that they would be removed from their land and restricted from using the natural resources which they had being doing for ages. Over the years, despite the various adversity and challenges, Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Project (KCAP) has managed to fulfill its objectives but even as we appreciate and applaud the effort the one of a kind protected area management practice and its impact on such conservation practice is yet to be evaluated.

Declared as “A Gift to the Earth (1997)”,the

Kanchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA) is known for its rich biodiversity, its spectacular scenery of Mt Kanchenjunga (8,586m), and rich cultural heritage represented by the 5,254 inhabitants living within the four Village Development Committees (VDCs) of Lelep, Olangchungola, Tapethok and Yamphudin.

On March 22, 1998, with the technical and financial support from WWF Nepal, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) launched the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Project or KCAP. The aim was to conserve globally threatened wildlife species such as the snow leopard combined with local development activities like the promotion of health services, informal education, and income generating activities. The KCA also falls within the Sacred Himalayan Landscape, a landscape approach for biodiversity conservation and improving livelihoods in the Eastern Himalaya. Since 1998, WWF has invested US$ 1.5 million in KCA undertaking initiatives to conserve and protect the flora and fauna while also focusing on programs to improve livelihood, as well as educational and advocacy programs. In 2000, the Conservation Area Government Management Regulation was formulated while the territory of KCA was extended from 1,659sq.kms to 2.035sq.kms.

Ever since the initiation of KCAP, the local communities of Kanchenjunga have long expressed their eagerness to take on the responsibility of the conservation area. With this perspective the KCA Management Council (KCAMC) was formed in 2000 which was represented by all stakeholders from the seven Conservation Area User Committees, 44 User Groups, and 32 Mother Groups. The KCAMC in July 2004 submitted the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Management Plan to the DNPWC. The goal of the management plan is that biodiversity of KCA is managed by local communities to ensure ecological integrity and bring socio-economic benefits. The management plan was approved by the Cabinet of the Government of Nepal on August 31, 2006.

On September 22, 2006, a formal handover of KCA to the local management council KCAMC was organized. Late Mr Gopal Rai, Minister of State for Forests and Soil Conservation, handed over a Certificate of Authority to late Mr. Dawa Tchering Sherpa, Chairperson of the management council, for the management of the conservation area at a ceremony. This ceremony was attended by international and national conservationists, government dignitaries, friends and supporters as well as national media. This historic step shows the commitment of the Government of Nepal towards the devolution of power to local communities, especially with regard to natural resources and equitable sharing of benefits.

The handover of Kanchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA) to the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council (KCAMC) was supposed to be remembered as a landmark in the history of biodiversity conservation of Nepal. However this was not to be. The following day, September 23, 2006 the helicopter ferrying the high level team including the Minister, conservationists and dignitaries crashed, killing all 20 passengers and 4 crew members few minutes after take-off.

But, despite the tragic loss, KCAP continues to undertake major strides forward under the able leadership of a new Chairman of KCAMC, Mr. Tsheten Dandu Sherpa. On December 14, 2006 a joint agreement was signed between KCAMC and DNPWC in Kathmandu to facilitate the management process of KCAMC. Similarly, KCAMC has also WWF Nepal has also signed an agreement with the KCAMC to support biodiversity conservation and sustainable community development programmes in the KCA. As per the agreement signed by Dr Ghana Shyam Gurung on behalf of WWF Nepal and Tsheten Dandu Sherpa, KCAMC Chairman, WWF Nepal will support eco-tourism promotion, access to basic community services, linking culture and religion with nature conservation and livelihood enhancement activities. Meanwhile, the global conservation organization will support the KCAMC for the next five years as part of the larger Sacred Himalayan Landscape.

“We are dedicated and committed to the sustainable management of resources in the KCA as envisaged by our colleagues who died in the region in a helicopter crash last year,” said Chairman Sherpa. “We will make KCA a successful community managed conservation area.” Since the handover of KCA for the period of five years, the local communities have begun to take responsibility for conservation and protection of the KCA. The management committee has been effective in controlling illegal trade of wildlife and forests and conservation of medicinal plants and its management as well as sustainable use has ensured improvement in livelihood of the local communities. Similarly, women and disadvantaged groups in the region have been provided income generating seminars and training programs which have resulted in increase awareness resulting in minimizing internal conflict amongst different groups within the conservation area. “With the communal harmony and unity amongst locals, the conservation effort has received huge boost in the region” states Badri Binod Dahal, Ranger of KCAP. He adds, “Women and user’s group have begun to save money paving ways for a community owned banking scheme which has provided financial support for income generating programs as livestock rearing thereby assisting in improved livelihood of the local communities.”

Similarly, under the Snow Leopard Conservation Program, an ‘animal insurance scheme’ has been developed by the locals to provide compensation to any villager whose livestock is killed by snow leopard. Under the scheme a villager rearing livestock pays NRs 55 per animal for a year. If the farmer’s animal is killed by a snow leopard, he submits an application to the snow leopard committee who reviews and approves the application. Once the application is approved, the farmer is paid NRs 2500/-per animal. Hence, with the attraction of receiving compensation if the yak is killed by snow leopard, local farmers have stopped killing or chasing away snow leopard while conserving forests resulting in improved habitat of wildlife.

The project has also been successful in changing attitudes of locals on conservation of wildlife in KCA. Under the initiatives of the program specialist and subcommunities of KCAP, studies on snow leopard in participation of locals have begun. Under the initiative, locals are trained to monitor and track snow leopard by studying their pug marks, urine and fecal matter and taught how to estimate the number of such species in the region. Similarly, alternative income generation activities have resulted in many villagers who used to hunt wildlife for their parts have now given up hunting as a livelihood source as well as their hunting weapons.

Since the handover, the management council has initiated dialogue with the police and administration in the neighboring country, Tibet to control illegal trade of wildlife parts from the region after increased incidents of illegal hunting of wildlife and trade of medicinal plants by people of Tibetan origin from KCA. However, even though it is for a cabinet to decide about such agreement between two governments and which can only be signed by the designated people, Mr Chotten Dhonden Sherpa, Chairman of the KCAMC insists that if agreements are drawn which benefits the country, than anyone should be allowed to sign it.

The unforgettable accident at Ghunsa remains in the memory of the people of Ghunsa. But, with commitments from WWF Nepal and USAID/Nepal to the people of Kanchengjunga to mark this tragic loss into happiness, a 35 kilowatt micro-hydro power plant in the region with support from WWF Nepal and USAID/Nepal. The hydropower plant is being constructed in memory of the 24 conservationists and to commemorate the tragic loss. According to the Program Manager Bheshraj Oli, the microhydro plant would benefit more than 70 households of Ghunsa and Phalakhe. Electricity would be useful for cooking, space heating, and operating small machineries to support small cottage industries in that region. More so, the impact of the micro-hydro would be hugely beneficial to reduce the fuel wood demand in the region for cooking purpose as well as would also help meet the energy demand for the incoming tourists in the region. According to Ugan Manandhar, Energy Development Officer of WWF Nepal, WWF Nepal and USAID/Nepal will invest NRs 1,10,00,000 while the user groups will invest NRs 13 Lakhs for the project. Similarly, the local communities will contribute NRs 40 Lakhs in terms of labor while investing NRs 40,000 for the construction.

However, even though the KCA has been handed over the community, there is still a lot of work necessary to ensure that it is a successful and unique conservation area management practice. According to Kumar Mao, a teacher at the Kanchenjunga Lower Secondary School there is still a lot to be done to improve the living standard of the people of Kanchenjunga.

He adds “even as the local people have been handed out authority to develop rules and regulations to manage KCA, the program has not yet been effective in improving the standard of living of the locals.” He also stressed that the lack of education amongst KCAMC members is a crucial factor and hence the programs must focus on improving capacities of the KCAMC members to make conservation efforts more effective.

Similarly, questions have also been put forward by conservationist on why KCAP is still not yet ‘completely’ handed over to KCAMC as well as question the lack of transparency. As per WWF Nepal’s agreement with KCAMC states that they will work as technical partners while the finance is yet to be handed over to KCAMC. Hence, it is imperative for WWF Nepal to ‘completely’ handover the not only management responsibilities but also financial responsibility to the management council of KCA.

The group was on its way back from Taplejung, where they had handed over management of the Kanchenjunga conservation area to local communities. A Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council (KCAMC) representing all communities had been set up. KCAMC chairman Dawa. Tsering Sherpa perished in the accident. This devolution of authority over a conservation area is a bold step. It is unfortunately a rather rare one, for much of the Indian subcontinent remains steeped in colonial notions of conservation that centralize all powers in the hands of a bureaucracy. In taking such a step, Nepal has shown that it intends to entrust biodiversity and natural resource management to communities who live closest to such resources, rather than rely on distant and continuously changing government officials.

Across the world, a new paradigm of conservation is spreading, one in which responsibility for wildlife protection and benefits of forests are shared with communities.

Two trends have emerged collaborative managed protected areas (CMPAs), in which governments and communities jointly manage conservation, and community conserved areas (CCAs), in which the predominant role is that of local people.In South America, over a fifth of the Amazon forests are now under indigenous protected areas, while in Canada, such areas cover seven million hectares.

In Australia, huge territories have been given back to aboriginal peoples, and many of these are now managed for conservation. In South Africa, portions of world-famous areas such as Kruger National Park have been handed back to communities from whom lands had once been snatched away by the apartheid government, but a negotiated deal keeps the area under conservation land use.

Across many European countries, complex arrangements between governments, local councils, and otherlocal bodies are managing hundreds of protected landscapes. In Zimbabwe and Namibia, communitymanaged conservancies; protect the continent’s biggest fauna, with ecotourism benefits going to local people.

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