Institutional factors that influence access of the poor to forest benefits : case studies of community and leasehold forestry regimes in Nepal : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Rural Development, Massey University, Institute of Natural Resources, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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The community and leasehold forestry regimes (CF and LF regimes) are high priority programmes that are designed by the Nepalese government to conserve forests and reduce poverty through the introduction of formal institutions in terms of legal property rights and governance structures and processes. However, little is known about the mechanisms through which informal and formal institutions influence resource access of the poor under these regimes. By employing a collective case study approach, this research provides some understanding of the mechanisms through which formal and informal institutional factors influence access of the poor to forest resources governed under the CF and LF regimes in Nepal. This study found that informal institutional factors significantly influence the impact of formal institutions irrespective of the regime that was imposed on the Nepalese hill communities. It was revealed that where more than one social group co-exist in a community, discriminatory sociocultural norms (for example patriarchal and caste-based norms), and customary property rights favour one social group over others. As a result, certain social groups have greater access to resources and benefits from the resources than do other social groups. Of particular significance, and not previously reported, the lack of prior experience in collective action of the low castes along with their weak social networks and poor leadership ability is highlighted as being directly linked to their relatively limited access to forest resources. When the Bista system, a specific type of a traditional bridging social network is eroded, the low castes end up with less access due to removal of support from the high castes. This study shows that a more inclusive regime (for example CF regime) is likely to lead to more effective outcomes for the livelihood of the poor as compared to a more exclusive regime (e.g. LF regime). When the powerful are included in the forest user group (FUG), along with the poor, there is less resistance to the shift in property rights and the improved access of the poor to forest benefits that the regimes are intended to achieve. However, it was found that active participation is more determinant of resource access than is a specified set of property rights granted by right of membership in a FUG. Although some FUG governance structures provide a forum where the disadvantaged members of the FUGs have the right to participate in decision making, their participation is constrained by discriminatory sociocultural norms. Further, this study revealed that the decision-making processes dominated by the elites tend to address the needs of the disadvantaged members to only a very limited extent. However, improving capacities has the potential to enhance participation of disadvantaged members in the processes. The research findings suggest that informal institutions must explicitly be considered in the design and implementation of CBNRM regimes in order for them to be successful in improving livelihoods of the poor. The implementing staff need support mechanisms for changing their own attitudes and behaviours to those that are more favourable to the social shift that the regimes are intended to bring about. CBNRM regimes have the potential to improve the livelihoods of the poor, but research must continue on how this can be achieved.
Forestry, Nepal, Rural development, Community access