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4. Perceived pressures on the Himalayan forests and their role as environmental shield

How much fuelwood is consumed and how much biomass do the forests produce?
Perceptions of the forests
Fuelwood collection and the villagers' use of animal dung
What are the physical effects of deforestation?


The previous chapter has led us to the conclusion that the popular claims about catastrophic post-1950 deforestation of the Middle Mountain belt and areas of the high mountains of the Himalaya are much exaggerated, if not inaccurate. This does not imply, however, that deforestation is not occurring in the wider Himalayan region, nor that damage to the remaining forests should not be a matter of serious concern.

Similarly, there is available and reliable data for extensive deforestation of recent vintage in specific areas of the mountains, as distinct from the Terai. As an example, Messerschmidt (personal communication, March 1987), on the basis of personal experience between 1964 and 1983, cites serious loss of forest cover at Ghora Pani, a major tourist-trail stopover in Myagoli/ Parbat district near the Annapurna Sanctuary en route to Jomosom. The 'massive destruction of the forests' has been caused in part, according to Messerschmidt, to satisfy perceived tourist desires for huge camp fires. More recently some lodge owners at Ghora Pani have installed efficient wood-burning stoves, and some tourists prefer to frequent such lodges in order to reduce what they themselves perceive as extensive and wasteful forest cutting.

As already indicated, extensive planned and spontaneous deforestation has occurred in the Nepal Terai, and extensive commercial felling in the Kumaun and Garhwal Himalaya and other areas, has caused widespread destruction and social unrest. This latter development led to the formation of the Chipko Movement (a grass-roots movement, initiated by village women in the Kumaun Himalaya to prevent 'outside' exploitation of mountain forest resources) and, in 1984, to a fifteen-year moratorium on green felling decreed by the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India. This chapter however, will be devoted to an overview of the perceived and actual pressures on the remaining mountain forests and an examination of the responses to the perceived trends and of the reasons for the enormous range in estimates of per capita fuelwood consumption and biomass productivity.

As already discussed in Chapter 3, the closely knit inter-relations between crop production, livestock, and forest resources of the average traditional subsistence agriculture of the pahar indicate that one or more hectares of forest are required to 'support' one hectare of arable land. To be reviewed now is the widespread claim that growing population pressure leading to increased demands for fuelwood is the primary cause of forest depletion - whether through actual reduction in forest area, which has been contested already, or in reduction in the quality (density, species distribution, and age structure) of the forests within their existing pre-1950 approximate boundaries. One of the especially intellectually appealing elements of the Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation is the fuelwood-demand vicious circle. This graphically depicts thousands of mountain villages with rapidly receding forest perimeters; the womenfolk must walk further and further to collect firewood until a critical threshold is reached whereby more than two man-days (actually, the work is most often done by the women!) per week per family are needed to obtain the necessary fuel supply. At this point increasing amounts of dung are used for fuel and the agricultural terraces are deprived of their only fertilizer; this in turn reduces crop yields and weakens soil structure. More landslides occur and the need arises to cut more terraces on steeper slopes in order to grow more food at still lower yields.

This scenario has attracted the input of large sums of money and human resources in an effort to save the remaining forests. The series of measures introduced includes the development of alternative energy sources and more efficient methods of using the wood fuel that is burned for cooking. Passive solar energy devices, metal and ceramic wood-burning stoves with stove pipes which heat more efficiently, 'micro' and 'mini' hydroelectricity projects, and wind generators have been proffered to the village people. In addition, a stated priority for massive reforestation is resulting in the establishment of forest plantations, often of quick-growing pines and exotic species. This complex of issues and responses needs to be examined in some detail. This is because we seek to demonstrate that, not only has cause and effect been confused generally within the context of the Himalayan Problem, but to treat one perceived cause on a priority basis, such as increased demands for fuelwood, is to risk longterm damage if it turns out that the wrong 'cause' was being treated.

In any mountain subsistence-agricultural system, the demands on the forest are numerous and fairly self-evident: fuelwood, undoubtedly, and construction timber, house shingles, timber for house and and farm utensils, and, of no less importance to the villages, fodder, thatch, and animal bedding. To these must be added medicinal herbs, nuts, fruits, mushrooms, and a host of secondary products such as the use of Daphne spp. (Nepalese: lokta) and Quercus semecarpifolia for the ash and fuel respectively, for paper making in Nepal. These demands on the forests are augmented by the requirements for charcoal, commercial firewood for sale in the cities and towns, and large commercial construction timber. A curious and decidedly non-traditional requirement, almost a fluke of the shotgun approach to development and aid projects, but having considerable impacts in local situations, is the large consumption of fuelwood by cheese factories, in areas, even countries, where cheese is not eaten (in this case tourism supplies the market). But, above all, it is the fuelwood depredations that have caught the attention of the international community.

Bajracharya (1983a and b) believes that this preoccupation with fuelwood is misguided and especially unfortunate. In a detailed study of the fuelwood issue in Pangma Panchayat in eastern Nepal, Bajracharya effectively demonstrates that there was no shortage of fuelwood in 1980. He goes on to show that the reduction in forest cover in that particular panchayat is the result of the needs of an increasing subsistence population to develop more agricultural terraces or grazing land to ensure the production of more food. Nevertheless, he does point out that, given the current rate of forest reduction, a fuelwood shortage in the next two decades must be anticipated. However, his study shows that in this area, and presumably in much of the pahar, the wrong problem (perceived or real, depending on the definition) has received undue priority.

The same argument can be developed for the considerable efforts expended by USAID, UNICEF, FAO, and other agencies, in conjunction with the Nepalese government, to introduce alternative sources of energy. The construction and deployment of various metal and ceramic wood-burning stoves, for instance, raises many questions. Some of these can best be examined by returning to Khumbu Himal again, one of the notable targets for such development aid. An understanding of the ambiguities and difficulties associated with alternative energy sources, or more efficient methods of burning wood, requires a more thorough knowledge of indigenous ways of living and thinking, and closely related religious beliefs, than is presently available. However, from the pioneering work of Fürer-Haimendorf (1964, 1975, 1984) and others, there has accumulated an impressive understanding of the Sherpa way of life. Traditionally, Sherpa women cook on an open hearth in the combined living room-sleeping room-kitchen. Since there is no stove pipe, the house is filled with wood-smoke. By western standards the method is highly inefficient and injurious to health because of the high concentrations of carcinogenic particulates within the houses. However, the open fire provides a cosy atmosphere and, of special significance, the hearth is where the traditional house gods reside (Bjonness, 1986).

Many ceramic wood-burning stoves, with pipes, have been introduced into Sherpa and other mountain societies. Reid, Smith, and Sherchand (1986) have demonstrated the beneficial impact of the new stoves in terms of health and efficiency. However, among some of the more traditional families there has been a resistance to the prospect of disturbing the household gods. Claims have been made that the reduction in smoke has resulted in an unacceptable increase in infestations of biting insects, and even that the loss of the curing effects of the smoke on the roof timbers and shingles, and an increase in termites and other boring insects, has raised the timber requirements for rebuilding and repairing houses. As electric lighting has also been introduced in some localities, it has been argued that the more efficient stoves are simply kept burning longer while the family delays going to bed by several hours, thus ensuring the consumption of the same amount of fuelwood (or more) over a longer period. The prospects of the eventual introduction of television are alarming indeed! Moreover, there are other more important immediate consequences. First, it is often claimed that wood-burning stoves require split logs whereas the traditional open hearth consumed twigs and small broken pieces. Thus a requirement for split logs could lead to heavier rather than reduced pressures on the local forests.

A more spectacular problem arising from the attempts to introduce alternative energy sources is the recent policy of constructing 'mini' and 'micro' hydroelectricity plants. Again, Khumbu Himal provides the most devastating and dramatic example. An Austrian Aid Project involved the construction of a 'smell hydel' plant on the Bhote Kosi to service the villages of Namche, Khunde, Khumjung, and Thamo with electric power. The prospect of towers and overhead transmission lines in this ultimate of the world's mountain sanctuaries notwithstanding, the hydroelectric facility, approximately 90 percent complete at a cost of several million US dollars, was destroyed one afternoon in August of 1985. The cause of the destruction was the catastrophic outburst of a moraine-dammed lake some 12 km upstream of the weir and intake canal that had not been taken into account during the site survey (Ives, 1986; Vuichard and Zimmermann, 1986, 1987). While this disaster cannot be used to criticize the policy of seeking to provide alternative energy to fuelwood, it is a criticism of the way the policy is being carried out and it does raise the question of who perceived the need for electricity in Khumbu Himal, the Sherpas or a development agency?

In a similar vein are the widespread anecdotes about the large number of wood-burning stoves to be found dumped as scrap behind the houses of mountain people. Is this a reflection of the government's 'target mentality" in terms of measuring the success of development projects? This is a term used to describe the bureaucratic system, in this case of ascribing success to a particular policy by counting the number of units (i.e. stoves) that have been dispatched, rather than determining whether and how they are used. In this case, the number of wood-burning stoves distributed does not indicate the success level claimed by a bureaucrat's records if a high proportion of them were thrown out upon receipt, or shortly thereafter. A further dimension of this problem is the question of proper maintenance. It has been shown that careful and constant maintenance is essential for efficient operation (Reid et al., 1986); if attention is not paid to this, as is often the case, the advantages of the new wood-burning stove project are severely curtailed.

A personal insight into the topic of smokeless, fuel-efficient stoves is provided by Messerschmidt (personal communication, March 1987). While on a field trip in Gorkha district in 1982 with an expert from a 'women in development/women in forestry' project and a consultant, Messerschmidt recorded some highly relevant observations. Khumal women (that is, exceedingly poor, low-caste women) who had new ceramic stoves (chula) installed in their homes did not like them while the nearby tea-shop owners prized them highly. The housewives claimed that they were not hot enough, or fast enough, and that they used as much, or more, fuel than their traditional methods of cooking. The tea-shop owners said exactly the opposite. The difference in reaction was found to be based on the contrasting patterns of use. The women in the home light up their fires twice a day - early morning and late evening - for the two hot meals of the day: they need quick, hot fires. The tea-shop owners fire their stoves early and keep them burning all day until late at night; they need a constant, steady heat, for which a good flue with a steady draw is required. This takes some time to develop as the chimney must become hot. In the case of the housewives, their food is cooked before the chimney is hot enough to provide a steady draw.

Again, we do not wish to imply that efficient stoves, or electricity, or a more pleasant and healthy work space for housewives is undesirable; on the contrary. Nor do we accept the 'anti-development anecdotes as proven on a general scale. What we believe is necessary, however, is a critical analysis of success and counter-success claims, and an assessment of the so-called 'appropriate technology transfer' within the context of local practices and preferences.

The 'target mentality' problem is also relevant to another area of response to the perceived fuelwood-deforestation crisis - namely, reforestation. This is a complex topic in itself and to illustrate, at least partially, its widespread nature we shall go much further afield than even the Himalayan region sensu lato specifically to southern India.

Reforestation with Eucalyptus (and other fast-growing exotic species) has long been regarded as a panacea for reversing world trends toward deforestation because of their rapid growth capability and ability to flourish in areas of poor soil. Large sections of the mountain landscapes of Ecuador, for instance, would be hard to imagine without the ubiquitous scatter of groves, forests, and hedgerow alignments of Eucalyptus globulus. The same is true across vast tracts of China and India; Ethiopia is another dramatic example of a Eucalyptus landscape. Nevertheless, a very complex controversy has arisen over the wisdom of using eucalypts, and other exotics, in this manner. Without going into this much larger problem, we will review here the findings of a study by Shiva, Sharatchandra, and Bandyopadhyay (1981) on the impacts of 'social forestry' in the Kolar district of Karnataka State, southern India.

Social forestry has become both a major concept and leading policy over the past decade or so. It is strongly supported by such powerful agencies as The World Bank and FAO. The primary objective is to save and render more efficient the remaining natural forests, and to develop new forest plantations to improve the living conditions at the village level. This 'social forestry' alms to produce improved fuelwood supply for rural areas and to replace use of animal dung, to augment small timber supply and animal fodder, to provide protection of agricultural fields against the wind, and to serve recreational needs. By involving the rural poor in the development of these objectives, many of the negative aspects of traditional forestry policies will be avoided, since it has long been recognized that successful forest policy will remain an illusion without the active and positive input of the local people. This input, ideally, should involve the local people in all levels of project development and operation, including identification of their own felt needs, selection of land, choice of species (in the case of forestry), control and monitoring, and in the development of a clear perception and guarantee of the envisaged benefits. The enthusiastic support and commitment of the man-on-the-spot is necessary to ensure that seedlings are properly maintained and especially that they are protected from domestic livestock trampling and grazing. The ideal is not universally achieved as one particular example will show.

During the sixth Five Year Plan (1980-85) the Government of India earmarked one thousand million rupees to promote social forestry projects throughout the country. This was intended to raise fuelwood plantations over 260,000 ha and to supply 530 million seedlings to be distributed via the state governments in one hundred selected districts. Kolar district was one of the hundred selected, and it was also to be used to determine the feasibility for an even larger World Bank project.

The Shiva et al. (1981) study in Kolar shows that the specific objective of bringing a large area of land under fast-growing eucalypts has caused a deterioration rather than an improvement in the local rural conditions. In practice the farming families with more land than the minimum required to satisfy subsistence needs converted cropland to eucalyptus woodlots and forest plantations. Once planted, the seedlings required little or no labour. This meant that poorer families, who depended upon the proceeds of their labour on these larger farms to supplement their own inadequate subsistence production, were forced off their land to add to the growing hordes of urban slum dwellers. The beneficiaries were the richer farmers, but especially the commercial timber, wood products, and paper and pulp industries, which harvested the eucalyptus plantations. Shiva et al. (1981) demonstrate the fallacy that eucalyptus could fill fuelwood needs when most of these needs are satisfied by dead twigs, shrubs, and general litter - products that have no apparent economic value because they do not enter the commercial market sector and therefore are not included in the narrow financial analyses that are frequently the basis of such 'development' projects. Furthermore, the project in Kolar district is resulting in the conversion of 12 percent of land that originally produced food crops into commercial timber plantations, producing shortages in traditional village grains such as ragi, the staple millet. Concomitantly there was a much larger proportion of plantation on private land than on communal land. The project also has increased, rather than decreased, pressures on the remaining forests since purchase of eucalyptus for fuel is ridiculously beyond the capacity of most local people.

There are three additional negative aspects of Eucalyptus introduction, at least from the point of view of many local people:

1. the perception that eucalypts take up more water than indigenous species and therefore cause wells and springs to dry up;
2. they have a medicinal odour which is offensive;
3. the 'Vick's Vapour Rub' medicinal flavour is transmitted to food cooked over Eucalyptus fires.

The authors draw us back to our Himalayan Region by the following statement in their concluding section:

This trend of inappropriate choice of [tree] species seems to be the centre of political controversies around several other World Bank aided major forestry projects.... In the Himalayas the Chir Pine mono-culture, and the Tropical Pine in the Bastar region of Mahya Pradesh, are viewed by the local people as an attack on their local life-support system. In the light of the project [World Bank], the empirical trends in shifts in land use as analysed by the present study are found to be the result of conscious policy orientation ... guaranteed sabotage ... bureaucratic anarchy. (Shiva et al., 1981:77-8)

The Chipko Movement has made the challenging accusation that one of the biggest threats to the Himalayan environment and the mountain forest peoples is the World Bank (S. Bahuguna, personal communication, 1986). At issue is not the basic concept of 'social forestry' but rather its implementation. On one important detail Budowski (personal communication, 1986) insists that the growing attacks on the use of Eucalyptus are also often misdirected and there is a pressing need for systematic study of appropriate forms of general policy implementation. Hamilton (personal communication, March 1987) goes a long way to clear up much of the misunderstanding that has arisen in the emotionally charged 'Eucalyptus Debate' which is included here verbatim:

In India (particularly in the state of Karnataka), in Bangladesh, in Portugal, and several other places, there has grown up a substantial public feeling that the establishment of eucalyptus plantations is creating a host of undesirable social, water, and soil consequences. In Portugal, it has been nicknamed the 'fascist' or the 'capitalist' tree because it supposedly impoverishes the countryside and the people. In Sri Lanka, it is accused of causing droughts. In India, it has been claimed that it leads to desertification, and makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. In that country, professional foresters who have taken opposite sides on the question are no longer speaking to each other, and two major research institutes have come down on opposite sides of the question of whether eucalypts are 'good' or 'bad'.

It is my professional judgment that a number of attacks on eucalyptus are misdirected. In the majority of these cases, we are blaming a species for a land-use decision which was made by land owners or land [easers, to change land use into a commercial plantation. This has often caused serious social and economic disruption for rural people who may have had some kind of traditional use of the lands in question. Pointing the finger at a species is targeting the wrong enemy, and one should be questioning the land-use decision with all its complications. Whether eucalyptus was used, or pine, whether an exotic, or a native, species, the social impact may well have been the same.

In cases where there are supposedly undesirable soil nutrient, erosional, and hydrological effects occurring because of eucalyptus planting, there is certainly need for more systematic study, but again, a number of questions can be raised about the generalizations. Many land owners, or land users, want a fast-growing species which will give quick returns. If they are successful in selecting one which matches the available soil and climate, then of course it will use a lot of water because it is performing successfully. The genus eucalyptus happens to have a very large number of species, and it is often possible to find one which is adapted to the site available for planting. When it succeeds, and therefore does the job of producing wood using nutrients and water and sunlight efficiently, it is difficult to see why one should either blame the species, or even more so, the whole genus. If, however, it produces wood for pulpwood, when what was really needed was cheap, low-cost fodder for livestock, or if it reduces streamflow, when what we really want is more water, then we really have made a poor choice of vegetative cover, and we need to specify what it is we want from the land area in question.

At any rate, it is not a simple situation, because there may well be some allelopathic effects between eucalyptus and interplanted or adjacent plants that are important. The litter characteristics of eucalyptus are somewhat different from those of many other species, and it may be that we want to focus on litter and the soil protection it gives as an important product from the area being planted. These questions indicate that fine tuning is needed, rather than blanket denunciation of all eucalyptus. I personally think we have too much exotic eucalyptus dotting the landscapes of the world, and would prefer to see native species, but that is subjective (or a bias, or a value judgment) and needs to be clearly stated before one is making very much sense in this controversy about eucalyptus. (O'Loughlin and Will, 1981; Poore and Fries, 1985; Shiva and Bandyopadhyay, 1985; Davidson, 1986; Kardell et al., 1986)

This situation, from a positive viewpoint, is brought out clearly by an analysis of the Nepal-Australia Forestry Project, regarded by many as one of the few successful development projects in that environmentally beleaguered country. But, in this instance, the project managers have realized that if the local people are to become their own managers (the essential criterion for success) considerable time is required, as well as a flexible programme that will provide for trial, error, and adjustment. This is politically difficult in a situation where politicians and decision makers are demanding immediate and demonstrable success, such as a completed report that states that so many hundred thousand seedlings have been planted, regardless of whether or not they have survived this, again, is the so-called 'target mentality'.

The pressures leading to these policy constraints are brought out graphically in the Asian Development Bank report on the Nepal Agriculture Sector (ADB, 1982). The report indicates, for instance, that for the fifth Five Year Plan, of a target of 20,000 ha for reforestation, only 9,860 ha had actually been planted (due to lack of organization and manpower). During the past fifteen years only about 20,000 ha in toto had been planted while 2,000,000 ha of forest land are estimated to have been cleared (ADB, 1982 (2):70). Despite the possibly unreliable nature of these data, the broad pattern is likely to be correct. Equally important is the fact that 'planting'often means simply that. Frequently there is no maintenance, and damage by uncontrolled grazing of livestock is widespread. It follows that seedling losses are unacceptably high. It is to the remarkable credit of the Nepal-Australia Forestry Project (Sindhu Palchok and Kabhre Palanchok districts) that successful reforestation has been implemented and without the need for costly fencing; with local support 'psychological fences' have been sufficient. Because the day-to-day decisions choice of species for planting on their own land, choice of location, and so on are taken by the villagers, livestock are effectively restrained. Nevertheless, the Nepal-Australia Forestry Project has not yet been able to solve the problem of producing preferred species from seedlings on degraded land (David A. Griffin, personal communication, May 1987).

A final comment on the issues of social forestry, perceived and actual needs of afforestation, and size and costs of projects is taken from a personal letter by Norman Uphoff addressed to Donald Messerschmidt: the problems of changing and improving resource management in the hills [Nepal's Middle Mountains] are so immense that size and cost are not relevant quarrels if the approach works, and if it gets the change process started on a sound footing. What is it worth to HMG [His Majesty's Government of Nepal] to get these improvements? If HMG spends less and ends up with nothing was this an economical investment? Hardly. (personal communication, Norman Uphoff to Donald Messerschmidt, 1983)

How much fuelwood is consumed and how much biomass do the forests produce?

The next step in the Himalayan forest-cover discussion relates to the data that have been published to Remonstrate quantitatively that Nepal must be incurring massive forest losses when per capita annual fuelwood consumption is balanced against the calculations of average forest biomass production. Thompson and Warburton (1985a) illustrate their 'uncertainty' proposition by use of such data sets. They argue that the available, published data for fuelwood consumption vary by a factor of 67. Even if the extreme figures are eliminated because they may be the result of typographical error, the reduced range still varies by a factor of 26. They point out that the very impossibility of determining whether the highest consumption figure is an error or not adds weight to their insistence that it is the uncertainty that overwhelms problem definition in the Himalaya (Thompson and Warburton, 1985a).

If the sets of data published by the United States Library of Congress (1979) are considered, fuelwood consumption is stipulated to be 546.3 kg per capita/yr against a sustainable forest biomass yield of 77.9 kg per capita/yr. Given that these figures appear to be imposingly accurate, we may be tempted to accept the simple subtraction: total biomass production per annum minus total fuelwood consumption equals loss of forest resources, leading to the conclusion that Nepal is incurring a country-wide loss of 6.5 million tons of wood per annum. In this case the pseudo-scientific approach and the spurious accuracy of the data lead to the conclusion that we have been predisposed to accept from the welter of conservationist and scientific literature. Thus it is the more easy to accept the World Bank prediction that no accessible forest will remain by about AD 2000.

But let us return to Thompson and Warburton's factor of 26 (or 67 - there is no significant difference in the context of this discussion). They maintain that if the highest calculations for fuelwood consumption are matched against the most conservative estimate of biomass production (most pessimistic case), it follows that the Himalaya 'will become as bald as a coot overnight'. If, on the other hand, the opposite sets of data are matched (lowest estimate of fuelwood consumption against highest estimates of biomass production), then the Himalaya, due to the inexorable forces of gravity and isostasy, 'will shortly sink beneath the greatest accumulation of biomass the world has ever seen.'

It is emphasized that this seemingly facetious discourse is very serious indeed. One of its important ramifications is brought out by the question: since the data used are the result of taking presumably accurate measurements of things that can be measured, unlike the data base for the much more acceptable calculations of the world's unproven natural gas and petroleum reserves, why do the results become such a travesty of scientific rigour? We believe that an attempt to answer this simple question is vital as an insight into the Himalayan Problem. The answer is based upon recent work by Mahat, Griffin, and Shepherd (1987a).

Donovan (1981), a source of much of the discussion developed by Thompson and Warburton (1985a), has emphasized the great variability in the estimates of fuelwood consumption, which she indicates as ranging from 0.1 to 2.57 (or even 6.67 - the source of Thompson and Warburton's magic factor of 67) m³ per capita/yr. Many of the possible sources of error relate to conversion factors. What is the weight of a headload (bhari)? If volumetric measures are used, what is the density? Then there are the questions relating to the condition of the material - is it green, air-dry, or something in between? Do calculations based on 'cry weighs' refer to 'air-cry' or 'oven-dry'? What is the energy value of the material? Accurate comparisons, and especially reliable extrapolations, demand figures based upon oven-dry weights of biomass and determination of the energy equivalent of the material which has been weighed. For any given study, few of these conversion factors are known with certainty and, consequently, different investigators have adopted widely differing values, often for reasons of doubtful validity.

There are additional problems, however, as indicated by Mahat et al. (1987b), that are often embedded in the methods of a survey from which prime data are obtained. Standard methods involve the interview technique with estimates being dependent upon the respondents'recollection. Not only is memory fallible, another source of error, but it is well known that responses of interviewees often reflect what they perceive to be the wishes of the interviewing investigator. Direct measurement, as an alternative approach, is time-consuming and requires an even greater willingness on the part of the local people to participate in the investigation. If an investigator chooses to take the approach of directly weighing headloads carried into the village the sample size is usually much smaller than that of the interview method.

Another problem, to which Mahat et al. (1987a) attach great importance, relates to the actual words used during the interview. Thus balne or balnekura (fuel, something to burn) are the most general words encompassing the notion of burnable biomass in Nepal. Fuelwood, however, is daura. And where deadwood and fallen branches are referred to, suka daura is used to distinguish it from green wood, kacho daura (that is, the trunks or major branches of living trees) which, after cutting or felling, are dried for use as fuel, especially during the summer monsoon season. A further complication is that, within Sindhu Palchok and Kabhre Palanchok districts at least (see Figure 3.1), the terms sitapita and jhikra are used to refer to any combustible plant material of small dimensions, such as woody residues from fodder and bedding, forest weeds (for example, Eupatorium adenophorum), and old fences and bamboo. Mahat et al. (1987a) explain that crop residues often form a significant component of fuel, yet there is no single word or phrase encompassing this group of materials. Each would need to be identified individually; for instance, maize cobs, maize or sugar stalks, and so on. Finally, this discussion, based upon experience in the districts of Sindhu Palchok and Kabhre Palanchok, does not take into account the large number of ethnic groups and languages that characterize Nepal.

Bajracharya (1983a), Fox (1983), Wiart (1983), and Mahat et al. (1986, 1987) have examined the implications of the nomenclature problem in more detail. They also show that wide variations occur in seasonal use of different types of fuel and between villages at different altitudes. Generally fuelwood (that is kocho daura) that is cut green from the forest and dried, is the primary fuel source during the wet season (summer monsoon), but the proportion of forest to non-forest combustible material will vary from season to season and from one altitudinal belt to another (Mahat et al., 1987b). Thus it becomes clear that the phrasing of the question about fuel use by the interviewer will significantly affect the answer obtained. Only if balne is used will the answer be comprehensive, encompassing all fuels. If the emphasis is placed on daura, it is most likely that only a small proportion of the total combustible material consumed will be reported, yet daura is the closest translation to fuelwood, the English word most commonly employed in this context.

From the foregoing discussion, Donovan's (1981) efforts to estimate average fuelwood usage are seen to be fraught with difficulties greater than those of which even she appears to have been aware. In addition, actual interview methods and data conversion methods are not generally provided in published reports, so that the margins of error cannot be accurately assessed. The effective dramatization of the factor 67 by Thompson and Warburton (1985a), therefore, becomes completely understandable. Donovan concluded that a reasonable figure for average fuelwood consumption (assuming 5.5 persons per family and a weight of 600 kg for one cubic metre of fuelwood) is 1.4 m³ per capita/yr. She also concluded that lower values than this probably characterized exceptionally fuel-deficient areas where demand actually exceeded consumption. Mahat et al. (1987b) question the validity of this assumption because of the uncertainty of differentiation between the various components of the total fuel materials in Donovan's original surveys and in her synthesis of them. There is also the problem of fuel substitution; for example, maize roots, corn cobs, and other agricultural 'residues' are used instead of wood as the latter becomes scarcer. This renders extrapolation well nigh impossible (Griffin, personal communication, April 1987). See Stone and Campbell (1986) for a discussion on the use and misuse of surveys in international development.

From the discussion so far we can conclude only that attempts to determine fuelwood consumption are so clouded with uncertainty that any figures used as the basis for extrapolation into total national annual consumption are meaningless, as Thompson and Warburton's (1985a) approach so effectively demonstrates. To stengthen this conclusion further it is emphasized that, if attempts to quantify fuelwood consumption produce preposterous results, estimates of biomass production are even less reliable. We see no alternative but to discount totally this line of reasoning in support of what appears as a preconceived conclusion, that Nepal is losing large areas of forest cover because fuelwood consumption exceeds forest biomass productivity.

Perceptions of the forests

The discussion on the fuelwood consumption-loss of forest cover linkage should not be taken to support a counter argument to the effect that the mountain communities of the Himalaya have no problem in terms of access to forest resources - they do. The discussion is rather an attempt to demonstrate that, in yet another area, the bureaucratic and conservationist approaches to demonstrating the extent of a crisis facing the Himalaya are frequently not based upon facts. The claim that the Himalaya are in a state of crisis is thus in danger of being countered as spurious. The discussion also subsumes the critical question of how the forests are perceived by the different sectors of society that are concerned about, or involved in, their use. It is apparent that government agencies, development and aid organizations, conservationists, and western-trained elites regard the forests as a renewable resource. Hence their efforts are directed toward preserving the resource by trying to ensure that a balance is achieved between use and biomass reproduction so that the use becomes sustainable. However, many of the subsistence farming communities perceive them as convertible resource, that is, as a source for new agricultural land. Thompson and Warburton (1985a) pursue this line of thought further by claiming that such contrasting perceptions of the value of the forests will remain a major obstacle in the path of the possibility of success of the perceived solutions (reforestation) that have tended to have been conceived and imposed from the top down.

The Chipko Movement slogan:

What do the forests bear?
Soil, Water, and Pure Air.
(Sunderlal Bahuguna, personal communication, April 1986)

would indicate, however, that a large component of subsistence forest dwellers do perceive the forests as a renewable and renewing resource, hence the 'hugthe-trees' non-violent protest throughout the Garhwal and Kumaun Himalaya. And this is opposed to the perceptions of some agencies in India whose view of the forests as a source of sustainable monetary revenue largely set off the Chipko Movement (Shiva and Bandyopadhyay, 1986).

From a broad historical view, nevertheless, forests have been perceived and used as a convertible resource. Tucker (1986, 1987) indicates that the present assault on the forests of the Himalaya and the Terai is merely the last stage in the historic rolling-back of the vast former forest cover of the subcontinent. Regardless of the difficulties of determining causes and effects and the differing points of view about rates and localities of forest cover, Moench and Bandyopadhyay (1986) have effectively demonstrated that, even where biomass production comfortably exceeds fuel and fodder consumption, progressive forest recession can occur. This conclusion derives from a detailed study of village subsistence activities in a heavily forested region north of Mussoorie in Uttar Pradesh State. The pattern of fodder and fuelwood collection, concentrating on the proximate forest perimeter, is producing what they refer to as a 'nibble effect' or 'peripheral degradation.' If the patterns of forest usage were to change in the direction of spreading the impacts of human usage throughout a wider area, then, lack of precise figures notwithstanding, annual forest biomass production would easily encompass local subsistence demands, at least in this study area.

Fuelwood collection and the villagers' use of animal dung

Another small link in the population growth-fuelwood demand-deforestation chain of the Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation is the damage stipulated as a result of the assumed increased use of dung for fuel. Obviously, if this claim is correct, then the agricultural terraces in many places are being deprived of their primary source of nutrient replacement in the form of animal manure. It follows from this that crop yields would fall and the weakened soil structure would lead to increased susceptibility to landsliding, which would set up another round of deforestation to make room for more agricultural terraces on which to grow more food. We have tried to show that fuelwood demands, at least in some areas, are not a primary cause of deforestation. Thus it would appear that the claim that dung is being increasingly used for fuel must also be challenged. It would also appear that in many areas of the Himalaya, and especially in Nepal, the use of dung for fuel is more closely related to the ethnic origin of the community rather than shortage of fuelwood (Panday, 1984, personal communication). In the Kathmandu Valley, for instance (worthy of comment despite its uniquely urbanized character), dung is used for fuel during the winters when it would otherwise go to waste. Its primary use during the summer wet season is for fertilizer.

Fox (1983) and Bajracharya (1983a), as well as Messerschmidt (personal communication, March 1987) have also noted that before any switch to using dung as fuel occurs, hill villagers will use increasing amounts of waste stubble, corn cobs and stalks, and old fencing, and that the use of dung per se is a last resort not yet widely taken up in the Middle Mountains. Messerschmidt stipulates that, in his extensive travels over a twenty-year period, he has never seen dung fires, except in the Terai, and in the highest alpine pastures, where yak dung is the traditional fuel and often the only fuel source available.

Thus the assumed linkage between the burden of carrying fuelwood over increasingly greater distances and the progressively greater dependency on dung as fuel (Eckholm, 1975, 1976) instead of fertilizer, can be challenged on two counts.

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