TNRC Nepal pilot summary

Image representing TNRC's four focus areas: wildlife, fisheries, forests, and finance

Targeting Natural Resource Corruption

Harnessing knowledge, generating evidence, and supporting innovative policy and practice for more effective anti-corruption programming

CASE STUDY



Designing targeted capacity building strategies to improve community forest governance in Nepal

In 2020-2023, the Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC) project supported a range of global pilots to test anti-corruption approaches to address critical conservation challenges. In 2021-2023, WWF Nepal and their partners assessed the quality of community forest governance in six locations, three in Western Terai and three in Eastern Mountain, and designed specific, tailored capacity building to improve the governance gaps identified. This case study documents learning from their work.

A country of community forestry

More than 40 percent of Nepal is forested, and more than a third of those forests are directly managed by the communities that live next to them. That represents about half of the total rural population of the country. Managed by more than 22,000 local “community forest user groups,” or CFUGs, these forests provide critical environmental, cultural, and economic services.

A set of forward-looking policies and guidelines that were started more than 40 years ago helped Nepal achieve these impressive statistics, from the legislation that created the CFUG governance structure to rules requiring female and ethnic minority representation in CFUG committees. However, both the academic literature and WWF Nepal’s own experiences identified corruption as a barrier for effective implementation of the CFUG model’s potential. Local elites can “siphon off substantial shares of the benefits generated by valuable local forests,” with revenue leakages, bribery, and other forms of corruption enabling that benefit capture and illegal logging of communities’ forests. As WWF Nepal explained, “even with exceptional success in forest management, corrupt governance practices in community forestry in Nepal may be directly impacting the wellbeing of women, indigenous people, socio-economically marginalized and disadvantaged groups. This undermines their fundamental rights to livelihoods and equitable benefit sharing.”

Implementation: Site-specific assessments, site-specific solutions

WWF Nepal had decades of experience in community forestry and so was aware of the general challenges and issues that needed to be improved. However, they knew that the best projects are specifically tailored to the unique context a community faces. WWF Nepal therefore designed their pilot to focus first on rigorously assessing the governance of the target CFUGs, and then to design capacity-building activities that focused on each CFUG’s biggest challenges.

Community forest governance assessment

WWF Nepal and its partners developed a set of indicators using general governance principles from the literature and Nepal’s specific legal provisions related to community forestry. See Annex 1 for the governance criteria and indicators the team used.

Then, through participatory interviews and discussions in each community, the team generated a simple traffic light assessment of each CFUG’s governance, identifying where that community was performing well and where gaps needed to be addressed.

Figure 1. Governance assessment of a single local community

Assessment criteria

Indicators

(Excerpted)

Key Gaps

Overall Governance performance

Remarks

Rule of Law

Constitution and operational plans (OP) are revised and updated regularly

The local community forestry committee (CFC) performs in accordance with laws and regulations

Doing good but the members agree that they can do better

Evaluation/assessment of the policies/objectives of CF management

Not done

CF objectives consistent with prevailing forest policies

Annual General Assembly (GA)

Transparency

Public hearing and public auditing at least once a year

System of internal and external financial audit

Up to date documentation of income/expenditure, and account management follows double entry bookkeeping

CFC realizes, but not systematic and updated and no double entry bookkeeping

Free access to information regarding decisions, funds, and so forth; stakeholders know about decisions made

Complaints of corruption

No

Accountability

Executive committee have clearly defined roles responsibilities and act accordingly

Mechanism and availability of information for consultation/involvement and feedback

Implementation of commitments made during public hearing/public auditing

Participation

Attendance of users in meeting of OP/constitution preparation/renewal

Users feel free to voice their views at general assembly

Poor, women, ethnic minority voices considered while making decision

Responsiveness

Participatory and transparent monitoring system

Implemented social security and community development activities

Implemented community development activities but limited attention on security

Inclusion and Equity

Well-being ranking revised in every two years

Wellbeing ranking not updated and benefit sharing is not in accordance with it.

Specific schemes and provisions for poorest/marginalized people

Except the loan disbursed earlier

Representation of female, marginalized, and poor members on CFC is according to rules and regulations

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Methods of the forest operations carried out regularly, e.g., fire line construction

Forest management activities are carried out in line with OP

Functional coordination with other stakeholders (local government, other CFs, agencies)

Was earlier but now declining

Consensus

Decisions are made based on consensus

The process of consensus is participatory and institutional

The representatives and leadership positions are chosen in consensus

Sometimes not in consensus



Figure 2. Overall performance of governance principles in community forestry management

Local Community Forestry Management

Governance principles

Community #1

Community #2

Community #3

Community #4

Community #5

Community #6

Rule of Law

Transparency

Accountability

Participation

Responsiveness

Inclusion and Equity

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Consensus


Some of the governance issues the assessment revealed included:

  • The fundamental legal documents (Community Forests Constitution) that govern the CFUG had not been reviewed and updated for an excessively long time.
  • Required updates to identify users’ different needs (for the progressive, pro-poor distribution of benefits) had also not been adequately addressed.
  • Accounting systems are required to follow double-entry bookkeeping, but most have not been updated.
  • Collaboration with other stakeholders and decision-makers, like local government officials, was inadequate, which made much-needed joint activities like monitoring forests more difficult.

While the team was not trying to identify concrete instances of corruption, each of these gaps could create the opportunity for corruption. Neglecting updates to rules and needs surveys could allow for undue concentration of power and benefits. Insufficient accounting systems could permit funds to be misappropriated. And a lack of collaboration with broader stakeholders could create monitoring gaps to permit issues like illegal logging.

Tailored capacity development


The team derived training materials mainly from the same sources they used to develop the assessment. The training explained the main principles of good forest governance (see Annex 1) and then spanned specific topics from gender equality and auditing to the processes for reporting irregularities or corruption.

Each community’s training focused on these topics differently, based on their assessment results. For example, one part of the training materials explains the types of decisions that require a public hearing (e.g., the annual activity plan, accounting, and development plans), and was followed by details on how to hold a public hearing and document commitments. If a community was assessed as performing highly on this dimension, the training would spend more time on other topics. If a community was assessed as struggling on this dimension, however, more time was dedicated to it.

Results: Early improvements

A few months after the trainings, WWF Nepal’s implementing partner conducted a perception survey based on the governance assessment reports to identify any results from their activities. Mostly, they were able to identify small changes, like increased awareness and agreements to reform documents. Some of those agreements had not yet been delivered or had only been initiated.

However, the survey was able to document several important early improvements that led the team to conclude the activity had, overall, been successful. One CFUG chairwoman shared that after the “Governance assessment provided us the opportunity to look at our CFUG’s face in the mirror,” they updated their constitution, well-being ranking, and internal transparency. At the level of coordination and collaboration with local government, the implementing partner reported as “the best immediate outcome… [one CFUG] has approached the ward office a number of times and now has submitted their interest to run an environment-related activity together. The ward office is planning to discuss not only their interest but also the possible collaboration with all the CFUGs within the ward as a specific agenda in their next meeting of the council...”

From an anti-corruption perspective, several communities evidenced specific improvements that can close corruption opportunities. One chairperson was replaced after the community realized, during the training, that certain financial resources were not accounted for properly. In another community, following workshops with the project team, someone alerted the local authorities about possible misuse of funds from the sale of timber, and the authorities began investigating the case.

Lessons learned and leveraged

Note: Some of these lessons were taken from an unpublished “lessons learned” document prepared at the request of USAID Nepal.

Lesson 1  Expertise can be cultivated


Anti-corruption expertise is not necessarily a pre-requisite to developing an anti-corruption assessment tool. WWF Nepal and their implementing partners were able to develop a CFUG governance assessment tool to identify corruption risks without major prior experience in anti-corruption. They did not start from zero, given the existing literature and good practices on such assessments, but their tool was a homegrown and contextually-specific assessment that worked.

Similarly, the WWF Nepal team realized the value of the training materials developed during the pilot. They asked their implementing partner to organize the content into a training manual, and then workshopped drafts of the manual with the participating communities. This validation process identified several improvements, such as adding a section on forest enterprises. The final, published version of the manual is now being used as part of the implementing partner’s CFUG trainings. Given the implementing partner’s reach, the manual content has the potential to reach most of the CFUGs in the country.


Lesson 2 Balancing local and large-scale


The localized and contextualized nature of the activity was key to the success it achieved. In addition to the site-specific adaptations of training materials, social mobilizers from the communities were hired and trained to organize the capacity building activities and facilitate trust building (see Lesson 3). Those “resource people” will also serve as key local resources after the project.

At the same time, the activity only took place in six communities, and similarities in their challenges suggest common problems across many of the country’s 22,000 CFUGs. Each community’s forest management plan was inconsistent with new national forest regulations in a different way, but the common fact is that the new regulations have not been widely adopted. Improvements are also needed above the community level, such as coordination between the CFUGs, district forest offices, and local governments

Lesson 3 Persistence is a must


The short timeline of the pilot activity limited WWF Nepal’s ability to fully examine both the dynamics of corruption and outcomes of the activity. The very initial signs of improvement mentioned above are one part of the explanation; more time might have let more improvements emerge. The team also wished to directly document evidence of the drivers and root causes of governance weaknesses, including potential acts of corruption. For example, were failures to update constitutions and wellbeing surveys intentional efforts to benefit inappropriately, or just due to a lack of awareness and capacity?

In the end, however, the team concluded that more trust was needed before that type of question could be asked, especially when so much of the activity focused on increasing cooperation with district government officials. That trust building required time. During the shorter time period of the pilot, WWF Nepal therefore kept their work focused at the broader “good governance” level. They also relied heavily on implementing partners with recognized presence and a level of existing trust from communities.

Lesson 4  Identifying local changemakers


Finally, like any good pilot, WWF Nepal’s activity identified a clear need and opportunity for follow-on work. WWF Nepal’s next step focused on mobilizing young people as good governance champions, taking advantage of the greater opportunities for their participation opened up by the first phase of activity. WWF Nepal is now completing these second-phase efforts. Results are expected soon, and WWF Nepal is confident that “local youth will have increased capacity and interest to work at the interface of right holders and duty bearers to strengthen good governance practices and decrease corruption.”

Annex 1: Governance criteria and indicators used for the community forest governance assessments

Note: Many of these indicators are specific to the Nepali context. This checklist is just for reference and should not be replicated without adaptation.

The indicators are a mix of enumerator responses based on document review and interview/focus group questions.

1. Rule of law
1.1 Revised and updated constitutions and operational plan (OP)
1.2 Reward and punishment mentioned in OP and Constitution
1.3 Role in community forest (CF) management (community forest user group [CFUG], community forest user committee [CFUC], district forestry office [DFO])
1.4 Work performance of the CFUC
1.5 Evaluation of the policies/objectives of CF management
1.6 CF objectives are consistent with prevailing forest policies

2. Transparency
2.1 Responsible for setting prices of forest products
2.2 Satisfied with the existing forest product distribution system
2.3 Awareness of the CFUG fund
2.4 Free access to information regarding decisions, funds, etc.
2.5 Know about every decision made
2.6 Overall transparency

3. Accountability
3.1 Technical support provided from DFO, if needed
3.2 Non-governmental or community-based organizations supporting the CFUG
3.3 CFUC members accountable to all CFUG members
3.4 CFUC members biased to any CFUG members
3.5 Rules for CFUG and CFUC meetings
3.6 Awareness of the constitution and OP
3.7 CFUC guided by the CFUG assembly
3.8 Conflict over power in the committee and FUG

4. Participation
4.1 Attendance in meetings of CFUC
4.2 Attendance in meetings of OP/constitution preparation/renew
4.3 Attendance in meetings of forest product distribution
4.4 Participation in CF activities
4.5 Participation in training, study tours
4.6 Perception of feeling free to voice own views at general assembly
4.7 Poor/women/disadvantaged groups voice considered in decision making
4.8 Decision made by CFUG

5. Responsive
5.1 Perceptions of CFUC responsiveness to needs
5.2 How CFUG/CFUC decisions have affected respondents
5.3 Respondent’s cooperation with the CFUC
5.4 Interaction with CFUC/CFUG members regarding CF
5.5 Participatory and transparent monitoring system

6. Inclusive and equitable
6.1 Mode of benefit sharing
6.2 Specific schemes/provisions for poorest people
6.3 Specific provisions for female members in CFUC or any uplifting programs such as adult education, training, etc.
6.4 Representation of female, low caste, and poor members on CFUC is according to rules and regulations

7. Efficient and effective
7.1 Forest condition improved after CF
7.2 Effective service delivery to needy people if applicable
7.3 Forest OP carried out
7.4 Quantity of forest products after CF
7.5 Forest management training to users
7.6 Measures to reduce the consumption of forest products
7.7 Forest management activities carried out in line with OP

8. Consensus-oriented
8.1 Decisions are made on the basis of consensus
8.2 Mode of the consensus achieved
8.3 How representatives and leadership positions are chosen

Annex 2. Final theory of change

Key

Strategy
Intermediate result
Assumption
Threat reduction

Acknowledgments

The WWF Nepal team would like to thank FECOFUN for their support in the first pilot phase and USAID Nepal for their valuable suggestions throughout.

Image attribution: © naturepl.com / Jen Guyton / WWF; © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF; © Georgina Goodwin / Shoot The Earth / WWF-UK; © Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus