Tuesday, 7 February, 2023

Post-COVID-19 Employment In Forestry Sector

Hari Prasad Pandey  / Ganesh Paudel


COVID-19 pandemic associated economic crisis has now surpassed the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. The International Labor Organisation (ILO) has estimated that around half of the world's workers are at risk of losing their jobs in this economic crisis. Job-cuts at the international market has direct negative impact on economy of Nepal as remittance contributes 25.1 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of the country.
In the past, Nepal adopted the policy to earn remittance from foreign employment. In the last decade, the Department of Foreign Employment (DOFE) has issued over 4 million labour approvals to Nepali workers with an average of 4 lakhs approvals per year. Around 4.5 million Nepalis are legally involved in foreign employment, and besides that large number of Nepali workers are believed to be working illegally abroad. An additional number of Nepalis opt for job migration to India about which government has no official statistics.
In the present scenario of global crisis, more than half of people in foreign employment are projected to lose jobs and return to their home country. Apart from the problem of foreign employed Nepali, this virus has negative impact on the country's domestic job market. According to Nepal Labor Force Survey, 2017, around 1 million people in Nepal are unemployed. Among the employed 7 million, around 38 lakh 18 thousand are occasional wage labours and 15 lakh 86 thousand are daily wage earners.
After the country went into lockdown since 24th March 2020 to combat COVID-19, wage labours have lost their jobs and are hit the hardest. The increased unemployed youth is not a good for the country. After the resumption of international flights large number of Nepali workers will return back to Nepal. The country should be ready to embrace them and offer employment opportunities.
The recently approved policy and programme of upcoming fiscal year of the country explicitly focuses on the enhancing production and generating employment within the country. One of the sectors for fulfilling such ambition is from forests and environment. Periodic development plans of Nepal have recognised the forestry sector as one of the economic theme. One the one hand, forest covers about 44.74 per cent area of the country and on the other hand, huge number of working age population are in Nepal. Utilisation of these people for forest management and enterprise development would generate employment.
Prevailing forestry sectors policies, plans, and programmes envision creating a large number of green-based employment or green employment. Moreover, current periodic plan (15th) also focuses on production and employment generation through nature friendly development approaches. Such overarching plans and program aim to establish green enterprises, green employment and sustainable development through smart green infrastructures.
The encouragement and motivation of forestry workers and support from political, administrative and judicial bodies along with media personality and surveillance organisation is needed to translate the policy into action.
Forestry sector contributes about 2 per cent in national gross domestic product of Nepal which is due to lack of sustainable forest management and lack of commercial orientation. There are several areas within the forestry and natural resources sector to boost the national economy and manage the large number of unemployed manpower on the capacity they do possess.
First, scientific forest management should be implemented in all productive forests of Nepal. To implement this, the current forest management guideline should be revised to make understandable by local people. It could be based on thumb-rule of simple size (diameter) measurement and counts. In a Pradesh, one district can be manage very intensively in a year and then move on to next district for next year. In this way, a single district can be taken as a block for management point of view.
Fragmented community forests is an obstacle for implementing scientific forest management and therefore, amalgamation of community forests is needed for the purpose of forest management within the district without compromising their rights and autonomy. This ensures efficient harvesting and transportation of forest products.
Second, value addition, quality production and internal market could be some areas to think over for achieve prosperity and happiness through green employment generation. The internal consumption rate is quite high and higher than the currently production capacity from the forestry sector in all sources. Due to this fact, large quantity of wood and other forests products are imported annually in the country, resulted to trade deficit and outward flow of foreign currency. On the one hand, timber from Nepal's forest are decomposed in forest and on other, we are importing timber from other countries. We should promote the motto of the local first. If the quality is standardised for the product enterprises can produce, it will definitely compete with international goods. As a result, trade deficit is reduced and the international employment and consumption can be promoted.
Third, domestication of non-timber forest product and certification helps to increase the production along with value addition and standardise our product to the international market with label. Nepal's diverse geography contains plants with wide range of benefits and economic potential but due to less exploration we are unable to reap benefits from these products. Exploration of their values and commercial cultivation would generate substantial amount of income and employment at the local level.
Fourth, investment in agroforestry would be an option for forestry development. By the promotion of agroforestry, the pressure on forest eventually reduces for forest product assortment and supports our food security system. This will ultimately reduce the hunger and at the mean time alleviate poverty. Agroforestry not only supports for subsistence livelihoods but also helps to reduce the global environmental problem by local action to some extent. The latter also can materialise by carbon credit that can benefit the nation as well as local community without compromising the material benefits.
With institutional reform, supportive plans and programs, practicable project and activities, locally supportive actions and outputs, principle-based legal framework can foster forest-based enterprise in the country. The forestry sector can emerge as one of the important employment and revenue generation sectors in the country. Sustainable development through green revolution such as forestry for prosperity programme can enrich the environment and boost the economy. It can make lives prosperous and develop healthy environment. For this, strong political will, capable and capacitate bureaucrats, supportive civil society, innovative local community and motivated and enterprising youths are crucial.

(Pandey is Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Forests and Environment. Paudel is Assistant Forest Officer at the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment in Gandaki Pradesh.)