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Turning over a new leaf - sustainable papermaking in Nepal

Handmade paper has a long tradition in Nepal (ANSAB)
Handmade paper has a long tradition in Nepal

In Nepal's remote Bajhang and Dolakha districts, the forests are rich in lokta (Daphne bholua/D. papyracea), a perennial shrub, which for hundreds of years has supplied bark for papermaking. Handmade paper is in high demand in Nepal, where it is used for legal documents and is popular with tourists, as well as customers in Europe and America. But few paper-producing companies are interested in conservation, or take steps to ensure their raw materials are responsibly harvested. As a result, lokta has become a rapidly-diminishing resource.

Seal of approval

Recently, however, several local communities, or Forest User Groups (FUGs), have been given special authorisation to harvest lokta and a range of other forest products. Introduced in 2002 by ANSAB (Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources), the internationally-recognised Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification reflects a three-pronged commitment by the FUGs: forest management, poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation. This is the first such certification for non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in Asia, and only the fifth in the world.

In addition, eight enterprises have been awarded FSC "Chain of Custody" certification, further endorsing the sustainability of their operations and boosting international credibility and sales. Apart from papermakers, these include providers of Ayurvedic medicines and marketing services.

Collective conservation

The Malika Handmade Paper Enterprise is one significant success story from Kailash village, in the forests of Bajhang. The first handmade papermaking venture in the world to receive the endorsement of the FSC, it sells to companies in Kathmandu and abroad, generating income in one of the least-developed areas of Nepal. ANSAB has been vital to that success, initially raising awareness about conservation and commercial enterprise in the village through public performances. ANSAB subsequently provided both training and funding to establish the paper company.

The Kailash villagers, many of whom had previously been forced to travel to India in search of work, responded positively to the idea of establishing a papermaking company. The 235 households raised 50 per cent of start-up costs, provided labour to build the papermaking facility and carried equipment from the nearest road, three days' walk away. Collective ownership of the enterprise was achieved by allocating shares according to the contributions made by each household. Twelve people are now employed in papermaking and households are paid good rates for supplying raw materials, including lokta bark and fuelwood.

Tracing paper sources

Sun-drying the Nepali handmade paper (ANSAB)
Sun-drying the Nepali handmade paper

The company leases over 1400 hectares of land from the Nepalese government, which villagers harvest responsibly. The sustainability of these lokta supplies, endorsed by the FSC audit, has been achieved through practical training in harvesting methods carried out by community members, and financial incentives. The papermaking team has been taught to verify the quality and age of the bark they receive, with prematurely-harvested bark receiving a lower price. Warnings are issued to those who fail to comply with good practice. In addition, lokta is only purchased from properly organised FUGs, either from Kailash or the neighbouring areas, to encourage the Groups to monitor the harvesting methods themselves.

Dr Bhishma Subedi, executive director of ANSAB said: "We can make a difference by creating the environment for local communities to get meaningful incomes from the forest resource they manage. This is possible only by changing the way corporations do business so that sustainable practices are rewarded."

Date published: September 2007


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