Laxmi Pokhrel: My Forest has Made me Independent

Photo: Ganga Neupane, AFFON

Nepal: Laxmi Pokhrel is 62 years old and lives with her family in the small village of Kageshwori in the green hills that surround Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Laxmi has a primary school education. The family has a small farm with agriculture and cows and Laxmi has also established a small family forest. 

Laxmi is aware of the important role her forest plays for the livelihood of her family: “The forest has been a great support for me and my family. It has fulfilled our family’s daily need for firewood for cooking and for animal fodder as well as veterinary supplements for the cows. The cows in turn provide manure for farming,” Laxmi proudly explains and adds that the trees also protect the hilly area against erosion.

“when women go to the forest they see many things to sustain their livelihoods and to protect the environment. Men always talk about selling timber to get more money, but we need grass, fodder, and fuel wood to sustain our livelihood”

According to Laxmi, women play a special role in forestry and agriculture in Nepal: “Most of the men have gone away to the cities or abroad to work. Women are living with the elders and the children in the village. They have the responsibility for farming and family forests and for sustaining the family livelihood. In a family forest, agriculture and forest are integrated and women have the skills and knowledge to do farming in the family forest. 

Men want money, women want to sustain their livelihood

As women are the primary caretakers in the village, they also have a different stance on how the forest should be utilized than men. Laxmi explains it this way: “The priority of men and women are different when it comes to the forest. Women manage the forests to fulfill the daily needs for forest products. So, I plant all types of trees to produce fodder for goats, fodder for cows and buffalo, and fuel wood, as well as other herbs and grasses. Timber is the last priority because it is only harvested occasionally. The men on the other hand want to plant fast growing trees for timber production because timber can be sold in the market to generate money.  When the men go to the forest they see big trees for cutting and selling to get money here and now, but when women go to the forest they see many things to sustain their livelihoods and to protect the environment. Men always talk about selling timber to get more money, but we need grass, fodder, and fuel wood to sustain our livelihood.”

Photo: Ganga Neupane, AFFON

Laxmi sold her timber

Being a woman in a male dominated society, Laxmi has felt discrimination due to her gender. She tells about an incident where she and other villagers had planted trees on fallow land and slopes to produce timber. When the time came to sell the trees, the villagers faced problems identifying a proper selling point and to make sense of the legal procedures for felling the trees. Laxmi tells: “I also tried to find a way to sell the timber from our family forest. Many times, when I went to the market, I faced different forms of discrimination such as price fixing of timber, difficulties to find transportation and long bureaucratic processes to be allowed to sell timber. Some of the men made fun of me saying “how can a woman do all these things?” But I succeeded in contacting the timber traders and the forest office for the necessary legal documents and I sold my timber! So, I feel that I am leading my family and that I have become independent on the basis of my family forest!”

Laxmi showed the local men what women are capable of and hopefully this contributes to a more respectful attitude towards women in the village.

Women and Climate Change

When asked if she thinks women have a special role to play in relation to climate change, Laxmi answers without hesitation: “Yes absolutely. Women from rural households rarely go to foreign countries for employment. They are engaged in household chores like collecting fodder for livestock, collecting firewood, fetching water along with other agricultural activities. Such activities have helped women to gain more knowledge about the ideal time of planting trees and how to protect the forest and the agricultural land. So, I believe women can play a significant role in alleviating climate change. “

This argument also means that Laxmi sees gender issues as vital in developing the forest sector:  “Women are engaged as famers, primary forest users, entrepreneurs, business persons, facilitators, researchers, academics, facilitators and more. It is most essential to consider gender issue in the development of the forest. Women have different needs and experiences for conducting daily life in Nepal,” Laxmi concludes.

“It is most essential to consider the gender issues in the development of the forest. Women have different needs and experiences for conducting daily life in Nepal”

 

This article is a part of the #womensustain campaign. The campaign contains the accounts of women from Nepal, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vietnam, from technical experts, university professors, policy makers and forest owners.