Jeanie Puleston Fleming
This article reports on changes in land use and in land degradation between the 1970s and 2006. In the middle hill region of west central Nepal in 1977, part of a watershed experienced erosion rates exceeding 30 Mt/ha/yr due to high rainfall intensities, unstable soils, steep slopes, deforestation and severe overgrazing. However, since the 1970s an innovative national government policy of handing over forest management to local people was put in place, resulting in conversion of nearly all the eroded grazing and shrub land to managed pasture and forest, a fivefold increase in grass and fodder and a near-doubling of forest productivity. While 43% of project costs were spent on user group formation and vegetative restoration, this provided most of the social, environmental and economic benefits, compared to structural measures.The objectives of the study are fourfold: 1) to document land use changes resulting in improved ecological health of the watershed and increased productivity of forests and grasslands; 2) to demonstrate the livelihood and economic benefits resulting from improved watershed health; 3) to show that participatory forest and range management policies are more effective than structural measures in restoring a watershed in the middle hills of Nepal; and 4) to demonstrate the efficacy and validity of using land use changes as a rapid project evaluation method.