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Institute for Himalayan Conservation Japan Aiming for Better Lives by Working with Himalayan Nepalese on Reforestation

© IHC-Japan

IHC-Japan Public Relations Officer & Web Programmer
Ms. Teruyo Seida

In this month’s Close Up, we introduce the Institute for Himalayan Conservation Japan (IHC-JAPAN), a certified non-profit organization. In that in the Nepalese Himalayas it aims to achieve a sense of coexistence between nature and human beings, IHC-Japan is an international environmental non-government organization that promotes environmental protection activities at whose core there lie the actions of local communities. With as its foundation tree-plantings for reforestation that are vital for mountain villages in that they provide such communities with plentiful resources such as firewood, etc., IHC-Japan also engages in activities that are designed to both help improve the livelihoods and income levels of rural people. In the summer of 2014, the organization achieved the milestone of having planted one million trees in the Himalayas. Furthermore, while it continues to engage in tree-plantings, for the purpose of allowing villagers in the regions where it operates to lead even more affluent lives, IHC-Japan is now undertaking a number of projects that are designed to make best use of forestry resources. On this occasion, we spoke to IHC-Japan Public Relations Officer & Web Programmer Ms. Teruyo Seida about the details of the group’s activities.

Q. Please tell me what led to the establishment of IHC-Japan.

A. The person responsible for the establishment of IHC-Japan was the late Professor Jiro Kawakita, a noted cultural anthropologist. When undertaking academic fieldwork in mountainous areas of Nepal, it came to his attention that forests in the region had been devastated, and that there were other serious environmental issues such as the frequency of landslides and the poor quality of water, etc. Professor Kawakita was also conscious of the difficult lives led by people in the region in that they were confronted by gruelling tasks such as collecting and carrying firewood and water, etc., to their homes. On seeing such problems, he decided on a program of technical cooperation that would both protect the environment and help develop villages in the region. Thus, the predecessor of IHC-Japan, the Himalaya Technology Cooperation Association, was established in 1974, and that organization started by undertaking projects such as installing pipelines that provided villages with supplies of safe drinking water, and setting up ropeways that could be used for the transportation across the mountainous terrain of heavy but necessary resources such as firewood and livestock feed, etc. After such projects had been undertaken, the next to be commenced were tree-plantings that aimed to assist reforestation in the region. It was in 1993 that IHC-Japan commenced its activities, and ever since we have been proactively engaged in tree-plantings in which the people who live in the areas in which we operate also play a central role.

Q. And IHC-Japan has undertaken tree-plantings for more than 20 years?

A. While the activities of HIC-Japan are comprised of three different categories, namely, our tree-planting projects, our livelihood improvement projects and our income improvement projects, it would be accurate to say that tree-plantings represent the basis of what we do. To talk about the livelihoods of the people who live in the Himalayan foothills, although they have traditionally made extensive use of the surrounding forests for obtaining resources such as firewood and livestock feed, etc., until relatively recently there was no real conceptualization as to the necessity of replantings taking place in areas from which trees had been harvested. Thus, over time in the areas surrounding villages there was a continuing trend of forests shrinking and the scope of barren land increasing in size. Against such a backcloth, when IHC-Japan undertakes its surveys in order to decide where to carry out tree-plantings, what is more critical than anything else is that we talk to local people and tell them why reforrestation is necessary. We then have them understand the importance of such replantings. While we do offer villages support by providing seedlings and nursery facilities, and while we offer suggestions in the form of technical assistance regarding seed selections and successful cultivation techniques, etc., the people who represent the core of IHC-Japan tree-planting activities are the villagers who are selected to care for the seedlings prior to them being planted out. Furthermore, when it comes to planting out seedlings, all of the members of a village will participate. What is more, after going through the cycle of successfully cultivating seedlings and planting them out a number of times, once there is confidence that the villages can complete the process themselves, they are allowed to continue on alone.

© IHC-Japan © IHC-Japan

All the villagers take an active role in planting out seedlings once they have grown to a suitable size.
© Institute for Himalayan Conservation Japan

Q. Please tell us about the tree-planting results that you have achieved thus far.

A. In 2014, we were fortunate to achieve the milestone of having planted some 1 million trees. In having done so, what we found to be particularly moving was the voices of villagers who felt that their “villages had recovered a sense of pride in being able to witness that their efforts had returned greenery to mountains that had previously been stripped bare.” On hearing such comments, we were also able to learn that it was possible to give to people a sense of pride regarding the great wilderness in which they live. Furthermore, with respect to our tree-planting projects, it has got to the point that our Nepalese counterparts who work locally continue to keep in contact with our Japanese staff, and they have developed their skills to the point that they are able to act in support of the villages in which we have operated. As to what we hope to finally achieve, in each of the villages where we have undertaken plantings, we would like the villages to both manage their seedlings and undertake planting activities by themselves. I should also point out that there are already a number of villages where we have carried out a final handover of the tree-planting operations to the local people.

© IHC-Japan © IHC-Japan

The same village where tree-plantings have been carried out.
The photo on the left shows the scenery 40 years ago, while that on the right shows the village today.
As a result of the plantings commenced in 1996, the trees on the mountains have returned.
© Institute for Himalayan Conservation Japan

Q. Please also tell us about your other activities.

A. Another form of project that we undertake involves making improvements to the livelihoods of local people. For example, we install stoves into homes that operate with greater thermal efficiency. The benefit of that is that homeowners don’t have to burn so much firewood in order to keep warm. We also undertake to improve the mountain routes by which firewood is to be transported. Concerning our projects that are designed to raise income levels, to allow villagers to obtain cash income based on the utilization of forestry resources, we are taking steps to teach weaving, paper-making and apiary skills, etc. In the far-flung regions of Nepal, the tradition has been for men only to leave their villages in search of sources of cash income, while not much thought was given by women to the idea of obtaining an income through their own efforts. However, in those villages where paper-making and weaving projects have been commenced, women who have been able to learn the required skills have also been able to get their hands on some very valuable cash income. In the paper-making projects, using the Lokta tree, a species indigenous to Nepal, women have been able to create both notebooks and calendars. In the weaving projects meanwhile, by drawing fibers from Himalayan Nettles, another native species, fabric can then be woven. The tough fabric thus created can then be sold for a cash income to an organization in the city of Pokhara that was established to support the economic independence of women.

© IHC-Japan © IHC-Japan

While keeping up with their household chores, women are able to weave cloth in a small room (Left).
Through the cooperation of an organization that supports women, the cloth thus woven is then turned into products such as bags, etc. (Right).
© Institute for Himalayan Conservation Japan

Q. And what changes have taken place for those women who have been able to obtain sources of cash income?

A. We have heard from women that their quality of life has improved in that through their own efforts, they have been able to obtain the funds required to do such things as cover childrens’ education expenses and put money aside to pay for medical treatment during times of sickness. Furthermore, within the context of a society where there is a strong tradition of men exercising a dominance over women, through the experience of women obtaining sources of cash income through their own efforts, there has been the development of a certain psychological independence. What is more, such psychological independence I think can also be linked to the overall invigoration of villages. Concerning our efforts to teach weaving skills using fibers drawn from Himalayan Nettles, we have now got to the point that rumours of what we have achieved have spread from the villages we have worked in to other surrounding communities. That has meant that we have received requests to teach these other villages as well. The result of such a development is that women in certain villages are now taking a leading role in visiting other villages as teachers to teach cloth weaving. In that the number of women involved in weaving and the geographic area in which it is happening has also increased, the volume of cloth now being produced is rather surprising.

Q. For people interested in the activities of IHC-Japan, is there any way in which they can get involved?

A. In actual fact, around February and March of most years, IHC-Japan runs its “Nepalese Himalayan Mountains Ecology School” which allows participants from Japan to visit the country and see what we are doing in the areas in which IHC-Japan operates. During the tour, there is some trekking in the mountains that allows participants to experience the great expanse of Himalayan nature, and while having a homestay in the homes of mountain villagers, participants are given the opportunity to learn about the knowledge and skills required to live in such a location, and to think about the topics of environmental preservation and international cooperation. As to why people participate in the ecology school, while some desire the opportunity to interact with other cultures, others wish to see what IHC-Japan is actually doing on the ground in Nepal. Furthermore, as a region that is of great interest to researchers, some of the participants in the ecology school do so for academic reasons. As to our own position, through conducting the “Nepalese Himalayan Mountains Ecology School,” it is the hope of IHC-Japan that as many people as possible will become aware of our activities. Meanwhile, concerning people who have expressed an interest in participating in our activities here in Japan as volunteers, we have been able to have them help us with the mailing out of newsletters and our participation in Global Festa. At Global Festa, in that our volunteers also help with the sale of calendars made from Lokta paper and various products made from Himalayan Nettle cloth, I would encourage your readers to make sure to visit our stall at the event.

© IHC-Japan © IHC-Japan

Interacting with Nepalese villagers while on a homestay during the study tour (Left).
The stall at Global Festa Japan 2016. The stall introduced IHC-Japan activities in Nepal and put on display products from the region (Right).
© Institute for Himalayan Conservation Japan

Q. Please tell us about your future activities.

© IHC-Japan

A. I think we shall continue with our tree-plantings as the basis of our activities. Going forward, however, what we would like to put most effort into is the projects that focus on improving income levels. In particular, we would like to push forward with the weaving projects, and work towards creating highly-profitable items such as bags, etc. Such products would be able to convey to people in Japan and overseas the attractions of Himalayan Nettle cloth as a fabric, and if that happens we could make a significant contribution to the support of women in rural villages. Up until now, the Himalayan Nettle has tended to be viewed as a weed, however, there is now much attention being paid to it due to the many possibilities that it seems to offer. IHC-Japan has also researched the topic, and we have obtained a variety of results which would seem to offer a great number of different possibilities. As such, I think it would be good if we were able to further develop projects that made use of it as a resource.