58 percent of Nepal’s land is currently held by the government in the name of conservation, often displacing and leaving the country’s diverse and widespread indigenous population (adivasi) without rights to farm or protect the lands they have depended upon for hundreds of years.

Indigenous Peoples’ representatives across Nepal have launched a nationwide campaign to induce the government to include their input in its policies and strategies on forest-related matters. These policies are currently undergoing an overhaul, making this a ripe moment for change. As part of the campaign, the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) facilitated a three day conference in Kathmandu on April 16-18, 2014. The event brought together relevant forest agencies with representatives from 59 indigenous groups including women and youth, and NGOs working on the development of the forestry sector for a robust debate on how best to incorporate Indigenous Peoples’ input into forest development and protection policies.

The product of this discussion was a position paper which was handed to Dr. Ganesh Raj Joshi, the Secretary of the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation. Dr. Joshi accepted the paper for further discussion within the Ministry, and said he appreciated the opportunity to be part of this dialogue and would be happy to engage in further debates as needed. The Ministry’s positive reception of the paper and participation in the conference is a definite step forward for the communities.

Participants at the conference included virtually all the key stakeholders in this critical and timely discussion on forests and Indigenous Peoples, including media. The organizers ensured that input was received from indigenous organization representatives that couldn’t make it to the meeting. A robust Q&A followed input-taking sessions and discussions, where indigenous organization representatives emphasized the importance of using the traditional knowledge and skills of forest peoples for sustainable management of forests and biodiversity. Participants also drew attention to the fact that Nepal’s policies do not reflect its stance on human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples in global treaties which it has signed. The conference was supported by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), as well as global and regional organizations such as the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), and Tebtebba – Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education, Philippines.

Beyond the conference, the campaign has also used mass media channels to disseminate its messages to experts and policy makers, raising national awareness on the issues of Indigenous Peoples and the key position they occupy in the country’s treasured forest landscape. In June of this year, the Ministry came under fire for an indication to possibly deploy the Nepali army to preserve the Chure hill forests—rich in biodiversity and home to many indigenous and local communities—which has caused considerable unrest among groups representing Nepal’s community forest users. But following nationwide protests and the continuation of this campaign, the Ministry has since changed its tone to concede the role of community participation in any conservation efforts and to avoid military involvement.