Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 179–192 | Cite as

Co-evolving dynamics in the social-ecological system of community forestry—prospects for ecosystem-based adaptation in the Middle Hills of Nepal

  • Prativa SapkotaEmail author
  • Rodney J. Keenan
  • Hemant R. Ojha
Original Article


This paper analyses prospects for ecosystem-based adaptation, through examining diverse forest-people interactions in Nepal’s community forestry as a social-ecological system (SES). We examine the linkage between social-ecological resilience and societal adaptation in the Middle Hills of Nepal and, based on this, discuss the prospects of this system for climate adaptation. In doing so, we also discuss the prospects of community forestry for ecosystem-based adaptation in the rural agrarian context, focussing on a few attributes of resilience: diversity, modularity, and flexibility. We find that community forestry provides multiple pathways for both reactive and anticipatory adaptation, often reinforcing community resilience. Our finding also shows that, while ecological processes in community forestry (CF) are being managed by local institutions with an explicit goal to enhance the overall resilience of the SES, the underlying social and political dynamics of CF tend to be neglected in adaptation policy and planning. This prevents local organizations from harnessing the benefits of ecological resilience to enhance their adaptive capacity. The contribution of ecological resilience to societal adaptation has been constrained by large scale social and political drivers, especially bureaucratic structures underpinning the governance of forest in Nepal. Based on these findings, we recommend that ecosystem-based adaptation is fully informed by, and takes account of, local power dynamics. For instance, aligning governance and decision-making with the needs of marginalized groups can increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of social-ecological systems.


Ecosystem-based adaptation Dynamics Forest-people interactions Ecological resilience Socio-political barriers 



This research was supported by the University of Melbourne and Australia Awards.


  1. Adger WN (1999) Social vulnerability to climate change and extremes in coastal Vietnam. World Dev 27(2):249–269. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adhikari B, Di Falco S (2009) Social inequality, Local leadership and collective action: an empirical study of forest commons. Eur J Dev Res 21:179–194.
  3. Agarwal B (2001) Participatory exclusions, community forestry, and gender: an analysis for South Asia and a conceptual framework. World Dev 29(10):1623–1648.
  4. Agrawal A, Ostrom E (2001) Collective action, property rights, and decentralization in resource use in India and Nepal. Polit Soc 29(4):485–514.
  5. Agrawal A, Gupta K (2005) Decentralization and participation: the governance of common pool resources in Nepal's Terai. World Dev 33(7):1101–1114. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bennett L(2005) Gender, caste and ethnic exclusion in Nepal: following the policy process from analysis to action. In New Frontiers of Social Policy: Development in a Globalizing World. Arusha, Tanzania. ISBN 10: 9994689002Google Scholar
  7. Berkes F (2007) Understanding uncertainty and reducing vulnerability: lessons from resilience thinking. Nat Hazards 41(2):283–295
  8. Bodin Ö, Tengö M (2012) Disentangling intangible social–ecological systems. Glob Environ Chang 22:430–439. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bryant RL (1992) Political ecology an emerging research agenda in third-world studies. Polit Geogr 11:12–36. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. CBD (2009) Connecting biodiversity and climate change mitigation and adaptation: report of the Second Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change, CBD Technical Montreal: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. ISBN: 92-9225-134-1Google Scholar
  11. Chakraborty A, Saha S, Sachdeva K, Joshi PK (2018) Vulnerability of forests in the Himalayan region to climate change impacts and anthropogenic disturbances: a systematic review. Reg Environ Chang:1–17.
  12. Chapin FS, Walker BH, Hobbs RJ, Hooper DU, Lawton JH, Sala OE, Tilman D (1997) Biotic control over the functioning of ecosystems. Science 277(5325):500–504.
  13. Charmez K (2011) Grounded theory methods in social justice research. In: Denzin N, Lincoln Y (eds) The SAGE handbook of qualitative research, vol 03, 4th edn. SAGE, UK, pp 359–380. Google Scholar
  14. Cote M, Nightingale AJ (2012) Resilience thinking meets social theory: situating social change in socio-ecological systems (SES) research. Prog Hum Geogr 36(4):475–489. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Davidson DJ (2010) The applicability of the concept of resilience to social systems: some sources of optimism and nagging doubts. Soc Nat Resour 23(12):1135–1149. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Few R, Martin A, Gross-Camp N (2017) Trade-offs in linking adaptation and mitigation in the forests of the Congo Basin. Reg Environ Chang 17(3):851–863. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Folke C, Carpenter S, Walker B, Scheffer M, Elmqvist T, Gunderson L, Holling CS (2004) Regime shifts, resilience, and biodiversity in ecosystem management. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 35:557–581. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gaire NP, Koirala M, Bhuju DR, Borgaonkar HP (2014) Treeline dynamics with climate change at the central Nepal Himalaya. Clim Past 10:1277–1290. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gaire K, Beilin R, Miller F (2015) Withdrawing, resisting, maintaining and adapting: food security and vulnerability in Jumla, Nepal. Reg Environ Chang 15(8):1667–1678. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gilmour DA, Fisher RJ (1992) Villagers, forests, and foresters: the philosophy, process, and practice of community forestry in Nepal, 2nd edn. Sahayogi Press, KathmanduGoogle Scholar
  21. Haig BD (2008) Précis of ‘an abductive theory of scientific method’. J Clin Psychol 64(9):1019–1022. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Harvey CA, Martínez-Rodríguez MR, Cárdenas JM, Avelino J, Rapidel B, Vignola R, Donatti CI, Vilchez-Mendoza S (2017) The use of ecosystem-based adaptation practices by smallholder farmers in Central America. Agric Ecosyst Environ 246:279–290. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Holling CS (1973) Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 4:1–23.
  24. Jones L, Boyd E (2011) Exploring social barriers to adaptation: insights from Western Nepal. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 21:1262–1274.
  25. Leach M, Mearns R, Scoones I (1999) Environmental entitlements: dynamics and institutions in community-based natural resource management. World Dev 27:225–247.
  26. Lukasiewicz A, Pittock J, Finlayson M (2016) Institutional challenges of adopting ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change. Reg Environ Chang 16(2):487–499. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Luthar SS, Cicchetti D (2000) The construct of resilience: implications for interventions and social policies. Dev Psychopathol 12:28–885. Google Scholar
  28. Mainali J, All J, Jha PK, Bhuju DR (2015) Responses of montane forest to climate variability in the central Himalayas of Nepal. Mt Res Dev 35:66–77. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Malla YB (2001) Changing policies and the persistence of patron-client relations in Nepal: stakeholders' responses to changes in forest policies. Environ Hist 6:287–307. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Morin MB, Kneeshaw D, Doyon F, Le Goff H, Bernier P, Yelle V, Blondlot A, Houle D (2015) Climate change and the forest sector: perception of principal impacts and of potential options for adaptation. For Chron 91:395–406. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Munang R, Thiaw I, Alverson K, Mumba M, Liu J, Rivington M (2012) Climate change and ecosystem-based adaptation: a new pragmatic approach to buffering climate change impacts. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 5(1):67–71. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Naeem S, Thompson LJ, Lawler SP, Lawton JH, Woodfin RM (1994) Declining biodiversity can alter the performance of ecosystems. Nature 368(6473):734–737. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nightingale AJ (2011) Bounding difference: intersectionality and the material production of gender, caste, class and environment in Nepal. Geoforum 42:153–162. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ojha HR (2014) Beyond the ‘local community’: the evolution of multi-scale politics in Nepal's community forestry regimes. Int For Rev 16:14–353. Google Scholar
  35. Ojha H, Persha L, Chhatre A (2009) Community forestry in Nepal: a policy innovation for local livelihoods. Intl Food Policy Res Inst 913Google Scholar
  36. Pandit R, Bevilacqua E (2011) Social heterogeneity and community forestry processes: reflections from forest users of Dhading District, Nepal. Small-Scale Forestry 10(1):97–113. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Peterson G, Allen CR, Holling CS (1998) Ecological resilience, biodiversity, and scale. Ecosystems 1:6–18. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pillar VD, Blanco CC, Müller SC, Sosinski EE, Joner F, Duarte LDS, Bello F (2013) Functional redundancy and stability in plant communities. J Veg Sci 24(5):963–974. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pimm SL (1984) The complexity and stability of ecosystems. Nature 307(5949):321–326. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pramova E, Locatelli B, Djoudi H, Somorin OA (2012) Forests and trees for social adaptation to climate variability and change. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang 3:581–596. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Regmi, M.C. (1999) A study in Nepali economic history, 1768–1846. Delhi: Adroit. ISBN: 8187392010Google Scholar
  42. Ribot, J. (2010) Vulnerability does not fall from the sky: toward multiscale, pro-poor climate policy. In: Mearns, Norton A (eds) Social dimensions of climate change: equity and vulnerability in a warming world. New frontiers of social policy. Washington, D.C.: World Bank. pp 47–74.
  43. Ribot J (2014) Cause and response: vulnerability and climate in the Anthropocene. J Peasant Stud 41(5):667–705. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Robledo C, Clot N, Hammill A, Riche B (2012) The role of forest ecosystems in community-based coping strategies to climate hazards: three examples from rural areas in Africa. Forest Policy Econ 24:20–28. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sapkota P, Keenan RJ, Paschen JA, Ojha HR (2016) Social production of vulnerability to climate change in the rural middle hills of Nepal. J Rural Stud 48:53–64. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sapkota P, Keenan RJ, Ojha HR (2018) Community institutions, social marginalization and the adaptive capacity: a case study of a community forestry user group in the Nepal Himalayas. Forest Policy Econ 92:55–64. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Scarano FR (2017) Ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change: concept, scalability and a role for conservation science. Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation 15:65–73. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sen A (1981) Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford University Press.
  49. Shrestha AB, Aryal R (2011) Climate change in Nepal and its impact on Himalayan glaciers. Reg Environ Chang 11(1):65–77. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Shrestha KK, McManus P (2008) The politics of community participation in natural resource management: lessons from community forestry in Nepal. Aust For 71(2):135–146. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Strauss A, Corbin J (1990) Basics of qualitative research: grounded theory procedures and techniques. Sage Publications, Newbury Park. Google Scholar
  52. Sunderlin WD, Angelsen A, Belcher B, Burgers P, Nasi R, Santoso L, Wunder S (2005) Livelihoods, forests, and conservation in developing countries: an overview. World Dev 33:1383–1402. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Thoms CA (2008) Community control of resources and the challenge of improving local livelihoods: a critical examination of community forestry in Nepal. Geoforum 39:1452–1465. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tompkins EL, Adger WN (2004) Does adaptive management of natural resources enhance resilience to climate change? Ecol Soc 9(2).
  55. Vignola R, Locatelli B, Martinez C, Imbach P (2009) Ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change: what role for policy-makers, society and scientists?(Report). Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Chang 691.
  56. Vignola R, McDaniels TL, Scholz RW (2013) Governance structures for ecosystem-based adaptation: using policy-network analysis to identify key organizations for bridging information across scales and policy areas. Environ Sci Pol 71.
  57. Vignola R, Harvey CA, Bautista-Solis P, Avelino J, Rapidel B, Donatti C, Martinez R (2015) Ecosystem-based adaptation for smallholder farmers: definitions, opportunities and constraints. Agric Ecosyst Environ 211:126–132. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Vogt DJ, Vogt KA, Gmur SJ, Scullion JJ, Suntana AS, Daryanto S, Sigurðardóttir R (2016) Vulnerability of tropical forest ecosystems and forest dependent communities to droughts. Environ Res 144:27–38. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Walker BH, Salt D (2006) Resilience thinking: sustaining ecosystems and people in a changing world. Island Press. ISBN: 9781597260930Google Scholar
  60. Xu J, Grumbine RE, Shrestha A, Eriksson M, Yang X, Wang Y, Wilkes A (2009) The melting himalayas: cascading effects of climate change on water, biodiversity, and livelihoods. Conserv Biol 23(3):520–530.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Prativa Sapkota
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rodney J. Keenan
    • 1
  • Hemant R. Ojha
    • 2
  1. 1.University of Melbourne, School of Ecosystem and Forest ScienceParkvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Institute for Studies and Development Worldwide (IFSD)SydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations