> Home > About Kangchenjunga > Environment > Report on KCA

Near Khunjari

Near Khujari

Independent report on

Kangchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA)

by Clint Roger

An outside observer's rapid assessment of the effect of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area on local residents in autumn 2000.

Assessment method
The assessment included six meetings with staff of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area and its funding agency, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a review of the complete series of KCA research accounts, planning documents, and progress reports, interviews of local residents, and field observations throughout the conservation area.

Meetings and interviews focused on the level of involvement of local residents in the planning and management of the KCA and the degree that local residents' concerns and needs were integrated with the wildlife protection policies and economic development goals of the conservation area managers and WWF. Field observations investigated the effect of KCA policies and programs on local residents' land tenure, continued access to natural resources necessary for livelihood, and fulfillment of basic needs such as education and health care.

To provide some context for evaluating the KCA, I will first give a brief background on the region, its inhabitants, and the creation of the conservation area. The Kanchenjunga region is located in the Himalaya mountains in the far northeast corner of Nepal, bordered by Tibet (China) to the north and Sikkim (India) to the east. Due to its remote location, rugged terrain, and Nepal's past political isolation, the region has historically been affected very little by external influences, either domestic or foreign. No roads exist within the KCA, and a single rudimentary dirt airstrip is located several days' walk outside of the conservation area.

The region is home to a diverse population of peoples of Bhotiya, Chettri, Gurung, Limbu, Rai, Sherpa, Tamang, Tibetan, and Walangpa ethnicity. Within the 2035 square kilometer conservation area, 4820 people reside in numerous rural villages and engage in subsistence level agriculture, pastoralism, and trade. In recognition of the Kanchenjunga region's rich biological diversity, the government of Nepal designated the region a conservation area in 1998. The region's lands and natural resources were gazetted by the national government, and management responsibility was bestowed upon an internationally funded non-governmental organization, WWF, with cooperation from Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC).

Planning documents
KCA planning documents present an evolving picture of government and conservation area planners' regard for local residents' concerns and welfare. For example, a report written by the director of Nepal's DNPWC and published by WWF (Maskey, 1997), which preceded the government's declaration of conservation area status for the region, recommended environmental protection for the region but did not acknowledge local residents' existing environmental knowledge or natural resource management capabilities. According to the report, natural resource use by local residents was a major threat to wildlife and was not integrated with the government's intended development for the region, which was geared toward encouraging tourism enterprise and slowing emigration from the region to the overcrowded capital city of Kathmandu.

The report placed the development of tourism and transportation infrastructures as higher priorities than social infrastructure such as schools and health facilities, which have remained underdeveloped in the region. Such priorities raised doubts about the intention of government officials to place emphasis on the welfare of local residents, and instead seem to suggest primary government interest in generating additional visa, permit, and entry fee revenues and foreign exchange earnings from tourism, attracting funding from international conservation agencies, stimulating economic growth, spreading state influence and ideology to remote areas of Nepal, and combating the growing overcrowdedness and squalor of urban centers such as Kathmandu.

On the other hand, the conservation area project proposal prepared by WWF and Nepal's DNPWC for managing the KCA (WWF 1998) demonstrated great sensitivity on the part of planners toward the concerns and welfare of local residents. The proposal placed emphasis upon integrating environmental conservation measures with local subsistence needs and socio-economic improvement in order to directly benefit local residents, and the proposal expressly conceded that sustainable conservation would be entirely dependent upon local economic improvement. The proposal also acknowledged the natural resource management capabilities of local residents and stressed the planners' intention for local residents to directly participate in the management of the conservation area, underlining the importance of supporting local capacity building to enable this to happen. In contrast to the earlier government report mentioned previously, the management proposal placed local poverty alleviation ahead of environmental conservation in its list of priorities, and it recognized the relevance of developing the capacity of local women to effect socio-economic improvements. Furthermore, in addition to pointing out the rich diversity of wildlife in the conservation area, the proposal also acknowledged the area's rich ethnic and cultural diversity and placed importance on protecting culturally significant landmarks.

Practical progress
Meetings with conservation area and WWF staff and review of the most recent KCA project progress report (WWF 1999) suggested abundant material progress in implementing plans for the new conservation area. This perspective did not, however, hold up entirely in interviews with local residents or from field observations throughout the conservation area. Many local residents stated that KCA activities have been limited to only a few villages, while KCA promises to provide support to other villages have thus far not been fulfilled. Indeed, in most areas of the KCA, the presence of tangible environmental conservation and community development programs remains noticeably absent. Many villages continue to lack clear forest management guidelines, and there are few schools and basic health care facilities beyond the ones that have been established independently of the KCA by a couple grassroots international volunteer organizations that have been active in the area.

Office infrastructure
The initial efforts of the KCA in 1998 and 1999 were aimed at developing office infrastructure and hiring and training staff to facilitate the implementation of programs within the conservation area. These efforts were centered around four villages selected as locations for KCA offices, namely Lelep, Ghunsa, Yamphudin, and Walangchung. A total of 18 staff, including 5 wildlife rangers from DNPWC, have been hired to work in these offices. Half of the staff is comprised of local residents from the area.

In 2000, KCA-sponsored programs continued to be primarily focused within the villages where KCA offices are located, with particular emphasis on the Lelep/Hellok vicinity, the home of the KCA regional headquarters. KCA activities in these select villages have included the establishment of a tree seedling nursery and child daycare center and women's literacy classes (in the Lelep/Hellok vicinity only), constructing drinking water faucets, improving trails, providing some limited funds for medicines and religious temple repairs, making educational brochures available, forming youth ecology clubs, offering educational scholarships, and sending local residents on exposure tours to other protected areas in Nepal to learn about other previously established conservation programs.

Conservation management committees
In terms of broader activities within the conservation area, nearly all villages have been provided help in forming women's support groups and conservation management committees comprised of local residents. In addition, KCA policies have been established throughout the conservation area prohibiting the hunting of wild animals and cutting of live trees for firewood. KCA rangers have also begun establishing a database of forest resources and wildlife populations in the conservation area for monitoring purposes. And, to control development in fragile areas, the KCA requires residents to secure permission from their local conservation management committees to build tourist shops and lodges outside of village areas.

Environmental protection
Beyond these proscriptions, the KCA has implemented little in the way of environmental protection measures since the subsistence needs of the area's relatively dispersed population are considered to have a low impact on natural resources. In ecologically sensitive alpine areas affected by trekking and climbing tourism, KCA staff have taken a more active role. For example, KCA staff encouraged youth from Ghunsa village to organize a clean-up of the base camps on the north side of Jannu and Kanchenjunga peaks. In addition, KCA staff constructed garbage pits, out-house style toilets, and porter shelters in a couple of remote camping locations visited by trekking groups.

WWF involvement to end
KCA plans call for an end to WWF involvement in the Kanchenjunga region in 2003, after which responsibility for managing the conservation area will be turned over to the village-based conservation management committees. To support such local management of the conservation area, the entry fees (approximately US$15 per visitor) collected from the roughly 650 visitors to the Kanchenjunga region each year will need to stay in the hands of local residents, as it does in Nepal's Annapurna Conservation Area, rather than going to the central government in Kathmandu as is currently the case. Only then will it be clear that the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area was conceived and implemented with the benefit of the local residents in mind.

Maskey, Tirtha M. 1997. Overview of the Kanchenjunga Area, Nepal. Regional Consultation on Conservation of the Kanchenjunga Mountain Ecosystem. Edited by Ajay Rastogi, Pei Shengji, & Devendra Amatya. ICIMOD & WWF Nepal Programme: Kathmandu, Nepal.

WWF. 1998. Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Project Proposal. Prepared by WWF Nepal Programme and Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. WWF Nepal Programme: Kathmandu, Nepal.

WWF. 1999. Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Project Annual Technical Progress Report. WWF Nepal Programme: Kathmandu, Nepal.