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[KATHMANDU] A pilot project underway in Nepal aims to strengthen the capacity of the government and community forest user groups (CFUGs) to measure and monitor carbon stored in the country’s forests.

A project management unit (PMU), launched 16 July 2010, has initiated a payment distribution system to reward CFUGs that increase and maintain carbon storage levels.

The four-year project, covering three watersheds, will be managed by PMU partners — the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bio-resources, Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal, and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

“If the forest biomass increases by two tonnes per hectare over the next year, then the CFUGs will be paid a sum for each extra tonne of carbon per hectare stored, based on the market rate for carbon,” Eak Rana Magar, PMU coordinator, told SciDev.Net.

A forest carbon trust fund will initially regulate trade between carbon ‘sellers’ and ‘buyers’.

Payments will eventually be sourced through the United Nations-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism, whereby developing countries get financial incentives to maintain their forests. “We are currently testing the trust fund system in anticipation of this,’’ explained Magar.

Community forestry in Nepal is well-established and devolved to over 15,000 CFUGs across 1.2 million hectares of land. As deforestation - a major contributor to climate change due to release of stored carbon - is at 1.6 per cent annually, Nepal could benefit from REDD incentives.

In the preliminary phase, which began in July 2009, the project trained members from 104 CFUGs to collect baseline data from five carbon pools in 10,266 hectares of forest cover where they found an average of 166 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

“Ultimately, local users should manage the whole REDD process themselves, with as little technical support as possible,” said Magar.

“We plan to use our carbon profits to support women, indigenous people and other minorities,” said Bhimarjan Neupane, CFUG member and REDD coordinator for Chitwan district.

“I think Nepal can benefit from REDD. This project will help institutionalise the process,’’ said Keshav Prasad Khanal, under-secretary of the concerned cell in the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation.

Neupane has reservations though. ‘’We will benefit only if we can gain business through the REDD scheme, not just from seed money. Also, we still have to see whether carbon payments will cover our monitoring and implementation costs.”