Another Possible Cost of COVID-19: Returning Workers May Lead to Deforestation in Nepal

by Jefferson Fox, Phanwin Yokying, Naya Sharma Paudel, and Ram Chhetri

East-West Wire

Publisher: Honolulu, HI: East-West Center
Publication Date: 28 August 2020
Binding: electronic
Pages: 2
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In rural Nepal, 10 years of conflict between government forces and Maoist fighters, followed by a series of devastating earthquakes, forced many young people to migrate to urban areas or overseas in search of employment. Farm sizes remained the same, but with remittance income coming in from migrants plus a sharp reduction in available labor at home, many farmers left some of their land uncultivated. This expansion of uncultivated land brought an important environmental benefit. After years of forest loss, surveys conducted from 1992 to 2016 found that tree cover—on both state forest land (often managed as community forests) and on private agricultural land—increased by almost 20 percent. At a time when forests are shrinking in many parts of the world due to a combination of logging, land clearing, and climate change, the 20-year trend of increasing tree cover in Nepal stands out as a model for other developing countries. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Nepali migrants to return home. With more available labor and less remittance income, will farmers in Nepal now remove trees on their land to expand cultivation?