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Impact of migration on people and landscapes in Nepal

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In Nalma village, Nepal, land is used for rice fields, gardens and housing. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR
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In a series of four videos and associated articles, the Center for International Forestry Research‘s (CIFOR) Forests News looks at migration research in Nepal, and how migration impacts lives and landscapes in the village of Nalma.

The importance of migration to rural livelihoods in Nepal is not being recognized in forestry policy or by donors – and nor is the diversity of women’s experience, argues a chapter of Gender and Forests: Climate Change, tenure, Value Chains and Emerging Issues, which was coedited by Carol J Colfer, CIFOR and FTA scientist Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, and FTA gender coordinator Marlene Elias.

Thirty percent of Nepal’s GDP comes from remittances – the second highest proportion in the world. Around half a million people, or eight percent of Nepal’s total population, applied for a permit to work abroad in 2014 – 94 percent of them were men – and that does not include the many unregistered migrants or those who migrated within the country. Despite this, Nepal’s recent Forest Sector Strategy (2012-2022) mentions migration just once.

First up in the series, Sijapati Basnett talks about her research in Nalma in Unpacking migration and gender in Nepal. The video is accompanied by the article Unpacking migration and gender in Nepal’s community forests, which considers that changing migration patterns bring both burdens and benefits for women.

Second, in Left behind in Nepal: Sita’s story, the series looks at Sita Pariyar, a 29-year-old mother of two living in Nalma who has balanced housework, childcare and field work since her husband moved to Qatar as a migrant worker. Nearly three-quarters of Nepal’s young male population now works overseas, sending money back to their families in the form of remittances that contribute almost 30 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. On the home front, women, children and the elderly are left to keep village life running, reshaping traditional roles, responsibilities and land management practices.

It is accompanied by Left behind: The women and elderly of Nalma, which aims to give a voice to those left back home by migrant workers in Nepal.

Third, through the video Left behind in Nepal: Shanti’s story, Forests News follows Shanti Tamang, a 20-year-old mother with a 3-year-old son, who was left to live with her in-laws after her husband went abroad to work. While her husband sends back better wages from Qatar, Shanti still has to struggle with the responsibilities of looking after the family and working in the fields to make ends meet.

As many migrant workers leave their villages behind, landscapes and social hierarchies are being shaken from tradition, which is explored through In Nepal, what migration means on the home front.

The fourth installment, The returnee: Inside the lives of migrant workers from Nepal, followed Bahadur. With seven children and a wife of 21 years whom he had married for love, Bahadur had every reason to feel confident that his move abroad from the village of Nalma in Nepal to Saudi Arabia was a financially wise choice for his family. All was going well until the news came, six months into his time abroad, that his wife had eloped with someone else, leading Bahadur to return as soon as possible to his children.

A final in-depth article, The dreamer, the progressive and the returnee, looks at the experiences of several Nepali migrant workers now choosing to stay in their hometown. Those now remaining in Nepal are helping enliven efforts to farm the surrounding land, and to kickstart new initiatives such as permaculture and ecotourism.

Nepal is well known for its widespread adoption of community forestry, where responsibility for managing forests is devolved to the people who live around them. But as international and circular migration for employment purposes becomes more common – and male-dominated – who actually lives there is in constant flux. In reality, Sijapati Basnett says, “migration is both a burden and a benefit for women who are left behind.”

The first article described above was written by Kate Evans. The following three articles, which were conducted in collaboration with Forest Action Nepal, were written by Gabrielle Lipton, Leona Liu and Bimbika Sijapati Basnett. All were originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Bimbika Sijapati Basnett at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by UK aid from the UK government.

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  • New children's book teaches the sustainable traditions of West Timorese honey hunters

New children’s book teaches the sustainable traditions of West Timorese honey hunters

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Isak Fobia, leader of the Olin-Fobia community, is responsible for guiding the honey harvesting ceremony. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR
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Isak Fobia, leader of the Olin-Fobia community, is responsible for guiding the honey harvesting ceremony. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR

As part of the Kanoppi research project, a new book about honey harvesting in West Timor, Indonesia, aims in part to contribute to policy recommendations that increase the comparative advantages of small-scale forestry management practices. 

Kanoppi is a combined effort between the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Scientist Ani Adiwinata Nawir initially traveled to West Timor to study the forests of Mutis-Timau, curious to see how communities used forests to help their livelihoods while keeping their beautiful landscape in tact. During her stay, she became fascinated with the Olin-Fobia community and their annual tradition of harvesting wild honey from the nearby Mount Mutis Nature Reserve.

She found that their tradition was not only sweet, but also an excellent example of community-based landscape management. Developed into a fair-trade product with help of the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia, the harvested “Mt. Mutis” honey had become commercially successful around Indonesia, bringing income to the community without involving the felling of trees.

But the story doesn’t end there. After speaking with colleagues from CIFOR, an idea emerged: to create a children’s book that tells the tale of the honey hunters.

Watch: Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters (video)

“We observed a knowledge gap between older and younger generations,” says Ani. “Local wisdom and traditions aren’t always being passed on. We thought a book would help keep these traditions alive and motivate young people to learn more about forest conservation.”

She contacted Indonesian children’s book author Johanna Ernawati, who has long been interested in the traditions and origins of Indonesians living in remote parts of the archipelago, like Papua and Timor. She agreed to write the book, Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters, which was recently published in English and Indonesian.

Read more: Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters (book)

“This was a great opportunity for me to help educate Indonesians about their origin, their ancestry and the uniqueness of Indonesian forest culture,” says Ernawati.

The author used scientific research to inform her writing and also travelled to West Timor to visit the Olin-Fobia community and gather more information – and inspiration.

“The community is fascinating. They are truly sons and daughters of nature. They care about Mother Earth, about animals, the forest and family,” she says. “They know the forest is the source of life for their community, providing water, medicine, and prosperity from the sale of honey.”

Their forest knowledge, she learned, is based on legends and folk tales of the Mutis forest that have been passed down from generation to generation. Children are taught at an early age about the forests’ importance and why they need to preserve it.

The book is now being distributed to schools and government agencies tasked with educating children about the environment, in hopes for more children to understand the same.

A single tree can host more than 100 hives. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR


Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters tells the tale of brother-and-sister twins from Bonleu Village in the Mutis Valley. On their twelfth birthday, the twins’ father gives them a special gift: they’re allowed to join the village adults and go honey hunting in the forest.

Bapak Tobe, the village elder, leads a traditional Naketi ceremony for everyone to ask forgiveness of one another, as honey hunters must be pure of heart. The twins then venture into the forest and experience the ancient tradition of honey harvesting.

Readers experience this adventure through colorful images and playful text, which draw upon the research of Ani and fellow experts to teach about the Olin-Fobia culture and landscape.

“We included facts about their traditional houses, flora and fauna, the history of the local people and also how honey is made,” says Budhy Kristanty, a CIFOR communications officer who helped develop the project. “It’s a creative way to educate children.”

The team hopes that the book will be translated into Spanish and French, and a short animated video of the book, shown above, has also been produced.

“We hope other organizations will be inspired by the book to do similar projects,” says Ani. “In Indonesia, we need more efforts to educate younger generations, since they will be the ones to preserve the remaining forests.”

Ani says she and her team have received a significant number of requests from various institutions for the book – as well as good feedback from its audience.

“Our kids usually enjoy playtime the most, but today I started playing the animated video, and they all stopped playing and gathered around to watch,” says a teacher from Madania School in the West Java city of Bogor.

“Then the children all sat down, and I read the book to them. They were all so excited and wanted to hear it again and again.”

By Suzanna Dayne, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Ani Adiwinata Nawir at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by USAID and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

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