Turning conflict into opportunities

Community members meet to discuss solutions to the conflict - Credit: Rasna Dhakal/Oxfam
We didn’t believe that our small effort could resolve such a long lasting conflict. We are happy that Oxfam helped us in developing such skills.
Shanti Tharu, Secretary of CLRCC

By Rasna Dhakal
Community Land Rights Officer

The people of Magaragadi VDC in Bardiya district recently breathed a sigh of relief. After ten years, a brewing conflict about community forest resources and illegal settlers in Pashupati Community Forest got resolved through a mediation process coordinated by the local Community Land Rights Coordination Committee (CLRCC). The Committees are formed and supported under Oxfam’s Community Land Rights (CLR) Project.

“We were not aware about the process of conflict transformation,” said Shanti Tharu, Secretary of CLRCC. “We expected some external party to come and talk to the settlers. We didn’t believe that our small effort could resolve such a long lasting conflict. We are happy that Oxfam helped us in developing such skills.”

The conflict started ten years ago when 60 families settled on 10 hectares of forest land, managed by the local Community Forestry User Group (CFUG). The District Forest Office took action by ordering the CFUG to remove the families from the forest under the threat of cancelling the Community Forest Agreement.

A detailed study found that not all of the illegal settlers were actual landless; in fact 54 out of 60 households owned land in other places.

The conflict between the CFUG members, the District Forest Office and the settlers remained unresolved for more than ten years. Because of this conflict the local community had trouble accessing forest resources.

The local CLRC Committee, after feeling empowered, facilitated a discussion between the concerned parties. As a result 54 households moved away. The six families who had no place to move to remained behind. CFUG decided to allow these families to stay on the condition that they would not disturb the ecosystem and would preserve the forest resource. 

The CLRC Committee felt ready to initiate the mediation process after the members received training on conflict transformation through Oxfam’s Community Land Project (CLP). This project is implemented in three VDCs of Bardiya district and one municipality of Kailali district with the support of partner Community Self Relience Centre (CSRC), and aims to protect the land rights of local communities and indigenous people through conflict resolution, strengthening local land governance and developing rules to manage local natural resources.

The CLRC Committees in both districts are presently handling six conflicts related to land and natural resources.

Land is viewed as a constant source of conflict in Nepal with unequal land distribution considered a driving factor behind the decade long civil war. As poor people’s livelihoods depend largely on land resources, the inequality in land ownership and accessibility has been the primary cause of tensions between the marginalised farmers and the elites of Nepal.

With a view of mitigating such tensions and conflicts on land and natural resources, Oxfam initiated its Community Land Rights (CLR) project in Nepal. The project is action research based and primarily focuses on piloting an integrated model. The project aims to strengthen land governance and tenure security in the community level.