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Nepal - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Nepal’s biodiversity is a reflection of its unique geographic position, wide altitudinal variations and diverse climatic conditions that result in five main physiographic zones (from tropical to nival) within a short horizontal span. Situated in the central Himalaya, about 86% of the total land area is covered by hills and high mountains, and the remaining 14% comprises the flat lands of the Terai that are less than 300m in elevation. The latest physiographic data indicates that Nepal harbours 29% forest area, 10.6% shrubland and degraded forest, 12% grassland, 21% farmland, 2.6% water body, and 7% of uncultivated inclusions. The country is part of a biodiversity hotspot and lies at a transition zone comprised of six floristic regions. There are six biomes occurring in Nepal, including as many as 35 forest types and 118 ecosystems which have been classified on the basis of altitudinal, climatic variations and vegetation types.

The mountain ecosystem in Nepal comprises a high number of endemic species occurring in subalpine and alpine zones. Nepalese rangelands have high biodiversity and are estimated to cover nearly 12% of the country’s total area, providing habitat for various flowering plants, including endemic species and wildlife as well as globally threatened species. In addition, these grasslands also sustain domestic livestock which is an important source of local livelihoods. About 21% of the total land area of Nepal is used for agriculture. Principal cereal crops grown are paddy (53.6%), maize (23.0%), wheat (19.5%) and millet (3.3%). Likewise, major cash crops include sugarcane (51.3%), potato (45.3%) and oilseed (3.1%). Similarly, horticultural diversity includes over 100 high-yielding varieties of various fruit crops. There is also a great diversity in indigenous livestock breeds in Nepal. The cattle population totals 7.2 million, in addition to 5.1 million buffaloes, 9.5 million goats, among other livestock. The major annual livestock production includes 1.6 Mmt of milk and 0.3 Mmt of meat. 1

The wetlands of Nepal comprise about 2.6% of the country’s area and are rich in biodiversity, supporting habitat for 172 species of plants, 193 species of birds and 185 species of freshwater fishes 2. Wetland sites of international importance show wide disparity in distribution at altitudinal zones. A total of 9 Ramsar sites covering 31,555 ha have been designated and, of these, approximately 68.2% of the wetland sites are located in the Terai, followed by 31.6% in the High Himalaya, whereas the Mid Hills remain poorly represented with less than 1%.

The trend in the conservation paradigm in Nepal has been changing from species conservation to landscape management. The 20 protected areas and 12 buffer zones in the country cover 23.23% of the total area, and are established in different physiographic regions. They belong to different categories, comprising a total of 10 national parks, 3 wildlife reserves, 6 conservation areas, 1 hunting reserve and 12 buffer zones around protected areas 3. The distribution of protected areas in Nepal reveals that highlands in general are well protected in terms of coverage, whereas mid hills are less represented under the protected area system however are well covered under the community-based management regime. There are 27 Important Bird Areas hosting the richest bird species in Asia. Approximately, 286 plant species 4and 160 animal species have been reported as being endemic to Nepal, concentrated at subalpine and alpine zones.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Despite the importance of biodiversity, ecosystems are being reduced at an alarming rate due to forest fire, habitat destruction, growing human population, overharvesting, unmanaged tourism, pollution, overfishing, poaching, indiscriminate product extraction, infrastructure expansion, climate change, etc.

Primary threats to biodiversity in the mountains and high Himalayas include poverty, ecological fragility and environmental instability, inappropriate management of natural resources and faulty farming practices. Rangeland ecosystems are under high grazing pressure and on the verge of depletion of palatable species, especially the legume components. Agro-biodiversity is in a state of depletion which is primarily due to the destruction of natural habitat, overgrazing, land fragmentation, commercialization of agriculture, indiscriminate use of pesticides and the extension of hybrid varieties. The wetland ecosystem is under threat from encroachment, unsustainable harvest of wetland resources (overfishing and indiscriminate use of poison and dynamite), industrial pollution, agricultural run-off, siltation and from the introduction of exotic and invasive species into wetland ecosystems. Threats to the ecosystem include habitat loss and deforestation, fire, poaching and illegal timber harvesting. Likewise, the threats to species include over-exploitation, alien species and climate change. Similarly, the loss of local landraces, loss of genetic variability, increased vulnerability to pests and diseases have threatened diversity at the genetic level. Weaknesses, gaps, difficulties and other problems concerning biodiversity conservation in Nepal are attributed to socio-economic causes (poverty and population growth), natural causes (landslides, flood, drought), and anthropogenic causes (pollution, fire, over-grazing, introduction of alien species, illegal trade, hunting).

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The Nepal Biodiversity Strategy Implementation Plan (2006-2010), developed in 2006, identifies 13 priority concept projects to be implemented by relevant executing agencies (mostly national) in consultation with the concerned stakeholders. The objectives of the Nepal Biodiversity Strategy Implementation Plan set for the period of 2006-2010 were to: 1) conserve biodiversity of Nepal within and outside protected areas 2) identify, develop and establish legislative, policy and strategic measures necessary to conserve, sustainably utilise and provide access to and share the benefits of Nepal’s biological resources 3) conserve endangered species of wildlife 4) develop legislation, sub-sectoral policies and strategic measures 5) develop sustainable eco-friendly rural tourism 6) domesticate non-timber forest product and explore marketing opportunities for poverty reduction. A thirteen-member Coordination Committee was formed under the chair of the Honourable Minister of Forests and Soil Conservation with representatives from key government ministries, private sector, user groups, civil society, academic institutions and major donors. Five thematic sub-committees (forest, agriculture, sustainable use, genetic resources and bio-security) were also formed to adequately address the issues of different themes related to biodiversity.

Implementation of the Strategy and Plan has improved the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity by updating and exposing the current state of knowledge, sensitising stakeholders involved in biodiversity conservation, identifying important policy and planning gaps, raising awareness, focusing on priority implementation projects, and providing a framework for the National Biodiversity Coordination Committee through which planning, implementation and the sharing of best practices can take place efficiently and effectively. However, despite some successes, there are considerable gaps in implementation which have led to significant delays in successfully accomplishing the objectives of the Nepal Biodiversity Strategy Implementation Plan.

Nepal is currently in the process of revising its NBSAP and preparing its fifth national report, with the intention to also develop national targets and indicators and integrate the implementation of the NBSAP into the National Development Plan.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Nepal has established an impressive system of protected areas for the conservation of biodiversity, focusing on species, ecosystems, habitats and biomes. Initiatives from the Government, NGOs and community-based organizations have led to the formation of Forest User Groups for in situ conservation of biodiversity. Therefore, community involvement, buffer zones, leasehold for the poor and private forest programmes have been highly encouraged and implemented throughout the country. So far, over 1.93 million ha of forest are managed under a community-based regime, benefitting over 2.56 million households. Through the revised National Wetland Policy (2013), wetland resources are managed wisely and sustainably with the participation of the local people, including women. A total of 27 Important Bird Areas and 54 Important Plant Areas have been provisionally identified. The Government has imposed restrictions on the export of 12 plant species and one forest product under the Forest Act (1993). Similarly, 27 mammal species, 9 bird species, and 3 reptile species have been given legal protection under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (1973). The population status of rhinoceros (534), blackbuck (271), crocodile (102), tiger (176), and musk deer have been maintained through effective habitat management and a species-specific conservation action plan 5.

Several measures to conserve the genetic diversity of crops and livestock are being undertaken under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture Development. In situ conservation of crop genetic resources has been jointly initiated by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity Research and Development and Bioversity International. More than 180 tree species are conserved in situ in farmland and seed stands and gene conservation areas are maintained for 3 tree species. The Department of Livestock Services and the National Animal Science Research Institute have jointly identified 25 local livestock breeds. Research has been conducted at phenotypic, chromosome and DNA levels and this process will be continued in regard to other breeds of animals. Moreover, the Genetic Resource Initiative project provided technical inputs for the development of a sui generis system for Plant Variety Protection and Intellectual Property Rights. To avoid or minimize the potential adverse effects that may occur during the movement, transport and use of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs), and to contribute to poverty alleviation though the development and application of biotechnology, the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation has framed and approved the National Biosafety Framework (2007). A general list of 166 invasive alien species of Nepal and documentation profiles of the 21 most troublesome plant species have been prepared. The publication of 2 out of 10 volumes of Flora of Nepal was targeted for 2010 under the Darwin Initiative (to date, Volume III covering 21 families from Magnoliaceae to Rosaceae, including 600 species, has been published and another publication is underway). In addition, 64 reports have been published that comprise regional and local flora, as well as fascicles related to particular families.

Monitoring of air quality has begun in the city of Kathmandu. At present, there are six monitoring stations, with information being made available to the public in regard to the level of air pollutants.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

A wide array of biodiversity conservation policies, plans and legislative instruments have been formulated and promulgated, providing opportunities to maintain habitats, and/or reduce the population decline of important species. Nepal has signed more than 20 international agreements and obligations, translating many of them into national policies and acts. For instance, the National Agro-biodiversity Policy (2007) addresses the conservation, promotion and utilisation of agro-genetic resources and the rights of the community and state over them. The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (1973) and regulations, such as the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Regulation (1974), Chitwan National Park Regulation (1974), Himali National Park Regulation (1980), Conservation Area Management Regulation (1996), and Buffer Zones Management Regulation (1996), provide opportunities to conserve biodiversity in the protected areas system. Similarly, the Forest Act (1993) and Forest Regulation (1995) are playing a crucial role in conserving biodiversity beyond the protected areas system at the ecosystem, species and genetic levels.

The Environment Protection Act (1996) has provision to mobilise environmental inspectors for the inspection and monitoring of pollutants and control of pollution. In addition, the Tenth Plan (2002-2007) and Interim Plan (2008-2010) have policy to implement the “Polluter Pays Principle” and introduce a pollution fee. The Government of Nepal has implemented the generic standards for the tolerance limit for industrial (waste water) effluents discharged to inland surface water and public sewers and industry-specific standards (regarding leather, wool processing, fermentation, vegetables ghee and oil, paper and pulp, dairy sugar, cotton textile, soap industries). Effective implementation of these standards will assist in reducing the effects of pollution on biodiversity. The Environment Protection Act (1996) and its Regulation (1997) also oblige the proponent to undertake environment assessment before the implementation of any prescribed project in the buffer zones and conservation areas.

Biodiversity and environment conservation have been integrated into cross-sectoral plans of the Government (e.g. local development plans and programmes, environment assessment and review, environment management plans of infrastructure development projects, Water Resources Strategy, Millennium Development Goals, Poverty Alleviation Fund). Biodiversity conservation programmes are also covered by the media and communication sectors. For instance, the Postal Service Department has been publishing postage stamps related to flora and fauna to raise awareness among the people and communicate biodiversity conservation to the global community. Activities have also been initiated to document and protect traditional knowledge, skills, techniques and practices in collaboration with international and national NGOs. Recently, a country report entitled Forest Genetic Resources of Nepal has been prepared, as a part of the Report on the State of World Forest Genetic Resources, demonstrating national commitment toward the implementation of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, with its five departments (Forest, National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Plant Resources, Forest Research and Survey, Soil Conservation and Watershed Management) and two divisions (Environment and Monitoring and Evaluation) are primarily responsible for project implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Several programmes and projects have been implemented to monitor major animal species in collaboration with partner organisations, in particular the international NGOs, and to restore and maintain habitats within and outside protected areas. Protected animals of Nepal are also being monitored by means of census-taking. A recent census indicates that the tiger’s population in Nepal has been maintained at 176. However, there is an urgent need to update the lists of other protected and threatened species with information about their respective status and distribution range.

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  • United Nations Environment Programme