Staff Spotlight: Netra Sharma

USAID Mission Nepal

As a young boy playing in the forests and rivers near his small remote village in Western Nepal, Netra Sharma developed a strong connection to nature.

Growing up in a rural farming community with limited resources, he learned the value of forests from his family, many of whom belonged to local community forestry (CF) user groups responsible for managing the forest close to his village. Netra participated in active forest management activities (planting, thinning, pruning, etc.) from a young age. As he continued to engage in activities like controlling cattle grazing, caring for the trees, and protecting vital water sources, Netra became determined to support the sustainable conservation of the forests on which his family depended. He is very thankful to his mother, now in her late 80s, for involving him in CF conservation activities during weekends, and summer and winter vacations.

As a Natural Resources Management and Climate Change Programs Specialist for the USAID Mission in Nepal, Netra has designed and managed a number of natural resources management programs, including USAID’s Hariyo Ban Phase I and Phase II activities for the last ten years. With dual-bachelor degrees in Environmental Law and Economics, a Master’s degree in Rural Sociology with a thesis on community forestry, and over two decades of experience on designing, implementing, monitoring, and reporting development programs related with natural resources governance and biodiversity conservation, Netra serves as a trusted intermediary between the United States and Nepalese Governments, and the local communities. He understands the importance of balancing U.S. and Nepalese Government conditions with local community concerns and providing capacity-building support and livelihood opportunities to local people for effective conservation activities. For example, Netra supported USAID’s Hariyo Ban effort to reduce harmful slash and burn agriculture in the Tanahun district by suggesting that local communities try broom grass plantations instead. These grasses, while contributing to environmental rehabilitation of the area through better soil erosion control, increased water retention, and healthier landscapes. The grass was also made into brooms that were then sold by the farmers, increasing their income. He also encouraged USAID’s Hariyo Ban partners to introduce conservation friendly enterprises such as selling honey, promoting eco-tourism, selling juice made from Aegle marmelos (Stone apple), growing cardamom, coffee, and nettle powder, all of which are improving livelihoods of poor, forest dependent people.

Netra is particularly proud of the increasing support for community forestry user groups, which transfer management of the forests from the government to local communities. These local community groups traditionally controlled the forests until the forests were nationalized in the 1950s. For the last 20 years, this community forestry approach has led to an increase in the forested area in Nepal from 39% to 45%, contributing to biodiversity conservation, forest and watershed management, livelihood improvement, gender and social inclusion, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. During the 2017 elections, around 2,000 community forestry members were elected to various Government authorities, about 45% of whom were women. The community forest user groups started to be referred to as the “Primary Schools of democratic local governance in Nepal.”

With sustained commitment, dedication, and the leadership of Netra, USAID’s Hariyo Ban activity has achieved significant progress. For example, Nepal has witnessed a sustained growth in key threatened wildlife species. The country has seen a 94% increase in tiger population from 121 tigers in 2009 and 2010 to 235 in 2018 and a 40% increase in rhino population from 534 rhinos in 2011 to 752 in 2021. Nepal also celebrated having seven one-year periods of zero rhino poaching between 2011and 2020. These accomplishments can be attributed to improved management of thousands of hectares of wildlife habitats and connectivity areas; formation and mobilization of over 400 community-based anti-poaching groups; strengthened coordination and communication among law enforcement agencies under a network of wildlife crime control bureaus at strategic wildlife trade routes; and promotion of better coordination, collaboration, and benefits sharing between parks and local communities.

In addition, USAID’s Hariyo Ban program supported the official designation of the Chitwan-Annapurna Landscape as the first “north-south conservation landscape of Nepal” along the Gandaki river basin and the designation of the nine lake cluster of Pokhara valley as the “youngest and largest Ramsar site of Nepal.” The Gandaki provincial government has established a separate “Lake Conservation and Development Authority'' under the Provincial Act and started allocating regular budgets for its conservation and management. The program reached over 450,000 people, most of them women and poor and marginalized ethic community members, with climate change adaptation and green enterprise-related benefits such as rain water harvesting, landslide and river bank protection, green enterprises, and drought and flood tolerant agriculture.

Netra is personally committed to promoting the community-based conservation approaches. He believes by educating local people in managing and governing their resources, they learn how to ensure inclusive participation of their households in resource management, transparently elect their leaders for executive committee positions, equitably distribute the resources they rely on, and reasonably resolve any conflicts that may arise. Now, Netra says, around 22,400 local community groups, representing over 50% of the rural population, effectively manage over 35% of the forested area in Nepal.

“Instead of looking at community people around the forests and National Parks as a type of problem creator, we need to consider them as partners, managers, and contributors,” Netra says. “We need to work out better solutions together.”