Expanding social forestry

Expanding participatory forest activities
Planting village woodlots
Using community silviculture
Promoting community forestry
There is a growing appreciation of the importance of trees to rural people in developing countries. Several terms have been used to describe aspects of this relationship, including social forestry, agroforestry, and forestry for local community development. Each term denotes a connection between people and trees. Forestry has a social context; trees and food production systems are intimately linked and forestry activities should be an integral part of development, contributing to the satisfaction of basic material needs, ensuring environmental stability, and the attaining of other progressive goals. Many of these ideas about the role of forestry in rural development are not new. However, what is different is the emphasis placed on the participation of communities, households, and individuals in planting and managing trees.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends promoting/popularizing non-wood forest products and other forms of forest resources, apart from fuelwood ( [eg] medicinal plants, dyes, fibres, gums, resins, fodder, cultural products, rattan, bamboo) through programmes and social forestry/participatory forest activities, including research on their processing and use.

Agroforestry is an old and widespread tradition. The use of trees to increase agricultural productivity and to enrich the soil is an ancient practice. Trees are often used for fodder, windbreaks, boundaries, etc. Trees also provide cash crops (coconuts, rubber, gum arabic, commercial firewood, etc.).

In 1976, the India Social Forestry program was formally adopted by the Commission on Agriculture to service a target population of the landless poor, marginal farmers and agricultural laborers. The program was designed to engage communities in establishing forest farms to meet their fuel, fodder and small timber needs. The Government of India identified 175 million acres as "wastelands", degraded by deforestation and overgrazing, that would be used for the program. A National Wasteland Development Board was established as the lead organization to assist communities in establishing three kinds of forestry programs, 1) strip plantations along roadsides and embankments for fast growing species such as eucalyptus, 2) plantation forestry to be established alongside of field boundaries, 3) and community forestry, utilizing common lands for mixed species planting.

Constraints to tree planting in developing nations include: (1) some farmers believe that trees harbour insects or harmful birds; (2) in other localities, a shortage of trees is not yet apparent; (3) communal ownership of land may make people reluctant to take responsibility for trees; (4) in semiarid areas (where trees might do the most good), trees are hardest to plant and care for. In Nepal, slow progress in social forestry has arisen because of the tendency of bureaucrats to assume that there is a vacuum of knowledge and institutional capacity in rural communities, to give over-emphasis to committees as a form of organization, and over-emphasis on panchayats in organizing community forestry.

A World Bank study looked at policy options and operational strategies for improving social forestry programmes. The analysis of the types of social forestry approaches called 'community' forestry or 'village' woodlots reveals that many forestry programmes intended genuinely to be participatory are formulated in fuzzy terms, are not designed around well identified social actors, and neglect to ensure clear benefit distribution arrangements and incentives. Their confused sociological conceptualization and lack of sound social engineering renders the investments in such programmes much less effective than they could be. The study concluded that participatory social forestry strategies must aim at engaging the rural users of fuelwood into organized activities for producing and managing forests. The profound behavioural change to be elicited on a gigantic mass scale among farmers through social forestry strategies is an evolutionary shift from simple foraging and gathering fuelwood in naturally grown forests to cultivation trees for fuelwood -- trees and forests are to be systematically produced.

Tree planting practices were investigated on a total of 95 homesteads in two communities in rural Swaziland. Information was also collected on socioeconomic characteristics of the homesteads. In both the study areas, Sigombeni and Bhekinkhosi, there was considerable variation amongst individual homesteads in size, relative wealth (as indicated by cattle and motor vehicle ownership), and amount and types of trees planted. Eighty-five percent of all homesteads in Signombeni and 73 percent in Bhekinkhosi had planted at least one tree. Common forms of planting included small woodlots, fruit trees, and ornamentals. Virtually all the woodlots consisted of two introduced wattle species ( [Acacia mearnsii] and [A. decurrens]). The most commonly planted fruit trees were avocados, bananas, and peaches. No complex or labour-intensive agroforestry practices (such as maize/leucaena intercropping) were observed. There was some evidence that the poorest and newest homesteads were the least likely to have planted woodlots. The results indicate that forestry research and extension efforts should take into account homestead characteristics, and strive to offer a range of tree planting options that vary in input requirements, labour needs, and complexity.

The Haiti Agroforestry Outreach Project, designed and primarily funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), provides tree seedlings to peasants to plant on their farms. The Agroforestry Outreach Project (APO) is implemented entirely through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with the participation of private voluntary organizations (PVOs) and farmers.

Deforestation is a severe economic and environmental problem in Mexico, as elsewhere in the world. A study was made of the responses to this issue by two communities located in different ecological zones in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. One community, Huitzo, in the valley of Oaxaca, has suffered much deforestation due to commercial and domestic uses as well as fire. Through local effort the community has begun a reforestation project to combat erosion and reduced water tables. The other community, Yavesia, in the northern mountains, still has a large virgin forest, due principally to the community's refusal to sell wood to paper companies. To further protect their resources, a local women's group has initiated the installation of wood-efficient clay stoves.

Experience with different forestry extension methods in the Sudan, demonstrates demonstrates that people's participation in the design and administration of forestry projects is an important component of project success. Moreover, the most remote, poorest communities tend to have the greatest resources of organisation and enthusiasm to bring to forestry, and produces the best results when given maximum responsibility for project development and management. This is contrary to the way in which most social forestry is performed, in which poorer people have less direct access to and control over project planning and facilities.

The Forestry Planning and Development Project is Pakistan's first nation-wide social forestry project. The operational component of this project, intended to assist small farmers to cultivate trees on their farmlands, ran into immediate difficulties. Many of the foresters involved insisted that small farmers were simply not interested in tree cultivation. A comprehensive base-line study subsequently was carried out to examine the validity of this belief. The results of this study (confirmed by the subsequent experience with the project in the field) varied markedly from the foresters' beliefs. While many of the foresters believed small farmers were opposed to having trees on their farms and would not agree to plant trees under the project, most farmers already had trees on their farms and expressed interest in planting more; while many foresters believed farmers would only be interested in planting large blocks of market-oriented exotics, most farmers requested small plantings of multi-purpose native trees; while many foresters believed farmers would plant trees only for market sale, most farmers requested trees to meet household needs for fuel and timber; and while many foresters did not think that increasing supplies of fuelwood could reduce the burning of dung, all of the evidence provided by the farmers suggested that it would. The disparity between farmer reality and forester belief is attributed to failures on the part of both foresters and social scientists -- failure by foresters to distinguish their non-empirical beliefs about farmers from their empirically-based knowledge of trees, and failure by social scientists to recognize the belief systems of foresters as a legitimate and important object of study.

1. Participatory forestry interventions need to be based on a clear understanding of indigenous tree use and management systems. Such systems for a valuable foundation from which effective afforestation efforts can be launched.

2. One of the most productive (and most neglected) uses of social science research in forestry development projects is to examine foresters' beliefs regarding rural peoples.


Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 15: Life on Land