Friday, January 29, 2016

32 Social Forestry: strengths and weaknesses. Forest Landscape Restoration in India-III.

Social Forestry and its strengths and weaknesses

Social Forestry (with Farm Forestry) has been supported by the state and central schemes, by externally aided projects, etc., but it has not been given a good reputation by reports that dwell on shortcomings, such as this by Barnes et al. (1982): “Despite these hopeful reasons for social forestry, in practice many programs have been unsuccessful. In some cases, problems have plagued every stage in the reforestation  process from seedling distribution to harvesting trees.”
The public perception of social forestry as a failure has unfortunately been heavily conditioned by scholarly accounts like that of N.C.Saxena (1994) with the pithy title India’s Eucalyptus Craze: the God That Failed. This report of a doctoral study, undertaken by the author in 6 villages of Uttar Pradesh, documents that government-sponsored social forestry resulted mostly in planting by larger land owners, including absentee landlords, rather than the poor; and that the favoured species was eucalyptus, for commercial sale as poles or pulpwood rather than subsistence needs of the poor forest-dependents. The author records that after the initial planting spree during 1980-86, it was subsequently abandoned by the farmers due to a combination of factors, e.g. higher costs than expected, lower prices obtained, especially when there was a pile-up in supplies, problems in marketing due to diseconomies of bulk and grading, transit regulations on wood transport, competition from subsidized raw material supply to paper mills and domestic fuels like kerosene and gas, and so on. Hence the author’s verdict that the programme had failed the farmers.

(A pdf file of the entire article is available at

The forester’s reaction would be along the following lines: these ups and downs are a normal feature of market situations even in respect of horticultural and agricultural products (when tomato prices crash, farmers  in Kolar district of Karnataka are wont to throw tractor-loads onto the highways in dudgeon). In fact farm forestry has expanded remarkably in many regions of India since then, although there are periodic slumps that prompt farm forestry advocates to call for support price operations by government. In western UP (including the separate state of Uttarakhand), Punjab and Haryana, where the first experience was bad, agroforestry and farm forestry are now supporting a major wood industry of over a thousand  plywood and veneer plants in the small-scale sector with timber requirements of around 2.5 million cum (ICFRE, 2012, p.138), based on improved varieties of poplars in addition to eucalyptus, sissoo, acacia species, etc. High-yielding stock has been bred both by industry (e.g. Wimco, leading match manufacturers) and the forest research institute in Dehradun (see Saigal and Kashyap, 2002, for a good account of the farm forestry economy in two regions, the tarai of western UP and coastal Andhra Pradesh).Other states with extensive farm forestry include Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Gujerat. It is estimated by Saigal and Kashyap that around 50% of the wood supply in the country is coming from non-forest sources (op. cit., p.xv).

Social environmentalists generally fault social forestry projects for not having addressed equity and poverty alleviation issues, as the main benefit seems to have been garnered (or, in their view, cornered!) by the better off, especially absentee landowners, as there would be less labour and other inputs required, and the land could be safeguarded relatively easily by the perennial crop. Small and marginal farmers generally would not have much land to spare for tree crops, and agricultural labourers  may also have lost because of reduced labour demand with expansion of tree crops on larger holdings. The criticism is also made that instead of fuelwood and small timber for local needs, the bulk of the plantations were directed to industries (see the evaluation of the Karnataka SF Project, 1984-90, funded by the ODA and the World Bank)[1]. However, to the implementing agency, this would seem to be an unfair judgment, because the farmer is supposed to be free to take his own decisions. Obviously, he will go for the economically most promising crop, a behavior already marked by Gunnar Myrdal in his magnum opus on the south Asian economies (1968, Vol.I, p.441). Equally, he cannot be expected to reduce a high-valued product like timber into a lower-valued one like fuelwood, which in any case is mostly collected rather than bought. Even so, the lops and tops and leaf litter are usually left for collection by the poorer (at least this has been the observation in Karnataka). The wage employment lost due to the perennial tree crop (in comparison with annual food crops) may be compensated to some extent by additional work on tree harvesting, transport, processing, etc. Finally, subsistence goods like fuel and fodder can come from rehabilitation of village common lands and degraded fringe forest areas, which are treated under social forestry and the National Afforestation Programme (NAP), as well as watershed development, desert eradication (drought-prone area) programmes, etc.

The assessment that social forestry was a flawed concept has induced donor agencies to shy away from funding such projects, instead pushing for change in the policy and legal framework to transfer ownership and control over forest resources to the community. In India, agroforestry as a subject has been transferred to the Panc hayati Raj institutions and the central agriculture ministry. Therefore the ministry of environment and forests no longer monitors agroforestry or restoration of non-forest lands, although in the states the forest departments (FDs) are often the implementing agency for raising and distributing seedlings for social and farm forestry, and in past plan periods, have taken up reforestation of both forest and non-forest lands under schemes like Rehabilitation of Degraded Forests (RDF), Drought-Prone Area Programme (DPAP), Area-Oriented Fuel and Fodder Scheme (AOFF), etc.

(A pdf file of the entire article is available at


Barnes, Douglas F., Julia C.Allen, William Ramsay. April 1982. Social Forestry in Developing Nations. (Unpublished). The Centre for Energy  Policy Research. Resources For the Future, Washington, D.C. April 1982. Available at

Government of India. 1976. Report of the National Commission on Agriculture. Part IX, Forestry. Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. New Delhi. Available at

ICFRE. 2012. Forest Sector Report India -2010. (Lead author Devendra Pandey). Published by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun, on behalf of Ministry of Environment  and Forests, Government of India , New Delhi. Available at

Myrdal, Gunnar. 1968. Asian Drama. An Inquiry Into the Poverty of Nations. Twentieth Century Fund, inc. Reprinted in India 1982, 2004, Kalyani Publishers, New Delhi.

ODA. 1990. Karnataka Social Forestry Project (KSFP), India. Evaluation (summary).Overseas Development Agency, UK.  Available at

Saigal, Sushil and Divya Kashyap. 2002. The second green revolution: analysis of farm forestry experience in western Tarai region of Uttar Pradesh and coastal Andhra Pradesh. Sub-study of the India country study of the international collaborative research project; instruments for sustainable private sector forestry. India Country Sub-Study. Ecotech Services (India) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, and International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London. Available at

Saxena, N.C. 1994. India’s Eucalyptus Craze: the God That Failed. Sage Publications, New Delhi.

[1][1] ODA (1990). A summary is available at

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