4.6 Farm trees: contributions to household food security

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4.6.1 Home gardens: intensive tree management
4.6.2 Trees as cash crops: the case of farm woodlots
4.6.3 Management of forest fallows
4.6.4 Farmers' incentives for tree growing
4.6.5 Tree cash crops and household food security
4.6.6 Trees as a form of insurance

Farm trees provide many of the food security benefits associated with forests: providing foods, fuel for cooking and food processing, fodder and marketable products, as well as some of the "environmental" services to food crop production discussed in Chapter 2. At the same time tree cultivation draws on the resources of the farm household and imposes costs of various kinds.

In the previous chapter ("Forestry and food production") the discussion focused on the physical linkages between trees and food crop production describing how trees are or could be integrated in farm systems to increase food production. This section explores the socio-economic conditions in which tree growing can benefit household food security highlighting the linkages between trees and the farm economy, the factors involved in farmer decisions for or against tree growing, and the impact of tree cash crops on household food security.

There are many factors which determine the need and possibilities for tree growing. Farmers have historically protected, planted and managed trees on their lands in order to maintain supplies of products no longer available from natural forests. In addition, trees may be retained to maintain soil productivity, or are grown on sites unsuitable for food crops.

The advantages or disadvantages of tree growing are also determined by economic factors such as the availability of land, labour and capital; subsistence needs and market opportunities. Tree growing is also influenced by cultural factors: e.g. land tenure, attitudes towards communal forest management, and status symbols.

The following discussion examines farming systems where trees are major components in order to identify both the contributions trees make to household food security and the economic considerations that encourage farmers to adopt them.

4.6.1 Home gardens: intensive tree management

Among traditional tree growing practices, home gardens are one of the systems that have been studied in most detail (see section 3.2.1)- In Java, home gardens are prominent features of traditional farming systems, especially in regions of high population density and decreasing availability of crop lands. With growing population pressure, the proportion of land under home gardens has been increasing, in some cases to up to 75 percent of the cultivated land area (Stoler, 1978). Access to rice land has meanwhile declined, and a large proportion of farmers now have no rice land, or not enough to produce their basic requirements.

As a result, home gardens are cultivated more intensively, with more annual crops being introduced to provide additional food and income. Labour inputs increase; the labour inputs in small gardens are reported to be on average three times higher than in larger gardens (Soemarwoto and Soemarwoto, 1984).

Another way of intensifying the use of home gardens is to increase the value added from home garden produce. For example, some of the poorest farmers have shifted from producing just fruit from their coconut trees to producing coconut sugar, a highly labour intensive process which, though yielding only low returns to labour, increases returns to coconut bearing land ( Penny and Singarimbun, 1973).


As land holding size continues to decline, income is increasingly sought from off-farm employment. At this stage, trees and other perennials requiring only low labour inputs come to form the main components of the gardens allowing farmers to cultivate their land while seeking off farm work (Stoler, 1978).

Similar trends have been observed elsewhere. In southeast Nigeria, for example, farms typically comprise a mixture of fallow, outer and inner fields and permanently cultivated compounds around the household. These compounds contain a variety of tree species, including oil palm, raffia palms, coconut, banana and plantains intercropped with cassava, yams and other arable crops.

As pressures on the land heighten, the proportion of land under compound systems increases, as does the density of both tree and arable crop cultivation within the compound areas. Compared to the fields, yields in monetary terms from compounds are five to ten times as much per hectare, and returns to labour four to eight times higher. With increasing population density, compound areas account for up to 59 percent of crop output and a growing proportion of total farm income. Livestock also become an increasingly important part of the compound system, providing food, income and manure. As population density continues to increase, however, yields and returns to labour eventually decline to the point at which farmers have to turn to non-farm sources of income (Lagemann, 1977).

The overall picture, as in Java, is one of farmers responding to decreasing land availability by moving to greater dependence on agroforestry systems. Initially this is because these permit more efficient land use and higher returns from labour than alternative land uses. When pressures on the land increase further, to the point where income has to be generated mainly from off-farm employment, the strategy changes. Agroforestry systems are retained, but in a modified form which allows management and labour inputs to be reduced.

4.6.2 Trees as cash crops: the case of farm woodlots

In several countries, farmers have taken up growing trees as a cash crop on land that was previously used for agriculture. Their motivation has been the prospect of earning greater income compared with other uses of the land. Growing trees as cash crops is particularly important for poor farmers. In many cases their resources are too limited for them to meet their basic food needs through crop production, and they are forced to income earning off the farm. In these situations where farmers have little time for crop production low input tree crops may provide the best way of keeping land in use. In addition, trees provide a measure of insurance: they can be harvested in times of emergency cash needs. For poorer farmers, the reduction of risk may be an important consideration.

There has been a recent expansion of tree growing as a cash crop in parts of Kenya (World Bank, 1986). The main species grown are eucalyptus, which is used for poles, and black wattle, which is sold for poles, charcoal, fuelwood and sticks for "mud-and-wattle" construction. Markets for these products as well as for pulpwood and saw timber in some places - are growing strongly, with farm level production accounting for a large part of the supply.

In these regions, tree growing tends to be practiced by poor farmers unable to meet their basic food needs from on-farm production. For some it has become their a principal source of farm income. In parts of Kakamega District, where average farm size is only 0.6 hectares, as much as 25 percent of the land has been planted with eucalypt woodlots (van Gelder and Kerkhof, 1984).

What is surprising at first sight is that gross income per hectare from tree growing is considerably lower than from agricultural crops. Other factors, however, are involved. Alternative crops often require substantial investments, at levels which many farmers cannot afford; trees, by contrast, require very little. Tree cultivation also requires less labour. Here, this is particularly important as widespread outmigration of men seeking off-farm employment has caused a shortage of household labour. In areas where markets for tree products are good, returns to labour from pole production have been estimated to be some 50 percent greater than from maize production (World Bank, 1986). This example illustrates that tree growing is a rational use of resources for poor farmers who need to devote a substantial amount of their time to non farm employment.

Trees are also successfully grown as cash crops by hill farmers in Haiti. In this case there was already a well established market for woodfuel and poles, and a strong cash crop tradition. Most farmers also owned their land. It was hoped that incorporating trees on their farms would also help them control the serious erosion problems they were experiencing.

Since 1982 approximately 110,000 farmers have planted more than 25 million seedlings. Patterns of planting vary considerably from farmer to farmer, but increasingly they have moved from species suited only to fuelwood and poles production to multi-purpose species, and to intercropping trees with agricultural crops such as maize, sorghum and beans.


Surveys of participating farmers indicate that they perceive the increased income earning potential as being the main benefit of mixed tree/crop systems. They are also influenced by other motives. Many plan to use their trees as a form of savings and value the fact that they can draw upon such savings by harvesting the trees at a time of their choice. In an area subject to drought, trees are seen as being less susceptible than crops to failure, thus reducing uncertainty. With 81% of those interviewed having to employ agricultural labour, and constrained by lack of cash in doing so, tree cropping is attractive as a lower cost use of land. Growing of trees may thus enable poor farmers to increase the amount of land they are able to work (Conway, 1987).

Perhaps the best known case of cash crop tree growing is in India, where large numbers of farmers have adopted tree growing as an alternative to agricultural crops. Studies of the motives behind farmer decisions have been made in a number of States (Skutsch, 1987; Arnold et al, 1988; Tushaar Shah, 1987). In all cases tree growing is occurring where there are strong and expanding markets for poles, pulpwood or other wood products. The main reasons farmers give for switching to trees are as follows:

* the lower labour inputs needed with trees, which reduces the cost of hired labour and the problems of labour management;
* the minimal annual operating costs once the trees are established;
* the lower water requirements once trees are established and their greater resistance to drought, which reduces the risk of crop failure;
* the fact that trees provide a way of accumulating a low-risk capital asset.

For these Indian farmers, many of whom - though not all - are large farmers, growing trees as a cash crop offers a number of advantages. From their point of view, switching to tree growing may increase their income and therefore indirectly improves their food security position. The effect on landless families in the same area, however, may not be so advantageous. Concern has been expressed that cash crop tree growing is harming the poorer members of the community by reducing the work available for agricultural labourers. In practice, reliable data on employment effects is hard to find. Extra employment from wood processing activities may make up for at least some of the jobs lost on the farm. But if the net effect is that substantial job losses are occurring, then the income and food security position of wealthier farmers may be improving at the expense of poorer groups.

4.6.3 Management of forest fallows

The previous two examples of farm tree management, home gardens and fuelwood lots, help to illustrate some of the economic factors which influence a farmer's management options. These are systems in which trees are intensively managed often in response to high pressures on farmer's land or labour resources.

Shifting cultivation, and other farming systems dependent on a forest fallow, also evolve in response to increased pressure on resources. In its traditional form, shifting cultivation (swidden agriculture) is a highly efficient use of farmer resources. Family labour is the main resource available to the shifting cultivator. Where there is sufficient land to support fallow, no other farming practice will produce a higher return to labour without inputs of capital. The fallow vegetation maintains soil productivity, and the process of clearing and burning provides conditions for crop cultivation requiring minimal inputs for soil preparation and weeding. Though cultivation periods could be extended by increased weeding, it is easier to clear and burn a new area. Similarly, yields per hectare could be increased by more intensive cultivation, but at the expense of lower output per unit of labour. As long as they can satisfy their production objectives through less labour-intensive methods, farmers will logically stick to them (Rambo, 1984; Raintree and Warner, 1986).

As access to land declines, so too does the sustainability of traditional methods, farmers eventually start to intensify agricultural practices (Olofson, 1983; Raintree and Warner, 1986). These are usually small incremental changes involving increased inputs of labour, and sometimes of capital - in the form of fertiliser or herbicides. In some instances the evolution away from shifting cultivation may move away from tree cultivation altogether, but it can include tree management.

A widespread practice at an early stage in this process is to enrich the fallow by encouraging or planting tree species which either accelerate the regeneration of soil fertility or produce outputs of subsistence or commercial value. The cultivation of Acacia senegal as a fallow crop in Sudan is an example of a species that does both; it is leguminous and it produces gum arabic for sale, and fuelwood, fibre and other products for use in the household. Other examples include the management of the Babassu palm for both commercial and subsistence products in conjunction with shifting cultivation over large areas of Northeastern Brazil (May et al, 1985a), and the planting of rattan as a commercial crop in the swidden cycle in Borneo (Weinstock, 1983).

As pressures on land force the transition towards continuous cultivation, various forms of intercropping may be adopted. By incorporating soil enriching species with food crops, these practices reproduce the functions of fallow. Numerous examples of such continuous fallow strategies are to be found, such as the maintenance of Acacia albida in cultivated areas of the Sahel.

The intercropping of Sesbania sesban with maize in parts of Western Kenya is another interesting example. When the maize is shaded out after about three years the Sesbania is left as a fallow crop for one to two years, and then cleared and used for fuelwood. The cycle is then repeated. Over a ten year cycle it is estimated that maize production per hectare is less than half the monocropped maize yield. The advantage is, however, that it requires less than half as much labour and gives higher maize yields per unit of labour input - in addition to the fuelwood and soil protection benefits it provides (World Bank, 1986). In this situation labour is the constraining factor for food production-thus once again farmers are responding to interrelationships between resource availability and production goals.

These examples from three quite different farming systems serve to illustrate the complex nature of the decision-making process for a farmer. The availability of resources - in particular, land, labour and capital - have a crucial bearing on what management strategy will be the most effective and what role trees can most usefully play. Market opportunities for farm products, and the availability of off-farm employment also have an important influence.

4.6.4 Farmers' incentives for tree growing

It is clear that trees are grown by farmers for many different reasons. Farm trees can contribute significantly to household food security: providing foods, agricultural inputs, soil fertility and a source of cash income. An understanding of how and when trees can best be exploited by farmers is essential for forestry programmes geared to improving household food security.

Comparing tree growing practices in different parts of the world it is apparent that trees are often most prominent in situations where labour, capital and physical resources are limited. In such situations, trees can play one or more of the following overlapping roles:

* trees can help maintain productivity of land in situations of scarce capital, and can substitute to some extent for purchased inputs of fertiliser and herbicides and investment in soil and crop protection;

* in situations where capital and labour is scarce, trees because of their low input and management requirements may be the most effective use of these resources;

* trees may provide the best income earning opportunities when the size of landholdings or the productivity of land falls below the level at which the household's basic food needs can be met from on-farm production of food;

* trees may enable farmers to spread their risk by diversifying their farm outputs, evening out the seasonal spread of inputs and outputs, and building up a stock of capital in the form of mature trees that can be harvested and sold for cash during emergencies.

4.6.5 Tree cash crops and household food security

In principle, an increase in a household's income should improve their access to food. In practice, however, the shift from subsistence to cash crop production has in some cases lead to reduced household food security, with adverse affects on both the stability and quality of food supplies and the nutritional well-being of children. Increased food prices, loss of employment opportunities, vulnerability to fluctuations in cash crop prices, fluctuations in the availability and prices of marketed foods, and the reduced control that women have over household resources are some of the factors that have been identified as contributing to this (Longhurst, 1987).

Potentially, therefore, tree crops could have a negative impact on household food security. Tree growing can transfer land from food crop production with a loss of employment; tree promotion services are concentrated on male farmers, often there is only one marketable product with few market outlets; and trees take several years to mature.

In practice many of these potential negative impacts are offset by other features of tree growing. As was noted earlier, the transfer of land from food to cash crops is often in response to changing conditions which make food crop cultivation impracticable (e.g. increasing scarcity of land or labour). Tree growing can provide farmers a means of keeping their land in productive use with minimum labour inputs.

The impact of tree growing on household food security depends on the types of trees grown and the way they are managed. If land previously used by women to grow subsistence food crops is converted to eucalyptus pole plantations controlled by their husbands, then trees may have a variety of detrimental effects on family food security. On the other hand, most farm tree species provide products such as fodder, food, fuelwood, mulch, shade and soil protection in addition to generating cash income.

There is a danger, however, that forestry programmes which encourage tree planting on farms could induce farmers for whom it is not appropriate to shift to tree monocrops. Cash incentives and a concentration on a few species familiar to foresters but unsuited to household needs could have a negative impact on a household's food security. These dangers may be exasperated by the pressures to achieve the ambitious targets that are a feature of many large "farm forestry" programmes.

4.6.6 Trees as a form of insurance

Vulnerability to Emergencies and other contingencies, and the inability to provide for them, are important and often neglected aspects of poverty. Emergencies such as sickness of a family member or loss of assets through theft, fire or flood are by their nature unpredictable. Large periodic expenses such as weddings are more easily foreseen. In either case they can present a major drain on a family's resources, requiring assets to be sold or mortgaged, or cash to be borrowed - often at exorbitant interest rates. For a family that is poor already, such events can push them further into poverty, seriously undermining their ability to obtain food and other basic necessities.

Trees can provide a useful way of coping with contingencies. In many parts of the world they are used as a form of savings that can be drawn upon to meet such needs. In some cases they are deliberately planted with this in mind, to be cut for timber or fuelwood when large cash needs arise.

As a form of savings, trees have a number of advantages. They require very little investment of capital, unlike other methods of savings such as livestock or paddy land. Under favourable growing conditions, their value appreciates and they are not too susceptible to inflation. They can be harvested when needed, and in the amount required - and some trees coppice when cut, so that the investment will re-establish itself for minimal extra cost.

Growing trees, of course, is not without risk. They have to be protected from damage by animals and fire. Marketing may also pose problems, especially for poor farmers with only small amounts to sell. In some cases, rights of tree ownership are ambiguous, or farmers may have to go through a lengthy process to get permission to cut trees. Trees, therefore, may not be an ideal form of savings, nor one which is open to everyone. But for many rural families, it represents a cheap and practical way of providing for contingencies (Chambers and Leach, 1987).

Trees as a form of insurance


4.7 Land tenure and food security

4.7.1 Distribution of land-holdings
4.7.2 Ownership of trees

Underlying many aspects of forestry and food security is the question of land tenure. Who owns land - and who controls it has a crucial bearing on who can benefit from crop lands, trees and forests, and who cannot.

4.7.1 Distribution of land-holdings

Because control of land is such an important and sensitive issue, obtaining information on its ownership is seldom an easy task (Chambers, 1983). Although accurate data may be hard to obtain, the general pattern of land holding in most Third World countries is clear. With a few notable exceptions, the distribution of land is highly unequal. The available figures vary from country to country, but it is not uncommon for less than 10 percent of the landholders to control more than 40 percent of the total arable land. In some countries, particularly in Latin America and Asia, the concentration of land in the hands of the rich is far greater.

Gradations of poverty exist even in the poorest of communities, where families with small plots of land are substantially better off than those with little or none (Castro et al, 1981). Many households lack even permanent rights to the lot on which their house stands (Herring, 1983).

4.7.2 Ownership of trees

It is important to distinguish, however, between land tenure and tree tenure, since the two are often different. In many cases, ownership of land does not grant automatic rights to the trees growing upon it. (Fortmann and Riddell, 1984).

Large timber trees in Central Kenya, for example, are often regarded as the property of extended kinship groups even though they might be situated on essentially privately-held land (Castro, 1983). in Papua New Guinea it has been noted that an individual can obtain a proprietary interest in trees of economic importance such as coffee, pandanus nut, and highland betel nut, by planting them, or by inheritance or gift. Having such an interest does not in itself confer rights to the ground below the trees. Thus., one may receive as a gift a grove of pandanus trees, but the land upon which they grow remains the property of the grantor or his kin group (Grossman, 1984).

In other instances, tree growing instills the rights to the land on which they grow (a common practice throughout humid West Africa). For this reason few farmers are allowed to plant trees on the lands they farm which often ''belongs" to Chiefs or extended kinship groups (Gastellu 1980 in Falconer, 1989b).

Rights to woodland are also sometimes defined differently from those governing access to farmland (Fortmann and Riddell, 1984).

Even in areas where farmland is normally private, woodland may remain under the jurisdiction of communities or other local groups. In Nepal, measures have recently been introduced to return areas of forest that were previously nationalised to village control.

In some countries, such as the Dominican Republic and Honduras, the ownership of all the trees in the country is officially vested in the State. There are penalties for cutting trees without permission, even those standing on a farmer's own land. Although designed to protect trees, this kind of legislation often has the opposite effect and discourages farmers from taking the initiative and planting trees themselves (Murray, 1981).

Finally, it should be noted that the rights to exploit different forest or tree products (whether on farmlands or in forests) often vary from those associated with tree ownership. For example, people may have the rights to collect medicines and foods from forest trees but not to sell the tree for timber or fuelwood. Often, traditional tenure practices provide fairly open access to subsistence forest goods (e.g. foods and medicines) while those with commercial or symbolic value may be more restricted (Boamoah 1986 in Falconer, 1989b).

Tree tenure systems have profound influence in determining the role forests and farm trees can play in household food security: as it is often a crucial factor in inhibiting or stimulating tree growing (Fortmann, 1984). In some cases, these systems may evolve as changes in the rural economic as well as physical environment will change the value of different tree and forest products.

Irvingia gabonensis (G.Kunkel)


4.8 Common property resources: assuring household food security

4.8.1 Diversity of common property systems
4.8.2 Externally-imposed common property systems
4.8.3 Building on existing institutions

In many parts of the world, especially in Africa, substantial areas of forests and woodlands remain under various forms of communal control. Access to the food and other forest products they provide is determined by traditional rules and customs, backed up in some cases - though not all - by formal legislation.

These common property resources are in many cases coming under increasing strain as a result of growing human and livestock populations, nationalization of forest and rangelands, increased privatisation of these lands, and a variety of other forces. How these strains are accommodated has a major bearing on the welfare and food security of the many families who depend on them.

There is a widely held notion that in the wake of increasing population pressures privatisation is the only way of protecting common property resources from over-exploitation (Hardin, 1968). Resource management systems based on communal rights are often thought to be inherently inefficient and lead to deterioration of natural resources - as each individual seeks to maximise gain. Behind this notion lies the assumption that in all common property systems everyone has open and unrestricted access to the resource. It is wrong, and indeed misleading, to assume that this is the only and general way common property resources are and can be managed (Dani et al, 1987). Many traditional common property systems are being ignored. Others are being replaced by privatisation on the questionable assumption that this will be a more effective basis for management.

4.8.1 Diversity of common property systems

There are, in fact, many different types of common property systems. The majority incorporate mechanisms to protect them against abuse and over-exploitation.

Pastoralists are a case in point. Usually, they have highly developed systems of rangeland management, with mutually recognised rights and duties. The Maasai, for example, traditionally had ''elaborate grazing sequences, grazing flushes to create hay in dry-season reserves; regular use of donkeys to carry water... to permit camps to stay away from their dry season reserves as long as possible... and regular social rebuke and avoidance of families or camps that fail to adhere to good management practices", according to one description (Jacobs, 1980). This is no free-for-all, but a carefully regulated system involving defined and enforceable rights and duties, evolved to meet both social and environmental needs.

In many parts of the world smallholders still retain group or corporate land tenure of various forms (Erasmus, 1977). The distinctive feature of this is that rights to land are ultimately vested in a local social group such as an extended family, caste, tribe, or village. A member of the group has inheritable rights to use the land within the jurisdiction of the community, but no rights to sell it.

One of the most important features of these systems in terms of household food security is that they are locally controlled and thus flexible-- in the case of forest resource management this recognizes the fact that they are most essential during emergency and seasonal hardship periods.

4.8.2 Externally-imposed common property systems

There has been little success with externally-imposed common property systems as they have been planned by outsiders who have rarely been able to comprehend local conditions sufficiently well to be able to devise a system geared to local needs, values and aspirations.

Group ranches, for example, were for a decade or more a popular and expensive form of development aid to African pastoralists. The success rate in these projects was extremely poor; some observers claim that not one thriving group ranch can be found in contemporary Africa (Dyson-Hudson, 1985).

Community woodlots have also been widely promoted by development assistance agencies. They were based on assumptions that communities would cheerfully and effectively co-operate in planting trees, caring for them and protecting them, and that an equitable distribution of benefits could be assured. Generally, however, the results in India, Africa and elsewhere have been disappointing.

The heterogeneity of communities, the differing interests of their members, the scarcity of land and uncertainty about tenure status, the problems in the distribution of benefits, and the lack of a general structure of cooperation, have all been contributory factors. The problems is that "the close interdependence of members required by community schemes cannot be fostered by decree" (Cernea, 1985).

4.8.3 Building on existing institutions

There is no doubt that, in the past, common property management systems were a widespread and effective means of managing many natural resources, including forests, rangeland, water, and fisheries. In many communities, because of population growth, market forces, privatisation state interventions and other socio-economic changes, the rules have broken down and these traditional systems have been impaired. Yet in spite of this, many of these systems still play an important role in the management of scarce natural resources, complementing and combining with systems of private rights (Runge, 1986).

By building upon the existing institutions, it may be possible for local people and external agencies to cooperate in devising common property management systems that take into account local factors, allow forest access on certain conditions to poorer people, and ensure conservation of the natural resource. No one approach will be appropriate for all situations. Much depends on local circumstances, on the traditions that exist of collective action, and on the quality of local leadership.

The point is, however, that for many rural families, especially poor families, common property resources are the only resources available to them. In order to promote food security for these groups far more attention will have to be given to the effective management of common property resources.

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