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4.2 Tree cultivation and farmer objectives and resources

It would be unwise to base too much on analysis of the limited number of situations covered by the studies discussed in the paper. Apart from being few in number they are based mainly on two broad forms of tree cultivation: the home garden and the farm woodlot. In addition, as has been noted earlier, the analysis focuses on just part of a broader set of farmer decision criteria. Nevertheless, the information outlined above, the main elements of which are summarised in Table 4.9, does suggest some of the main economic factors which encourage farmers to adopt tree/crop/livestock management as a major component of their overall farming system.

4.2.1 Production Objectives

Most of the discussion of trees in farming systems has been based on the assumption that staple food production is the principal production objective. Hence, the focus on agroforestry as the favoured means of incorporating trees, and the widespread assumption that as farm size declines farmers will be forced to abandon trees in favour of food crops. The information reviewed in this chapter has underlined the fact that, as farm size and productivity falls, there comes a point below which the farm household can no longer meet its basic food needs from its own production and must begin to give priority to income generation. When this happens, the importance of tree cultivation lies primarily in the income It can generate for the farm household. Hence, in certain circumstances tree growing can be particularly important to small poor farmers. The contribution of trees to maintaining productivity is also a powerful factor in farmer decisions in many systems.

Recognition of the importance of income generation as the primary production objective for many poor farmers also changes the frame of reference of the debate about fuelwood self-sufficiency. Observers of the rapid expansion of farm level tree growing in India (Blair 1983) and Kenya (World Bank 1986) have pointed out that, although growing trees to meet subsistence fuelwood needs may seem to have the highest priority from the perspective of the planner, or of the fuelwood-using women members of the household, the rational choice for the household as a whole is to raise tree crops for the market, in order to generate income with which to satisfy its overall priority needs.

4.2.2 Resource Availability Land

Tree cultivation practices in aggregate can be seen to be potentially appropriate to a wide range of different land holding and land use situations. Given the widespread concern that tree growing is predominantly an activity for larger farmers, it is worth underlining again the extent to which it exists as a viable activity of farmers with little land - often very little land. In certain circumstances, home gardens have proved to be an efficient strategy for capital-poor small farmers wishing to intensify land use as landholding size decreases, and tree crops have proved to be equally suitable for those short of capital and labour wishing to put their land under a less intensive form of use. The relationships involved are often complex, but are usually linked in part to the changes in farmer production objectives discussed above.

Table 4.9: Farmer responses to changes in resources

Tree subsystem

Changes in Resources

Farmer response

Contribution of tree subsystem

Home gardens, Java

1. Declining landholding size, minimal or no rice paddy, minimal capital

Increase food and income output from home gardens component of the farming system

Highest returns to land from increasing labour inputs, flexibility of output in face of changing needs and opportunities


2. Further fall in land holding size below level able to meet basic foo needs

Concentrate on low management tree crops to release labour to off-farm employment

Most productive stable use of land with reduced labour inputs

Compound farms, Nigeria

1. Declining landholding size and site productivity, minimal capital

Concentrate resources in compound area, raise income producing component and off-farm employment

Improves producti vity, highest returns to labour, flexibility

Home gardens, Kerala

1. Declining land-holding size, mininfal capital

Bring fallow land into use, intensify home garden management

Multipurpose trees maintain site pro ductivity and contribute to food and income


2. Capital inputs substantially increased

Transfer land use to high value cash crops, substitute fertiliser and herbicide for mulch and shade

Trees removed unless they are high value cash crop producers

Farm woodlots, Kenya

1. Farm size falling below basic needs level, minimal capital, growing labour shortage

Low input low management pole cash crops, off-farm employment

Lower capital input than alternative crops and higher returns to labour

Farm woodlots, Philippines

1. Abundant land, limited labour

Put land under pulpwood crop

Expands area under cultivation, increases returns to family labour.


The relationship of tree-growing to labour availability and cost of labour varies - in the sense that when combined with different land and capital conditions, and production objectives, scarce or abundant labour can lead to quite different decisions about tree cultivation. However, a number of points seem worth emphasising.

One is the role that tree cultivation may play in helping even out the peaks and troughs in work which characterise tropical agriculture. Work on tree crops can be scheduled outside the peak periods, and the presence of trees can provide the basis for a number of counter-seasonal activities such as fuelwood and charcoal production (Chambers and Longhurst 1986).

A second is that, as the need to depend at least in part on off-farm employment grows among farm families, labour availability has to be assessed not just in terms of other farm activities but also in terms of off-farm -opportunities. In this connection, attention needs to be paid to the danger that intensifying or rescheduling labour use in on-farm tree-based activities may prevent farm families from obtaining more renumerative employment off-farm - as may have happened to some coconut sugar farmers in Java (Stoler 1978).

The growing dependence of rural people on off-farm employment suggests that the potential for linking tree products with off-farm employment and income creation probably also. deserves more attention. As was noted in the previous chapter, small rural processing enterprises based on wood and other tree and forest products are one of the largest sources of off-farm rural employment (Fisseha 1987). Their mainly rural markets are themselves largely seasonal, fluctuating with rural income flows so that their peak activities are counter-seasonal with those in agriculture. Most are very small and are operated jointly with agricultural or other enterprise activities. A marked feature of such small enterprises is the high proportion of women involved.


It is often argued that the tree's lengthy production period, combined with initial costs of establishment, create financial problems for farmers who adopt tree-growing practices. It is this argument that underlies the widespread provision of planting stock free or at subsidised prices in programmes which support tree growing.

However, the evidence that tree systems are favoured by farmers when capital is scarce, because trees require less investment than alternative crops and/or provide substitutes for purchased inputs (e.g. fertiliser and herbicide), suggests that improved access to capital would not necessarily increase adoption of agroforestry practices. Indeed, as the information from Kerala and Kenya showed, the contrary is likely to be the case: access to capital will frequently enable farmers to adopt alternative higher yielding uses of their land.

Availability of capital could, of course, be an impediment to investment in longer rotation timber species grown as cash crops. However, even in this situation the constraint does not seem to be the capital cost of establishment, but the opportunity cost of locking up land for the lengthy period that elapses before there is any return - and possibly, as in the case of the production of pulpwood in the Philippines, the cost of harvesting (Hyman 1983b).

4.2.3 Markets and Marketing

Income generation as a primary production objective highlights the importance of correctly understanding the markets for the products of tree cultivation. Though much of the intervention geared to promote and support tree cultivation has intended to increase production for the market, there has been remarkably little systematic study of how such markets are structured and function. Imbalances between supply and demand as a result of poor-market information could have severe negative impacts on farmers through falling prices.

Poor access to markets, and weakness in marketing, can have equally negative effects. In the study in West Bengal referred to earlier, it was found that prices paid to producers rapidly fell well below market prices as intermediaries intervened to capture their production; and that the growers were unaware that their output would fetch much higher prices as poles than as firewood (Tushaar Shah 1987). Lack of market information similarly weakened the producer's position in Haiti (McGowan 1986).

Particular interest has been attached by planners to supplying fuelwood to urban and other commercial markets, an understandable goal as this is the wood product used most widely and heavily in most countries. However, even where tree growing for the market has expanded rapidly, as in India and Kenya, it has been to supply higher valued building poles and wood for industry, not fuelwood. Prices of the latter seem not to have stimulated significant investment by farmers in its production as a cash crop.

In a review of energy price trends in a number of large cities in South Asia, Leach (1986) has shown that though fuelwood prices varied widely from place to place, there had been little increase in real prices in most of the markets over the previous 12 to 14 years. Inter-fuel substitution is apparently widespread, with fuelwood prices and usage sensitive to prices of alternative fuels. This suggests that substantial increases in fuelwood prices are unlikely in such markets for the foreseeable future (see Figure 4.2).

However, it is the price at the point of origin, the stumpage price, rather than the market price which is of relevance to farmer decision. In the case of fuelwood this is commonly only a small fraction of the market price. The price of standing wood for sale as fuelwood in two West African situations, for example, was only 1 to 1.5 percent of the retail price, and the cost of wood cut and stacked at the farm gate was 11 to 13 percent of the retail price (Baah-Dwomoh 1983).

Attention has recently been directed to the potential for raising stumpage prices of fuelwood, as a proportion of market price, by reducing transport and distribution costs and/or through subsidies or bonuses to producers financed from levies on these intermediate stages. It is too early to say whether such interventions will be effective. However, as long as low cost sources of fuelwood remain, in the form of existing wood stocks, and users can turn to alternative fuels or to energy conservation measures as an alternative to purchasing fuelwood, it is bound to be difficult to raise prices of farmer grown supplies of fuelwood.

4.2.4 Risk Management

It is commonplace that risk and avoidance of risk loom large in decision making of poor farmers, often modifying or overriding other economic considerations. Living as they do -- at or close to the margins of existence -- they are concerned about avoiding any change which, though it might improve their situation if it functions well, could leave them even worse off if it does not. Equally, there is likely to be a preference for choices that reduce existing risk even if these offer less potential for economic improvement than alternatives.

As was noted earlier, an important factor in the widespread adoption of home gardens has been their contribution to risk reduction through spreading output across several products and over the different seasons. However, it is evident that with reduction in landholding size the more fundamental risk of not being able to meet basic food needs becomes more important than the risk of intermittent shortfalls or failures. Management of garden areas is concentrated on species which can produce food and income in the short term. In other words, where a small home garden is the only or main source of support to the farm family, the family cannot risk depending on long term tree crops - especially when land tenure is insecure.

On the other hand, where income from the land has become only a minor or supplementary component of overall income, tree crops can again contribute positively to reduce risk. As a stable low input, low management form of land use, tree-crops allow those who depend primarily on off-farm employment to maintain their land in productive use.

The disadvantage that income from tree crops is available only periodically may be offset by the value the trees provide as a capital asset to be drawn upon for intermittent payments such as for education, or to deal with contingencies such as floods, famine or sickness. Chambers and Leach (1987) have pointed out that vulnerability to such contingencies is an important dimension of poverty, and that trees apparently often serve as assets on which rural poor draw in emergencies. Various instances are cited in which people have had to liquidate trees, even fruit and cash crop bearing trees, because trees have been their only remaining asset. A tree component in a farming system may therefore be, at least in part, a measure of insurance.

4.3 Tree cash crops and food security

In principle, increased income should increase the household's access to food. It is often argued, however, that in practice shifts from subsistence food production to cash cropping have a negative impact on household food security and nutrition, adversely affecting stability and quality of food supplies and the nutritional status of children. In a recent review of the literature on the subject, Longhurst (1987a) has concluded that the evidence in fact shows mixed results. Nevertheless, a number of potentially negative impacts can be identified which vary with choice of cash crops and the situation in which they are being grown and marketed. In this section we examine the possible impact trees grown as cash crops might have on household food security.

Cash cropping may affect household food security in several ways (Longhurst 1987a). The shift to cash cropping may cause food prices to rise because of the transfer of land out of food production causing a decrease in supply or because of costly transport and marketing. Dependence on cash-crops makes households vulnerable to market fluctuations: a drop in cash crop prices will reduce income with which to purchase food, a danger that is accentuated the narrower the range of cash crops and market outlets upon which the farmer is dependent. Cash crop income is likely to be "lumpy," leading to periods with little income. Finally, the shift to cash crops may reduce employment opportunities because cash crop production often requires less labour than food crop production. With rising incomes, spending behaviour is likely to change away from foods in general and away from staple foods in particular. This is more likely if the shift to cash cropping lessens women's control over household resources. Reduction in the area of land available for household production of staple foods, or increased demands on their time because of the cash cropping, can put pressures on their staple food supplies. Finally, a shift to bought foods requires new knowledge in order to maintain nutritional balance.

At first sight, tree crops have many of the potentially negative aspects that have been postulated. They take more than one season to mature; research, education and marketing services are concentrated on male farmers; there is often only one marketable product, e.g. poles, with concentrated marketing outlets; and tree growing can transfer land use from food crops with net loss of employment (Longhurst 1987b).

In practice, many of these potential impacts are offset by other features of tree growing. As is pointed out elsewhere in this chapter, the transfer of land from food to tree crops is often a response to changing growing conditions which have made food crop growing no longer viable, or unacceptably prone to failure. Similarly, the relationship to employment is often a response to increasing labour scarcity, rising labour costs or growing problems of labour management. The shifts away from food production and labour intensity are thus often unavoidable. In such situations the increases in income, and in returns to land and/or labour, are likely to provide a net gain.

Choice of suitable species has a number of obvious positive impacts on food security. Virtually all trees will produce some fuelwood for use in the household. Fruit and fodder products, shade, protection, green manure and soil amelioration may all be positive features of tree production and contribute to staple food supplies as well as providing a source of income.

The counter-seasonal evening out of income and labour use that tree crops commonly permit is a another positive contribution. However, these features apply in full only to multiple-species agroforestry systems, and in part to multi-output species. The advantages undoubtedly help explain the widespread popularity of these forms of tree growing, and the evolution of programmes such as the one discussed earlier in Haiti.

The more narrowly focussed single-species tree crops, such as eucalyptus in India and Kenya, evidently rely solely on their efficiency in using available household resources of land, labour, and capital, to generate income. The most serious drawback of such tree monocrops appears to be the delay in income generation, and the "lumpiness" of the subsequent income flows. They provide feasible options only if the household has other sources of food or/and income. Consequently, monocropping would be expected to be more easily adopted by larger farmers, for whom a tree crop can be just one component of the farm system.

However, as we have seen, it is also employed by small farmers who have been driven by the smallness or poverty of their farm to depend on off-farm sources of income. In this case, farmers rely on tree crops as a means of keeping their land in productive use with minimum labour inputs. In the right circumstances, therefore, tree growing can be a rational strategy for even very small, poor farmers.

There is a danger, though, that programmes to encourage "farm forestry" could induce farmers, for whom it is not appropriate, to shift to tree monocrops. Cash incentives, and concentration on a few species familiar to foresters but unsuited to farmer's needs or expectations, could bring about negative results. These dangers are likely to be exacerbated by the pressures to achieve the ambitious targets that are a feature of many of the larger farm forestry support programmes.

The "lumpiness" of income flows from tree crops also needs to be balanced against the magnitude of that income and the flexibility it provides because it can be realized at a time of the farmer's choosing. Mention has been made of the importance of such a capital asset in helping households meet contingencies and finance periodic lump sum outlays. The experience described from West Bengal shows how a tree crop can be used to accumulate capital specifically to improve the household's food and income productive capacity by purchasing more or/and better land.

There remains the issue of differential impacts within the household, due to the concentration of control of tree crops in the hands of men. Quite apart from the general issues related to food security that this can give rise to, as outlined above, it has widely been argued that women seek to pursue different objectives from tree growing than do men - fuelwood, fodder for their small animals, etc., rather than cash income (e.g. Molnar1981). As was noted earlier, it has been suggested that the adoption of trees as a cash crop by men in Kenya actually worsens women's access to fuelwood, but this interpretation needs to be reconsidered in light of overall household needs and possibilities. Moreover, it is not clear how widely such a dichotomy of interest exists in practice. In her study in Orissa, in India, Olsson (1988) found no difference in the objectives of men and women with respect to tree growing; both saw it as a means of generating capital in order to buy more land.

4.4 Planning, management and policy issues

Tree growing practices contribute to a wide variety of existing farming systems. They tend to be prominent parts of the system where capital and physical resources are limited. In such conditions a tree component within the farming system can play one or more of the five following overlapping roles:

When these conditions of resource availability are reversed, alternative crops and activities, which given higher inputs of capital and/or labour will generate higher returns to land than trees, are likely to be preferred. In addition, there are a variety of institutional and other broader factors which may prevent or inhibit tree cultivation. These include certain conditions of land and tree tenure and of land control, extreme poverty and out-migration, and broader land use practices which make it difficult to protect trees (free grazing, burning, common field systems, etc.).

Some of the more important considerations that enter into planning appropriate support measures for the introduction of on-farm tree growing are:

At the policy level, one category of issues that needs attention is the

efficiency of policy measures, such as subsidies, intended to directly encourage tree cultivation. The evidence that farmers adopt tree growing because of its low capital costs, suggests the need to reexamine the

rationale and effectiveness of the widespread practice of subsidising the cost of tree seedling supplies. Interventions to support market prices for the products of tree growing and to ensure producers' access to markets may be as or more effective than subsidies.

There is also a need to understand more fully how agricultural policies affect tree growing. Subsidised fertiliser and credit, price supports for agricultural crops, incentives in favour of land uses such as ranching which militate against trees, are but some of the policy measures likely to distort decisions against tree crops. The potential for tree cultivation is also widely distorted, or inhibited, by measures affecting land and tree tenure.

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