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Socioeconomic Attributes of Trees and Tree Planting Practices began with a request that the Community Forestry Unit look at the socioeconomic effects of specific tree species. But that is not a subject that can be universally addressed. In one place a specific tree species will live, in another it will not; in one region there is undergrowth beneath it, in another there is not; in one area women farmers may want trees that offer one product, in the same area men farmers may want a different function to be played by the trees. The issue is not that some trees are universally helpful or harmful; certain species are simultaneously perceived to be miraculous by some and bad, even evil, by others.

In looking at forestry projects it is quite apparent that some are popular with farmers because the planted or managed trees are useful to them, are placed in a situation that suits the local land-use patterns, and require a management regime that is compatible with the labour requirements of the entire production system for the men, women or children who must fulfill them. Yet it is equally obvious that many projects have been designed without adequately looking at the function the trees are to play in the rural economy and at the distribution of costs and benefits the tree and its location will yield.

Dr. John Raintree of the International Center for Research in Agroforestry, with the support of its Director General Bjorn Lundgren, has cooperated with the Forestry Department of FAO to write this forestry note. A number of people contributed to literature searches, contributed literature and made substantive comments. The document has also had the benefit of a review by a group of experts in both forestry and the social sciences.

Socioeconomic Attributes of Trees and Tree Planting Practices was developed for the Community Forestry Unit and was coordinated by Marilyn Hoskins, Senior Community Forestry Officer. It was partially funded by SIDA and partially funded by the multi-donor trust fund, Forests, Trees and People, which focuses on increased sustainable livelihoods for women and men in developing countries, especially the rural poor, through self-help management of tree and forest resources. It is to be followed by a field guide that will make these ideas available for field use by foresters and forestry project staff.

M.R. de Montalembert

Chief, Planning and Institutions Service Forestry Department


Chapter 1 - Background of the study

The changing role and repertoire of foresters

The decade since the publication of the landmark study Forestry For Local Community Development (FAO 1978) has been a time of great change in forestry practice in developing countries. It has placed enormous demands on the forestry profession to grow beyond its traditional role as guardian of public sector resources toward a larger, more diverse and socially responsive role in extension and community development, working increasingly with private individuals and small groups. These changes, together with parallel developments such as the Farming Systems approach in agriculture, are part of the response to a broadly based societal demand for greater participation of local people in their own development.

These changes have called for a rapid expansion of the forestry repertoire, based on a new awareness of the multiplicity of roles that trees can and do play in rural development (FAO 1985). This adaptive response, which is still in its early stages, has been facilitated by the emergence of agroforestry as a focus for innovative research on integrated land management (Bene et al 1977, Steppler and Nair 1987) and by the widening scope of community forestry programmes seeking closer links with small-scale enterprise and other essential elements of the rural development process (FAO 1987, RWEDP 1988).

The terminology used to refer to various aspects of this whole complex is sometimes confusing. For the purposes of this study we will observe the following conventions: as distinguished from "industrial forestry," which tends to serve narrow commercial interests while meeting the mass needs of the consumer society, "social forestry" is any form of forestry designed specifically to deliver benefits to the local population, regardless of whether the local people actually participate directly in forestry production or not. "Community forestry" is any form of social forestry that is based on the local people's direct participation in the production process, either by growing trees themselves or by processing tree products locally. Four commonly recognized forms of community forestry are: farm forestry, village woodlots, roadside plantings and small-scale forest-based processing enterprises.

"Agroforestry" is increasingly recognized as an approach to tree planting that also falls within the scope of the community forester's work, although this is a territory that must be shared with the agriculturalist, horticulturalist, livestock scientist, social scientist and others. Defined for research purposes as the deliberate integration, in space or time, of woody perennials with herbaceous crops and/or animals on the same land management unit, the concept of an agroforestry system implies ecological and economic interactions among its components. Basic to the role of agroforestry as an efficient focus for an integrated approach to land management is the recognition that many different land use systems all have a common denominator worth exploring systematically; namely, the role and potential of woody components to increase, sustain and diversify the production from the land (Lundgren and Raintree 1983). The essence of agroforestry is a broader conception of the range of tree growing practices. Throughout this study the word "technology" will be used interchangeably with "practice."

Some researchers would prefer to restrict the term "agroforestry" to those situations in which there are measurable ecological interactions among the components of the system at the plot level, but ecologists studying larger-scale ecological processes are not happy with this definition, and rural development workers may regard the economic interactions of tree growing with other farm enterprises as the most important defining feature of an agroforestry system (drawing upon the same pool of land, labour and capital resources at the management unit level). In this study we will use agroforestry in the broadest possible sense, and sometimes interchangeably with community forestry, in order to avoid artificial boundaries and ensure a flexible approach to the integration of trees into rural development efforts.

The subject of this study has been a long-standing institutional priority at ICRAF. As noted in the conclusion of an early programmatic statement on ICRAF's research strategy:

As a new field of inquiry, agroforestry research has tended to concentrate on interactions between components at the production system level and has not ventured very far into the wider system of essential linkages with post-harvest processing, marketing and institutional arrangements normally dealt with in community forestry projects. However, now that agroforestry is increasingly seen as part of the technical repertoire of community forestry projects, work on this issue is able to be considered in the light of an expanded socioeconomic and institutional context. Hopefully, the collaboration between ICRAF and the FAO/SIDA Forest, Trees and People programme represented by this study will be a step toward a more holistic perspective on the role of trees in rural development.

The original study plan

The original idea for this study arose out of the controversy surrounding the use of eucalyptus in community forestry programmes in India. It was felt at FAO that there should be a companion socioeconomic study to complement the FAO commissioned study on the Ecological Effects of Eucalyptus (Poore and Fries 1985). As interesting as it might have been to undertake such a study, it was felt it would be more constructive to examine the larger question of species choice in general. Although the Great Eucalyptus Debate has underscored the political importance of choosing the right trees for different users and has brought to light a number of socioeconomic factors that can impinge on species choice, most observers would agree that the debate itself has generated more heat than light.

In the initial plan this study was conceived largely as an empirical investigation of experiences with various trees commonly used in community forestry and agroforestry projects. The basic idea was to review the record of success and failure within the project literature in order to identify the attributes of trees that make them desirable or undesirable to different users under different circumstances.

This strategy was based on a number of assumptions about the quality of the project record that subsequently proved to be false. It was presumed that the project literature would contain:

Out of this exercise, it was hoped, would come an empirical basis for identifying the attributes of trees that make them desirable or undesirable for different users in different socioeconomic settings. Unfortunately, this proved to be an unrealistic expectation.

While it was anticipated that the literature would be sketchy on many of the variables thought to be relevant to this kind of assessment and that no single project record would cover all of them adequately, it was, nevertheless, hoped that the main patterns could be discerned, even on the basis of limited information, provided the data that did exist could be related to a theoretically coherent set of hypotheses on the role of trees in different socioeconomic settings. Thus, the first task of the study was to develop a search frame to guide the literature search.

Attention was focused on three major questions:

To assist the literature searchers to recognize and extract relevant information a checklist of factors deemed relevant to the success or failure of tree planting efforts was included in the search frame (see Appendix A) along with extensive illustrations.

Unfortunately, the plan of attack based on this search frame had to be abandoned, since it soon became obvious that the record of project experience was, with few exceptions, totally inadequate for the envisaged analysis. Although a good deal of general learning and familiarization with the literature was accomplished through the search activities, the gaps in the project documentation were simply too numerous and too serious to support such an analysis. That finding itself only underscored the urgent need of projects to deal more conscientiously and systematically with the question of species choice.

Undifferentiated tree planting

What is lacking in the project documentation is almost as revealing as what it contains. With few exceptions, the project literature gives amazingly little information on the socioeconomic context of species selection and in most cases fails to offer any systematic explanation whatsoever of the reasoning behind the choices made. In short, what the literature review revealed was the appalling casualness with which the whole question of species choice is approached by the majority of tree planting projects. The project literature evinces little or no awareness that there are different kinds of tree users and that the purposes for which trees are planted might vary not only with the type of tree but also with the type of user. In place of a systematic approach to species selection what the project documentation reveals is a general tendency to promote undifferentiated "tree planting"--as if all trees were the same!

Paradoxically, this lack of systematic attention to species selection has left the door open for the emergence of strong species biases. Without doubt, the all-time project favourite and, at the same time, the most controversial tree planting practice ever promoted by projects has been eucalyptus woodlots. What better place to look for insights into the socioeconomic attributes of trees?

Plan of the present study

The specific focus of this study, then, is the question: what are the socioeconomically relevant characteristics of trees and how do they enter into the attempt to make an unbiased choice of tree species for different users and circumstances? The practical purpose of the present, less empirical and more conceptually oriented study is to explore the subject with the aim of arriving at a decision making framework that can help improve the standard of project planning and documentation.

Chapter 2 attempts to clarify what exactly is meant by the concept of the "socioeconomic attributes" of trees. Following an introductory review of the various ways in which the choice of species for a particular socioeconomic setting might be "wrong" (thereby revealing something of the socioeconomic attributes of those trees), the treatment of tree attributes, ideotypes and specifications in the literature is reviewed.

Chapter 3 explores the "Great Eucalyptus Debate" in India, not to arrive at a definitive conclusion on the merits or demerits of the genus itself (most often the focus in the Indian debate was on E. tereticornis) but rather to draw whatever lessons can be gleaned from the debate to elucidate the various ways in which trees and tree planting practices may be well or ill suited to their socioeconomic settings. The chapter shows how the eucalyptus controversy is only partly a question of species choice and enumerates the major issues raised in the context of the debate. It also shows how that part of the debate that is about species choice is complicated by its embeddedness in a whole series of interrelated but separate decisions about other aspects of tree planting technology. Since landlessness was one of the major factors behind the non-adoption of eucalyptus farm forestry by a substantial portion of the intended beneficiaries of the social forestry programme, the chapter includes a brief review of a selected set of alternative interventions that possess the capability of bringing the benefits of tree planting to the landless.

Armed with the lessons learned from the eucalyptus debate, and with the aim of avoiding such controversies in future, Chapter 4 suggests a simple decision making framework for an unbiased approach to choice of trees and tree planting practices based on a "user perspective." The two-step decision algorithm presented in this chapter--first matching tree growing technologies to users and then tree species to technologies--is supported by an extensive collection of resource materials and decision aids in the appendices.

Appendix A presents a minimal diagnostic checklist for use in trouble-shooting problematic tree planting efforts to determine where they may have gone wrong. Appendix B outlines the range of tree planting options open to project planners and implementors. It enumerates potential user groups, functions, tree planting locations and arrangements, and tree management options that, in their various combinations, define the enlarged repertoire of the new forester. Appendix C provides reference materials supporting the matching of tree planting technologies to users. Appendix D supports the matching of trees to technologies by providing of an indicative list of tree specifications for a broad range of tree growing technologies.

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