Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


Livestock feed and soil nutrients

Over the past decade, understanding the ways in which rural people draw upon the outputs of trees and forest in their vicinity has improved rapidly - and continues to improve. The information now available not only defines the nature and magnitude of many of these usages much more accurately, but also provides a clearer picture of the impact of growing shortages and other changes on the availability of particular goods and services, and of the ways in which people respond to such changes. Though the categories overlap, usage falls broadly into three kinds: direct use by the household, such as fuel and food; inputs in to the agricultural system, such as fodder and mulch; sources of income and employment. The information is therefore grouped accordingly, with household use split to provide separate discussions of fuel and food.


Because so much of their fuel has traditionally been in the form of fuelwood, it can be expected that declines in wood resources could result in fuel shortages for many rural households. Fuel shortages can have a variety of harmful effects. For example, they may influence the amount of food supplied or cooked. If there is less fuel or time for cooking, consumption of uncooked and reheated food may increase. This may cause a serious rise in disease incidence as few uncooked foods can be properly digested and cooking is necessary to remove parasites. A decrease in the number of meals provided may have a particularly damaging effect on child nutrition, as children may be unable to consume enough of the often over-starchy staple food in one meal.

However, many other factors are associated with changes in dietary customs which should not be attributed to fuel shortages alone - in many situations the lack of food is so great that fuel shortages play only a minor role in determining diets. Nor is it the case that decreasing availability of wood necessarily leads to shortages of fuel. It is also not clear that planting trees specifically selected to produce fuelwood rather than a mix of products is necessarily an appropriate response where fuel shortages do exist.¹

More exhaustive study of a wide range of situations in which the fuelwood supply situation had been identified as worsening have repeatedly - but not always - disclosed that domestic fuel shortages were much less than had been understood initially. The reasons for this include the following:

· much of the wood used for fuel may come from dead wood, or trees and shrubs outside the forest, so that the drain on the forest growing stock is limited;

· other biomass fuels, such as crop residues and dried dung, may account for a sizeable part of overall use;

· these non-forest and non-wood resources may be renewing themselves, or being renewed, at rates able to sustain current levels of use.

In addition, people respond spontaneously to decreases in fuelwood supplies through a number of adjustments that enable them to maintain their cooked food situation. For those with land, the adjustment process may include using more of the woody material grown on their own land and making changes in cropping patterns to include species, such as pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) which provide woody residues which can be used for fuel. For others, one response is the often cited one of collecting fuelwood from resources further afield. Others include more careful and economical use of available supplies and shifts to other readily available biomass fuels such as crop residues and dried dung.

This should not be interpreted as an argument that fuel shortages do not exist. They do, often on a widespread scale, and with the pernicious results outlined at the beginning of this section. However, equally the responses that are forced on people sometimes add to their hardship and burdens, forcing them to spend more time tending fuelwood crops at long distances from home. It is necessary to understand more accurately the nature of the problem, where there is one, if we are to define appropriate interventions.

The issue can be less one of physical scarcity than of labour shortages, constraints on access or culturally determined patterns of behaviour (Dewees 1989). Fuelwood gathering may be becoming a greater burden because women have more to do, as is widely reflected in the fluctuations in fuelwood gathering which coincide with seasonal cycles in agricultural or other pressures on their time. This, of course, makes it no less a burden or problem, but changes the framework within which to seek a solution - and reduces the likelihood that planting species only for fuelwood production will prove to be the most appropriate solution.

Similarly, the impact of the use as fuel of crop residues and dried dung on the maintenance of soil fertility has proved to be insufficiently documented. Evidence that significant quantities are diverted from agricultural to fuel use is at best inconclusive - much if not most of what is burned seems to be surplus to such use (Barnard and Kristofferson 1985). Indeed, recent work indicates that the working of crop residues into the soil is seldom practised in Africa, because the returns on the labour involved are low and the use of dung for that purpose has been greatly exaggerated (McIntire et al 1988). While it may be true that some of these biomass materials be lower quality fuels than wood - because they are more difficult and unpleasant to use, for example, producing more smoke - this may be offset in decision making at least in part by their being more convenient to use, for example, readily and abundantly available in the busy season.

These features help explain the widespread finding that people either do not consider there to be a fuelwood shortage or, when they do, they may not feel the planting of trees for the primary purpose to alleviate it to be a rational response. The alternatives outlined above nearly always provide lower cost options for maintaining fuel supplies than tree planting and are better adapted to the users' need for small regular quantities than the infrequent harvests from a plantation of trees. The ultimate effect is that perception of a fuelwood shortage is delayed until that shortage is part of a broader ecological crisis when solutions are more complex.

In addition, planting involves an investment which, to be justified, must produce a greater return than household fuel can provide. Where fuelwood is scarce, building timbers are likely to be even scarcer - as are supplies of other tree products. Burning usually represents the lowest value use to which the products of a tree can be put and one which is chosen after all other more profitable uses have been exausted.

The whole question of fuel supplies, however acute, is unlikely to feature as high among people's priorities as other of their problems, such as food and water. In the exhaustive ILO study of the impact of fuel wood shortages on women, it was found that “in most of the villages studied women did not regard woodfuel and cooking efficiency as top priorities. Their immediate preoccupation is the need for quick solutions to desperate food and income deficits” (Cecelski 1987).

In short, the earlier approach to evaluating the fuelwood situation through analysis of prospective supply gaps at the macro level has proved immensely valuable in focusing attention on some of the more fundamental requirements of the rural poor. However, it has proved insufficient in defining what is needed at the project level. In focusing only on fuelwood, it has ignored the other considerations that enter into people's decisions about tree growing. The macro level of the analysis has obscured people's capacity for spontaneous adaptation, and so has exaggerated the need for planned intervention to maintain energy supplies.

The focus on fuelwood has also diverted attention from other roles of trees within the rural household economy, and has obscured the other considerations that enter into women's and men's decisions about tree growing. Though the removal of tree cover may not necessarily reduce access to fuels to critical levels, it is likely to negatively affect environmental stability and agricultural productivity. Support for the growing of species which respond to farmers' perceived needs for higher valued tree products such as fodder, fruit, poles and protection is more likely to ensure confined tree cover than support aimed primarily at fuelwood production. As all such trees will generate dead wood, prunings and other materials for fuel as a by-product, they will also contribute to improving the fuel supply situation. The issue of rural fuelwood supplies thus needs to be addressed within the broader context of the multipurpose role of trees.

An additional factor that affects availability of fuelwood in rural areas is the demand from urban areas and industries. It is these heavily concentrated demands, and income that can be generated by supplying them, that can result in destructive deforestation - and diversion of supplies from subsistence use by rural households. The issues that surround fuelwood supply and use in the rural areas and urban areas are therefore quite distinct, and usually need to be addressed quite differently. Investment in fuelwood plantations, the product from which could be sold to urban users, is unlikely to contribute to meeting the needs of rural users who simply cannot afford to purchase fuel.


For most rural people foods derived from forests - or from trees they maintain in their farming system - add variety to diets, improve palatability, and provide essential vitamins, protein and calories.2 The quantities of forest foods consumed may not be great in comparison to the main food staples, but they often form an essential part of otherwise bland and nutritionally poor diets. Forest and farm tree food products are also widely used as snack foods between meals, eaten while working in fields or while herding.

In addition to these supplemental roles forest foods are extensively used to help meet dietary shortfalls during particular seasons of the year, thus helping to bridge “hunger periods”, when stored food supplies are dwindling and the next harvest is not yet available. This is also an important function of trees in home gardens, as is their role in evening out seasonal peaks and troughs in demands on farm labour.

The third main role of forest foods in the overall nutritional system is in emergency periods such as floods, droughts, famines and wars. In famine periods energy rich foods such as roots, tubers, rhizomes and nuts can provide an important buffer.

Where people have had relatively unrestricted access to forests, forest food is often particularly important for poorer groups within the community. While forest gathering activities are not restricted to the poor, the latter depend on these activities to a greater extent. They are therefore most likely to be affected by a reduction in the availability of such foods as the forest resource is reduced, degraded or becomes inaccessible to them.


For most rural people foods derived from forests add variety to diets, improve palatability, and provide essential vitamins, protein and calories.

For most rural people foods derived from trees they maintain in their farming system add variety to diets, improve palatability, and provide essential vitamins, protein and calories.

In addition to diminishing availability, the role that forest food plays in household nutrition has changed with penetration of rural markets by new food products and with changing tastes. In many regions forest food is no longer consumed and knowledge about its use is vanishing, although this trend is not universal. In some areas markets for forest foods have grown rapidly - for example, that for bushmeat in West Africa. However, even where consumption is not declining the nutritional diversity of the gathered food may have decreased.

The impact of declining consumption of forest food varies. In some cases these changes have led to a poorer quality diet, most notably as greater reliance on purchased food reduces dietary diversity. Perhaps the worst impact is that poorer people's food options are being progressively reduced, especially during seasonal and emergency hardship periods.

Improved knowledge of the links between forest and farm tree food products and rural nutrition has recently focused attention on the need for nutritional awareness in community forestry. Clearly forest foods are only a limited part of most dietary situations - there are alternatives to forest foods in diminishing supply, and the general shifts towards purchased foods which are taking place will bring about changes in forest food consumption regardless of their availability. Nevertheless, community forestry evidently needs to look at the possible impacts of proposed forestry or agroforestry interventions on the nutritional situation of the target population, and to be concerned with management of existing forests and other tree stocks of importance to local people as well as with planting trees.

Livestock feed and soil nutrients

Livestock are central to many agricultural systems as a source of draught power, to provide manure as a soil nutrient and for dairy production. Livestock feed is typically provided from crop residues and from grazing.

In many systems, notably dry land systems where ploughing and sowing have to be compressed into a short rainy season, the numbers of animals needed are considerably higher than can be sustained from feed produced within the farm system, which can only be maintained if the farmer has access to grazing or fodder off-farm. Forests, woodland and areas of scrub are often the principal complementary source and arboreal fodder is often the main source of livestock feed in the dry season and in periods of drought.

Numerous pressures have combined to reduce the availability of livestock feed. The irrigation of land previously under dryland crops or pasture, the shift to short stemmed high yielding grain crops and shifts away from cereal crops are but some of the changes occurring within agriculture. At the same time, privatisation and over use have widely reduced availability of public lands. The available responses - irrigated fodder crops, stall feeding, substituting animals with tractors - tend to require more intensive use of capital or labour and therefore are not available to the poor.

It has been argued that in some situations fodder shortages can become more critical than fuelwood shortages (Damodoran 1987) - in the sense that there are not the alternative sources of livestock feed available to the poor that there usually are for maintaining supplies of fuel. Shortages of fodder are likely to mean that poor farmers are unable to upgrade to the higher quality animals needed for dairying and widely force the poor to dispose of livestock.

Increasing attention is therefore being paid to two connections between community forestry and fodder - the potential to increase supplies of fodder from trees and forest land, and the need to avoid disruption of existing fodder supplies and crop-livestock interactions when land is put under trees.


Livestock are central to many agricultural systems as a source of draught power, to provide manure as a soil nutrient and for dairy production. - A

Livestock are central to many agricultural systems as a source of draught power, to provide manure as a soil nutrient and for dairy production. - B

The other aspect of the interface between tree cover and agriculture which is being found to be of greater importance than had earlier been assumed is that of restoration of nutrients to the soil. Much if not most tropical agriculture derives from the basic system of rotational cropping or shifting cultivation, which leaves land periodically under tree fallow for this purpose. Though contemporary systems exist which have evolved forms of continuous fallow based on the permanent presence of trees, ranging from home gardens in the wet tropics to the intercropping of Acacia albida in arid areas in Africa, these are widely believed to be under pressures that cause the reduction or removal of the tree content.

While this is the case in some situations, for example in many Acacia albida areas, in others the reverse is occurring. Confronted with declining farm productivity and without access to the capital to purchase fertilizer or to construct soil conservation structures, farmers are quite widely turning to woody perennials as part of their strategy to try to stabilise their farming system. Research on home gardens in different parts of the humid tropics, for example, has shown them to be growing as a proportion of total dry land farming partly for this reason - and partly in response to the changes discussed in the “income” section (Arnold 1987).

In some areas it is green mulch gathered from trees off farm that sustains the agricultural system. Crop cultivation in the Himalayas, for example, is dependent on access to a substantial area of forest from which to cut and carry leaf mulch to maintain soil fertility. Increasing pressure on such systems can reach the point where the forest can no longer sustain the repeated offtake.

In such situations, and in those where agriculture is dependent on off-farm fodder or grazing, community forestry consequently needs to be as much if not more concerned with management of public as private resources.


Perhaps the single most influential factor in revising our understanding of the potential role of community forestry has been growing recognition of the importance of income in the decisions of the rural poor. As farm size and productivity decline under pressures of increasing populations, the capacity of farm households to maintain food self sufficiency progressively declines, and they are forced increasingly to turn to cash crops and to off-farm employment. It has been estimated that already more than a third of rural household income is derived from non-farm activities (Liedholm and Mead 1986). Economic considerations now permeate the decisions of even those still within a largely subsistence economy, and community forestry needs to respond to this fact.

Income from existing tree resources

There is a wide range of forest products which rural women and men gather, produce and trade in order to derive income.3 Gathered products include fuelwood, rattan, bamboo, fibres, medicines, gums and wild foods. The main groups of traded products which first undergo simple processing at the household or small enterprise level are furniture, other products of wood - such as baskets and mats and other products of canes, reeds, grasses - and handicrafts. The first two product groups serve predominantly rural household and agricultural markets, and are usually their principal source of supply, while much of the handicrafts output goes to urban markets.

The large component of small enterprise operations in the forest sector reflects the size of rural markets for forest products, and the dispersion of these markets across large areas with a relatively poor transport infrastructure, so that they are more effectively supplied locally. Small forest based gathering and processing enterprises provide one of the largest sources of non-agricultural employment and income to rural people.


Forest based income and employment opportunities are particularly important to the poor - because of ease of access and very low thresholds of capital and skill needed to enter and engage in most of them. - A

Forest based income and employment opportunities are particularly important to the poor - because of ease of access and very low thresholds of capital and skill needed to enter and engage in most of them. - B

Many people depend on the sale of such products as fuelwood and rattan to supplement their farm income year around. Others engage in such activities seasonally, either to exploit raw materials or markets available only at particular periods, or the labour available in slack agricultural months, or to meet seasonally induced cash needs such as agricultural loan payments or school fees. Others resort to them to tide them over emergencies - more people becoming involved in the gathering and sale of fuelwood, for example, in years when agricultural conditions have worsened.

As with forest foods, forest based income and employment opportunities are particularly important to the poor - because of ease of access and very low thresholds of capital and skill needed to enter and engage in most of them. They also enable a high level of participation by poor women, who often dominate activities such as mat and basket making which may be performed in or near the home, thus allowing them to combine these income earning activities with other household tasks.

The importance of forest products based income once again focuses attention on the management of existing forest resources. Small enterprises are seldom able to create or conserve their own tree resources for future use. Over exploitation, deforestation, and privatisation and nationalisation reduce the access by the poor to forest areas and other “common” lands. Their forest raw material problems are often worsened by unfavourable harvesting controls, exclusive allocation to large users, complicated licensing or auctioning procedures plus demands for heavy deposits or other insurmountable preconditions, high prices due to state monopolies, and monopoly distribution systems.

Small enterprises suffer various other weaknesses in addition to raw material shortages - insecure markets, shortage of finance, unavailability of tools and equipment, managerial weaknesses and lack of organization. Moreover, they are very sensitive to changes in their competitive position. The returns to labour from many forest-based activities are marginal and markets for the products may be quite vulnerable to introduced substitutes. Thus, while these activities provide a means of income earning for a large number of rural poor, many may not be sustainable. As it is, one-person household activities of the mat and basket making kind are most at risk. Accurate analysis of the prospects for survival and growth of particular activities is needed when designing support programmes in order to avoid encouraging the poor to engage in something that will not be viable.

Income from tree growing4

It has often been argued that cultivation of trees is something that is feasible only for wealthy farmers. This assumption is based on the premise that poor farmers must devote all their resources to the production of staple food. This in turn has resulted in projects which specify that trees be grown only on waste land or land that is not arable.

However, it is by now clear that in many cases poor farmers' resources are too limited for them to be able to meet their basic needs from their own production, so that they have to give priority to income generation in order to be able to purchase food. In these circumstances trees may prove to be appropriate cash crops or intercrops with cash crops. Where land rather than labour is the limiting factor, joint tree/crop/livestock systems may give better returns than monocrops. Where availability of labour has become the constraint, because of the need to find work away from the farm, low input tree crops may provide the best way of keeping land in productive use. Although returns from the latter would be greater under agricultural crops than trees, it can make sense for poor farmers to raise trees because they cannot afford the costs of producing the alternative crops, or the costs of inputs such as fertilizer, herbicide or irrigation which would be required to maintain the productivity of their land in the absence of trees.

As was noted earlier, the area under home gardens - which have always performed this function - has been expanding as a proportion of total farm systems in parts of the humid tropics. More recently, there has been expansion by farmers of the growing of trees as field cash crops in several countries in response to burgeoning markets for poles and other wood products.

This has attracted concern, notably in India, that tree growing is diverting land from production of essential foods and is reducing rural employment.5 Crops of trees such as eucalyptus, which produce only a single product such as poles or pulpwood, could be problematic in this respect as they are potentially vulnerable to market fluctuations and thus to income fluctuations, and they provide income in “lumps” followed by periods with little or no income. Multi-purpose trees and multi-species systems, such as home gardens, are more likely to contribute to a sound mixed subsistence/cash crop household economy. Tree monocropping is likely to be an appropriate option only if the household has access to other sources of income or food, and if there are reasonably stable markets for the tree products.

However, trees are also valued by farmers for other reasons. They are left in fields because of the economical and culturally valuable products and shade they provide. They are planted where repeated drought threatens other crops. They are also grown to help diversify farm production, increasing the range of crops grown in order to guard against the risk that a particular crop may fail or face a catastrophic fall in price. They often supply medicines and other valuable tree products. Trees are also employed as a form of savings which can be drawn down when needed, to finance capital expenditures or to tide the household over an emergency. In short, farmers widely incorporate and maintain trees as a form of insurance.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page