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2.1 Fuelwood Gathering and Deforestation
2.2 Need for Agricultural Land
2.3 Changing Patterns of Land Ownership and Control and the Emergence of Commercial Markets
2.4 Local Constraints to Tree Growing
2.5 Lack of Control Over Use of Land
2.6 Lack of Control Over Use of Trees
2.7 Competing Uses for Land, Labour, and Capital
2.8 Social and Cultural Constraints
2.9 Constraints or Opportunities?

Tree scarcity is the outcome of both long term and recent processes and events. In some places, pressures have been building up gradually and almost imperceptibly. Where pressures build little by little, people have sometimes had time and opportunity to evolve and adapt management systems. In these cases signs of scarcity might have been present for decades, but adaptive strategies such as the protection of valued trees, the encouragement of volunteer seedlings and selective thinnings may have prevented acute manifestations of deforestation from developing. In other cases, however, the loss of tree cover has tended to accelerate.

The dimensions of the problem are complex and are made more so because of the changing aspirations and expectations which have accompanied economic development. Population growth is often regarded as the main driving force behind deforestation, but it is certainly not the only factor. It needs to be seen in relationship to agricultural development, markets, government policies, settlement patterns, technological change, past patterns of tree and resource exploitation, and alterations in the socio-economic structure of rural societies.

Agricultural impact of deforestation. Eroded forest soil silts up a lake feeding an irrigation system. Reduction in the lake’s water capacity means a reduction in the land area that can be irrigated and so cultivated.

The over-exploitation of trees and their resultant scarcity are usually symptomatic manifestations of larger problems which have accompanied the development process - and which are often poorly understood and oversimplified. Sometimes people have abandoned tree conservation practices simply because they are no longer consistent with their perception of the rural agricultural economy. An understanding of the reasons for the breakdown of active and passive adaptive tree management strategies is necessary before interventions to remedy them can be effectively implemented.

2.1 Fuelwood Gathering and Deforestation

Fuelwood gathering is sometimes seen as the major cause of the depletion of wood resources. This is rarely so; other and more destructive forces are usually at work as well. This is not to say that the need for fuelwood is not a potent element contributing to the collapse of traditional wood resource management systems in some areas; where wood demand exceeds natural regeneration, over-cutting is the likely outcome.

This imbalance is particularly apt to be the case in the vicinities of cities and around other areas of concentrated demand for wood. For instance, virtually all the trees on common or unprotected lands within a radius of 40 kilometers of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso have been cut for fuelwood, and the circle of depleted resources is still expanding (National Academy of Sciences, 1980; Chauvin, 1981). A recent FAO study suggested that acute fuelwood scarcities are already being encountered in eighteen African countries, three Asian countries and six Latin American countries, affecting about 112 million people (de Montalembert and Clement, 1983). (Urban fuelwood shortages are, in fact, nothing new. During his travels in Niger in 1795, the explorer Mungo Park noted that the countryside for two miles around the city of Kaarta was stripped of wood by the great consumption of that article for building and fuel.)

Fuelwood is being carried further and further

2.2 Need for Agricultural Land

It is widely recognized that clearing land for agricultural cultivation and for pasturage is the primary reason why people cut down trees (Bajracharya, 1983; Allan, 1965). Within the agricultural economy, extending the area of land under cultivation may well be the cheapest and easiest method of increasing production. However, clearing forests for alternative land uses is not restricted to agriculture. In Costa Rica, large areas of the lowland forests have been cleared to make way for commercial livestock grazing (DeWalt, 1982). Many Latin American and Southeast Asian countries have had legal policies of encouraging resettlement of forest areas for both agriculture and livestock production.

The role of overgrazing in preventing natural regeneration is one of the most important factors influencing the disappearance of trees. Although historical evidence from the Middle East and elsewhere suggests that this is not a new problem, grazing pressures have increased tremendously over the last several decades. These pressures have been hardest felt in arid and semi-arid areas where, until recently, natural forests were able to recover from the effects of grazing. However, pastoralists, with their cattle and other livestock, have now settled in areas where nomadic people formerly grazed their herds. In these circumstances, previously sustainable strategies for grazing and fodder collection have rapidly broken down - to the detriment of both the forests and the people who depend on them for their livelihood.

Other changes in the structure of agricultural production have similarly had a destructive impact on tree cover. Farmers in Puebla, Mexico, who have adopted high intensity tractor cultivation no longer maintain leguminous trees in their fields because commercial fertilizers produce higher yields over the short-term and because the trees get in the way of their tractors (Wilken, 1978). The use of higher intensity methods of farm and pastoral production in semi-arid areas of Rajasthan, India, has resulted in a decreased reliance on conservation measures such as crop rotation, long fallow periods and the seasonal migration of livestock. In some areas, such as the peanut basin in Senegal, these short-term, high production strategies are being reexamined as residents are finding that high production is unsustainable unless accompanied by conservation of the resource base.

2.3 Changing Patterns of Land Ownership and Control and the Emergence of Commercial Markets

In rural areas where there is not enough land to absorb growing agricultural populations, pressures on the already cultivated land become even more intense. Through inheritance, the division of property among family members and land sales, average landholding sizes decrease. As the resources available to the household decline, trees may be seen as a resource which must be sacrificed to meet more urgent household needs.

In Sudan, Acacia Senegal trees which provide gum arabic are being cut as the fallow system under which they were grown is being abandoned because of land scarcity (Horowitz and Badi, 1981). Trees may be seen as a hindrance to the farmer because they compete for water and nutrients and because shade slows crop growth. In some parts of Kenya, people have been pressured into cutting trees because neighbors complained that shade damaged their crops (Castro, 1984).

With increased pressures, many traditional land tenure arrangements and customary practices which defined land-use rights have been greatly weakened. Smallholders who have had their access to wood resources on adjacent lands blocked because of changes in the traditional structure of land-use rights may find that they are forced to utilize the trees on their own property more heavily. In other cases, where there has been a tradition of land borrowing, but where settlement pressures have increased, landowners may discourage planting trees because of the fear that tenants will attempt to assert a personal claim to the land.

Where farmers have no long-term guarantee on the use or control of the land they farm, there is little incentive to make long-term investments in improvements such as tree planting. In Honduras, where 80 percent of the rural population is landless, it has been found that very few farmers plant trees or living fences, in part because of the lack of security of tenure (Jones, 1982a).

Government programmes have also contributed to the depletion of tree cover in some areas. For instance, indigenous tree management practices among the Karen people of the highlands of Thailand are being destabilized to some extent by reforestation projects in the swidden cultivation areas, thus reducing the amount of land available to them (Kunstadter, 1983).

The nationalization of forest land in Nepal (Bajracharya, 1983) and Honduras (Jones, 1982a) for protective reasons has had the unintended consequence of decreasing local incentives for tree protection. In Latin America, the development of roads for forest industries has opened up previously unpopulated areas to colonization. After logging has been completed, farmers occupy the land and the forest does not regenerate.

Commercializing formerly free wood products such as fuelwood can also increase the pressure on wood resources. This is particularly evident near urban areas where commercial demand may be especially strong. In Nigeria, farmers who clear trees from their fields usually sell them for fuel (Morgan, et al., 1980). Where trees are planted for commercial use, such as pole wood, availability to poor residents of either poles or fuel as a free good may lessen as the wood is exported to markets.

Local over-exploitation of trees for commercial purposes must be understood within the context of both the urgent need in urban areas and the lack of income generating opportunities in rural areas. Fuelwood collection and charcoal production can provide a means of earning a cash income to people who have few other opportunities available. Even if they recognize the damage that their activities are causing, they have no alternative way of making a living. Indeed, one argument against the development of peri-urban fuelwood plantations in Kenya has been that they will reduce the incomes of those who have been involved in the sale of fuelwood and charcoal.

2.4 Local Constraints to Tree Growing

Sometimes, even where trees are especially scarce, rural people may be unwilling to grow them. It is unlikely that the reason for this is an ignorance of the benefits of trees or of the techniques used for cultivating them; it is far more likely that there are other real and serious constraints.

It has been suggested (cf. Burley, 1982) that the major conditions which must be satisfied before rural people will plant trees are:

- Economic: There must be sufficient land, capital and labour resources available to make tree growing possible and to cover the expenses of planting, cultivating, harvesting, and marketing trees and their products. The benefits of tree cultivation and management, both in economic and financial terms, must exceed the net benefits from alternative resource and agricultural management strategies, as well as the costs of production.

- Social/Cultural: Changes in productive relationships and in the pattern of resource ownership which might be brought about by tree cultivation must fall within culturally accepted strategies for resource distribution. The perceived social value of trees, or of specific types of trees, must coincide with values which adaptive management strategies or interventions might impose. Further, appropriate and culturally sensitive technical expertise must be available.

- Environmental: Interventions or adaptive strategies must be responsive to the availability of water, to temperature regimes, to soil types and to other characteristics of the natural environment.

Technical expertise must be culturally sensitive

It must also be recognised that many farmers do not see any reason for planting trees. Tree products may still be widely available, either legally or illegally, from communal lands or nearby forest reserves. The fact that over-exploitation could eventually lead to the total depletion of tree resources may appear to be totally beyond their control or, at the very least, irrelevant in the time scale within which they are able to plan their lives.

In order for farmers to divert resources to tree planting, there must be a local perception of scarcity. This may manifest itself through lengthened times for fuelwood collection, the need for economies in fuel use, or even reductions in cooking. In addition, tree growing must be seen as an appropriate response to these pressures. Where life is characterised by urgent general scarcity of daily necessities, planting trees for future use may not appear as a particularly relevant endeavour.

2.5 Lack of Control Over Use of Land

The most favourable economic environment for tree growing exists where trees are clearly for the ultimate benefit of those who plant them, or for their children. Conversely, the absence of land tenure security or control over the use of land resources is often a major constraint to tree growing.

In many parts of the world, rural people have no clearcut control over the land they farm. Some patterns of land tenure have been obscured by changing practices overlying a base of centuries-old traditions which have previously defined communal or individual user’s rights. Farmers, particularly the poor, lack legal tenure to their land and face the constant threat of expulsion. Even tenant farmers cannot be expected to plant trees if they are unsure of whether or not they might be evicted in the foreseeable future. This problem of lack of security to land access is often especially acute for women.

Security of land tenure in itself, however, may not be a sufficient incentive for people to plant trees. Farmers able to satisfy their own needs from the existing stock of trees on their own land may ignore the landless who may be acutely aware of their own shortage of wood yet have no means of responding to it (Bruce, et al., 1984).

In some Latin American countries, land tenure laws, far from encouraging the cultivation of trees, create a positive incentive for their removal. People can gain land rights by moving into forested areas, clearing the trees and planting crops. Their claim to land ownership becomes stronger the longer they successfully farm the land. Conversely, in areas where tree planting may establish tenure, this may also act as an impediment. In the 1940’s, the Basotho chiefs of Lesotho discouraged tree planting in order to restrict ownership, and the prohibition has carried over to present times (Fortmann, 1984).

Cleared for pasture - what next?

Grazing rights may conflict with the requirements of tree growing, irrespective of the pattern of land ownership. In many countries, land is used by different people during different seasons; animals are traditionally allowed to roam freely on farmers’ lands after the harvest. This serial tenure pattern makes the protection of privately planted trees an extremely difficult task, as it means that those doing so must infringe upon what others in the community may view as their rights (Raintree, 1985).

2.6 Lack of Control Over Use of Trees

Even if land tenure is secure, there is also the question of who controls tree resources or tree tenure. Patterns of tree tenure can be quite complex, but generally involve the right to own or inherit trees, the right to plant them, the right to their use and the right to disposal (Fortmann, 1984).

In Haiti, rural people have been told that all trees belong to the government and that anyone cutting a tree would be punished. Although the intent was to ensure that the trees would be protected, the reverse was often the case. Rural people felt threatened because they assumed that the government’s interest in the trees could eventually lead to the expropriation of any land with tree cover.

Until recently, commercially valuable tree species in India and Nepal belonged to the government, regardless of on whose land they grew. These included trees such as khair (Acacia catechu) which produce tanning extracts and pine trees (Pinus roxburghii) which produce resin. Farmers had to wait for the forest department to harvest the trees or, alternatively, could purchase them and obtain a permit for cutting them down.

A recent Tree Conservation Act has been enacted in India which lists a large number of trees which cannot be cut without a permit. These protective regulations, while helping to check illegal removals from the forest, have undoubtedly inhibited smaller farmers from planting trees. In order to benefit from tree planting, they must go through the laborious and often expensive process of acquiring cutting permits. This has also been a feature of forest legislation in the Sahel (Thomson, 1979).

Resin producing pines - government property

2.7 Competing Uses for Land, Labour, and Capital

Where tree growing is seen to be one of several possible alternative land uses, the trade-offs between these must be considered. For instance, the use of agricultural lands for commercial tree growing has been widely criticized because of the displacement of food crops. In areas where agricultural land is available in abundance, the same argument can be made about virtually any cash crop. However, the use of agricultural land for tree growing in on-farm block plantations may be an especially serious problem where lack of land has already constrained agricultural production. In these cases, there may be reason for active public interventions to discourage tree growing in favour of other essential commodities.

The risks in tree growing vary among landholders. If smallholders are going to plant trees, they will probably have to change the pattern of their already intensive use of the land. If their production of food crops is diminished, the risk they have taken in planting trees increases accordingly. Even if fast growing trees have been planted, it may be four or five years before they are able to reap the benefits of their investments. In the meantime, they have to be able to finance their daily needs which would otherwise have been met by farm income, however meagre.

Owners of larger landholdings are not subject to the same constraints. They will still have sufficient land on which to plant food crops, and their short term risks remain much the same as before they planted trees. If planting trees means that they must finance other needs while waiting to harvest their trees, they are also much more likely to be able to obtain the necessary credit because they have collateral available in the form of land.

The availability of labour may also be a constraint to tree growing. Trees need to be planted at the same time as demands for agricultural labour are highest. In arid areas, where hardpan layers must be penetrated after the first rains in order to allow a seedling to get properly established, or in other areas where the planting season is short, labour demands may be particularly high during the planting period. Seasonal migration patterns may also reduce the availability of on-farm labour after annual crops are harvested but when trees continue to require maintenance and protection. In subsistence agricultural societies, the idea of hiring additional labour, even if it is available, may be completely foreign.

At the same time, the creation of labour surpluses as a result of tree planting can also be a problem. Annual agricultural crops which require regular yearly cycles of planting, cultivation and harvesting have very different labour demands from tree crops. The timing and labour requirements of planting, thinning and harvesting trees are spread out over a number of years and thus require much less total labour.

Motivation for investing resources in tree planting may also be low where there are no accessible markets for any remaining tree products which exceed subsistence requirements. Similarly, difficulties in managing commonly used resources and lack of appropriate rural institutions to do so may constrain communities from engaging in afforestation of common lands.

2.8 Social and Cultural Constraints

Assuming land, labour and capital resources are available for tree growing, other constraints may discourage tree planting. These can arise from cultural traditions. In some areas certain types of trees are associated with malign spirits and taboos. In the Casamance region of Senegal where the forestry service encouraged planting cashews, rural people burned the trees to evict the evil spirits which these trees are reputed to shelter.

In parts of India, tamarind trees have a similar reputation. There has been speculation that planting introduced exotic trees has the advantage that they do not have the same unfavourable associations for local people as do indigenous species. Forests, in fact, are often associated with theft, murder and danger from wild animals. In many former colonized countries, especially in West Africa, older residents also associate tree planting with forced labour and the fear of punishment should the trees die.

Other practical reasons may deter people from planting trees. In some African countries, the usual method of controlling the spread of the tsetse fly is to cut down the trees which harbour the insects. The practice has been reinforced by education and extension efforts over a long period, and trees have come to be seen as a threat to the well-being of rural people. In other places, farmers object to trees which grow near their fields because they provide a haven for seed-eating birds. Trees may also compete with adjacent crops for water, light and nutrients. These attitudes are in many cases perfectly reasonable, but will obviously frustrate the success of tree planting interventions unless they are accompanied by complimentary strategies which provide a compensating increase in overall benefits.

Finally, it is sometimes difficult for interventions to be responsive to certain needs due to traditions which may appear to be completely unreasonable when taken out of their context. The baobab is highly valued for its multiple uses and products in southern Niger; proprietary use-rights are generally well-defined and clearcut. One might perhaps assume that because these trees are so highly valued, it would be relatively easy to stimulate their widespread planting. It has been found, however, that this is virtually impossible, largely because of the perception that these trees are a divine gift. A farmer who grows baobabs faces the risk of tampering with the divine course of events.

2.9 Constraints or Opportunities?

Some of the processes that have contributed to abandoning tree management systems have also resulted in planting trees: the trend toward land privatization, a growing desire by rural inhabitants to increase productivity and to raise their income levels, the active response to commercial incentives, the greater involvement of governments in resource management and rural development, and the development of markets for wood.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty in focusing interventions to promote tree growing by rural people lies in the need to understand differences in patterns of human behavior. Are these patterns constraints or are they instead opportunities upon which productive interventions can be built? Often planners go ahead with what they think best and then sit back in surprise when their ideas and efforts are rejected. “Target groups” are classified as “backward” or “bound by tradition.”

The challenge comes in identifying the real constraints and finding effective means to overcome them. Innovations should never be construed as replacements for existing indigenous systems of tree management and conservation, but rather as a means of building upon local strengths and capabilities. Effective design and introduction of forestry innovations ultimately require an understanding of where these activities fall within the spectrum of people’s spontaneous responses to scarcity. This will only come with direct two-way communication between project planners and rural people, and a collaborative effort to devise methods by which the most appropriate innovations might be effectively introduced.

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