Tree seed and community forestry

3. Review of community forestry experience with tree seed

There are only a few examples in the literature of indigenous knowledge of tree seed handling and a few examples of community forestry activities involving seed handling. The reason could be that the experts and researchers themselves are the main problem. They do not look for forestry activities at the level of seed and they do not consider it important enough to emphasize it in forestry activities. As Brokensha and Riley (1980) noted of the Mukau tree in Kenya, whose seed is collected from the droppings of goats and then germinated, and the tree itself is protected by farmers:

Few forestry officials knew that this valuable tree could be germinated by people; indeed, some authorities denied this verbally and in print. Yet as we were told rather scathingly by an old man, who was surprised by our ignorance "every uncircumcised herd-boy knows how we germinate Mukau".

In another example from Kenya, mentioned earlier, the people started collecting seed themselves and growing seedlings because of a severe lack of trees for planting, 'without any intervention by forestry officials (Brokensha et al, 1983).

Mung'ala (1987) described a forestry program in Kenya involving local people in tree seed activities. Kenya was reported to have an annual demand of 200 million tree seedlings, of which it was estimated only 86 million were actually produced by the three ministries and 78 tree planting organizations involved in tree planting, as well as the country's millions of farmers. This translated into a shortfall of 8-10,000 kg of seed. The seed supply problems were identified as - too few suppliers, seed not readily available to those needing it, species available generally few, and often inappropriate, low quality seed, poor selection and documentation, lack of information on species for agroforestry.

To try to solve the problem the Kenya Woodfuel Development Program (KWDP) was set up. Surveys conducted by the program found considerable indigenous knowledge and experience among farmers in Tree planting (although there was a division of the sexes in access to the resources planted - the men sold the products for case despite the woman having the responsibility to collect fuelwood) The program gave farmers both seed and seedlings. Seedling production for distribution faced many problems, while the farmers' nurseries achieved more success in raising seedlings.

In trying to solve the problem of seed supplies three methods were tried. Seed Production Units consisting of small blocks of trees were established in schools, on state land and on farmers' land, for introducing seed to communities. Seed orchards were established on state land, and trees were planted on farms, the seed collected by field staff. The Seed Production Units' failed because they were seen as KWDP property and so were poorly maintained. The spacing was also too close, giving low The seed orchards also gave low production because of close spacing, while collecting seed from the trees planted on farms was too laborious.

As a result of these failures, the program decided to activate farmers to collect seed by paying them cash, for seed, with a different price for each species. The result was 2,500 kg of seed brought in. However, there were still problems with the seed. The genetic quality was uncertain, seed quality was variable, seed handling was variable, difficult to collect seed was not certain to be collected, farmers might keep trees for fuelwood etc. and not for seed production. Recommendations for solving these problems were to use seed inspection teams, provide standards and enforce and maintain, them, give training and information, give fair pricing. The next phase for the program was to mobilise schools to collect seed by letting them raise seedlings and plant the trees themselves, and giving rewards such as books, tools and equipment to the schools.

Handling, storage and distribution was organized by receiving the seed at collection centres, packing in plastic containers and sending to the program's district offices for drying, cleaning, fumigation, testing, storage and distribution. The seed was packed in small quantities (5-25 gm) for distribution to small farmers and in larger quantities for larger users.

The Forest Department in Kenya -produced a guide for tree farming (Chavangi and Zimmerman, 1987) in response to the need for practical advice to the new generation of extension foresters and to the progressive farmers who wished to take up tree farming. This guide includes a section on tree seed. Two lists of seed sources were given, one for the-forest extension officer and one for the farm forester. Advice was also given for farmers who wished to collect their own seed:

Pretreatment of seed before sowing was also recommended for difficult-to-germinate seed. Reference was made to another guide from the Kenya Forestry Seed centre for details of pretreatment for 200 species and to a guide from an NGO - KENGO for practical aspects of seed collection.

The advice given on collecting seed could easily be upgraded as it only covers selection of date to collect and trees to collect from in general. What is needed for the community forester/farm forester is an all-in-one guide to seed handling incorporating all three of the types of guides produced in Kenya, with special emphasis on species suitable for community forestry and comments which may be specific to each particular species. As the authors note, the guide was only intended as a beginning to stimulate ideas for improvement.

In China, where communal activities have been organized on a larger scale than in most countries, forest tree seed is included in forestry activities at the communal level. Most seed collection is organized by the Ministry of Forestry through seed centres. The seed centres either purchase seed from the production brigades operating state or commune nurseries or by directly employing collecting teams. The commune nurseries are normally located on poor land. They produce poor quality seedlings because of poor management, and often produce easy to raise species such as Populus and Salix. However they do make a significant contribution to afforestation programs (FAO, 1982). Seed orchards of superior species have been established, but the report did not mention whether they were managed by the communes or by the-Ministry of Forestry.

Seed availability, both in terms of quantities required and location, is crucial to any community forestry program. Small dispersed nurseries create administrative and financial problems for large organizations. Chatterjee (1985) reported on the use of schools to manage small, scattered nurseries in a social forestry project in West Bengal. The schools were chosen based on location of planting programs, availability of irrigation water and interest shown by headmasters. Technical assistance was given by project staff and training in nursery management given, including pretreatment of seeds and sowing techniques. Seed, fertilizer, insecticide and polyethylene bags were provided by the project.

The school children were the labourers in the nurseries. The project bought the seedlings produced by the schools, enabling them to pay for incurred costs and have profit left over to buy school materials and equipment. In 1983, 183 participating schools produced 633,000 seedlings. However, the program suffered from a lack of participation by the State Education Department, school holidays coinciding with peak nursery work, and lack of skills required for the program by project staff and teachers. Change in government policy, deciding to establish farmer and village council nurseries instead, threatened to end the program, despite its success.

The program, through the documentation of costs of seedling production, also showed that the cost of seed is an almost negligible factor in seedling costs, constituting only 0.6% of the total. Therefore making efforts to get good quality seed, of well chosen and improved species/varieties etc. is one of the best investments for a forestry program, as doubling or even quadrupling seed costs have a negligible effect on seedling costs yet have great effect on the trees produced. In this example, if the seed costs doubled, the cost of seedling production would only rise by 0.0025 rupees per seedling, on 0.27 rupees. If total tree establishment costs are considered, then investing in the extra cost of good seed will produce the highest returns in any forestry investment.

Continue... 4. Seed handling potential

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