Tree seed and community forestry

4. Seed handling potential

The objectives of community forestry regarding tree seed should be to find the state of local knowledge regarding tree seed and upgrade it according to the local needs, capabilities and desires of the people who will participate in the activities. Community foresters need wide ranging skills and knowledge to decide and plan the appropriate programs for a particular area/community. Local opinions and attitudes depend very much on knowledge and experience, so the potentials for community forestry have to be assessed very carefully and not simply based an peoples present answers to questionnaires etc., especially with trees such as Eucalyptus which are the object of so much misinformation. Extension activities such as the supply of correct information, training programs, public relations etc can have large effects on opinions and attitudes.

It should be possible to involve community forestry activities in handling forest tree seed at all levels successfully, except for the more technical aspects which need seed laboratory equipment, such as seed testing. Farmers have been handling agricultural crop seed such as rice, corn, wheat etc. seed for thousands of years, without any scientific research or trained personnel to advise them on how to do it, so there is no reason for them not to be able to acquire knowledge and skills concerning tree seed.

FAO (1985) identified the major steps in seed handling for commercial and research purposes. No attention was paid to the different situation of programs where there may be little technical skills available and where the main purposes are to handle seed for local community use, rather than for large state or private 'organizations. From the previous chapter villagers are already involved in seed handling, even if seemingly at a simple level; it only needs for foresters etc. to go and look for the evidence often under their noses. It could be a similar situation to a Senegalese forestry officer who insisted that women did not and could not plant trees, while his wife (when alone) claimed that she, her mother and her grandmother had all planted trees, and all the trees in the forester's own courtyard had been planted by the wife, as was the situation in all courtyards (Hoskins, 1983).

4.1 Planning seed collection

Community involvement in seed handling is by its nature likely to cover only a small area geographically - near the community, and concern only a few species. The steps in the planning stage will not be as complex as for national forestry organizations and accessibility is not likely to be a problem as seed sources will most likely be near the community. In cases where seed is acquired from an outside organization such as a forestry department then sources of seed and procedures for ordering seed need to be known, such as time of ordering, forms to use, details to fill in. Species/varieties/provenances suitable for the area need to be determined.

i) Determining species/provenances/varieties/stands

Little research has been done on trees suitable specifically for community forestry objectives. The general criteria used in research programs for tree selection are fast- growing, long, clear and straight bole, light branching and single stem. In community forestry heavy branching can be a good trait for pollarding or for shade, slow growth of a tree with dense wood would be preferred for producing charcoal to a species with fast growth and light wood. Selection of species etc. needs particular care because needs can be site specific and have social factors which need to be considered. For production not intended for large industry, parallel tree improvement programs to the conventional ones, with different criteria, are needed to cater for the needs of local people. The programs would also have to include social survey to know the needs of the people for whom the trees are intended.

ii) Determining quantities to collect

Special guidelines need to be prepared for collecting seed from community forestry seed stands. They are likely to be poorly maintained and have other use(s) as the prime use. Seed trees may be scattered such as roadside, homestead trees etc., rather than in a stand. At all levels of seed handling, production will be less than for professional organizations because of less quality control.

iii) Determining dates of collection

Community forestry programs are more likely to collect immature seed because of lack of technical knowledge and time available for collection. If collection time falls during harvesting time or other times of heavy work in the fields it may be difficult to organize collections. This problem could be overcome by giving work to landless people and paying for labour. Simple guidelines for determining when seed of various species is suitable for collection would help community forestry programs to organize this activity themselves. As there would unlikely to be laboratory facilities available to help in determining maturity, indicators would have to be simple field-determinable factors such as time after flowering, colour of seed/fruit, floating in oil etc.

iv) Determining which trees to collect from

Guidelines are similar to conventional seed collecting programs i.e. collect from healthy, vigorous trees of good form; collect from mature or nearly mature trees; avoid isolated trees of naturally cross-pollinating species; avoid collecting' in stands with many diseased, abnormal, inferior trees. However the criteria used to determine form, abnormality and inferiority would not necessarily be the same as for conventional forestry. The criteria would also not have to be so strict either, because community forestry is not so demanding as commercial forestry regarding economic returns, and getting as much seed as possible from available sources.

v) Assembling resources for seed collection

Ability in estimating man-days required for collecting seed can be built up from experience and with outside help, but it would be not as crucial as for a forestry organization were time is more valuable for paid personnel. Equipment available will be unsophisticated so there may be limitations in ability to collect in certain situations, such as tall trees with long clear boles. Transport over short distances can easily utilize local community vehicles of any type. Containers can be makeshift, such as fertilizer bags, kerosene cans etc. Record keeping need only be very simple unless the seed is sold or passed on to a forestry organization. The designing and issuing of simple forms to a community forestry program would help this.

4.2 Collection methods

Seed collection methods depend on the characteristics of the fruit, the tree, the stand and the' site. For community forestry the factor of ease of collection has to be considered when establishing tree seed sources. Sophisticated equipment is unlikely to be available, so collection methods most suitable are collection from the ground, collection from trees whose seeds are accessible from the ground, and collection from felled trees and branches.

Collection from tall trees may be possible if climbers are available, but it would be limited as it entails maiming the tree to make foot holds, as is often done to collect honey, or by climbing the tree directly as is done by workers at the Teak Improvement Centre, Lampang, Thailand, on Teak with long clear boles. If tree climbing is done, training in safety precautions and guidelines can be given to minimize the risk of accidents.

Collecting from the ground has its risk of picking up abscised, immature and imperfect fruit, especially if the timing is not right, and also debris. The normal practice of spreading sheeting material on the ground to ensure collecting only seed which falls after a certain time can be done by utilizing various types of makeshift material commonly available, such as fertilizer bags.

Shaking of trees and branches manually or with ropes is possible as nothing sophisticated is needed. Simple tools can also be used to collect seed for community forestry. Long bamboo poles and various types of long handled fruit pickers and pruners are readily available in Thailand, and can raise the height at which seed can be collected. Cutting of large branches just to collect seed should be discouraged to protect trees from excessive damage, unless it is done as part of tree pollarding. Coppicing and felling could also be timed to enable seed collection.

4.3 Post harvest treatment

Maintenance of viability is the most important factor after harvesting. Transport distanoes are unlikely to be long, so packaging, storing and processing are the major factors. Simple containers such as rice sacks, fertilizer sacks, bamboo baskets, kerosene tins, are most readily available to villagers and would be free or low cost. As in any kind of seed collection program good ventilation is the most general requirement. Size of seed would determine which types of containers would be unsuitable.

Extraction of seed should be done as soon as possible. requirements of seed differ greatly for extraction and viability maintenance. Some fruits require drying, others need to be kept moist, so guidelines are needed where there is no local knowledge of seed handling of particular species, especially for recalcitrant seed, which quickly loses viability.

The first step in seed treatment is removal of impurities collected with the seed. For some species, such as Tectona, Pterocarpus, Quercus, the seed can be sown or stored directly without further treatment. Other species require some maturation period or drying, which is simply achieved by storing in a well ventilated place. Fleshy fruits and capsules require particular care to prevent fermentation and decay for the former and to make sure the capsules open for the latter. Usually only simple procedures are needed, and should pose no problem for community forestry.

4.4 Processing.

Seed can be classified into 3 types for post harvest handling and storage (Bonner, 1978):

  1. Dry for extraction and storage e.g. Acacia, Casuarina, Eucalyptus, Tectona.
  2. Always moist e.g. Dipterocarpuspus, Hopea, Quercus.
  3. Moist for extraction and storage e.g. Gmelina, Melia, Morus, Zizyphus.

Extraction from fleshy fruits needs pulping in water to separate the seed from the flesh. Some species needing this are: Eugenia cuminii, Aleurites spp, Canarium ovatum, Gmelina arborea, Azadirachta indica, Cinnamomum camphora, Morus spp., Chlorophora spp., cephalus chinensis, Vitex parviflora.

For fruits needing drying, air drying under cover and sun drying are both feasible for community forestry, provided the correct procedures are followed. All these factors are items for forestry extension to give the appropriate knowledge for each situation.

Some seeds may need physical action to extract the seeds, such as shaking, tumbling, threshing. Examples quoted by FAO (1985b) are grinding pods of Prosopis tamarugo in a stone mill set at a spacing of 4mm in Chile, followed by sieving and floating, putting pods of Acacia mangium in a cement mixer with blocks of wood, and pods of Albizzia falcataria alone in a cement mixer in Sabah, opening pods of Delonix regia, Pithecellobium saman, Cassia javanica and Parkia javanica, with a knife in the Phillipines. These are simple local solutions to a problem. The key is to utilize whatever is available and adapt. In cases where quantities of seed are not large, several operations can easily be done by hand by mobilizing the community members.

Cleaning falls into the same category. Depending on seed size shape, colour, uniformity, degree of difference of the seed from the impurities, many species can be cleaned by hand. Simple screens, flotation and winnowing, as is done with paddy can also be done at the community level. Also, for community use high purity is not so important, so efficient methods of cleaning are unnecessary. If seed is sent on/sold to a forestry organization Then further, cleaning and processing can be done by the organization itself to produce higher quality seed lots.

4.5 Storage

Seed storage is required if the collection date does not coincide with the suitable sowing time or if there is seed excess to requirement due to an abundant seed year. For community forestry only simple storage methods and containers will be available, and storage is likely to be mostly from collection to sowing time and rarely until the following sowing season. Several methods are available which need no expensive equipment to control conditions: storage at ambient temperature and humidity, storage at ambient temperature and some control of humidity, moist storage without control of moisture content or temperature, and moist storage with some control of moisture content but not temperature. Only simple methods are available therefore storage time and species which can be stored are limited.

The considerations concerning community forestry regarding factors affecting seed longevity in storage are as follows:

Containers can be classified into three types:

Permeable materials such as hessian sacks, cardboard etc are readily available and can be used for short term storage. Sealable containers such as metal cans, plastic containers, plastic bags, aluminium foil can be regarded as impermeable for the relatively short storage times likely in community forestry, even though over several years some may be permeable to moisture.

Maintenance of seed moisture content after drying is possible by use of readily'available containers. Guidelines are needed on the use of containers for particular species and procedures to follow in packing seed for storage.

4.6 Seed pretreatment

There are so many types of seed dormancy that guidelines for particular species or groups of species requiring certain techniques will be needed for community forestry projects. The suitable techniques available can be classified into physical treatment, wet treatment, biological treatment and .heat treatment. Community forestry requires simple procedures which give a reasonable germination percentage. None of the standard methods used require complicated or expensive equipment.

Soaking, scarifying, chipping etc. all can be done with simple tools and equipment. In the case of heat treatment, whether wet or dry, care will be needed not to subject seed to too much heat and kill them. Indigenous knowledge may already be good enough, as in the case of the Mukau tree mentioned earlier, or Acacia nilotica seed which is also collected from goat droppings in Pakistan. The state of local knowledge should be surveyed and augmented where needed by extension foresters.

Continue ... 5. Strategies for the involvement of community forestry with tree seed

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