A village group in Indonesia’s Kalimantan Island plants a small community fuelwood plantation. A Vietnamese landowner plants trees along her field as a living fence and as source of fuelwood. Filipino farmers plant trees that they will sell later to a local paper mill, for pulpwood. Rural landless people in West Bengal, India, plant, tend, and benefit from trees they grow on government lands. Villagers in the Chacon Valley of Nepal trees along fields for windbreaks and fuelwood. Villagers in Thailand intercrop trees with food crops.
All of these are examples of social forestry. All are boosting much-needed forestation in thinning Asian forests.
Today, high-level decision-makers have begun to realize that social forestry can contribute both directly and indirectly to improving the environment, increasing food and energy security, and reducing unemployment, which are three key issues preoccupying most world leaders.
Local Participation a Must
Two ingredients are common in successful social forestry programs: widespread local participation backed by higher level political support, and sustainable, productivity-increasing technologies that are adaptable to local circumstances and acceptable to local populations.
The term “social forestry” is used interchangeably with “farm and community forestry” and “forestry for local community development” by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations according to Dr Sarah Kentai of the Tribhuvan University, Institue of Forestry.
The terms refer to a broad range of tree- or forest-related activities undertaken by rural landowners and community groups to provide products for their own use and for generating local income.
Social forestry may also include governments or other groups planting trees on public lands to meet local village needs. In conventional industrial production forestry, trees are also used to meet the needs of people, and social forestry often involves farmers and other small holders producing commercial tree crops. In that sense, all types of forestry can contribute to social goals, Dr Kentai said
There is a continuum from the large-scale, industrial forest based corporation, with its objectives related to sales and profits, to the small village or rural farmers growing trees to meet their own needs. The primary focus in social forestry is on involving community and individual farmers with trees and on analyzing how people grow trees and use them while they grow.
Why is Social Forestry Important?
Social forestry can contribute significantly to improving the livelihood of poor rural people through soil improvement. It can also supply wood for home construction, farm building, fencing, fuel, and fiber; food supplements; windbreak protection; and shade and fodder for livestock.
Social forestry can provide income for farmers and rural communities and can help to move people from the frightening and fragile condition of mere subsistence to a better level of living. Judgment must be used in deciding how and when to integrate trees into farming systems, because trees may also compete with agricultural crops if not introduced appropriately.
This is where Agroforestry enters the picture. Agroforestry, or the integration of tree growing into farming systems either spatially or temporarily, is a major tool in social forestry programs involving farmers. While Agroforestry has been practiced for centuries in most parts of the world, only recently has it been subjected to major scientific investigation.
The United States, Canada, and a number of other countries recognized the importance of Agroforestry and joined together in 1977 to create the International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF).
From its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, ICRAF produces and disseminates much useful documentation dealing with Agroforestry systems In addition to supporting ICRAF, the United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), currently supports other agroforestry-related research and development in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Fuelwood is the primary source of energy for poorer urban households and for the vast majority of rural households in developing countries. Total annual consumption of fuelwood in developing countries increased from 1.1. to 1.4 billion cubic meters between 1973 and 1983, and fuelwood currently accounts from more than 80 percent of all the wood harvested in developing countries.
According to a survey conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 1.1 billion of more than 2 billion persons who are dependent on fuelwood face hardship because over time they have been harvesting wood faster than it has been replenished by natural regeneration and planting
Fuelwood scarcity is at the heart of the energy crisis for the rural poor worldwide. Approximately 100 million persons in developing countries suffer from acute fuelwood shortages.
Millions are forced to reduce their calorie and nutrient intake because they no longer can obtain the fuelwood needed to cook available foods, nor can they afford to buy other fuels.
Millions are also cold because they cannot find wood to heat their homes. Many rural poor already spend a disproportionately high part (30 percent or more) of their incomes on fuelwood.