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Farm and agroforestry in India – Policy and legal issues

Dr. N.C. Saxena
Former Secretary, Planning Commision


Trees in farming systems in India

Situations when farmers plant trees - Trees as part of peasants’ subsistence strategies have been historically an important component of the farming systems in several parts of India. There are several situations in which farmers protect, maintain and plant trees on farm lands and bunds. The first is in semi-arid regions where trees increase soil productivity and land sustainability through nutrient recycling and by providing mulch and shade for crops, and hence complement agricultural production. Thus the most widespread benefit from keeping trees on farms is the soil enriching effect of trees and protection against erosion. The second is where trees provide subsistence products, like fodder and fuelwood. As sale of tree products is not intended, tree growing in such cases may be pursued with minimal inputs in ways which do not intrude on food and cash crop production. The third is where trees are planted on farm boundaries, or inter-cropped with field crops with a view to get supplementary income from trees without much loss of the main crops. The fourth is homegardens in regions of high rainfall and good soil, where trees on homesteads and on small plots increase overall output from land. The fifth is on degraded lands which cannot support agriculture, but will produce a tree crop. The sixth is where uncertain agriculture neither gives enough income, nor enables the farmer to seek work outside the village; in such conditions, even small farmers may be keen to shift their lands to trees which demand less labour, and to concentrate on wage labour for meeting their immediate consumption needs. And the last is where trees substitute agricultural crops for increasing total profits from land.

The existence of a particular practice in an area is determined not only by the environmental and agro-ecological factors, but also by socio-economic considerations. In different areas with similar agro-climatic conditions, factors such as agrarian structure, population pressure, availability of labour and other production resources, production objectives, and market conditions may be the main determinants of the type and form of tree planting.

The situations described above have some similarity, but differ from each other in other respects. For instance, some are traditional age-tested agroforestry practices, whereas others have been recently introduced. The place of planting may be the homestead, farm boundary or the field itself. Trees could be planted in conjunction with other crops, or could be grown as a monocrop. The purpose may be ecological, or to meet consumption of family or cattle, or  to generate cash through sale in the market. Accordingly, the intensity with which trees would be managed would differ in each case. Patterns of tree growing thus vary with farming system, soil capabilities, demand for tree outputs, and farmers' perception of market conditions.

One way of classifying various situations would be according to the intensity of input application, in terms of labour, cash and management, which is applied to trees in comparison to annual crops. Three broad categories then emerge.

Firstly, where trees are sought for soil enrichment and subsistence products, intensity of management may be low, with minimal inputs without intruding on other more desirable farm production. Secondly, where trees generate income, or saleable byproducts, a more intensive tree management may emerge, with crop and livestock production being partially adapted to include trees. Thirdly, where tree crops are sought as a primary source of income, they may replace annual crops. Here tree growing may be pursued with intensive application of labour, irrigation, and fertiliser with a view to market them as any other cash crop.

We will illustrate these with examples from different combinations of ecological, and socio-economic conditions. As would be obvious from these illustrations, the above categories do not fall into water tight compartments, as there are no sharp or discreet breaks between them.

Illustrations of agroforestry - In arid western Rajasthan, farmers protect khejri (Prosopis cineraria) and bordi (Zizyphus spp.) trees to increase soil productivity and land sustainability. These trees recycle nutrients and provide mulch and shade for crops, and fodder for cattle, and thus complement farm production. Prosopis cineraria is a multi-purpose tree, providing fodder, mulch and even food (its leaves are eaten). Every part of this tree is used by the farmers. It is planted both on field boundaries and in the fields itself. Apart from improving soil fertility, the tree also binds the soil, decreases the velocity of hot summer winds, and provides shade to livestock and birds in the summer months.

The seasonally dry tropical regions present farm households with a major problem of inter-year and intra-year variability of rainfall. Farmers adapt to this by building diversity and flexibility into their farming systems and household economies. Trees and livestock often play an important part in this. Thus in semi-arid villages of Mahendragarh (Haryana) multi-purpose trees like Prosopis cineraria and Kikar (Acacia sp) help in reducing risk caused by uncertain rainfall. With their access to moisture deep in the soil profile, trees can photosynthesise and produce foliage in years and seasons when annual crops fail. In drought years farmers can then fall back on livestock and artisan based activities, which require leaves, fodder and raw material obtained from these trees.

In Thanjavur and Tiruchirapalli districts of Tamil Nadu, Acacia nilotica trees are cultivated on the rice bunds. It grows rapidly, as it is water tolerant, and benefits from fertiliser and irrigation applied to the field crops. In the summer months farmers pay a nominal sum to herd owners to pen their animals in their fields. The goats eat tender shoots of Acacia nilotica and crop stubbles. In return, the farmers fields are manured by the animals. Thus the traditional system involves sufficient ecological and economic interaction between the tree, crop and animal components.

In about 100,000 ha of Coimbatore and Periar, where annual rainfall is erratic and averages only 600 mm, field is ploughed with the seeds of Acacia leucophoea after the first rains, and then sown with crops like horsegram or Penniseum glaucum. If the rains continue favourably, the crops can be harvested as grains otherwise they are used as fodder. After about 10 years the farmer thins out trees to about 60 to 100 per ha so as to allow sufficient sunlight to reach the understorey crops. The yield of sorghum growing under the tree is about 20 % higher than without the trees.

Prosopis juliflora occurs widely on all wastelands of Tamil Nadu, but in Ramanathapuram, where rainfall is confined to the north-east monsoon, and substantial saline patches occur, prosopis is used to reclaim fallow lands. These are allowed on farmlands for four years, after which an annual crop is taken for two years, and again prosopis is allowed to invade the field. In addition, it is used for making charcoal, and it is estimated that 15,000 tonnes of charcoal is transported annually from Ramanathapuram to Chennai.

Large cardamom (Amomum subulatum Roxb.) is a shade loving plant grown in the hill state of Sikkim and in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. About 30 tree species are used to provide shade to the cardamom plants, the most important being Alnus nepalensis (Utis), a deciduous, nitrogen fixing and fast growing tree which is also used for fuelwood and fodder. The quick decomposing leaf litter of A. nepalensis also fertilises the cardamom plants. The management input required for growing cardamom is less than for rice or maize, but gives a higher return, and hence is preferred by farmers, specially those not living in the village. As cardamom plants are grown on steep slopes ranging from 35 to 81 percent the system of growing trees also preserves soil.

Trees may also be protected and planted on farm lands to maintain supplies of sought-after products no longer readily available from the natural forest which is cleared, degraded or is no longer accessible. In the Himalayan hills, where deforestation has reduced opportunities for gathering wood and tree products, trees are maintained on farm boundaries for subsistence, such as fodder and fuelwood.

The hills of U.P. are characterised by acute pressure on arable lands and a high density of human and livestock population. In addition to planting of trees on homesteads, a major practice is to protect trees which come up on terrace risers. The most common species is bhimal (Grewia optiva), which comes up naturally on the terrace risers and is protected by farmers. It is a multipurpose tree which yields fodder, fuel, and fibre. Leaves are also eaten. Fodder grasses like climax (Chrysopogon fulvus) and legumes are also widely grown, as farmers maintain a large number of livestock.

Celtis australis and Morus serrata are other farm trees in the hills (Tejwani 1988). These are raised primarily for fodder, but also provide small timber for making tools and fuelwood. As animal dung is the primary source of manure in the hills, making fodder available for cattle is an important economic activity, done by women. The average number of trees per household, between 16 and 30 (Saxena 1987), is not sufficient for meeting family's requirement, forcing women to collect fodder and fuel from forests. Srivastava (1982), an ex-IG of Forests estimates that field boundary trees in the hills of Central Himalayas do not even meet half the demand of fuel and fodder of the household, which keeps pressure on government forests.

There are 40 million palmyrah trees in TN-17.5 in Tirunelveli, 7 in Coimbatore and Periar, and 5.3 in Ramanathpuram (Jambulingam and Fernandes 1986). Usually the trees are randomly distributed on farm lands but are also planted on the bunds of paddy fields. Because of small crown the effect of shading on understorey crops is negligible. The main product, nera, is obtained in the dry months of Jan-May when there is no other crop. 28,000 families are engaged in the processing of palmyrah products, which provides a good source of income when demand for farm work is low. Tapping starts when the tree is 14-16 years old. Daily yield from a tree is 2 to 2.5 litres. A farmer having 100 trees per ha can earn Rs 500-600 annually.

Gamble (Delonix elata) is used on farm bunds or in village commons in Dharmapuri, South Arcot and North Arcot to provide green manure for rice fields. It also provides inferior fodder and is given to cattle in times of shortage.

Trees for cash - At the other extreme, trees may be planted with the prospect of raising tree products as a cash crop. Both large and small farmers may be involved in this, although for different reasons and in different circumstances. In regions of high fertility and good rainfall like West Bengal and Kerala, small farmers usually maximise returns from land through multi-storeyed cropping, where perennial crops such as coconut, arecanut, rubber and pepper are inter-cropped with seasonal and annual crops like tapioca, bananas, pulses and vegetables. Trees are preferred which have multiple uses, especially yielding fruit, fodder and mulch and being suitable as supporting structures for the cultivation of pepper, betels and various climbers. This diversity also reduces risks from pests and adverse weather as they tend to affect different crops differently (Singh and Usman,1986: 110). An extension of cultivation of tall perennial crops such as coconut and arecanut, permits a judicious combination of a number of tree crops leading to better utilisation of vertical space. Thus, a multi-tier cropping system can intensify cultivation of both tree and agricultural crops.

With rising land prices and greater penetration of market processes there is a tendency in Kerala to increase commercial cultivation of cash crops, relying heavily on purchased inputs. Rather than grow trees as a complement to agriculture, the tree crops were then of shorter duration and aimed at meeting specific market demands. Other trees were being replaced with coconut, which did not provide fodder and green manure.  

In some areas of India where land is of poor quality, or cultivation of annual crops is risky, or secure non-farm employment is available, even small farmers have taken to planting of trees for the market. For instance, in village Kovilur (Tamil Nadu, India), many small farmers diverted their dry lands from groundnut to cashew and eucalyptus plantations. The groundnut crop failed every two or three years. Fluctuations in output prices also affected the farmers. Wage employment was available in the neighbouring town but this required long absences from the village. Therefore, by planting tree crops, poor farmers were free to concentrate on improving their income through wage labour. The loss of ground crops did not hurt them financially as they could gain more from work outside the village. Adoption of farm forestry was therefore a search for a safe source of capital and income. Rather than produce for their subsistence needs, farmers channelled their labour to more profitable off-farm activities, while using their lands for tree crops requiring less labour and management.

In these examples, the involvement of small farmers in tree planting has been substantial. In fact, it has been argued that as farm size declines, the production objective changes from growing food to generation of income, with which small farmers buy food, and that the growth of agroforestry in many parts of the World is often a response to this change in production objectives (Arnold 1987).

Often, as with foodgrains, trees may be planted to meet both subsistence and cash needs. Casuarina plantations have been a part of the rural landscape in southern coastal India for more than a century now. The best part of the tree is sold as poles or as urban fuelwood, and lops, tops and roots are consumed within the family. In addition, on coastal lands casuarina acts as a good wind breaker. Often land is ploughed and cropped for one or two seasons with leguminous crops before returning to casuarina. Thus the system involves sufficient ecological and economic tree-crop interaction.

Changes over time

Notwithstanding these examples, apart from Kerala and similar areas of western Ghats, where both soil and rainfall pattern are extremely favourable to an intensive home garden type of agroforestry, elsewhere tree density on homesteads, boundaries and crop lands has tended to be low, or declined in the first three quarters of this century. The area under privately owned tree crops and groves in the country was 2.77 per cent of the total reporting area in 1951-52, but fell to 1.15 per cent by 1990-91, showing a substantial reduction in the area under farm trees. A resurvey of a village in Poona indicated that the number of trees had declined from 1747 to 655 during the period 1916 and 1953, and  'no new plantations were being made to make up for this loss' (Diskalkar 1957). The All-India Rural Credit Survey Report studied 75 districts from all over the country in 1951-52, and noted that in most districts either no expenditure was reported or less than one per cent of the families reported expenditure on the laying of new orchards and planting of trees (RBI 1956: 692).

But with the introduction of irrigation in semi-arid zones, trees are less important and even a nuisance.  Irrigation provides some of the counterseasonal security previously provided by trees and tree products. Trees also impede cultivation, and  so are cut, and saplings are not protected.  Chemical fertilisers tend to reduce the need for nutrients from trees. Hence tree density on the irrigated land of small farmers tends to be low. Several studies have observed that with the spread of irrigation, trees on crop lands were not needed, and were felled or not protected.

In some such regions, such as the alluvial plains of NW India, growing and protecting non-fruit trees has not been a farm practice for several decades. The system of supply of domestic energy in these plains has relied heavily on crop residues and dung as opposed to wood elsewhere in India. The use of dung and agricultural waste as fuel has persisted for hundreds of years and is deeply ingrained in the customs of the people (Stebbing 1926: 201). Customary cooking methods have been adapted for dung and crop residue fuels. Because of relatively fertile soils which have been periodically replenished by alluvium from the hills, farmers have not seen the need to return all their residues and dung to the soil to maintain fertility (Webber 1902: 264). From the farmers' point of view, there never developed a strong need for tree planting, either for fuel, fodder, or fertility (Gregersen et al. 1989: 44).

The farm forestry programme

Because of the indifference of farmers towards trees, when the tree planting programme in India, called farm forestry, was launched in the late 1970s it was initially believed that farmers would plant only a few trees on homesteads or on uncultivated lands for fuelwood and fodder for their own use (GOI 1976). However, farmers' response was quite different, both in scale and purpose of planting, from what was planned. Most trees came up on farm lands either as woodlots or on boundaries, and not on uncultivated lands. Against the original target of distribution of eight million seedlings to farmers in U.P. in the period 1979-84, actual distribution had to be stepped up to 350 million to meet farmers' demand (World Bank 1988). In Haryana, the area under trees on farms grew at a rate of 53 per cent per annum between 1975 and 1984 (NCAER 1987). In the Punjab, it was estimated that in the course of only ten years over three per cent of the net sown area had come under eucalyptus (Dogra and Sandhu 1986). An evaluation of the Haryana farm forestry project commented that the problem lay not in how to motivate farmers towards farm forestry, but in 'how to regulate the conversion of good   agricultural lands to pure tree plantations' (FAO 1991). As against the existing 49 million mature trees in Gujarat, in 1983-84 farmers planted 195 million trees in that state (GOG 1986). That is, in one year alone, farmers in Gujarat planted as many as four times the number of the total existing trees in the state.

During 1980-88 farmers in India raised about 10,550 million trees on private lands (Chambers et al. 1989). Independent estimates put the figure of survival around 60 per cent (IIPO 1991). A recent survey, albiet for a smaller sample, put this at 77 per cent (GTZ 1992). This is by all means an impressive achievement, and is reflected in the steep fall in the price of poles, and stabilisation in the price of fuelwood after 1985 in some regions of India (World Bank 1990).

Some features of the farm forestry programme are now widely known (USAID 1988; World Bank 1989). First, under farm forestry, more trees were planted in commercialised and surplus producing agrarian regions. The picture was radically different in subsistence oriented eastern states like Orissa, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh where farmers remained comparatively indifferent to private tree planting, despite the fact that rainfall and soil conditions were more favourable to trees in the east rather than in the semi-arid west and north India. Second, as regards species planted, eucalyptus (hybrids of E. tereticornis) was the most favoured tree with the farmers. Eucalyptus grew straight, had a small crown, which allowed more trees to be planted per unit of area, and caused little shading when planted on field boundaries. It did not attract birds, was non-browsable, hence easy to protect, and yielded straight poles which were perceived to have a good market. In the states of U.P., Haryana, Gujarat, and the Punjab, the percentage of eucalyptus in the total number of seedlings distributed by the Forest Department was 94, 96, 84, and 90 per cent respectively (IIPO 1991; NCAER 1987; Saxena 1991a, Kapur 1990). Farm forestry in NW India meant for all purposes planting of eucalyptus. Even when the Forest Department offered other 'fuelwood' species, farmers wanted only eucalyptus, so much so that many private nurseries sprang up during 1983-86 to meet the demand for seedlings. Therefore, whereas it is true that the department also lacked alternate choices in species which might have had similar advantges as eucalyptus, it was the farmers' craze for the tree which ultimately led to its over-production. Third, eucalyptus was planted more for sale as small timber, poles or pulpwood, than for use as fuelwood. Farmers preferred to sell the trees they grew and continued to use animal dung and agricultural residues for subsistence purposes.

Farm forestry and agrarian regions

It appears that tree planting caught the fancy of farmers in four different agro-ecological zones, as given below (Saxena 1992c).

1. North-west India - Greatest enthusiasm for tree planting was witnessed in the northern states of the Punjab, Haryana, and western U.P., called the `green revolution' belt of India, where cultivation is on good alluvial soils under secure conditions of assured irrigation. Here, trees were planted on boundaries, retaining cultivation of annual crops, but woodlot planting was attempted either by absentee landowners, or by resident large farmers on inferior soils. Unlike Gujarat and Karnataka a complete shift in landuse from annual crops to trees did not take place.

The programme however remained generally confined to large and medium farmers. The mid-term evaluation of the U.P. Social Forestry Project found that ‘in general few small farmers have so far participated in the farm forestry scheme’ (World Bank 1985: 1). Another study of U.P. (Gupta 1986) shows that farm forestry has been more popular with relatively large farmers, absentee land owners including urban dwellers, and businessmen. ‘Not only is their orientation towards cash incomes higher and their capacity to respond to new enterprises better, but also tree crops offer the advantages of ease in labour management. Market oriented farm forestry enables the rich to save taxes on the unaccounted income from other economic activities, as incomes from forestry and agriculture are exempt from many taxes.’

2. Commercial regions - Farmers in the commercialised and cash crop growing regions of western and southern India planted trees as a woodlot in place of risky crops like groundnut or cotton. Regions where such change in landuse has taken place, although on a small scale, are the productive deltas of rivers Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri, and other areas of intensive irrigation development as are found in the lowlands of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu. These are also regions where labour shortages have featured after the success of the green revolution. Trees in this context appeared as a convenient landuse option to farmers as it allowed saving in labour costs and permitted greater flexibility in the timing of operations.

Although more trees have been established in agriculturally well endowed regions, trees were also planted in two dry and agriculturally backward areas, as described below.

3. Regions close to pulp mills - Eucalyptus for sale has been grown in areas of low productivity surrounding the metropolitan town of Bangalore (Karnataka), where eucalyptus logs and poles are bought by the paper mills and by construction companies. This area is predominantly semi-arid with uncertain rainfall, where eucalyptus has replaced an inferior foodgrain, ragi (sorghum). Unlike the two regions already described, the participation of small farmers in these districts in growing trees is substantial. In addition to pulp mills, a number of wood based small scale industries in Kolar are active in buying wood from farmers, which keep the prices remunerative for even small farmers.

4. Degraded lands unfit for cultivation - The last known area where farm forestry has succeeded is the semi-arid tract of West Bengal, consisting of districts Midnapur, Bankura and Purulia. These districts are agriculturally poor, holding sizes are small and most of the production at farm level is to meet subsistence requirements of the farm households. The tree growing was a success because government allotted lands to the poor agricultural labourers, and encouraged them to plant trees by giving them subsidies. Such lands were unsuitable for crops, but suitable for trees. Benefits from trees were then additional to their other sources of income, which allowed them to wait while the trees matured.

However, farmers' enthusiasm to plant eucalyptus declined after 1986, as the tree failed to generate the kind of returns farmers were expecting from its sale. Some farmers removed the tree roots, and went back to annual crops (World Bank 1990; Saxena 1993). A study commented, ‘Eucalyptus is practically dead in Haryana today. Farmers are uprooting it today with the same vengeance as the love with which it was planted. It is a curse. it eats into agricultural production and its prices are unremunerative’ (SIDA 1990). In contrast to other agricultural innovations (e.g., high yielding variety of seeds) which, after a fast initial growth, stabilised at a high level of adoption, the popularity of eucalyptus farming shot up quickly during 1981-86 but declined equally fast afterwards.

We need to understand reasons for both – adoption of farm forestry in the early 1980’s and disappointment of farmers later – in order to suggest legal and policy changes which need to be introduced in order to encourage tree plantation in future for different agrarian regions on a sustainable basis.

The role of market incentives during the adoption phase Several factors may have led farmers to planting of trees for commercial ends and to view wood as a saleable commodity.

Scarcity of wood - First, till a few years ago, most of the market needs of poles, timber, and pulpwood were met from government forests. This was not because private and common lands did not have trees on them, but because these were meant to meet domestic rural demand for fuelwood, fodder and small timber. The market price was low, roads were few, and extraction costs were high. Peasants often believed, in zamindari areas of India at least, that all trees belonged to the state or the zamindar, just as land did, and that sale of neither land nor trees by the peasants was permitted.

But due to deforestation production from government forests declined and was no longer sufficient to meet market demands. For instance, the recorded production of industrial wood in India in 1979-80 was 13.5 m cum, which fell down to 6.44 m cum in 1984-85 (Singh 1990). The decline in supplies and increase in its demand in a growing economy resulted in sharp increases in prices. The all-India index of timber prices rose from 100 in 1970-71 to 946 in 1984-85, whereas the general index of wholesale prices rose from 100 to 338 only during the same period (Chambers et al. 1989), acting as an incentive for farmers to step in the market.

Commercial orientation of farmers - Second, the abolition of zamindari and the success of 'green revolution' technology in several regions of India changed the nature of agriculture from a primarily subsistence oriented activity to a commercial activity, in which most inputs including labour are paid for, and a substantial part of output is produced for the market. Cropping decisions are now influenced by the perceived relative profitability of different crops, and in this changed scenario, growing of wood on farms for market appeared to farmers in many regions of India a more profitable option than annual crops (Saxena 1992a). 

Rising timber prices - Markets for the above wood products and their rising prices provided a significant driving force which encouraged farmers to plant a large number of trees. For instance, the index of timber prices increased from 178 to 946, whereas the general wholesale price index increased only from 173 to 338, the index in 1970-71 being 100 for both (Chambers et al. 1989). According to the traders in Muzaffarnagar (western UP), the price of a plank of teak of 1.2 m length was Rs 7000 per cum in 1985, which had gone up to Rs 20,000 per cum in 1990, showing an increase of 15% annually in real terms, assuming 9% annual inflation. In Gujarat, between 1978-83, the general price index increased to 312 (base 1970=100), but that of poles rose to 650. According to Leach (1987), the real price of fuelwood increased by 34 per cent in 10 major cities of India during 1970-82, but another study of 41 towns showed 50 per cent increase during 1977-86 (Bowonder et al. 1988). A U.N. report calculated that, during 1973-85, firewood prices in India at constant prices had almost doubled (UNDP 1986: 113). An impression of widespread wood crisis was projected (Agrawal 1986), which must have created hopes of further rise in wood prices.

In tune with the price trends described above, for those eucalyptus farmers who managed to get in on the market boom at an early stage, profits were outstanding, and the early adopters clearly did quite well. A FAO study (1986) quotes reports from Gujarat in which the IRR from eucalyptus on farms was calculated at 129 per cent for the first rotation, and 213 per cent for each successive coppice crop. A farmer in Gujarat made Rs 50,000 per ha per year as profit from eucalyptus, which made it more profitable than even the best cash crops, like cotton (CSE 1985: 65). One farmer in Vadodra (Gujarat) was expecting to get Rs 567,000 from his 13 ha plot of eucalyptus, with an investment of only Rs 35,000 (Vasavada 1986). In the Punjab, an investment of Rs 1745 per ha in the first year was expected to give two returns of Rs 30,000 each in the eighth and 15th year respectively (Dogra and Sandhu 1986). Eteinne (1988), after visiting a western U.P. village in 1985, remarked that eucalyptus trees were sold at a huge profit for Rs 200 per piece by the farmers. News about the profitability of eucalyptus, and the farmers' craze to plant it, attracted international attention too (Economist, 6th December 1986: 93-94). Many businessmen and some senior government servants in the Punjab and Haryana bought degraded land with a view to use it for eucalyptus farming. Some financial companies too bought land, with a view to large-scale eucalyptus farming with capital borrowed from private individuals. This may be the only instance in India in which private urban capital was sought to be directly invested in rural areas.

Other incentives for tree growing - While potential profits from these lucrative markets did indeed provide an important incentive for farmers to plant trees, the picture was somewhat more complex. Other features of the rural economy gave trees a significant edge over annual cropping. Prices for other cash crops were particularly volatile, and the perception was that prices for wood would be far more stable than the key alternatives. In western U.P. for instance, the cane price paid by sugar mills remained static at Rs 240 a tonne between 1980 and 1985, despite the fact that the general price index rose from 212 to 315 (1970-71=100). The price paid by smaller unorganised jaggery units for cane fluctuated a great deal in this period. These were the years when expectations from eucalyptus farming were very high. Trees were also viewed as being more resistant to the effects of drought (FAO 1989). Trees helped in saving in labour and supervision costs. In a government survey in Gujarat, where farm forestry had been extremely popular in the early 1980s, 51 per cent of farmers said that they planted eucalyptus as it was more profitable than annual crops, 35 per cent cited the increasingly uneconomical and risky nature of agriculture, and 10 per cent said they were motivated by shortage of labour (Patel 1984).

This shift in land-use needs to be seen in the context of agrarian changes brought about by the success of 'green revolution' in that region compelling landowners to adopt strategies which saved supervision and farm management costs. Large farmers had a greater compulsion to change their land-use, while comfortable land and asset position and upper caste status enabled them to risk a new and long-gestation tree crop on their farms.

Labour issues - In these agriculturally surplus producing regions labour shortages have featured after the success of the green revolution. As wages increased due to increase in agricultural production, transactions costs went up. Second, intensive agriculture demanded equally intensive supervision, which tied farmers to the land. And last, as productivity rose and tenants became more assertive, it became risky for absentee land-owners to do outright leasing of lands. Trees in this context appeared as a convenient landuse option to farmers as it allowed saving in labour costs and permitted greater flexibility in the timing of operations. It promised to improve profitability, minimise the danger of losing control over land, and at the same time cut down on their supervision time, as trees required little labour or supervision between planting and harvesting. Tree output was easier to quantify than crop output, which further reduced the need for intensive supervision at the time of harvest. Thus tree planting helped absentee land owners and supervision constrained households to side-step rising labour and supervision costs.

To sum up, during the period 1980-86, several factors, such as high and increasing market price of wood, comparatively high and stable returns from wood farming, risky nature of agriculture, and saving in labour costs and supervision ease in the cultivation of eucalyptus, prompted several farmers to experiment with eucalyptus farming.

Policy failures leading to slowing down of farm forestry

Even in Gujarat and the north-west India the enthusiasm for farm trees, specially eucalyptus, did not last long. The dangers of a market glut due to over-production were being predicted as early as 1986. About Gujarat, a FAO study (1986) warned:

....there is a real possibility that the market would experience a glut in construction poles and fuelwood. ...The risk over the next several years would be especially high for small farmers who lack significant marketing experience. Market instabilities may leave them vulnerable to exploitation by middlemen.

These fears were realised within a couple of years. A study in 1987 in Gujarat (Wilson and Trivedi, 1988) showed that of the 45 producers who sold trees, only 9 made a relative profit; 36 would have been better off with agriculture. None of them was taking a second rotation. Similar conclusion was reached by a FAO study of the same state (1988).

In U.P. the USAID/World Bank evaluation team (1988) noted a 20 per cent fall in pole prices. Another report on U.P. admitted that many farmers were lately reluctant to get involved in the programme or re-invest in forestry activities once they had harvested the existing trees (World Bank 1990: 28). 

In the Punjab a 7 to 8 year-old tree could not be sold for Rs 15 compared to the expected Rs l00 hinted at by the Forest Department and of the Rs 150 realised during initial sales (Das, 1987). The situation is summed up by Aulakh (1990), "The prices offered by the traders are no longer remunerative. There is virtual panic amongst the farmers about the future of eucalyptus plantations raised by them. Some have even started cutting down the young plantations". In Haryana, a slogan among the farmers in the early 1980s was: `plant one acre under eucalyptus and pocket Rs 100,000 after 6 years, or earn upto Rs  100 a tree'. These hopes were not realised, as many farmers did not obtain even Rs 15 per tree (Athreya, 1989).

As farmers could not make the anticipated profits, they stopped growing eucalyptus. In Gujarat only 12 million eucalyptus seedlings were distributed in 1988, a year of very good rainfall throughout the country, as against a peak distribution of 134 million in 1984 (GOG, 1989). In Haryana, only 4 million plants from nurseries could be sold in 1988 against a peak distribution of 43 million in 1984 (Chambers et al., 1989). Due to glut of wood, the planting targets under farm forestry in the Punjab had to substantially reduced from 47.5 million seedlings in 1983-84 to 13.5 million seedlings in 1990-91 (Kapur 1991). According to the Punjab FD, the state was surplus in wood by 2 million tonnes annually, and farmers were compelled to sell their produce at a throwaway price of Rs 250 per tonne.

Disenchantment of farmers with eucalyptus in particular and farm forestry in general was due to four main factors (Saxena 1994):

1. Production problems- Most farm forestry plantations planted over 4000 eucalyptus seedlings to a hectare, or the distance between two adjacent trees in case of bund plantation was just about a meter, which led to poor quality of produce good enough only for fuelwood. Second, due to rapid increase in demand for eucalyptus seedlings in the early 1980s, seed collection was not done properly by the FD and private nurseries, and poor quality seedlings were allowed to be planted. Third, the genetic status and composition of the eucalyptus hybrid has deteriorated during the last 150 years, which has reduced yields. Improvements could be achieved by bringing in pure strains and careful matching of species to match specific site conditions. And last, the intensive weeding and soil working necessary in many areas was frequently neglected.

2. Loss in agricultural production- Many farmers planted eucalyptus on farm bunds, hoping to get a good income after six years. They were not advised that trees could reduce agricultural output. Foresters often denied that crops would be affected by competition from eucalyptus roots. The UP PCR (1988) concluded that cultivation lost because of trees on bunds was negligible. The reality was different and many farmers lost up to a quarter of the crop after the third year, depending on soil and water conditions, spacing and location of trees, and other factors (Ahmed 1989; Malik and Sharma 1990).

3. Lack of demand- Because of production problems, eucalyptus grown by farmers remained thin, and had little use as timber, which required bigger, higher density trees than were available from farm lands in a short rotation period of 5-7 years. The output was suitable for pulping, but paper mills get subsidized wood from the state Forest Departments. The UP Forest Corporation had calculated that during 1983-84 the actual cost of raising eucalyptus in government forests was Rs 220 per ton, whereas it was supplied to the Saharanpur paper mill at Rs 140 per ton, and to the Nainital mill at Rs 196. The market rate for equivalent quality of eucalyptus, as judged from the auction prices, was between Rs 500-700 per ton during the above period (information based on government records, and all prices are for dry and debarked wood).

In fact the government policy of subsidising bamboo production on forest lands for supplies to industry acts as a deterrent to cheaper production on homesteads. Many mills did start collecting eucalyptus from farmers, but there were organizational problems in buying wood from scattered farmers and transporting it over a long distance. The biggest blow to farm forestry was given by the government by permitting free import of pulp, which made the mills indifferent to developing home markets for farmers.

It was thought then that the farm-based eucalyptus crop would be used as scaffolding poles, but demand for poles is far lower than demand for pulpwood or timber, and the market was unable to absorb the production. Much eucalyptus wood was sold as fuelwood at lower than expected prices.

4. Market imperfections- Wood markets are still not fully geared to receiving farm production. Farmers rarely brought their produce to the markets, they waited for the buyers to come to them. Legal restrictions on the transport of wood, designed to prevent illicit felling from government forests, work against the interests of producers by acting as a barrier between the producer and the market. Farmers have little information about buyers, prevailing prices, and government rules. As a result, middlemen margins were large and there was a large gap between what producers got and what consumers paid. Producers were thus deprived of the true market potential.

Markets in general perform two functions, allocative and exploitative (Harriss 1989). To the extent markets facilitate commodity production, and integrate producing regions with consuming regions, they help the farmers in choosing the most profitable cropping pattern. Farmers allocate their resources in commodity production on the basis of signals they receive from markets. But markets may also play a retrogressive role by coercing producers to sell at a low price through monopsony, credit and withholding of information. In such a case commercialisation may take place either without increase in production, or without increase in consumption of producers. This had happened in eastern U.P. in the early 20th century, when sugarcane was introduced as a cash crop (Amin 1984).

The studies on the nature of wood markets tend to show that these are more exploitative than allocative. The very fact that existing pull of high pole prices prompted many farmers to change their existing landuse shows that at least initially the markets did perform an allocative function. High pole price signalled demand, which was transmitted through the mechanism of markets to the farmers, who then allocated their resources in wood production. Farmers were able to obtain profits in the initial years presumably because of a huge gap between supply and demand. But as the gap narrowed, other issues relating to market imperfections became more relevant. Farmers' enterprise, according to these studies, has been thwarted by market constraints caused by exploitative trade practices.

Thus the fall in farmers' interest was due to many factors. It would be simplistic to put the blame for market failure only at the doors of restrictive laws which required farmers to take permission before harvesting or transporting their produce. No doubt such laws discouraged the farmers and reduced their profits, but this was not the only or the most important reason for the decline in planting. For instance, Gujarat was one of the first states to remove such restrictions, yet market conditions did not improve. The experience of Gujarat farmers with marketing of eucalyptus is described as, 'Marketing in the area was an arbitrary and uneven business. Those who got good prices through direct sales tended to be the well-known, well-respected members of the community. Some producers received good offers from merchants through relatives, while others were unable to get any offers at all. The merchants from large towns, Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad, appeared to give better prices than local merchants and commission agents, though because of the costs of transport, they were less ready to buy. Selling to commission agents also involved the hazard of underpayment or non-payment: four farmers from different villages sold on contract, but three of them got only half the agreed sum and the fourth got nothing although his trees were cut by the contractor' (Wilson and Trivedi 1988).

Then there were several other problems. First, the supply of farm eucalyptus was excessive in relation to local demand as it could not be moved fast, and these supplies had to compete with imports as well as that from government, which is subsidized, and with wood gathered at low opportunity cost by the poor. These latter supplies tend to distort the market, as differential subsidies and undervalued/ unwaged gathering makes markets imperfect. Second, producers were in a weak bargaining position vis-a-vis the traders. Third, its low price (and high handling costs per unit sale price) deter traders from adding value to it by creating consumption utilities.

Of the several constraints faced by the farmers in marketing wood, the legal framework is the most important and therefore is discussed below in detail.

Legal Problems in Harvesting and Sale of Trees 

Trees can be good investments as savings banks for the poor, enabling them to accumulate capital. But trees would become poor people's banks only when their right to ownership of trees is not disputed and impeded by law or bureaucratic regulations. Quite often this is not the case. Rights which people have over trees planted on private lands are often ambiguous. There is a widespread impression in the villages that if trees are planted on private lands, not only would the trees belong to the Government but land on which such plantation takes place would also revert to Government. In contrast to Africa, where trees are often planted to establish tenure rights, in India they are often removed to demonstrate claims to land. Even as late as 1987 a SIDA team touring in South Bihar encountered tribals' fears that if they planted trees their lands would be taken away by the government. The fear is not baseless as the Bihar Private Forest Act and similar other enactments did precisely this in the past, by ’nationalising‘ private trees.

In most States people can cut trees only after going through a laborious process of getting a permit from designated minor functionaries - with consequences easy to imagine. There are three different sets of laws: a farmer cannot harvest trees without permission; a permit is required to transport them; and lastly some trees can be sold only to the F.D. What is the effect of these laws and how do they operate in practice?

Such forest laws leave villagers in doubt whether any wood they produce will belong to them. Perversely, the immediate impact of such legislation is always more destruction of private trees as people wish to cash their assets before the government machinery to enforce laws is set up. For instance, in Maharashtra just before the Private Forest Acquisition Act, 1975 was enacted the holders of private forests cut and sold all the trees on their lands. Besides, such laws make people indifferent to tree growing, depress their margins when they wish to sell trees, and encourage corruption and middle-men's profits. They also discriminate against poor farmers, as they are less likely to be able to obtain permissions at the time of need.

A study of Pahela village in district Bhandara, Maharashtra (CENDIT,1985b) showed that although transport of wood within the village was not prohibited, in practice people were often harassed by officials. A poor farmer complained, ‘The contractors from Delhi, Hyderabad and Bombay come here and take away all the wood....The F.D. officers go out of their way to be helpful to the contractors. And what happens to us? I can't cut even a branch of a tree on my field without the forest guard bullying me....If I go to the DFO to get permission to cut a tree growing on my own land, ’come  back tomorrow’, I am told every time.‘

A District Collector in U.P. conducted an enquiry into this problem. He obtained from the forest office the list of those who had received permits to sell their private trees. He then checked up in the field. 

He discovered that the list of 17 names contained 3 which were either fictitious or of people who had not applied for permits. Clearly these were cases where permits had been obtained fraudulently by the contractors. Out of the remaining 14, 2 were marginal farmers who had obtained the permits on their own, without involving an intermediary. But when they took their permits to the local police station, they were asked to pay illegal gratification. On their inability to do so their permits were confiscated, and they were not allowed to fell their trees.

The remaining  12 admitted that they obtained the permit through the services of a middleman who ’dealt‘ with the  forest and police bureaucracy. The district Collector concluded in his report, ’The consideration for these services rendered was adjusted in the sale price.‘  He also observed, ’It will not be an exaggeration to say that the marginal farmers and the poor will never be able to obtain a permit on their own from the forest department. Even if they do, they might not be able to 'convince' the local police. They will have to seek the protection of the local contractors.‘

In Moradabad, a prosperous district of western U.P., enquiries made by the Chief Development Officer  revealed that in all cases except one, farmers applied for permission through intermediaries. In the isolated case,  where a big farmer tried to do it himself, it took him 14 months to get permission as against a normal period of 2-3 months for contractors . He complained of harassment from F.D. as he had to spend more than Rs. 600 in travelling from his village to the forest office a number of times. In other cases trees were sold on as-is-where-is basis, and expenditure on felling and transport was borne by the middlemen.

In H.P. farmers cannot sell their commercial trees in the open market. All such trees have to be sold to the Forest Corporation, and that too only once in 10 years. Payment is made by the Corporation in four instalments spread over a couple of years. The logic is that as the Corporation is working on behalf of the farmers, it cannot, by definition, make losses; therefore all overheads of the Corporation must be fully met before the last instalment is paid to the contractor. This results in low and delayed payments to the contractors, who in turn exploit farmers.

The rules concerning sandalwood trees present a striking instance of self-defeating regulation. Sandalwood is considered to be very auspicious for all religious ceremonies. Sandalwood and its oil are also used in perfumery and medicine. Despite  increasing demand, sandalwood production in Karnataka has been declining. Its price of Rs.12.50 a tonne in 1955 has now risen to Rs.80,000 a tonne in the open market. One  reason for low production is  absolute state control over sandal trees even on private lands. This means that an individual can derive no  economic benefit from a sandalwood tree as he can neither cut it nor sell it. At the same time, due to the high price there is a lot of illegal felling of sandal trees from forest land. Thus a vicious circle has been established leading to a price spiral. ’Supply increases as the price increasesA, is the old law of economics. In this case a price increase of 6000 times (600 times in real terms)  has actually led to a decline in production! In the present scheme of things there are incentives only to the smugglers.

A study by IIM Ahmedabad of charcoal makers in Gujarat showed that a simple operation of converting prosopis into charcoal, which can give employment to thousands of people requires several permissions. Harvesting, conversion, and transportation are all subjected to departmental controls involving cumbersome and time consuming procedures. For instance, the government of Gujarat has banned harvesting of prosopis from forest areas, and therefore, the production of charcoal is carried out in individual or private lands. The procedure established for harvesting and converting prosopis into charcoal is controlled by the revenue and forest departments.

In Tamil Nadu too, another area of abundance of prosopis, charcoal producers faced several problems. The Tamil Nadu Government authorised in January 1986, Forest Officers to issue a certificate of origin for the transport of charcoal to other states after verifying the genuineness of its origin. However, charcoal producers had difficulties in implementing these orders, and satisfying the issuing authorities about the origin. Charcoal is prepared at the felling sites by small producers who are constantly on the move. They sell it at their sites or cart it to bigger producers who buy it, pool it and grade it for transport to other states. The same thing holds good for wood which bigger producers buy from different sources and convert it into charcoal. The small producers are not able to give any information about survey numbers, much less certificates from the village officers. They also cannot afford the ‘incidental expenses’ incurred in getting a permit.

‘Such restrictions are based on assumptions about the behaviour of  rural people which are widely shared by bureaucracies all over the world. They believe that farmers cannot be trusted with a resource which only yields income after a gap of several years. Such a prejudiced view has, however, no empirical basis. Besides,  such controls act as  self-fulfilling prophecies: they deter protection and promote irresponsible felling. To effect a change in the people's behaviour one should start by trusting them with trees, at least those on their own lands. Some decades back, similar apprehensions were expressed regarding giving poor people land and security of tenure: it was said that they would only produce for consumption and not for the markets, and that more land would make them lazy. Experience from all over the world has shown that once assured of security of rights, peasants have proved themselves worthy of trust through their hard work, rationality and market orientation. 

Excessive regulations lead to corruption. A study of north Indian fuel markets found that transporters carrying fuelwood to Delhi have to pay Rs.500 per truck as ’on-road considerations‘, a euphemistic phrase for bribes. These laws also keep the over-burdened bureaucracy busy in pursuits which (from the social point of view at least) are totally unproductive. Even when an officer is not corrupt, he is judged not on the basis of his help to  small farmers, but whether he has been able to contain complaints of illegal fellings within ’manageable‘ proportions. Yardsticks of performance get distorted, doing immense harm to social forestry programmes.

Awareness of laws and rules in India outside the bureaucracy is limited. They are generally shrouded in secrecy or in mystifying language. The cardinal principle governing the working of a government office is that ’a good decision is better than a quick one‘. Therefore movement of papers takes a lot of time, which is often independent of bribes involved. This has two implications for a tree farmer. First, because of lack of knowledge, he cannot on his own negotiate a permission; he needs a middleman to help him. Second, even the middleman does not know how much time the entire process is going to take; he therefore charges excessive margins.

The farmers are pitted here against two powerful lobbies. One is that of government servants who have got accustomed to using controls as the only means to regulate economic activities. Even where legal powers do not exist these are often assumed.

The other lobby is those environmentalists, academics and members of the press who tend to see planting trees for economic gain in capital and cash as moral sin.  Peoples' participation, according to them, should mean planting trees for the next generation, or for meeting fuelwood and fodder needs of the people, or for supplementing agricultural production. A market orientation, in their view, harms the poor, as they are vulnerable to exploitation by middle-men, have little control over markets, and are likely to sell their trees for a song long before their optimal silvicultural and economic stage is reached. Peoples' participation is also equated with arousing collective spirit among the community, which alone will ensure that the new wealth being created through the programme reaches the poor.

The influence of this lobby of mainly town-bred environmentalists on policy making in India should not be underrated.  Their views have an aura of respectability and are readily accepted as defining desirable objectives.  The standards set by them for evaluating the results of a programme become the accepted norms, and a contrary viewpoint is easily branded as an anti-poor stance.

The two lobbies, of officials and of environmentalists, agree in seeing rules and controls as solutions. In the climate of opinion they have created, it makes good headlines if a Chief Minister announces that all tree cutting has been banned in a state; in contrast, a decision to liberalise tree cutting would be condemned as retrograde. But as we have seen, the tragic irony is that the rules and controls are self-defeating. They discourage tree planting and protection, and they discriminate against farmers, especially in marketing and prices.

Several factors are involved in determining farm gate prices; but the evidence accumulated, some of it presented above, leaves no doubt that the uncertainties, bribes, difficulties and delays involved in selling trees are linked with rules and controls, and are a major reason why farmers, and especially those who are poorer and weaker, often get such scandalously low prices for their trees and tree products.  

The objectives of the environmental moralist lobby are not in dispute.  Preventing environmental degradation and satisfying the consumption needs of the poor are laudable national objectives.

Where we differ is not in the objectives but in the means. It is unrealistic as well as inequitable to thrust collective social objectives upon farmers if they see no private gains from what is being advocated. Beyond quite narrow limits, farmers cannot be expected to forego private gain or to accept private loss for social gain. A realistic policy will seek ways in which ecological and social benefits are the by-products of tree growing. And tree-growing will be adopted because farmers see enhanced capital assets and cash incomes as the main benefits. For resource-poor farmers, even more than for the resource-rich, this requires freedom from any legal restriction that gives officials or others the power to extract rents.

For many resource-poor farmers, trees are like savings banks but with the advantage that they often appreciate in capital value much more rapidly than bank deposits. They provide reserves that can be cashed to deal with contingencies, such as costs of medical treatment, marriage expenses, a large purchase, or any sudden or large need for money.  Where a good market exists for tree products, they can provide an alternative to taking loans and indebtedness. They are also often a source of income from their produce. When farmers are prohibited from felling trees on their own land, it is like a bank manager refusing a depositor permission to withdraw money from an account. A banker interested in net deposits does not tell a new account holder that he can only deposit money and not withdraw it.  Bankers who acted in such a manner would not last long. When the movement of timber and other tree products is restricted, it is like prohibiting people from taking money from one part of the country to another. Political leaders and officials who tried to introduce such a regulation would quickly find themselves in trouble.

Fortunately, there is much evidence that with the removal of restrictions, and with assurance of rights to trees and of freedom to market them, both environmental and social objectives can be achieved simultaneously.  When harvesting trees is accepted as legitimate, poor farmers tend to postpone it and use trees as savings. On the other hand controls and uncertainty about their ownership, rights and marketing promote irresponsible felling, by converting trees into cash and other assets, which are more secure.

Total relaxation on harvesting of all farm trees has however some transitional problems. Many farm trees are not planted, they occur naturally. There are very valuable teak trees on tribal lands, where market information is very weak. Total relaxation from laws would only benefit contractors and the police. Then, it might increase theft from government forests.

There are several ways of handling this. First, the popular species for farm forestry, such as poplar and eucalyptus, should not be grown on forest lands, which should give more priority to multi-purpose and usufruct based trees. This will also help in reducing competition between farmers and government, and help the producers in getting a better price. Unfortunately the World Bank forest project in UP signed in 1997 still encourages eucalyptus for government forests. Second, to begin with, relaxation in rules may be attempted in such areas that are remote from government forests. Third, relaxation in forest regions may be given only for certain modes of transport, like headloads and bullock carts, so that farmers may take their produce free from fear to the markets, and not be dependent on traders. Last, exemptions should only be given, to begin with, for planted trees, and not for existing trees.

We may however clarify that legal restrictions are not the only constraint in promoting farm forestry. It will certainly produce positive results in regions where producers are quite vocal and organised, with low levels of poverty and long experience of marketing. An obvious example is freeing farm eucalyptus from controls on harvesting and transport in Gujarat or the Punjab. But farming systems and production conditions vary a great deal from region to region in India, and so does the level of information among the peasantry, their political clout, and infrastructure for marketing. Markets in eastern and central regions, which are subsistence-oriented and where most forests are located, are relatively underdeveloped as compared to markets in the commercialised wheat or cash crop growing regions. Here, in addition to government monopolies there are several other sources of market imperfections that need to be addressed. These issues are discussed later in the article. In such regions denationalisation may be necessary but not sufficient in itself. One needs to take an integrated view of fiscal and import policies, species on forest lands, extension, market information, publicity, government support and laws.

We shall first describe policy constraints which are common to all regions, and then take up issues which are relevant more to rainfed regions, both humid and semi-arid.

Other policy issues affecting farm forestry

Species policy on forest lands

Between the period 1960 to 1990, the raison-d’etre of forests was to produce raw material for industries. However, the new National Forest Policy, 1988   changed this. As regards supplies to industry, the first part of Para 4.9 of the Policy states:-

As far as possible, forest based industry should raise the raw material needed for meeting its own requirements, preferably by establishment of a direct relationship between the factory and the individuals who can grow the raw material by supporting the individuals with inputs including credit, constant technical advice and finally harvesting and transport services.

It is also stated in the same para that ‘the practice of supply of forest produce to industry at concessional prices should cease. Industry should be encouraged to use alternative raw materials. Import of wood and wood products should be liberalised.’

Two factors must have weighed upon the minds of policy planners in suggesting a diminished role for forest industries on forest lands in the new Forest Policy. First, the popularity of eucalyptus among farmers increased the availability of pulpwood at a cheap price for the paper industry. In some states, such as Gujarat, large farmers even took to teak plantations, a timber crop which takes 30 to 60 years to mature. And secondly, liberalised imports of pulpwood was permitted which eased the supply for the industry. With new sources of supply, it was no longer considered crucial for the industry to depend on government forests.

Therefore on forest lands usufruct based trees supplemented with grasses, legumes, shrubs and bushes to yield fuelwood and fodder in the shortest possible time should be given a priority. This will also increase survival, as on barren lands bushes and shrubs would yield more biomass than timber oriented trees. An immediate identification of quick growing shrubs with high calorific value, with their retention in the forest to serve fuel requirements, the development of pastures, and the development of massive fuelwood plantations around centres of high consumption and encouragement of silviculturally sensible exploitation of fuelwood species would also be important components of the new policy. This would strengthen forest dwellers and tribals' access to forests, and therefore benefits would be directly appropriated by them.

If farms are to be the chief vehicle for satisfying industrial needs, especially of pulp that requires short gestation tree crops, it is mandatory that government lands should not produce the same, so that demand for farm product is not reduced.

Subsidised supply to industries

Until very recently highly privileged prices for supply of raw material from government forests have been the standard practice for industries. A report (CSE, 1985: 91) has mentioned that in Madhya Pradesh in 1981-82 industrialists paid the Forest Department 54 paise for a 4 metre bamboo, while forest dwellers paid a little over Rs 2 a bamboo supplied by the Forest Department. Although the element of subsidy has been greatly reduced lately, it still continues in many forms. Bhabbar grass is sold by the UP Forest Corporation at Rs 72.50 per quintal to rope-makers, but to industry at Rs 40 per quintal. In A.P., the price that F.D. got by selling bamboo in the open market ranged from 800 to 1200 Rs a tonne in 1990-91, as against Rs 550 at which bamboo was supplied to the industry.

It is obvious that the market for industrial raw material is totally distorted by the present system of committed supply from government forests at concessional rates. It discourages development of private efforts at tree plantation because of depressed market prices and low market demand from consuming industries. So long as these price distortions are not corrected, there will be no incentive to industry to turn its attention to helping farm forestry.


Procedures relating to credit need to be simplified. An IIFM study on the disbursement of loans by banks for farm forestry in Orissa and Maharashtra pointed out the following weaknesses:-

  1. It took between 6 to 18 months for sanction of  loans. This delay seriously inhibited the enthusiasm of the tree planter.
  2. The local banks do not take the responsibility for providing assistance on technical matters. They send the application to NABARD, which shifts the risks of the failure of the project from the financing bank to NABARD.
  3. Value of land on which trees are sought to be planted is much less than the loan applied, hence farmers are asked to arrange for collatoral.
  4. The tree crop is required to be insured at a very high premium, which is a heavy burden and reduces the profitability of the scheme.
  5. Credit is not linked with forward and backward linkages.
  6. As per the guidelines of NABARD, farm forestry can be raised only on wastelands, and not on productive farm lands. As government has not classified any lands as private wastelands, in each case of loan, the Revenue Department has to certify that land is unsuitable for crops.

These procedures need to be studies for each state and suitable remedial measure be taken.


There were many cases of unfulfilled requests for fruit trees. Women were particularly keen on species to produce fruit for consumption and sale. One of the reasons why fruit seedlings, which require longer duration to raise, are not distributed is the lack of certainty of budget for nurseries in the Department. Generally budget is available for nurseries only as a part of the plantation program, and not separately. Thus only those seedlings are raised at the nursery which take three to five months only. This is a short sighted policy, as it deters the officers from planting such seedlings which require to be kept for a longer time in the nurseries. Survival would be much better if taller seedlings were planted. Forest Department should start a Horticulture Division in one of their circles. In addition to the Department having many such nurseries and training centers for teaching grafting techniques, permanent nurseries can also be set up by NGOs, which can be used as extension and training centers.

Incentives for farm forestry

It is significant that almost similar incentives to promote farm forestry were provided by all the states, irrespective of agro-ecological conditions. These were:-

  1. Subsidised seedlings
  2. Increase in the number of government nurseries
  3. Extension through motivators
  4. Survival incentives
  5. Increase in supervisory staff
  6. Subsidy to private nurseries

Notwithstanding state-wise differences in the quality of extension efforts (discussed in the next section), there are reasons to believe that the success of farm forestry in some regions, and indifference of the farmers in others, was almost totally unrelated to the incentive structure, and had more to do with the particular farming conditions prevailing in those regions (World Bank 1993). Some incentives, like the increase in the number of nurseries did have a positive impact on tree growing by farmers, as seedlings were available within a short distance from the villages, and the enterprising farmers could learn from the nursery staff the technique of tree planting. As the demand from seedlings picked up, private nurseries sprang in north-west India and Gujarat. However, both government and private nurseries concentrated on seedlings which could be raised in a short period of three to six months. Many new government nurseries were temporary ones, for which staff was sanctioned only for a few months. This precluded them from raising and distributing such seedlings which require a longer duration at the seedling stage. Thus many fruit seedlings, despite good demand, could not be raised. Rigorous and quantitative research on this and other incentives and their impact is still to be done, but some pointers show that the success had little to do at least with the free or subsidised distribution of seedlings.

First, in U.P., seedlings were priced, but this did not dampen farmers' enthusiasm for trees. On the other hand, between 1981 and 1986, due to shortage of seedlings in the government nurseries, farmers bought eucalyptus seedlings from private nurseries, often at a price ten times the official price. This showed that the craze for eucalyptus seedlings was unrelated to its price.

Second, the real cost of most farm forestry seedlings (like eucalyptus) is about 0.50 Rs per plant at 1989-90 prices, whereas other costs in raising a tree, like pre-planting operations, transport of seedlings, planting, irrigation and fertiliser, and protection may vary from Rs 2 to Rs 10 per seedling, depending upon the density of planting, quality of land, and inputs applied. In north-west India, what appeared as irritant to farmers was not the price of seedlings, but the loss caused by bund trees on annual crops, which was the largest factor in costs, and the poor growth of trees, due to which they did not get a good price in the market. Thus, the actual cost of a plant is quite insignificant when compared with total costs, and subsidy does not act as an incentive for planting. As the total number of seedlings distributed under the farm forestry programme in India has been of the order of 1.4 to 2.0 billion a year during 1985-89 (Chambers et al. 1989), the total subsidy on this account has been about 700 to 1000 million Rs a year (ignoring small revenues raised by sale of seedlings in a few states). This accounts for almost 20 to 25% of the total budget of community and farm forestry in India, and with no matching benefits.

Third, there was a mushroom growth of private nurseries offering eucalyptus seedlings during the first phase 1982-86 of the programme. Realising the demand the GOI started an ambitious scheme, called decentralised nurseries scheme, for increasing the number of nurseries through huge subsidies. It is ironic that by the time the scheme got into ground, the demand from farmers slckened, and many such nurseries disappeared. This also establishes that the number of private nurseries had more to do with market forces, rather than the subsidy offered by the GOI.

Fourth, the extension infrastructure in the north-western states was almost non-existent, as compared with states like Bihar and Orissa, where a large number of motivators were appointed. No incentive money was given to farmers for survival of plants, in the green revolution states, unlike, in Bihar and Tamil Nadu. However, despite heavy investment in extension staff in eastern states the programme did not take off, notwithstanding the fact that rainfall and soil conditions were more favourable to trees in the east rather than in the semi-arid western and northern India.

Fifth, the real reason behind the the insistence of the FD to continue with seedling subsidies is because targets fixed were unrealistically high, and could not be achieved unless each seed/seedling distributed was counted towards achievement. This was not possible if the seedlings were priced, and only genuine planter lifted seedlings. The participation of the small farmers was not related to the price of seedlings, as asserted by the FD. The main constraint faced by small farmers was uncertainty and risk associated with trees, and its long maturity period, and these constraints were not overcome by the subsidy on seedlings.

And last, as the tree failed to generate the kind of returns farmers were expecting, resistance among farmers to buy seedlings increased. The state government of U.P. then started distributing free seedlings, and yet actual planting by the farmers did not pick up, establishing once again poor correlation between the price of seedlings and farmers' response to farm forestry. The argument that free seedlings provide the most efficient way of encouraging farmers, including small ones, to plant a large number of seedlings, is untenable, at least in the commercial areas, where even small farmers are used to making considerable cash investment (averaging Rs 10,000 per hectare annually) in crop inputs.

Even in agriculturally backward areas the experience has shown that subsidising seedlings or giving cash incentives on survival does not promote tree planting in the long run. In South Bihar, where trees were planted more as a response to obtaining short term government subsidies, than to the longer returns from investment in trees, survival rate declined dramatically after the disbursal of subsidy (SIDA 1990a). In Tamil Nadu, many ineligible farmers got the benefit of TCIP (Tree cultivation incentive programme) scheme, which was meant only for marginal farmers. The scheme also led to widespread complaints of corruption (SIDA 1992).

Constraints specific to rainfed areas

While planning for wood production on farms one must keep in mind the likely requirement of marketed wood. A World Bank report (1991), quoting FAO figures, states that the total extraction of wood in India in 1988 was 264 million cum, of which 240 million cum was consumed as fuelwood. Thus, of the total wood consumption in the country, only 10% is industrial wood. Most fuelwood is collected, both for consumption and sale. The gatherers can always beat the producers over the pricing of fuelwood; the producers would be price-takers, rather than price-makers. This means that the market price of fuelwood would always be lower than its social cost for replacement of growing stock through investments in plantations. Therefore the market price of fuelwood does not make its production on farms an attractive financial proposition in countries with large open access lands and vast poverty. Further, the entire arable land in green revolution areas is devoted to high cost commercial farming. Thus the opportunity cost of diverting land to tree crops is very high, which is not likely to be compensated by returns from growing fuelwood. Farmers would always prefer to use their lands for high value output, such as industrial raw material. Thus fuelwood that has to be gathered by the vast millions of people has to come from public lands, and pulpwood and other cash producing raw material from farm lands. Forest lands should continue to be used for preservation of environment and bio-diversity, and for meeting the subsistence needs of the poor, as envisaged in the Forest Policy, whereas industrial raw material should be produced  on farm lands.

Therefore it appears that the measures suggested so far, though important in themselves, may not be able to revive the interest of farmers in trees in commercial regions to the same extent as existed during the first phase of the programme. If farmers took to tree planting on a large scale, problems of a glut in market might arise again. This fear has greatly reduced the popularity of growing eucalyptus as a cash crop.

One could also argue that the State should not encourage diversion of area from annual crops to perennial crops, which demand less labour. The main compulsion of farmers in these areas, which pushed them away from agriculture was the desire to minimise labour and supervision costs. Therefore, although landuse in India will continue to be decided by the farmers, nothing should be done by the State that increases rural unemployment. There are better social returns in promoting agroforestry models in the rainfed or semi-arid regions, which contain most of India's wastelands. It is in this region a big initiative is needed. Wewould therefore discuss constraints in these regions.

Agrarian structure

Eastern India - The agrarian structure of the eastern and tribal India is characterised by heavy dependence on grain production, smaller holdings, low overall incomes, a less marketed surplus, imperfect credit markets, more dependence on the village merchant for marketing the small surplus, inter-locked credit and output markets, less monetisation, less diversity of rural incomes, greater debt bondage, a less developed infrastructure for the supply of agriculture inputs, greater insecurity of land tenure, and on the whole poor human capital as far as enterprise is concerned. These conditions can at best promote low intensity tree growing strategies for home consumption, and are not conducive to market oriented high intensity tree planting.

Subsistence regions do not accept cash crops easily, and when these are introduced indiscriminately, poor farmers may be harmed rather than helped. For instance, in Rajasthan, where there is no paper mill or other large buyer of eucalyptus, and poles are generally imported from Haryana, small farmers found that there were no buyers for eucalyptus trees, and hence they suffered losses from planting eucalyptus, whereas the large farmers with 10,000 or more trees to sell had to locate buyers from other states through newspaper advertisements (USAID 1990). Cases of distress sales by the poor peasants to contractors at a throw away price a few years before the crop matures are reported from other states too. In West Bengal the poor farmers sold their trees to a village school teacher at about 30 to 50% of the price which the school teacher obtained (Shah 1987). A case study of district Midnapur, West Bengal described how two middlemen of the village cheated the tree growers and offered them very low prices. Even the supply of farm inputs, irrigation water, crop loan and other services by the village council was given to those who sold their trees to these two middlemen (Singh and Bhattacharjee 1991). It may be speculated that such cases would be more common in regions where credit and output markets are inter-locked.

Semi-arid regions - The case of mono-cropped millet and cash crops growing peninsular India is however different from fertile and humid eastern India. Tree growing here has been constrained by a separate set of factors. First, much of peninsular India is semi-arid, characterised by intense competition for moisture between crops and trees. Unlike khejri in Rajasthan's arid zone, suitable species which may have strong complementary effects between crops and trees are still to be identified for the region. Second, young trees require protection from cattle, especially in the fallow season, when the village livestock is let loose to browse agricultural residues and stubbles. During these months in a mono-cropped village cattle is generally not accompanied by a herder. Semi-arid areas have villages spread over a large area in which individual fields may be far away from village huts, making protection further problematic. On the other hand, in irrigated villages a tradition is slowly emerging of herding cattle during the cropping seasons. Despite ecological necessity and the easy availability of marginal and degraded lands, protection of young seedlings is difficult in mono-cropped villages compared with irrigated villages. Thus, unlike annual crops in which crop decisions are autonomous of similar decisions by other families, a farmer's decision to plant trees has to take into account herding practices of the village, availability of irrigation for double cropping, distance of the fields from his hut, and the cropping pattern of other farmers. Conditions prevailing outside the farm become as important as simple costs and benefits from the preferred landuse options.

Third, most of India's forests are also located in areas of backward agriculture. Villages in this region of low productivity often have vast, though degraded, open access lands belonging either to forest or revenue department. Unlike annual crops which are only grown on private lands, trees occur on forest and other public lands. Open access to public lands may vastly reduce the cost of obtaining tree goods for a gatherer, which may work to the disadvantage of a grower. Thus, the concept of trees as a free good to be obtained from public lands inhibits investment of personal labour, land and capital in tree planting. Proximity to forests affects private tree growing in other ways too. State often restricts farmers' right to freely harvest the trees on private land in the interest of either conservation or of checking theft from forests. These create rigidities in the free flow of products, and increase differences in the prices obtained by different farmers for a similar product. This, combined with differences in yield from farm to farm, may make planning of likely incomes from trees extremely difficult for a farmer. Lastly, if similar products are raised on forest lands, which are marketed through the state machinery, farmers may find it difficult to compete with the state and get a remunerative price, particularly because the traders may be less interested in buying from dispersed producers, and may prefer to deal with the centralised bureaucracy. Evaluation of Orissa Social Forestry Project noted that raising of eucalyptus on forest lands by the Forest Department was one of the reason why farmers did not feel attracted to grow commercial trees on their plots.

Alienation of tribals

In several districts of central India, tribals own a great deal of degraded land. However, they are alienated from administration, which is generally non-tribal. Distrust between the two leads to indifference and hostility on the part of the officials, which further increases tribal hostility. Some areas are considered Naxalite ’infested‘, and often outside the reach of the Forest Department.

As is well known, the situation has its roots in history. Ever since the East India Company penetrated into the hilly and forested region, bordering A.P., Bihar and Orissa, there were several popular revolts. The tribal revolts, like the Kol Rebellion, the Santhal Rebellion or the Birsa Movement, had one common feature-they were all directed specifically against outsiders. Over this area the exploiters were almost invariably outsiders. The correspondence was so vivid that the tribal word diku in South Bihar came to mean both 'exploiter' and 'outsider'; the second one being the derivative meaning. The nineteenth century popular revolts in this area were specifically directed against the dikus, which functionally meant 'a group of outsider-exploiter'.

After Independence the problem has been compounded by the nature of development in that area. The lion's share of the developmental benefits is taken away by the immigrant outsiders. In Bihar, for instance, over a period of two decades, the percentage of tribals, as ’cultivators‘ is reducing and it is increasing under the category of ’agricultural labour‘ - the number having increased by more than about 120 per cent. Thus tribals seem to be losing control over land.

Insecurity of land tenure

Another problem in the low productivity region, like Telangana in AP and South Bihar, is poor land records and lack of clarity on tenurial issues. Security of land tenure and a sound base of land records are necessary pre-conditions for the farmers to take to tree plantation. Any doubt in their minds about their land rights or the recording of these rights would obviously inhibit them from investing their labour and meagre capital resources in a crop that yields benefits only after several years.

Unfortunately land records are in a bad shape, especially where shifting cultivation was widely prevalent and tribals were unable to assert their rights, or where land has been recently allotted by the government. For instance, in the Agency Areas of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa communications were poor, shifting cultivation was practised, and the identification of individuals with particular plots was weak. These factors worked against proper establishment and maintenance of land records. Lands under the possession of tribals got recorded as government lands and were often transferred to the Forest Department. Thus the poor tribals have become defined as encroachers even on lands which were cultivated by their ancestors. On the whole, it has been the poor and especially the tribals who have suffered. This problem has been further compounded by the rigidity of the Forest Conservation Act. For instance, in over 1000 forest villages of M.P., the tribals have no rights on the land they cultivate because of the restriction imposed by the Forest Conservation Act.

The participation of rural women in farm forestry programmes is also discouraged by tenure arrangements, since in several states they cannot inherit agricultural land, and hence do not own trees in their own rights. Thus, according to land laws in U.P. after a land owner's death his land will devolve only to the male issues in equal shares. A married daughter can claim a share only if the land owner had no son, widow, mother, father, unmarried daughter, brother or unmarried sister. One wonders if such unfair provisions of law are not violating the equality provisions of the Constitution. They certainly reduce the incentives to women to plant and protect trees.

The conditions of insecure land tenure deter the poor from long-term investment. It would be irrational for them to plant trees when they cannot be sure of their possession of the land ten years later. They are naturally tempted to take a quick agricultural crop - meagre and marginal though it be - rather than wait for a tree crop to mature. If land is too degraded for a crop, it is liable to be left fallow, without trees being planted, thus defeating the very purpose of land distribution in the first place. It is significant that private tree plantation is more successful in the erstwhile Mahalwari and Ryotwari areas of India - areas with better traditions of owner cultivation and secure land rights -  than in the Zamindari areas, though the latter are better endowed with natural advantages of good soil and adequate rainfall. Only secure tenure encourages long-term investment.

Role of extension

The success of the Group Farm Forestry Programme in West Bengal, where poor people own degraded land, or have such land allotted to them, can be replicated on a modest scale elsewhere too, if backed by strong extension efforts. One important factor at the heart of the success of this West Bengal Group Farm Forestry Programme was early and effective initiatives by the F.D. to give technical advice and assure the patta holders that their right to do whatever they wished with their trees would not be infringed or curtailed at any stage. In other states, for government officers, farm forestry in general, and for the poor in particular, is still not as high on the agenda as departmental works. An evaluation study (Om 1986) of the work of Tamil Nadu social forestry staff revealed that Range Officers devoted only 6 per cent of their time to extension, against a target of 40 per cent, the shortfall being attributed to preoccupation with administrative matters. Forestry being a new economic activity for poor farmers, investments are needed in extension, research and marketing. The substantial increases in Forest Department staff for social forestry have been largely occupied with the familiar work of departmental plantations, in the guise of community forestry, and these new activities of extension. research and marketing have been largely neglected.

In several states, however, separate extension motivators have been appointed. But the experience so far has not been very happy, except in West Bengal. In Tamil Nadu young people were appointed as motivators, with a fixed honorarium. They were generally demoralised (Varadan 1987) because they did not have the security of government staff and no scope for further promotion. They were used for collecting monitoring information from the field. Because of their youth and inexperience, their advice did not carry much weight in the village and is anyway often inaccurate or badly focused (CIDA 1988 and USAID 1985). In Bihar, some women had been appointed as extension workers, but their area was too large, they had received little training, and being appointees of the FDs they did not feel responsible to the villages (GOB 1987:7).

Instead of young people, West Bengal appointed old and retired people above the age of 50 years who were village residents and whose voice carried some weight in the village. They were community leaders and were often consulted by the villagers in other matters too. They worked as spokesmen of the community to the Forest Department, and not the other way round. Accountability to the people, and not to the Department is perhaps the single most important factor which determines the success of extension efforts.

Despite the preponderance of degraded lands in India, it is not possible to replicate the Group Farm Forestry model or the Shankarpura model (Conroy 1992) on a very large scale, as market is the restraining factor. Not only total demand for marketed wood is limited in India, but markets are comparatively more inefficient and exploitative in these regions. It is noteworthy that tribals in Shankarpura in Gujarat have been successful, because most of the sales are direct from producer to buyer, and there is acute shortage of building poles in the region (Conroy 1991).

Agroforestry in subsistence regions and watershed management

Tree-crop interaction - Role of trees in farming systems could be either complementary or competitive vis-a vis annual crops. Complementarity exists if planting of trees increases crop production. For instance, trees may fertilise the soil for agricultural crops, or may provide shade from sun or shelter from wind. Complementary relationship between trees and crops may also be in labour use, especially when the two outputs draw labour resources at different times of the year. On the other hand, tree-crop interaction may be competitive, as the negative impact of trees due to root and light competition may reduce crop production. However, farmers may still prefer trees if the loss can be more than compensated through additional benefits from trees.

In rice and millet growing subsistence regions trees like eucalyptus that compete for land with crops are less likely to be accepted. On the other hand, trees which have a complementary effect on crops will have a ready acceptance, as farmers' primary landuse continues to be crop production in this region. For promoting indigenous agro-forestry models a great deal of research needs to be done to identify species that complement agricultural production. The department's objective  should itself change from ’how can farmers be persuaded to grow trees in place of crops‘ to ’in what manner can technology help in increasing overall production from marginal lands by meeting farmers' priorities?‘ Ultimately the programme must improve the productivity of degraded private lands, if it is to be sustained over a long period.

Replacement farm forestry vs. complementary agroforestry - Why did the farm forestry programme work in isolation to the traditional forestry practices of the farmers, or did little to build upon it? First, Foresters had little knowledge of the existing farm agroforestry practices. While going through the pages of Indian Forester, a Journal which documents research done by Foresters, one is struck by the absence of field work on actual farms; most of the pages are devoted to laboratory research, and on timbers or exotics rather than on multiple product trees (MPTs). Second, the social forestry programme was designed to produce fuelwood, and therefore horticulture or income generating trees like coconut or palmyrah, or increasing agricultural production on wastelands through water harvesting was not considered to be part of the programme. The Department's objective was to reduce pressure on government forests, whereas the farmers' objective was to increase their consumption and income. No attempt was made to reconcile the two objectives. Third, the discipline of agroforestry has been ignored till recently by both Agriculture and Forest Departments of the government. Each department has a target to fulfil, and hence monocropping to the exclusion of intercropping is preferred by both the departments.

Fourth, huge targets (an afforestation target of 5 m ha during 1985-90 annually meant planting on an average 24000 trees in each village of India every year) forced the Forest Department to adopt strategies of inducing farmers to do high density plantations, rather than to popularise low input tree cropping which would produce more grasses and be complementary to agriculture. The technical package was accordingly designed to suit this, and seedlings which could be raised in 3 months were given priority over seedlings which require more time. Fifth, as the number of permanent nurseries were not increased, institutional arrangement for the raising of MPTs requiring longer period at the nursery stage did not exist.

I have raised these fundamental issues, because rice and millet growing regions require a different technical package than tried so far by the Forest Department. A study (Om 1989) of Andhra Pradesh showed that fruit seedlings are already quite popular with the poor farmers, and these are planted in homesteads, thus do not replace agriculture. A visiting CIDA team in Andhra Pradesh was told (1988) that a district like Vishakhapatnam could easily absorb 10 million additional seedlings of coconut in a year if these and other grafted varieties could be supplied. To this a senior forester replied, ’We are not a horticulture department; we can only promote woody species.‘ On the other hand, F.D. in Rajasthan popularised grafted Ber (Zizyphus mauritania), a fruit variety, and it proved to be an instant success with the farmers. It had the advantage of high profitability, and returns to farmers' investment start flowing in from the second year of investment (World Bank, 1988). Diversification and adaptability in the Forest Department are required so that farmers may get the necessary advice in accepting agroforestry in rice and millet regions.

Links with watershed development

More than change the species in dry areas, one should also take into account the issue of availability of water. It is difficult to rehabilitate degraded lands without introducing moisture conservation and water harvesting measures. Such measures are needed infact for all rainfed areas put to biomass production. The soil conservation technology in India has so far focussed primarily on structural works for controlling and disposing of run-off rather than capturing the maximum amount of moisture in the soil and retaining it for as long as possible to support crop growth. It is better to adopt in-situ moisture conservation practices through planting of suitable grasses and trees which may also provide sufficient protection against erosion.

Unfortunately, watershed approach and agroforestry research for different agro-ecological regions has remained a neglected discipline so far. Due to a tradition of competition for land between the Agriculture and Forest Departments of the government, both have viewed agroforestry with suspicion. The Forest Department has even gone to the extent of banning agroforestry on forest lands by law!

One of the least understood but most useful concept is the issue of complementarity between forests and agriculture. If it is strengthened, the local community develops a stake in the preservation of forests, which can deter individual attempts at encroachments or degradation. Traditional agro-forestry patterns are a reflection of farmers' own perception of complementarity between trees and crops, but the issue of complementarity between forests and agriculture is wider than that between trees and crops. To enrich this complementarity, one of the main objectives of forest management should be preservation of soil and moisture in a demonstrative fashion.

Soil and water conservation measures such as contour trenching, vegetative bunding, and small check-dams can enhance soil moisture and the accumulation of top soil, accelerating the rehabilitation of the micro-environment. This by itself help in regeneration and better survival of plants. However, fund allocation in the forestry projects for soil conservation measures do not appear to be adequate.

Most funds for watershed development are spent by the Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Developments. They should rehabilitate lands in the upper catchment first for at least three reasons (Farrington et al. 1998). First, so that the landless and the poor who depend on upper slopes can benefit; groundwater recharge begins at the earliest; and third, by the time the lower catchment is treated any debris and erosion running down from the upper catchment has been minimized. However, upper slopes are typically under the control of FD, which does not permit other departments to operate on its lands. The Ministry of Rural Areas and Employment has recently permitted its funds to be used in watershed schemes by the FD, but similar initiative is needed from the Ministry of Agriculture too.

Intersectoral coordination - Equally important are institutional constraints in watershed management programmes. Studies of similar other programmes show that planning, organisation and management have been issues of major concern in all projects. In particular, the impact of watershed treatments has been impaired by poor coordination between line agencies, and there has been a marked absence of land user participation in treatment planning and implementation.

Policies and developments in other sectors, like Tribal Development, Agriculture, and Rural Development have considerable impact on forest management. For instance, the Revenue Department must correct land records so as to provide security of land tenure. The Rural Development Department must revise its policy of giving grants for grazing livestock in eroded areas, until steps for rehabilitation of land have started showing results.

Due to low productivity of lands in tribal areas, the dependence on land for crop production is very high. Hence a great deal of extension effort is needed for persuading farmers to try new agroforestry practices. The worsening relations between tribals and Forest Department mean that extension activities for farm forestry in many tribal districts should be entrusted to some other department, other than the F.D., like the Tribal Development Department.

Often in central India degraded land is owned by farmers, who may have large holdings, yet are poor. Therefore, incentives to large farmers in these areas are justifiable, as wasteland development results in increased net production and employment. In addition, some trees, like arjun or mulberry, have huge downstream employment benefits. Additional incentives should be given for the planting of such trees. In low productivity areas, programmes which improve productivity have better equity impact, than distributive programmes. There is another practical reason, why the rich farmers should not be ignored in land development programmes. Experience shows that programmes which involve every one in a village have a higher chance of success, than which are confined to a narrow group. Lastly, in watershed development it is mandatory to look at land as a unit of operation, and not at a class of farmers.

Concluding remarks and recommendations

The success of farm forestry projects in India in the early 1980’s combined with the fact that the 1988 Policy emphasizes planting of trees for industry on farms should have led to renewed emphasis on farm forestry. However, the new forestry projects of the 1990s have surprisingly reduced their focus on this. For instance, as against an achievement of 1,390,000 ha of farm forests established in UP in the previous projects, targets in the current project have been slashed to only 20,000 ha. The World Bank projects have concentrated attention in the on-going projects only on two issues, private production of seedlings[1], and removal of legal restrictions. Highly desirable as these are, these are not sufficient to motivate farmers to take to tree planting. Reasons why farmers gave up planting trees in commercial areas, or why the West Bengal success of farm forestry was not replicated elsewhere have to be understood and then corrective action taken.

There are several advantages in encouraging farmers to practice agroforestry and farm forestry on their lands. First, it saves marginal lands from further degradation and maintains or increases site productivity through nutrient recycling and soil protection. Second, it increases the value of output per unit of land through spatial or inter-temporal inter cropping of trees and other species. Third, by supplying raw materials (such as leaf compost) to agriculture directly and indirectly, and by producing food and forage for human and animal consumption, it complements and supplements agricultural production. Fourth, it diversifies the range of outputs from a given area which increases self-sufficiency and reduces the risk to income from adverse climatic, biological or market impacts on particular crops. Fifth, it spreads the needs for labour inputs more evenly seasonally, thus reducing the effects of sharp peaks and troughs in activity characteristic of tropical agriculture. Sixth, the technology is simple, labour intensive, and requires little outside technical or financial support. Seventh, trees have many useful characteristics as `assets' for the poor - low investment cost, rapid appreciation, divisibility, flexible harvesting time, etc. - and are available to meet unforeseen contingencies. Eighth, if there are strong and growing markets for tree products, a market oriented approach could enhance substantially the incomes of the poor farmers too. Ninth, it can be taken up as a part-time activity by households and does not require a change in the occupation of the landholder. Tenth, it promotes value-added activities in rural India, as several communities have traditionally been involved in supplementing their incomes through processing tree products. Eleventh, the program of tree growing does not invite hostility from the rural rich, which is inherent in land reforms and other distributive programs. And last, but not least, as rural women are involved in meeting daily survival needs of their households by collection of forest produce, decline in the country's natural vegetation has directly affected the rural poor women. An increase in fuelwood and fodder production through multiple nature trees on their own farm and leased lands will certainly reduce drudgery and save their labour for other productive occupations.

Based on what has been discussed above, one would like to make the following recommendations for promoting farm forestry, separately for the two agrarian regions in India.

Commercial regions

In regions where agricultural surplus is produced and which are familiar with markets, one would have to concentrate on improving technology and removing market constraints. First, a great source of market imperfections in wood markets is the legal and procedural framework which makes cutting and selling privately owned trees difficult, irksome and complicated, besides unremunerative. Therefore these restrictive laws should be abolished[1]. Second, government should stop subsidies on government supply of wood to industries, thereby forcing industry to buy from farmers at a remunerative price. Third, it should stop growing short rotation crops on forests, thus reducing the unfair competition between government and the farmers, which is to their disadvantage. Unfortunately, both in AP and UP government is funding eucalyptus plantations on forest lands. Since the demand for marketed wood in India is limited, by duplicating the same species like eucalyptus on forest lands as on farm lands, we are ultimately cutting into the profits of the farmers, and thus undermining the farm forestry program itself. It would be ironic if production of eucalyptus on farm lands, which is far cheaper, is discouraged because of production of more expensive eucalyptus on government lands. Therefore we must stop funding planting of short-rotation crops on forest lands, such as eucalyptus and poplar, as the demand for these can easily be met from private lands.

Fourth, it should also initiate schemes for linking farmers with industries, in ways similar to the linking of poplar growing farmers with WIMCO in north India. Similar tie-up with farmers is being tried by the ITC-run Bhadrachalam Paper Mills in Andhra Pradesh. The industry produces improved seeds, grows the seedlings in their nurseries, and gives them to the farmers for planting. Farmers get crop loans from the banks, and extension service from the industry. This example shows that improved planting material can improve productivity from 7 to 20 cm/ha/year. A minimum price is guaranteed to the farmers by the industry, although farmers are free to sell their produce to anyone they like.

Fifth, improvement in extension[1] could result in production of thicker logs suitable for sawing. New uses of wood could be promoted such as utilizing wood for power generation through gassifiers., Sixth, research[1] is needed to identify other short-rotation, high-value species besides eucalyptus which suit farmers' requirements of planting on marginal lands and bunds.

And last[1], government must review its decision to allow cheap and duty free import of pulp. While free import of timber may continue, as it reduces pressure on forests, such facility for pulp only hits farmers, as both eucalyptus and bamboo are short gestation crops eminently suitable for the farm sector. It is heartening to note that a recent workshop organised at ICFRE Dehradun in February 1998, recommended that the government should analyse the impact of import policies on farm forestry.

Subsistence regions

The conditions in poorer regions of India can at best promote low intensity tree growing strategies for home consumption, and are not conducive to market oriented high intensity tree planting. This is not to deny the need for generating cash incomes for the poor farmers in this region. But given the nature of markets, which are more exploitative in subsistence areas, generating cash requires a technology which is highly profitable, so that even after meeting market costs, some profits accrue to the poor. Perhaps fruit species may meet both the subsistence needs as well as market needs of the farmers.

 Farmers in these regions follow several traditional age-tested agroforestry practices described in the first part of the paper, but what has been emphasised in the farm forestry programme is growing short duration trees in place of annual crops for market. In such cases trees compete with annual crops for land, unlike the traditional practices where trees complement agricultural production. Constraints operating on the farming systems of these regions are non-monetary in nature, and cannot be overcome easily by giving financial incentives. Hence, while planning for these regions, one should have modest targets for trees. However, these are the areas where a lot of degraded land is available, both with farmers and government. The focus should therefore be on pilot projects, complementary agroforestry and watershed development.

 Unlike annual crops in which crop decisions are autonomous of similar decisions by other families, a farmer's decision to plant trees in a mono-cropped village has to take into account herding practices in the village, availability of irrigation, distance of the fields from his hut, and the cropping pattern of other farmers. Conditions prevailing outside the farm become as important as simple costs and benefits from the preferred landuse options. In double-cropped villages, planting or not planting trees is an individual decision, just as is the selection of a cropping pattern, but in monocropped villages, a group consensus is necessary if trees have to be protected during the long fallow season. Hence it is better to concentrate on a few villages in which almost all farmers plant trees, than to take up a large number of villages, and expect that a few plant trees in each village.

For promoting indigenous agro-forestry models in rice and millet growing regions a great deal of research needs to be done to identify species which complement agricultural production, as farmers' primary landuse continues to be crop production. Ultimately the programme must improve the productivity of degraded private lands, if it is to be sustained over a long period. There are some known indigenous practices described in the early part of this chapter, which use trees to improve land productivity. Similar practices have to be introduced extensively in these regions.

Unfortunately, watershed approach and agroforestry research for different agro-ecological regions has remained a neglected discipline so far. Due to a tradition of competition for land between the Agriculture and Forest Departments of the government, both have viewed agroforestry with suspicion. The Forest Department has even gone to the extent of banning agroforestry on forest lands by law!

Lastly, poor farmers will require extension and help in marketing. Grouping farmers together in West Bengal on wastelands allotted to them by government facilitated extension, planting and protection. Unfortunately, lessons from West Bengal have not been applied elsewhere, although in almost all states of India substantial cultivable waste area (not including Ceiling Surplus lands) has been privatised as a conscious policy outcome.

Table: Allotment of government wastelands to the poor

State Area 000 ha
A.P. 1681
U.P. 996
Gujarat 552
Karnataka 549
Maharashtra 409
Bihar 390
Orissa 290
Assam 236
Kerala 183
West Bengal


(MRAE, 1998)

The success of the Group Farm Forestry Programme in West Bengal, where poor people own degraded land, or have such land allotted to them, can be replicated elsewhere too, if backed by strong extension efforts. One important factor at the heart of the success of this West Bengal Group Farm Forestry Program was early and effective initiatives by the FD to give technical advice and assure the patta holders that their right to do whatever they wished with their trees would not be infringed or curtailed at any stage. In the current forestry projects, farm forestry in general, and for the poor in particular, is not as high on the agenda as JFM. Farm forestry being a new economic activity for poor farmers, investments are needed in extension, research and marketing which have been largely neglected.

Tree growing in the 1980s was an outcome of agrarian capitalism: production for the market for profit, but with reduced labour. That tree growing could be a part of peasants' subsistence strategies and complementary to crops, was not pursued. Here lies a great potential for both research and implemetation.

  1. It is significant that the ICR for West Bengal dated June 1998 strongly recommended the role of extension in promoting farm forestry on degraded land, ‘Support for improving the quality and efficiency of extension services should be the priority of project support for farm forestry rather than support to seedling production’.
  2. By now most such laws have already been liberalized. UP abolished transit restrictions on eucalyptus and other farm species in 1991. Even in a conservative state like Maharashtra transit restrictions were lifted on Acacia, poplar, drumstick, and four more species in October, 1997.
  3. The incentive structure for inducing farmers should not be based on survival basis. Subsidies on survival of plants still continue in Maharashtra, though even in the 1980s it was proved that these do not lead to sustained private tree plantation. In June 1997, the Supervision Mission during its visit to village Khumari, met a woman who planted trees in 1994 and after availing of subsidy removed the plants next year.
  4. The problem of lack of research on species suited for the farm sector is not merely confined to India; it seems to be a global issue. The 1991 Bank Policy admits, ‘there has been relatively little progress in developing higher-yielding, faster-growing trees for farm rather than plantation conditions.’
  5. The ICR for West Bengal dated June 1998 noticed serious market glut for eucalyptus poles. It advocated the establishment of a marketing units, but neither looked at the structure of subsidy to industries, nor studied the impact of liberal imports on the market.