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Planning Commission : Organisation : KC Pant Speeches

Women in Forestry

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

Summary- Except in tree planting on private lands, where women's interest clashes with those of men because of land control and ownership issues, elsewhere on forest and village lands there is a commonality of interest between the poor women and poor men. Both would gain if better opportunities for gathering tree products are created through institutional and technological reforms. This would require a change in the management of forests, as also silvicultural changes, so that usufruct-oriented trees, which generate a lot of tree fodder, wild fruit, nuts, twigs, and branches are planted in place of timber and industrial species like teak and eucalyptus.  

Until recently in most Third World countries forestry and women had both remained neglected step children of development. In India, however, lately the pendulum has taken a full swing, as both forestry and women have become buzz words; along with several others like computers, liberalisation, and structural reforms, and no article, seminar or speech is complete without a rhetorical reference to these, which are supposed to launch India into the 21st century. However, as we shall argue in this paper, translating lip sympathy for women into action would require many radical changes in the way forest lands have so far been used in India, so that the needs of the women, forest dwellers and the poor could occupy the centre-stage of our attention, as opposed to supplies to markets and industry. These suggestions are documented in the second part of this paper.

Class vs. gender

The explanation for the neglect of forestry and women is obvious. Development has concerned itself with producing surplus for the market economy, and because natural forests are used by the poor and tribals for their consumption needs, and women remain involved in the subsistence rather than the cash sector of the economy, both were not able to attract serious attention from the planners. While forests were conceived only in terms of supplier of raw material for industry, the interest of women was considered subsumed within the family. In almost all schemes for the rural poor the family approach was adopted under the assumption that benefits to the head of the family, who is assumed to be a male, will percolate down to women and children.

While it is now universally accepted that identifying the interest of the family with its male head exhibits a gender bias, there is no unanimity as regards how one should explain the relationship between women and natural resources. Shiva (1986) conceptualises the link between women and the environment mainly in ideological terms. Her argument is that there are important connections between the domination and oppression of women and the domination and exploitation of nature. Because the domination of women and of nature have occurred together, women have a particular stake in ending the domination of nature.

This ecofeminist perspective is problematic on several counts. For instance, as argued by Bina Agarwal (1995), ‘it posits woman as a unitary category and fails to differentiate between women by class, caste, race and so on, thus ignoring forms of domination other than gender, which also impinge crucially on women's position. By focusing on ideology, ecofeminism neglects the non-ideological sources of dominance based on economic and political power. Even in the realm of ideological constructs, it does not discuss by what means certain dominant groups bring about ideological shifts in their own favour, and how these shifts get entrenched.’

Thus it is simplistic to argue that ‘women, qua women, are closer to nature or more conservationist than men. Rather, poor peasant and tribal women's responses to environmental degradation can be located in their everyday material reality - in their dependence on natural resources for survival and the knowledge of nature gained in that process. People's relationship with the environment is rooted not just in ideas but also in their material reality. Hence, insofar as there is a class (caste/race)-based division of labour, property and power, these factors structure the effects of environmental change on people and their responses to it. For instance, in poor peasant households, women are usually the worst affected by environmental degradation while also often possessing a special knowledge of plant species and processes of natural regeneration, since it is they who typically collect and gather from forests and village commons, and in high male-outmigration areas are also often the main cultivators. But women, who are no longer dependent on or in contact with the natural environment in the same way, will neither be so affected nor so knowledgeable about species-varieties. In this conceptualisation, therefore, the link between women and the environment lies in the interactive effects of ideology and material conditions, rather than being rooted mainly in ideology or women's biology.’

This is illustrated by women's involvement in movements such as Chipko, which have emerged mainly in hill or tribal communities among which women's role in agricultural production has always been visibly substantial and often primary - a context more conducive to their public participation than found in communities practising female seclusion.

We have quoted at length from Agarwal’s paper, because of our fundamental agreement with her position. We also argue that while on private lands women's interest may be at variance with men's, elsewhere on forest and community lands both poor women and poor men benefit from subsistence oriented usufruct based forestry as opposed to the market oriented forestry based on felling of trees, which has been the tradition so far. There is not much difference between the needs of women and poor men, the underlying conflict is between the needs of the poor on the one hand, and those of commerce and industry on the other. Class and occupational role rather than biological aspect of gender seems to determine the historical specificity of women’s interaction with natural resources, including public lands and water.

Between the three types of lands - forest, revenue, and private - women are most dependent on forest lands, where they are gatherers of forest produce for subsistence and sale. They are also employed by the Forest Department and contractors to work as unskilled labour on public lands. They have similar roles as collectors and as wage-employees on common and revenue lands, though to a lesser extent, as these lands are more degraded, and their total area in the country is perhaps only one-sixth of the forest area (Chambers et al. 1989: 44). In community forestry programmes and JFM areas women are also supposed to participate in the management of afforested lands. Lastly, women are involved as producers in farm forestry programmes. Thus women have four distinct occupational roles in forestry - gathering, wage employment, management, and production. We shall consider these roles separately.

Women as gatherers

Poverty in India is generally considered to be linked with lack of private land, or its low productivity. Changes in collection from forests go largely unnoticed, and are not accounted for in the GNP (CSE 1985). But not only is gathering an important economic activity for the poor women, their relative status within the family is also higher in well-forested villages, rather than in commercialised villages which lack natural resources. This is so because women's contribution to subsistence and cash income of the household is higher in villages close to natural forests (ILO 1985; ILO 1986). However, much of the misery of women and forest dwellers is due to deforestation which has removed the resource on which their livelihoods has been based (Dasgupta 1988:7). In a study of Orissa and Chattisgarh areas, which were heavily forested a few decades back, the distance required to collect forest products has increased four-fold in twenty years (Fernandes and Menon 1987: 15). The receding tree line means that only adult members can now go to forests for collection. Diminished supplies force them to cut down on their consumption, as they must market a greater proportion of their collection (Fernandes et al 1988: 116,124). Due to the decline in women's consumption and increased drudgery their physical health deteriorates. Medicinal herbs which were available in the past are not available now in forest areas because of deforestation and preference to mono-culture. This leads to more incidence of night blindness, dental caries, anaemia, gum-bleeding and other diseases. It is unfortunate that the new Forest Conservation Act, 1988 does not permit planting of medicinal herbs on forest lands, a provision which seems to show total insensitivity to the needs of tribals, women and forest dwellers.

A study (Agarwal and Narain 1985:189) of 170 households in nine villages of district Ranchi showed that headloading (fuelwood collection by the poor from public lands and carrying it on their heads to the nearest market) had emerged as an important profession in the previous 15 years; and more than a fifth of the households in the surveyed villages reported headloading as their major occupation. Their working conditions are described (Ninan 1981) as follows:-

"Everyday some 300 women firewood pickers disappear into the forests. They cut timber and greenwood, which is illegal. Sixty eight percent of them have been hurt either by the axe or by wild animals while collecting wood. They earn around Rs 120 a month, and half of them are always in debt. They have a two-day cycle, walking as much as 12 km to collect fuelwood and then travelling by train to the town for sale - along the way others make money off them; the railway man who allows them free on trains, the village headman who takes a cut, and the forest guard who looks the other way when forests are being axed."

Another study (Agarwal 1987:181) estimated that at least 3 to 4 million people were involved in this profession, making it India's biggest source of employment in the energy sector. It is a low paid and a high risk occupation, as pilfering wood from reserved forests for sale is an offence. Collecting wood for self consumption from protected forests is permitted on paper, but frowned upon by the forest staff in actual practice.

Collection of Minor Forest Products

In addition to wood, the poor collect what are called minor forest products (MFPs). These include fodder and grasses; raw materials like bamboo, canes and bhabbar grass for artisan based activities; leaves, gums, waxes, dyes and resins; and many forms of food, including nuts, wild fruits, honey, and game. In the Himalayan villages, where tree fodder is vital for the local economy, older women train the younger ones in the art of lopping and collecting forest produce (Shiva 1988: 60). Much of it is done by women in the lean agriculture months when agricultural employment is not available. A study of village Fakot in U.P. showed how poor women's interest in renewable use and sustained yield is more compatible with national objectives of environment preservation for the forest reserves (Rocheleau 1987). Seventy per cent of MFPs are collected from the five states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh which has 65 per cent tribal population (Guha l983:l890). Most MFPs come from forests, and provide valuable flows for subsistence and cash. But here women face three main problems; their rights of collection are not well publicised, the states have nationalised many MFPs in the interest of revenue, and opportunities for self-employment which collection of MFPs generate are on the decline.

Lack of information - Often women are not aware of what they can collect from forest lands. This leads to harassment. A Government Commission on Women interviewed Dapubai, a tribal woman in Udaipur who got only Rs 7 for 10 kg of gum, which took her 10-12 days to collect (Bhatt 1988:v), although its market price was Rs 250. When asked to comment on the low price, she said, "How can I demand a higher price? The trader's man threatens to report me to the Forest authorities for entering the forest area. Then we will get nothing."

The ability of tribal women to enjoy their rights in forests is insecure when they are uncertain what these rights are. But informing them is not considered politically desirable, whereas keeping the poor ignorant of their rights and leaving them to the mercy of the low-paid forest staff is perceived as politically neutral. Such is the irony of the Indian political system!

Nationalisation of MFPs - Before nationalisation, the gatherers could sell forest produce to anybody, but under the new system it has to be sold to the Forest Department only. In almost all cases the Department has appointed agents formally or informally (GOI 1987). This has put the gatherers at the mercy of two different sets of people, the contractor as well as the government department, and payment gets routed through both of them (FAO 1989: 70). For instance, private trade in sal seeds is illegal in Madhya Pradesh, but shopkeepers manage to exchange it with tribals for daily necessities at a low price. They then sell it to government bodies, thus defeating the very purpose of nationalisation (GOI 1988).

Nationalisation reduces the number of legal buyers, chokes the free flow of goods, and delays payment to the gatherers, as government agencies find it difficult to make prompt payment. This results in contractors entering from the back door, but they must now operate with higher margins required to cover uncertain and delayed payments by government agencies, as well as to make the police and other authorities ignore their illegal activities. All this reduces women's collection and incomes.

Declining self-employment - Vast potential exists for quadrupling employment opportunities through collection of MFPs from 0.8 million person years to 3.3 million person years (GOI 1976). But in reality, although government revenues from MFPs have increased substantially in the past two decades, total employment and incomes have at best remained stagnant, and have quite often fallen; the quantities collected and the payments to collectors have rarely risen and often fallen.

Two villages in district Sarguja in Madhya Pradesh were studied (Dasgupta 1986: 44-49) regarding collection and marketing of sal seeds. It was noted that the majority of collectors were women. When sal seeds became an important source of oil, the State Government nationalised the commodity and obtained monopoly rights for its collection. The poor could then sell these only to the agents/ contractors appointed by the Government, who in turn supplied them to private oil mills after paying royalty to the State Government. During 1981 it was noted that of the price of Rs 2.20 per kg., paid by the mill the percentage share of various agencies; the State Government as royalty, the agents/contractors, and the tribal women was 45, 36 and 19 respectively. Thus the women who worked hardest got less than one-fifth of the total income generated by their labour.

From the point of view of the poor women, it is not just volume but remuneration that matters. After meeting all expenses and profits, they should be paid Rs 1.31 a kg for collection of sal seeds in Madhya Pradesh, but they get only Rs 0.55 a kg (GOI 1988:55). In Madhya Pradesh and Orissa the price which tribals get for tamarind is as low as Rs 1.40 to 1.75 per kg whereas it sells for Rs 9-11 per kg in the Bombay market. Sometime the traders follow a barter system by offering 1 kg of sweet potato costing less than a rupee for 1 kg of tamarind (GOI,1988:40), which they sell at five times the price in other markets.

Women as wage employees

Women are perferred by the forestry staff and contractors for certain forestry operations, like nursery work, and tendu leaf collection. However, they often get lower wages than men for similar work, are not paid regularly, and are subjected to harassment if they complain (CIDA 1988).

An ILO study (1987) of the Social Forestry Programme of Orissa observed that nowhere in the Appraised Project Document was there any mention of the working conditions of women, they got no benefit of labour laws, no safety or health measures were being undertaken, whereas work was being performed outdoors, under exposure to changing weather, required heavy physical effort, sometimes in difficult terrain, and away from their homes. The Village Forest Committee was generally not involved in payment of wages, which in any case were lower than the minimum prescribed. Wages as stated by the Forest Department were higher than what women actually got. Wages paid to men were higher than to women, but women were not supposed to reveal this secret to outsiders. When asked why they didn't complain, they said that they were afraid of the consequences, or "what is the use".

It has been estimated that the total wage employment for women in the collection of forest produce is as high as 300 million women days (Pant 1980). Yet hardly any rules exist for regulating their working hours, safety precautions, provision of latrines, job recruitment, leave and other benefits, training policies, productivity-linked bonus, compulsory insurance against accidents, shelters, civic amenities, creche, arrangements for the care of children and infants and medical care. The same is true of forestry work undertaken under JRY budgets which flow from the Department of Rural Development, which supposedly looks after the interests of the poor.

Half of the block plantation by farmers in the recent years has been on previously cropped lands (IIPO, 1988: 61). A similar conclusion was reached by an ILO study which estimated that 50 per cent of the land covered under the farm forestry component was good agriculture land (1988:17). How does this affect employment?

By planting trees on land previously used for agriculture crops female labour tends to get displaced (ILO 1988:21; SIDA 1988). A study of eucalyptus plantation in Tamil Nadu under the farm forestry programme (Malmer 1987) on lands which were previously being used for groundnut cultivation, has found that instead of women's employment which groundnut cultivation generated, eucalyptus required digging pits and clearing felling trees, both of which are done by men. Averaged over a rotation cycle of ten years, total employment per ha per year dropped from 112 to 45. Female employment dropped from 100 days to nil, while male employment rose, but only from 12 to 45. Thus not only was total employment reduced when plantation trees replaced agriculture crops, but women were completely thrown out of employment.

Women as managers in community forestry

In community plantations, who gains and who loses has been affected by the choice of species. Fodder is crucial to the economy of Indian villages. Realising this, land laws of most of the states forbid the use of grazing lands for purposes other than producing grasses and fodder. Yet the Forest Department has planted non-browsable species like eucalyptus on such lands in Gujarat (PEO 1987), Karnataka (Brokensha 1988), and other states (IIM 1985; SIDA 1988) thus depriving the poor women from an important resource.

Women tend to lose not only fodder but also other benefits from the trees themselves. A World Bank/USAID team after touring U.P., Gujarat, H.P. and Rajasthan in Feb/March 1988 found that commercial species planted by the Forest Department on grazing lands tempt the Panchayats to sell these, rather than distribute them in the village (USAID 1988).

In village Avale in Thane District of Maharashtra, the panchayat undertook plantation of some 350 saplings of Khair (Acacia catechu) in the village. Amongst the benefits of such plantation as mentioned by the panchayat, were commercial use of wood from the trees and leaves to be used as fertiliser for paddy cultivation. Not a single use directly related to women’s priorities or reduced women's workload.

A recent research (Jonsonn and Rai 1994) studied five successful protection areas in Orissa but in none of them women had any voice in management. The only concession made to women was that when caught breaking rules, they were never summoned before the village council. They are represented by a male member of their household.

Forced inclusion of women through legislation has not led to genuine participation. In village Kilmora in a van panchayat in U.P. (Britt-Kapoor 1994) the female member who has the added advantage of living at the house where meetings are held, rarely stayed longer than was necessary to sign the register. In another village Katuul (ibid) a female member said, 'I went to three or four meetings .. My suggestions never got implemented. No one ever listened. I marked my signature in the register. I am illiterate so I couldn't tell what was written in the meeting minutes. I was told that my recomendations would be considered, but first the register had to be signed. They were uninterested.' It is considered against Indian culture for women to talk in the presence of men, much less to question their ideas.

Thus it appears that if women have other priorities than men in the choice of species, these have little chance of getting articulated (SIDA 1988). Therefore, given the sex segregated and hierarchical nature of Indian society, separate women's organisations would be needed in rural India for many years, until poor rural women acquire the self-confidence to talk in mixed gathering. Realising this, some Social Forestry Projects provide for the appointment of women extension workers who are to help in approaching and involving women. A study of Madhya Pradesh showed that within the Forest Department there were only 9 women extension assistants out of the total of 273, and only 49 forest workers out of a total of 882 in that cadre. At the level of forest extension officers and higher, there were no women. But wherever women forest workers were active, village women not only knew about the general issues concerning social forestry programmes, but they were more cost efficient in nursery management. Even among the NGOs, those groups which had separate women staff were more successful in organising women's activities (USAID 1985).

Yet the social forestry projects in India hardly consider the role of women at the project design or implementation stage. Women have remained "invisible" to planners and government officials, and have been "designed out" of projects by default (Fortmann 1983; Fortmann 1985; Molnar and Schreiber 1989).

Women in JFM

Protection of a degraded area under Joint Forest Management may transfer harvesting pressure to some other area, as women have to meet their daily requirement of fuelwood somehow or the other. It may also increase women's drudgery if they have to travel a greater distance to collect their daily requirements of fuelwood and fodder. A few areas studied by Madhu Sarin which are under community protection confirms this, as shown below.

Time/distance for gathering one headload for women before and after JFM


Before protection

After protection

Bankura, West Bengal


1.5 to 2 hrs

4 to 5 hrs


1/2 km

4 to 5 km


1 to 2 hrs

3 to 4 hrs


5 km

8 to 9 km

Panch Mahals, Gujarat


1/2 hr

3 to 4 hrs


1 hr

4 to 5 hrs


1 to 2 hrs

whole day

Hazaribagh, Bihar


(Entry to protected area was totally banned for first 5 years)

(Sarin 1994)

Thus, despite the good intentions of forest protection, community forest management burdened women with additional hardships, or concentrated it on the shoulders of younger women. Recent workshops with 2 groups of 20-25 representatives of autonomous van samitis from Hazaribagh and East Singhbhum districts of Bihar confirmed the pattern of women switching to inferior fuels like leaves, husk, weeds and bushes or having to spend greater time and effort in obtaining firewood, or resorting to both. Many women in Patamda block of East Singhbhum district now go to the Dolma sanctuary area, spending upto an entire day to fetch just 1 headload.

Obviously, merely shifting the protection role from the Forest Departments to the community does not provide any immediate relief to women. Further, the gender-differentiated impact is not restricted to firewood - it applies equally to other forest produce. For example, protecting sal trees with the existing technology of multiple shoot cutting results in the leaves getting out of reach. This affects the making of sal leaf plates, which is a common source of income, primarily for poor women in many parts of West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar.

Another problem is of providing adequate share to women in management responsibilities. In this respect, women's rights and entitlements have been almost totally overlooked. For instance, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Tripura provide for the membership of only one representative per household; Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have left the matter open; Punjab has no provision for a general body at all, and in Jammu and Kashmir, it is unclear whether both a man and a women or either can represent a household. In 9 of the 15 states implementing JFM, there is no clear provision for women's membership (Sarin 1994). In cases where one person can represent a household, it invariably ends up being a man (except in the case of widows with no adult sons). This happened in Sukhomajri and Nada in the early '80s, due to which Haryana's membership has now been opened to all adults. Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Tamil Nadu have attempted to overcome this shortcoming by providing for 1 male and 1 female representative per household and West Bengal for a joint husband-wife membership. Although these are improvements over the usual formula, they still exclude several women, as in the case of joint or extended families.

Women as producers in farm forestry

As regards farm forestry, the benefits to women are constrained by two factors: their own place in the family, and the legal position regarding their ownership of private lands. Unfortunately, over the past several decades women have been deprived of their customary rights in management and ownership of land. It appears that the transition in land rights from communal to private ownership has affected women adversely. So long as land was commonly owned, women had a voice in its management, but with private owning of land, their rights have become diluted. The result is that both extension programmes and credit services are now geared to men, which has helped them to get into the modernised sector while women have remained behind in the subsistence sector.

In West Bengal, women in poor households who planted blocks of eucalyptus on recently allocated private lands were expected to benefit from an increased supply of fuelwood. Male small holders cut the trees as a block, however, seeking an optimal contractor price. Since farms had limited storage space, only a few of the lops and tops were retained in the household for fuelwood. A FAO study of farm forestry in Gujarat (Jain 1988) observed that all negotiations for selling the eucalyptus polewood are settled by men, whereas women continued to gather fuelwood as before.

Agarwal documents (1988) that in most parts of India, women have had no customary land rights, and those that existed have been substantially eroded over time, with State policies playing a catalytic role. 131 out of 145 land owning communities studied (Agarwal 1989) had patrilineal pattern in land inheritance where women did not get any share. Modern legislation has yet to establish full gender equality in law or to permeate practice.

To give an example (Saxena 1987), according to the section 171 of the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950 after a landowner's death, his land will devolve to the male issues in equal shares, and in case he had no sons, to his widow and widowed mother. A married daughter would be entitled to a share in the absence of the above claimants, only when the deceased had no father, unmmaried daughter, brother or unmarried sister. One wonders whether such blatantly unfair provisions of law are not violating the equality provisions of the Indian Constitution.

Women's right of access to land and other material resources is not a legal issue alone. As their control over loans, income and assets goes down, their access to social resources such as knowledge, power and prestige diminishes. Disparity in gender status gets intensified with the emergence and deepening of other forms of stratification. Subordination and seclusion of women is more noticed in communities where social differentiation and hierarchy based on ownership pattern or on prestige is more pronounced.

Just now rural women are not even aware of the necessity of getting separate legal rights over land. They are exploited by the husbands and even by their sons but they do not think of themselves as competitors of men. They would generally like to view their husbands as comrades and friends whose good wishes and advice they would like to cherish. They divide men in the neat categories of good husbands and bad husbands, without realising the inherent exploitation in the very institution of patriarchy and property customs (Ellis 1988: 170). Even where women have legal rights, they often relinquish their claims to parental land in favour of their brothers (Agarwal, 1988). These norms serve as barriers to women's ability to exercise direct control over the land they may inherit in their natal village. Thus along with initiating legal rights over land to women one would have to conscientise them about the existing realities of power inequities within the family.

While it would require a great deal of political courage to upset the existing power relations between the sexes through legal enactments, a beginning can be made by making women co-managers in joint protection schemes, but as discussed above there too appears a general lack of will on the part of field officials to treat women's interests as distinct from the family's interests.

Possible Solutions

The strength of the Indian social science research tradition is generally in analysing constraints. It is adept in highlighting limitations of the system, but does not indicate how inequities can be reduced, except through a massive overhaul of the political situation, which transfers power to the poor. Such change-all and revolutionary solutions may appear romantic, but are of little help to an ordinary development worker, as transferring effective power to the poor, however desirable, does not seem to be feasible in the short run. Those who believe in improving the situation at the margin would find theoretical work of greater practical use if the analysis also suggested how the situation could be improved, given the existing socio-economic realities. In this part of the paper we suggest solutions most of which, according to us, are practical and capable of being accepted politically.

As already stated, of the several roles women have in forestry, the most important is as gatherers of forest produce. Women would therefore be greatly benefitted if opportunities for collection from forest and public lands are enhanced. This would require:-

  • sharing of management and protection with women,
  • a change in the silvicultural practices of managing forests,
  • a change in the nature of species being planted on public lands from timber to usufruct based trees,
  • improving women’s access to markets, value-added technology, training and credit,
  • building gender sensitisation at the project preparation stage,
  • publicity about women's rights in forest and community lands, and
  • a change in outlook to facilitate the above.
  • We discuss these below.

Sharing of management

Social conditions in India are such that neither cattle nor human beings can be totally stopped from entering forests or village lands. What is therefore needed is adopting policies which improve productivity of degraded lands, taking constraints of the human and livestock pressure as givens of the situation. Given the ease of access to forests it has been impossible, in practical terms, for the Forest Department to enforce its property rights. Forest lands too, like revenue lands, have been a victim of the "tragedy of the commons" phenomenon where community rights and management have not existed or have broken down. Therefore, any effort towards reforestation can yield results only if it involves local people, specially women, in protection. Sharing of management and usufruct with women, if properly implemented, could have wide ranging implications on forest regeneration and welfare of the poor. Women's subsistence compulsions have shown greater sensitivity to ecologically sustainable development needs. Thus it would be in the interest of the Forest Department to give higher priority to women's needs.

Given the sex segregated and hierarchical nature of Indian society, separate women's organisations and staff are needed to work among women, to instil confidence in them, so that they can fight for their rights. Therefore, whenever there is recruitment, more women need to be recruited in the Forest Department. The village level committees should have adequate and equal representation of women. Forestry staff should be sensitised on gender issues through orientation programmes. As women in many societies still feel inhibited in expressing themselves in mixed gatherings, each committee should have a separate women's cell for raising their consciousness and for improving their skills. The quality of women's participation and the control they exercise over decision making processes is more important than the sheer number of women present in such bodies.

Both the short and long term goals of supporting women's participation in natural resource management must be defined clearly. Is the goal limited to integrating women in on-going or new programmes simply because traditional gender roles assign subsistence tasks of biomass gathering to women? Or is the goal to empower women to gain greater control over their labour, knowledge and local natural resources which may eventually lead to changing gender relations resulting in greater gender equity? Unless a commitment to working towards greater gender equity in the longer term is incorporated as a programme goal, success in increasing women's participation in forestry programmes may end up being short-lived or may even result in increasing rural women's excessive work burden.

Changes in silviculture

Some conservative field officials understand JFM as an arrangement in which wages are paid in kind (100% of NTFPs and 25% of final harvest) in place of cash. Others define it as a new management regime in which protection is to be done by the people and technology is to be controlled by the department. These narrow perspectives assume that the objectives of forest management need not be redefined, and could continue as before to be timber oriented. However, issues of management cannot be divorced from issues of objectives. The new Forest Policy has made radical changes in the objectives, which can be broadly understood as a shift from:-

Silvicultural practices and management options should then be geared to meet these new objectives, and not the other way round. Multiple objectives to maximise outputs from many products will require innovative and experimental silviculture. Although after the advent of the new forest policy in 1988 there has been some effort to involve forest communities in management, little thought has been given to make necessary changes in the technology which will be suitable to achieve the changed objectives.

For instance, in several cases, local people prefer production of grasses to wood. In the case of a pastoral tribe, Bashir Khan was persuaded to reduce his stock in order to allow regeneration on the forest patch allotted to him in the alpine pastures. He found that although tree density increased due to control on grazing, the output of natural grasses and carissa bush, which he used to feed to goats and sheep, had gone down. He wanted the coupe to be thinned in order to get more grasses, but unfortunately the Forest Department is not geared to the silvicultural practice of using a forest compartment to produce the kind of biomass which is useful to the herdsmen. Thus there is a danger of his getting alienated from the department and revert to the old unsustainable practice of uncontrolled grazing. The onus is now on the Forest Department to shift to a new silvicultural practice of maximising biomass and NTFPs rather than timber (Rizvi 1994).

Similarly, F.D.'s present management of sal seems to be for timber, and hence only one shoot is allowed to grow. Since sal is an excellent coppicer we suggest that degraded forests and hills close to a village should be managed to maximise biomass, with many shoots, which can be pruned occasionally to produce fuelwood, besides giving sal leaves.

From forest lands only over-mature, mal-formed, dead or dying trees should be removed, with no particular reservation by species. Ground flora and the understorey should be largely left undisturbed, except for the improvement of hygiene of the forest flora through removal of noxious weeds (Buch 1992). Canopy manipulation, tending, and thinning etc. should be so adjusted as to optimise gatherable produce. The crop would be representative of all age groups because no attempt would be made to achieve an uniform crop in terms of variety or age. In those areas where teak and sal are the naturally dominant species, they would continue to predominate even without silvicultural intervention to achieve an uniform crop. However, because of age and species mix the forests would be able to maintain a continuous supply of miscellaneous small timber and fuelwood for use in gathering. Commercial working would taper off because clear felling by blocks would be totally abandoned, but there would be some production of timber from the over mature trees that would be felled.

From the people's point of view, crown based trees are important for usufruct, but forests still remain largely stem based. Norms for silvicultural practices were developed in times prior to the current scenario of high biotic pressures, and must now be adjusted accordingly. If the national objectives have changed to prioritise people's needs, there must be an accompanying change in silvicultural practices and technology.

Timber is a product of the dead tree, whereas NTFPs come from living trees allowing the stem to perform its various environmental functions. Moreover, gathering is more labour intensive than mechanised clear-felling. Local people living in the forests possess necessary knowledge and skills for sustainable harvesting. Lastly, NTFPs generate recurrent and seasonal as opposed to one-time incomes, making its extraction more attractive to the poor. Thus if access to NTFPs can be assured, standing trees can generate more income and employment than the same areas cleared for timber, and also maintain land's natural bio-diversity.

Looking at the practical conditions we feel that transferring complete decision making, control and management on forest lands on a large scale to women and the panchayats would become feasible in the long run if the capability of women and village organisations is improved first through joint management schemes, as in Sukhomajri and Arabari (both being government, and not NGO inspired schemes). The number of committed NGOs with vast organisation, which could be trusted with the management of forest lands is limited. What is easier to achieve, given the present stage of panchayats' capabilities, is to enable people to have usufruct of intermediate and final products, rather than try to establish immediately communal ownership over forest lands.

Moreover, the best organisation of management will depend on local conditions; and the balance of advantage to the poor as between Forest Department management and Panchayat management of trees will vary. It is by no means automatic that the poor and women will be better off with Panchayat management, especially if it entails trees for commercial pulpwood, poles or urban fuelwood, as shown by the panchayat-run woodlots in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. In backward and tribal South Bihar, "concepts like representation, participation and decision making were completely alien to the rural women of the under-privileged communities" (GOB, 1987: 13). What was crucial to them was better access to forests for collection of fuelwood and minor forest products. Transferring total management of forest lands to the panchayats or other forms of people's organisations may be an ideal goal, but the process will proceed at different paces in different conditions. In the meantime, what is essential is to develop mixed forests, in place of industrial plantations, on forest lands to meet the livelihood needs of the poor. Practical considerations suggest that technology is easier to change than institutions.

Change in Species

As a practical policy we suggest (Saxena, 1988) that social forestry projects should be extended to reserved and protected forest lands by changing the nature of species from teak, eucalypts and pines to usufruct based trees, such as neem, mahua, tendu, sal, arjun, palmyrah, and tamarind. These should be supplemented with shrubs and bushes to yield fuelwood and fodder in the shortest possible time. This would strengthen women's access to forests, and therefore benefits would be directly appropriated by them. Unlike commercial timber species, relatively low value non-rotational trees for recurrent products would not so much attract the attention of powerful panchayat leaders and contractors.

One of the main reasons for the failure of social forestry programme was that the implementation of social forestry programmes in India was heavily influenced by the perspectives of foresters and of foreign experts who advised the GOI and the donor agencies. Both of them, because of their training and experience, had looked upon trees as timber, to be obtained after felling. Therefore, even in the social forestry programmes market oriented species were planted. The traditional Indian way of looking at trees has, however, been different. As opposed to trees for timber, Indian villagers for centuries have depended on trees for their livelihood. There has been little felling. Instead, trees have been valued for the intermediate products they provide, which sustain and secure the livelihoods of the people.

The difference can be understood by comparing how fuelwood species are viewed in the two perspectives. According to foresters fuelwood is obtained by felling trees having a high calorific value, or as a by-product from lops and tops of timber trees. Casuarina and eucalypts therefore seem perfectly justified on public lands. But the poor women obtain fuelwood from twigs and branches of living trees, and not by felling trees, and often get little from the felling of so-called fuelwood trees. Casuarina and eucalypts may be justified on farm lands, if they improve farm incomes on a sustainable basis. But these hardly serve the poor, when raised on public lands.

Given the inefficiency of administration and `soft' character of the political system, one could generalise that out of a tree on public lands the stem goes to the rich and the towns, whereas branches, leaves and twigs belong to the poor. Therefore the strategy should be to opt for species which have high proportions of branches and twigs relative to stem wood.

Thus there is a world of difference between plantation of eucalypts and of prosopis juliflora on roadsides. Eucalypts benefits urban markets and industry, whereas prosopis can not only solve the fuelwood problem of poor families, but would also generate self employment for women,as they prune the branches and sell it in urban areas. What is significant about prosopis, ber, neem, karanj, agave or other low market value but high bio-mass trees is, that they do not require decisions about market shares between the rich and the poor. Their usufruct is not of much interest to the rich, or is available to them only through gathering by the poor, so that by default the benefits are available for the poor.

This reverses the recommendations of the National Commission on Agriculture, 1976 which favoured commercial plantations on forest land, and trees for consumption and subsistence on private land. Our recommendation is that subsistence and consumption should be met from forest and common lands, and market demand should by and large be met from private land. No doubt, farmers would also raise multiple purpose trees which meet subsistence needs as well as provide income. Using private lands for short rotation products will permit the large area of forest lands to be used for long gestation trees, which enrich the environment and provide a range of products to the poor. For quick benefits to the poor, long gestation trees would be supplemented with an understorey of bushes and shrubs so as to satisfy immediate needs of the poor. In the absence of bushes and shrubs, large trees like tamarind, jackfruit, or jamun tend to be hacked for fuelwood, although these should remain to yield their usufructs. "Scientific" forestry should therefore mean that wild fruits, nuts, MFPs, grasses, leaves and twigs become the main intended products from forest lands and timber a by-product from large trees like tamarind, jack and sal.

A further advantage of planting "female" trees (which are essentially employment augmenting trees, as they require labour for gathering and collection, as opposed to "male" trees which are clear- felled) on forest and revenue lands is the likelihood of improved cooperation. People are reluctant to protect trees which will be auctioned or clear felled, to the benefit of government, contractors and forest staff. They are much more likely to collaborate in protection of trees from which they, much more than others, are in a position to benefit.

Women have suffered in social forestry programmes because they are not organised, and bureaucracy has failed to deliver the share from timber and pulpwood trees to them. Usufruct-based trees overcome both these problems. Under the new policy suggested by us, technology produces an output which eliminates the need for political and bureaucratic fine tuning.

Access to markets, value-added technology, training and credit

Studies indicate that while collectors of NTFPs are often some of the lowest income groups in India, they often receive only 5 to 20% of the value of their goods. Various government run marketing and cooperative schemes like Forest Development Cooperatives, Trifed, Lamps, and others, while well intentioned, have frequently failed to result in major improvements in prices. Studies of bamboo basket makers in Haryana and Gujarat indicated that while FD programmes provided raw materials at subsidised prices, the raw materials were often of low and insufficient quality and locked them into selling to FD operatives at below market prices. Experience shows that open markets may give producers the best chance of gaining a competitive price for their products.

Therefore, for marketing NTFPs, Government should not have a monopoly, as nationalisation does not help gatherers in the long run. Monopoly purchase by Government requires sustained political support and excellent bureaucratic machinery. It is difficult to ensure these over a long period and hence nationalisation has often increased exploitation of the poor.

In other cases, NGO run programmes to develop non-timber forest products, which make processing more efficient and improve market access, can enhance the income of forest communities. In southwest Bengal, the presence of an NGO who provided improved sal plate processing and marketing support allowed village producers improved income. Sal leaf plate producers working with the Chingra NGO, who made large, better quality plates where able to receive Rs 11.52 for an eight hour day equivalent versus Rs 5 to 6 for other communities dependent on middlemen.

Direct management of the supply of raw materials may also give producers an incentive to improve management and increase productivity in terms of quantity and quality. There remains a need to break the dependency of forest communities on money lenders which often provide unfair prices for forest products due to their loan based leverage. Access to reliable sources of credit would help to achieve this. In some areas local NGOs have assisted communities and these experiences should be documented and extended in joint forest management programme areas. Other NGOs have explored ways to improve processing systems to increase income through enhancing value added.

In commercial regions such as northwest India, private trade is relatively efficient, and hence can function without government intervention. In tribal and subsistence areas markets are generally exploitative. Here it is better for Government to regulate private trade rather than try to eliminate it. Where government alone does marketing it is inefficient; and where it is left to private trade, it is exploitative. It is better to allow private trade and government buying to co-exist, as it happens in the wheat purchase scheme in north India. At the same time a government agency like the Forest or the Tribal Development Department should perhaps be involved in informing tribals and gatherers about the prices prevailing in different markets, improve marketing practices, and act as a watch-dog.

Gender sensitisation at the project preparation stage

How can gender issues be adequately addressed in forestry development? Key to this objective is identifying and, to the extent possible, quantifying the potential gains that will accrue to women and the likely losses they may have to bear as a result of the planned intervention. Microplanning provides an ideal forum for this kind of thinking. Specific issues to be considered include:

  • pre-project benefits likely to be foregone by women and their households, with special attention to households headed by women: e.g., when common land is to be utilized for tree plantations; when gathering and sale of wood from government forests is eliminated as a source of income for poor households; when the utilisation of minor forest products is expected or likely to become commercialised; or when changing gender-specific economic interests and incentives induced by project interventions are likely to deprive women of access to previously accessible resources;
  • workload implications for women: e.g., the extent of added labour required of women of various socio-economic groups for project activities (such as watering, weeding, protection); longer distances to be walked for gathering fuel, fodder and other products previously obtained from land now brought under a different production and management regime; the effect of such additional labour requirements on women's time and labour allocation and on women's and household welfare (e.g., curtailing of time allocated to other tasks, increasing reliance on child labour);
  • probable gains to women from planned interventions: e.g., increased availability of forestry products (but check for potential conflicts arising between men and women, between commercial and subsistence users); availability of new products for subsistence and/or market-oriented income generation; introduction of new income-earning activities based on forest products not previously available; generation of wage-labour opportunities (but check for potential distortions in male-female competition for new employment);
  • differences and potential conflicts between probable gains and losses for women and those anticipated for men, households in general or the community as a whole: e.g., men's strong preference for timber species crowding out women's need for fuel and fodder trees; men's preference for selling trees en block conflicting with women's need for the domestic or home-industry use of by-products; or men's interest in cash-cropping of trees and their command over the labour of women in their household forcing women to reduce their time allocations to other family-care and/or income-earning tasks.

Primacy of rights

In the first part of the paper we pointed out that women's rights of access and their right to collection of MFPs and tree products are restricted, vague, or not known to them. Sharing arrangements in community forestry schemes are ill-defined or not publicised, or poorly implemented. There appears to be general reluctance on the part of the government to define clearly what people are to get, at what time, and at what price, in exchange for the participation expected of them. But participation of the poor and women is improbable unless their benefits are secure.

Therefore, we suggest that outside each forest coupe or social forestry plantation there should be a notice board publicising what rights people have as regards collection. The colonial tradition of secrecy or a wide gap between policy and implementation must be given up. A simple notice that, "these trees belong to the community, and not to Government", may in itself, change peoples' attitude towards panchayat plantations. Where rights are individualistic in nature, as in social security schemes, agreements must be entered in writing with the beneficiaries informing them about their entitlement.

Similarly, nationalisation of MFPs, justified in the name of preventing tribal exploitation, creates excellent opportunities for private traders and bureaucracy to extract `suitable' rents for "services rendered". Practical considerations point out that Government is incapable of effectively administer complete control. It is better for Government to regulate private trade, and to act as a watchdog rather than try to eliminate it. Monopoly purchase by Government requires sustained political support and excellent bureaucratic machinery. It is difficult to ensure these over a long period and hence nationalisation has often increased exploitation of the poor.

In farm forestry too, many of the constraints on women's participation are similar to those in the agricultural sector: lack of access to credit, inputs, extension information, or land. The wasteland development program attempts to provide poor women with additional land for tree planting through tree patta schemes. Here, women's lack of political power presents a potential problem. A group of village women in Himachal Pradesh involved in an improved dairying scheme developed an area of wasteland for fodder for their animals. Once it became productive, however, the men of the village began pressing private claims to this now valuable land. Hence it is vital to raise women’s awareness about their rights through conscientisation programmes.

Changes in outlook

Two problems will have to be encountered if the suggestions contained in this paper are to be implemented. One is the attitude of the civil servants, who associate "development" with spending of money. Changes in policy or nature of species or laws are not seen as integral part of the development process because these have no direct financial implication. Non-monetary inputs in policy have unfortunately no ready acceptability in government. The Indian civil servant has still to learn the difference between planning and budgeting. S/he is looking for a scheme rather than a new policy framework. . The question, however, is whether we wish to help hundreds of women through projects, or millions of women through changes in policy.

One aspect of this bureaucracy that demands greater understanding is its "culture" - something that is highly relevant to the success of all community participation schemes. For example, while the principle of JFM assume a participatory/ consultative framework, the government bureaucracy that is charged with its implementation operates in a decidedly non-participatory/ non-consultative fashion. Bureaucratic regulations regarding release of budget, physical targets, development of working plans, all act against the more flexible adaptive process needed to successfully implement a JFM programme. What is needed, therefore is an effort to identify the key points of leverage through which the forestry bureaucracy could be incrementally moved toward more open working practices.

The second is the new Forest Policy and the amended Forest Conservation Act, both of which were enacted in December, 1988. There are two provisions of the amended Act which need to be taken note of. First, it bans assignment or lease of forest land to the people; and second, it prohibits plantation of horticulture crops, palms, oil bearing and medicinal plants on forest lands, unless prior permission of the Government of India has been taken. These provisions should be read with the new Forest Policy, which looks down upon gathering of forest produce by stating that "these (MFPs) and substitute materials should be made available through conveniently located depots at reasonable prices". It also wishes to curtail the rights and concessions of forest dwellers by relating them to the carrying capacity of forests.

The objective seems to be that Government wishes to have exclusive monopoly rights to management and ownership over forest lands, both reserve and non-reserve. It does not trust the poor, and hence would not permit growing of trees like mahua and mango which attract the poor to forest areas.

By denying to the people any role in forest management and share in forest produce the new Policy and the Act reduce the concept of peoples' participation to a mere rhetoric. These tend to define forest-people interaction as a zero-sum game; forests can be protected only when people lose, and any gain to the people is at the cost of forest protection. In this scenario, both lose. The challenge is how to convert this into a win-win game. This requires a new outlook and a new strategy, in which women's interests, of secure rights of gathering, which are just as well the interests of all poor people, would be paramount. Livelihood needs of the poor women are preconditions for sustainability of natural resources.

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