The importance of trees can be seen from many aspects and in terms of services they deliver. Trees are not just confined to forests but exist outside the forests also. Trees outside forests (TOF) are of significant importance and perform a number of ecological, economic and socio-cultural functions.
In India, TOF are an important source of wood and non-wood products, and environmental services. Such trees include roadside plantings, woodlots, scattered trees in the landscape, trees in fields, homesteads and orchards. They not only play a very important role in meeting rural people's needs but are also increasingly significant in supplying the commercial sector, especially the wood-based industries, with much needed raw material. Depending on prevalent land-use patterns (ecological and economic) and landscape attributes, TOF may also play a role in carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation hydrological functions, and erosion control.
A systematic inventory of TOF can help provide a ready reference for policy makers and planners in meeting peoples needs. Despite being an important biological resource, however, TOF have not been given due attention in the national forest statistics of India. Information on the status and extent of TOF is scanty and not easily accessible. Sound inventories and databases on TOF have not been appropriately organized. One reason for this deficiency is the lack of cost-effective and practical inventory and assessment techniques, and an absence of clear classification systems. Although, various case studies have emphasized their importance to farms, households and the rural economy, inventories for large areas are generally unavailable. Large-scale inventories and assessments are a high priority for developing management strategies to help sustain tree cover and to design supportive policies that provide incentives to landholders to maintain or increase the number of trees on their land.
The Forest Survey of India (FSI) took a lead in assessing TOF in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka and West Bengal (FSI, 2000). While FSI has completed the study in Haryana, the assessment in the other states is continuing. Similar efforts on a smaller scale were also attempted by other institutions. The Kerala Forest Research Institute, Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and recently the Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI) have used different approaches and assessment methodologies, which complicates comparisons and hinders the development of a national overview and database.
The potential to coordinate the efforts of the different institutions for speedy assessments of TOF is immense. There is also a need to develop a common methodology by drawing on the strengths of different approaches used. Time requirements for assessing TOF based on conventional ground-based surveys is a cause of concern. It is therefore necessary to test the efficacy of alternative methodologies for more rapid large-scale appraisals, especially the use of remote sensing (RS). The various institutions agree that a concerted effort based on a review of existing knowledge would result in a more effective approach for assessing TOF.
In a first workshop on the national assessment of TOF that was held at IIFM in June 2000, it was estimated that there are 24 billion TOF in India (Prasad et al., 2000). Participants were from a vast array of institutions engaged in this work. As a follow-up, IIFM organized a three-day workshop bringing specialists from diverse backgrounds to review and develop an action plan.
Objectives and outputs of the workshop
The five main objectives of the workshop were as follows:
¨ review the status and existing survey methodologies of TOF in India;The workshop achieved the following outputs (contained in this report):
¨ identify priority areas/topics for assessment;
¨ identify potential for inter-institutional partnership for assessment of TOF in India;
¨ develop terms of reference (TOR) for an exploratory study on the potential of using RS data for assessing TOF; and
¨ agree on an action plan and identify topics for further studies if necessary.
¨ Workshop report comparing different methods used for ground-based assessment of TOF, and considerations of other methodologies that can be used
¨ List of potential users of data collected for TOF
¨ List of institutions with relevant data
¨ Identified parameters and criteria and indicators for TOF assessments
¨ TOR for exploratory study of the cost-effective use of RS in TOF assessments
¨ Action plan for standardization of TOF assessment methodologies
¨ Identification of further studies