If it is apparent that capitalist agriculture is the main trend in rural development ín Gujarat in particular and of India in general, there is no escaping the fact that the cultivation of forest trees is inevitably based on the rational of profit-calculations. The market for polewood is then obviously linked with industrial and/or commercial enterprises. This explains why a large farmer with sufficient capital and a better entry into the timber market successfully adopts farm forestry on his agricultural land. On the other hand, due to the lack of capital resources and market information, small farmers face problems growing and selling forest trees.
From this perspective, non-cash benefits and ecological gains of farm forestry become secondary for the farmers and a kind of alibi in the hands of the government for promoting commercial development of tree plantations. As in Vadgam village of Kheda District, even for small/marginal farmers and landless agricultural labourers, growing trees is mainly an income-generating activity.
The cost-benefit ratio of growing forest trees on agricultural land is at present based on prevailing values of polewood and other tree products. It is possible for the polewood market to drop in the wake of an over-supply. In that circumstance one can not expect a sustained interest in tree crops on the part of capitalist farmers. The small/marginal farmers and landless agricultural labourers may still continue to grow trees even at less attractive profits because they require cash to meet their basic needs in today's monetary economy. It is therefore possible to interest the rural poor in raising trees as cash crops.
The increased supply of fuelwood, fodder and other forest products has to be assigned a secondary role in farm forestry. To state it as the primary aim of social (farm) forestry projects gives an impression of deliberate displacement of priorities on the part of planners and policy-makers, because neither the foresters nor the farmers are at present thinking about farm forestry strictly for the household.
The role of the Forest Department in drawing the rural poor to farm forestry has so far emphasised the importance of trees as a source of cash income. The foresters seem to have uniformly advocated the planting of Eucalyptus by farmers in different regions (see Chandrashekhar, Krishna Murti, Ramaswamy 1987). They have not always taken into account the nature of land characteristics In different agro-climatic zones. The Jaspara farmers had to find for themselves that Eucalyptus is an unsuitable tree crop for dry land without Irrigation facilities.
Like most cash crops, unless planted on extremely non-productive land, forest trees have had an adverse impact on labour use in the region, thereby adding to the increasing number of agricultural labourers in rural areas of Gujarat. As wood-base industries have not yet developed in and around villages to absorb the displaced agricultural labourers, the landless view the factor of labour reduction caused by the adoption of farm forestry as having a serious negative impact on the local labour market.
If growing of trees can be legitimately recognized as an Income-generating activity, the organization of a polewood market with a fixed minimum selling price can encourage small farmers to continue raising forest trees. At the same time an increased flow of information on the polewood market would assist farmers in locating monetary gains.
The government and other agencies involved in planning and policy-making have to contend with ecological questions and needs of the population for fuelwood and fodder. The cultivation of trees by the farmers on their agricultural land Is at present catering to the needs of the commercial market for polewood. This obviously meets neither survival needs of the rural poor nor the ecological needs of the area; consequently, many grassroot movements actually oppose government-sponsored social forestry programmes. This again makes it difficult to effectively increase the participation of small farmers in farm forestry. Clearly, the two quite different goals (one of responding to the needs of the commercial polewood and the other of providing enough wood for use by the rural poor) must also aim towards restoration of the ecological balance. The participants in farm forestry do not yet perceive their role in any of the three major Issues concerning forestry.
Presently, social forestry projects are so designed as to include on paper the objectives of increasing the supply of fuelwood, fodder and tree products for rural people, restoring the ecological balance, giving employment to landless labourers and meeting the needs for timber by industrial enterprises. In practice, the government, through the Forest Department, has successfully carried out a tree-planting programme, but has yet to look into the long-term interests of tree growers. Not all farmers may be able to adopt the monoculture plantation of commercial species due to their need to grow food crops on agricultural land. Even marginal farmers and landless labourers may decide to contribute to a long-term project of afforestation through growing trees in mixed forests so that not only they but the next generation may derive benefits. However, the existing pattern of farm forestry is too limited for a free exercise of choice by farmers, without more effective supports.
The involvement of agricultural labourers and marginal farmers in planting trees and thereby securing employment and regular Income can be seen as one way of achieving a measure of equity through farm forestry.
From the Prosopis juliflora farm in Vadgam village, the entire membership of the Vankar cooperative can expect to derive benefits of employment and regular income on a permanent basis as long as the cooperative is not monopolised by a group of individuals, and collective gains are placed higher than individual gains. This example shows that it is not the farm forestry per se which provides benefits to the people, but it is in fact an overall impact of various types of development support (including the creation of favourable conditions for farm forestry) that enables a group of people to derive benefits in smaller or greater measure.
From the perspective of the Vankar community, additional income from farm forestry provides them with the ability to (1) improve their standard of living (in terms of nutrition, better care of sick persons) and (11) fight social injustices forced upon them by Rajput farmers. Vankar women have especially benefitted from employment at the cooperative plantation as a means of ending exploitative relations with Rajput farming families.
The Vadgam example also shows that focusing on one section of the village population isolates that group from the rest of the village and hence a perpetual state of conflict is created, in which the powerless and poor can be subjected to oppressive measures. This situation can impede the smooth operation and rapid growth of the project, but cannot stop it altogether.
Lack of market research on polewood and other tree products has presently brought about various problems for the participants and the organizers of the Vankar cooperative. Obviously, it is not sufficient to cooperate in order to grow trees; farm foresters also need to cooperate to sell tree crops and their products.
The role played by the organizers and other development agencies, including many government departments, in helping landless people grow trees is not, unfortunately, enough to enable them to continue these activities on their own. This indicates that the powerful and affluent groups in the society are unwilling to share the benefits of development with the poor. Without the current support of development agencies, it Is not clear that the poor will continue growing trees for very long. In other words, unless the rural poor are able to develop political clout it is not possible for them to afforest rural areas, despite the fact that farm forestry may be the "least costly and economically the most effective approach" to afforestation.
It can be argued that for any development project, including farm forestry, a support system In the initial stages Is a prerequisite step in planning. For a long-term impact of the project it Is essential, however, to incorporate within project planning mechanisms which are not absolutely dependent on the support system. Moreover, larger socioeconomic forces must be checked from pushing the poor Into sole reliance on charity organizations or commercial interests. In the Vadgam Vankar case, the initial funds for farm forestry operations came primarily from charity organizations abroad. Rural development based on charity from abroad creates a new power block within the village community. The rich and powerful groups in villages and urban centres tolerate the newly created force of the rural poor only to the extent that it does not clash with their self-Interests. However, the apparent loss of control over a cheaply available source of labour pushes the dominant groups to destroy the unity of the poor. The ensuing conflict leads to further weakening of the already weak and poor. On the other hand, if material rewards of economic activities are to be equitably distributed, all sections of the society have to accept the right of each group to a minimum standard of living. As support from charity organizations at home or abroad cannot bring about this acceptance, the Vadgam community needs to develop local support structures if farm forestry is to last.
Tribals have been quick to take advantage of non-cash benefits In the forms of increased supply of fuelwood, fodder and other tree products. This has been facilitated by their ongoing contact with forests, continued use of forest products, and correspondingly less dependence on cash economy.
The tribal communities have been singled out In Gujarat (as elsewhere in India) as the rural sector most affected by malnutrition and undernutrition. Agroforestry, 'being developed by the Bansda tribals under the professional management of BAIF, is expected to positively affect the intake of calories and variety of food by tribal families. It is, however, too early to begin to measure the extent of the impact of agroforestry. The visibility of such an impact can only be seen after a longer period of participation in farm forestry.
The long-term socio-economic development of the tribal communities through this rehabilitation scheme is considered doubtful (see Savur 1987). The Sadguru Seva Sangh Trust (SSST), precursor of BAIF in this region, lifted a small section of the tribal population "above the abysmal poverty in which they had lived" (Savur 1987: M-43). Under BAIF management, the percentage of participating families has increased, but at the same time there have been those who have given up their membership. Astensibly the rehabilitation of the Bansda tribals is geared to provide self-employment and thereby an improved standard of living for them. The link between BAIF and an industrial/business house (Savur 1987) makes one look closely into the purpose and techniques of rural development, including farm forestry under the scheme. Growing industrially useful wood on degraded forest land in the region may well be connected with the district's paper and pulpwood industry, which would explain why BAIF has no immediate and well-defined plans for the disposal of timber grown by tribals. The question arises: why has not BAIF openly stated its intention when asking Bansda tribals to involve themselves in farm forestry for industrial use? The participants in the scheme are obviously not aware of the implications of their membership. When the rural poor are involved in farm forestry (or any other economic activity) without actively participating in the planning and execution of development projects, thus being treated as mere tools, problems in the development process will surface sooner or later. The planners and policy makers of forestry projects can perhaps help farmers clearly understand various forms and uses of tree crops, and then assist them in exercising their options.
Both the Kheda and Valsad cases describe the adoption of farm forestry by the rural pooron wastelands. Following the recent concern of the Government of India with the development of wastelands through afforestation it ís possible that the landless and marginal farmers will be encouraged to grow trees under self-ownership of land. Under the circumstance it is necessary to look in greater detail into the nature of problems arising out of such schemes. This report points out possible areas of investigation requiring additional field research.
Recently, commercial establishments in India have approached the government to allow them to establish tree plantations on a portion of wasteland in the country (see The Times of India, March 5 and 6, 1987, New Delhi edition). Giving the land to the rich and leaving them the profits while asking the rural poor to serve plantation owners for extremely poor wages is obviously exploitive. But then certain questions arise: are apparently self-employed Bansda tribals not being exploited? Are Vankar of Vadgam village in a position to continue their interest in farm forestry and thereby improve their standard of living? Can the Jaspara farmers hope to gain a better entry into the market for polewood? These are the important questions facing actual practioners of farm forestry in Gujarat.