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4. Forestry for poverty alleviation - role of research institutions
A.K. Rana
[4] and Neelu Gera[5]


Although India has made substantial progress since independence, a considerable proportion of population still lives in conditions of extreme poverty, characterised by lack of access to productive assets, information and knowledge of natural resources besides basic rights and services, resulting in exclusion and marginalisation of these people from the development process. Due to the large population and widespread poverty, natural resources are subjected to enormous pressures. Research institutes have a major role to play in view of the widening gap in demand and supply of important forest products, unabated degradation and inadequacy of existing resources and importance of conserving complex ecosystems. FRI Dehradun has developed a number of technologies relevant to the programmes for poverty alleviation, empowerment of masses and integrated development of villages. Some of these, such as the development of substitutes for forest products, extraction of natural dyes, rehabilitation of mined areas, pencil making with hand tools, agroforestry models and cultivation techniques of medicinal plants are highlighted in this paper. However, an important constraint to the operation of the forestry research system has been that the intended beneficiaries have not adopted technologies to the desired extent. Probable reasons being inadequate linkages between research institutions and user groups due to inadequate extension efforts and failure to integrate technologies with the development process.


India is one of the oldest civilizations with a rich cultural heritage, but inhabited by many poor people. The country supports approximately 16 percent of the world's population with only 2.5 percent of the world's geographic area. With the turn of the new millennium, we have already crossed the one billion mark with an average density of 324 persons per km2 (Forestry Statistics India 2001). With a decadal growth rate of 21 percent, the population is projected to reach 1.25 billion by the year 2010. It is estimated that about 70 percent of the population and 80 percent of those below the poverty line live in rural areas. This includes people who live in resource-poor regions, lack productive assets, skills or capacities and those who are inadequately organised.

Since independence, India has made substantial progress in terms of improvement in basic social indicators such as health, nutrition and education. While the life expectancy has doubled, infant mortality has been halved and literacy rate has risen, a considerable proportion of population still lives in conditions of abject poverty.

Poverty, in general, is characterized by the lack of access to productive assets, basic rights and services such as health and education, besides access to information and knowledge of natural resources. Poverty thus results in exclusion and marginalisation of the people from the development process. Due to the large human and cattle population and widespread rural poverty, the natural resources of the country are subjected to enormous pressures. A major proportion of these people are directly dependent upon these resources for their survival needs. The burden of poverty is more obvious on the rural women, already subordinated by the social structure. These women carry the burden of meeting the basic subsistence needs of food, fuel, fodder and water in the face of widening demand and supply gap, increasing environmental degradation and diminishing access to natural resources.

With the increasing recognition of the importance of forests for environmental health, energy and employment, the National Forest Policy of 1988 lays emphasis on scientific forestry research and adequate strengthening of the research base for rural and tribal development. The broad priority areas identified in the policy include improvement of productivity, effective conservation and management of existing resources and development of substitutes to replace wood and wood products. The policy also gives due consideration to the symbiotic relationship between forests and people, by emphasizing special attention to integrated development programmes. The Science and Technology Policy 2003 also identifies the need to provide food and health security for all on a sustainable basis as an important objective to be achieved through technological developments.

The research institutes therefore have a major role to play in view of the diverse research requirements for the development of "Science and Technology" in the country. While there is a strong need for conservation of our natural resources, there is an equally important need to harness their potential on sustainable basis for the benefit of the society.

The gradual realization about the widening gap in demand and supply of important forest products, inadequacy of the existing resources, their unabated degradation and the importance of conserving the complex ecosystems guided the forestry research in the country as well as at the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun. With better understanding of the changes in the state of the environment and forestry resources, coupled with the enhanced knowledge levels, the institute took up the challenges of research with much broader objectives during the last three decades. Accordingly, a number of technologies have been developed which have direct relevance to the programmes for poverty alleviation, empowerment of the masses and integrated development of villages. Some of these technologies (Anonymous 1999, 2000) are highlighted in this paper.


Forest Plantations are a powerful tool in the continuing efforts of foresters to increase productivity. Increasing demand for forest products and services on one hand and decreasing land area available for forestry on the other, has necessitated raising of plantations under various combinations on farm lands and other non-forest lands. The availability of quality planting material for such plantations through research is required. A combination of intensive site preparation with the use of uniform, well-grown genetically-improved nursery stock, planted at uniform spacing, increases growth and yield, reduces rotation length, facilitates tending and harvesting operations and improves the wood quality. This will not only assure better economic returns to the farmers, but also reduce pressure on the remaining natural forests.

Seed technology

The suitability and quality of the seeds have a major effect on the success of plantations raised from them. It costs almost the same to establish a plantation from poor seed, as it does from seed of high genetic potential. However, differences in the quality of plants produced and economic returns can be vast. The seed technology developed at the institute aims at production of quality seeds though various improved technological practices like seed collection, processing storage and pre-sowing treatments for effective germination. Of the various low cost and user-friendly technologies developed, a few are listed below:

These technologies aim to realize the economic benefits by not only reducing the cost of nursery operations significantly by limiting the area of nursery to raise a calculated and desired number of seedlings, but also by production of uniform stock, thus increasing the efficiency of transplanting operations and reducing the cost. The expenditure on seed collection, extraction and processing is also reduced with optimum storage conditions.

Tissue culture of bamboo

Tissue culture protocols have been developed for large-scale rapid multiplication of Dendrocalamus strictus, D. membranaceus, D. asper, Bambusa vulgaris and B. arundinacea. The technology is very useful, where conventional methods of multiplication are either not available or are inadequate to fulfill the demand. This involves the use of plant tissue culture where a small plant part is cultured on artificial medium with the combination of growth regulators. A complete plant with root and shoot system is developed on synthetic medium by providing suitable light and temperature conditions.

Agroforestry models

Agroforestry, the land use system that incorporates woody perennials with agricultural crops, help the farmers to cope with loss of crops due to drought, reduce soil and water loss, utilize off-season precipitation and meet the requirements of fodder, fuelwood, fiber, timber and other forest products, besides improved food production. Accordingly, a number of agroforestry models have been developed with different species of trees, agricultural crops and herb species, for example:


Katha from Uncaria gambier

The production of katha from the heartwood of khair (Acacia catechu) tree has been known for a very long time. However, shortage of khair wood prompted the institute to screen other suitable sources for making katha. One such source is Uncaria, a small genus of woody, climbing shrubs found mostly in tropical Southeast Asia. U. gambier produces the well-known gambier or pale catechu, but it has not been cultivated in India so far. The cost of production of gambier katha is much less than that from A. catechu. The technology would save khair trees and thus help in environmental conservation.

Jigat substitute

Machilus macrantha (Lauraceae) and Litsea chinensis (Lauraceae) trees are important to the survival of the agarbathi (incense stick) industry in India, which is dependent on the bark of these trees. Powder of the bark, known as 'Jigat', functions as an adhesive or binder in agarbathi. Over the years, the expansion of agarbathi industry has inflated the demand for Jigat, leading to indiscriminate felling of these trees, which is a valuable component of the evergreen and semi-evergreen forests of the Western Ghats and the north eastern states. Substitute for Jigat has been developed from agro-based biopolymers. The technology not only avoids the use of forest-based raw material but is also economically very competitive.

Natural dyes from forest waste

Processes have been developed for the extraction of natural dyes from some abundantly occurring plant materials of forest origin. Methods have also been developed to use these dyes on silk, wool and cotton. These dyes can be used by handloom as well garment designing industries, which export their products to developed countries like Germany and Denmark, where the use of azo dyes have been banned. Due to environmental awareness, the natural dyes obtained from plants and animals are the dyes of 21st century. The forest biomass can be used for the production of dyes on cottage scale, generating employment for the people through value addition to the non-wood forest product and creating an additional source of revenue.


Rehabilitation of mined areas and overburden spoils

Surface mining operations drastically affect the productivity of the land as an appreciable thickness of overburden is required to be removed to reach the ore resource. Starting from removal of vegetation and topsoil, the ecology, socio-economic conditions and hydrology of the areas are also adversely altered. Conventional afforestation practices to revegetate mine derelict lands do not effectively rejuvenate the disrupted ecological functions, emphasizing the need for site-specific eco-restoration technologies. FRI has developed the ecorestoration technologies for surface mined phosphate mines, which have already been transferred to many companies. The salient features of the technology include an ecosystem approach towards restoration and use of ecologically and socio-economically viable species.

Cultivation techniques of NWFP species

The institute endeavours to undertake in-situ and ex-situ conservation of medicinal plants. Cultivation techniques of a number of economically important and endangered medicinal and aromatic plant species have been developed and transferred to various institutions, NGOs and pharmaceutical industries. The species include Abelmoschus moschatus, C. citrates, Cymbopogon martini, Catharanthus roseus, Mentha arvensis, M. spicata, Ocimum kilimandscharicum, Rauwolfia serpentina, and Withania somnifera. The technology will help to reduce pressure on forests besides being an excellent income generating activity.


Pencil making with hand tools

Pencil manufacture is a complex process undertaken in modern factories, with almost all operations being carried out by mechanical appliances. FRI has developed a set of hand tools for making pencils on a cottage industry scale, with the main objective of providing additional source of income to the rural people. The industry can be organised in community development blocks on a cooperative basis. The technology has an added advantage that it can be easily and effectively integrated with literacy programmes at the village level.

Portable essential oil distillation unit

Essential oil bearing plants are very valuable as they are the sources of perfumes, cosmetics, flavouring agents and aromatic chemicals, which are also used as antiseptics, deodorants, repellents and medicines. A simple portable distillation unit of 50 kg capacity has been developed for distilling oil from essential oil bearing grasses like Cympopogon martini and C. citratus besides other leaves, roots etc. The cost of the unit is about Rs. 14 000 and is more efficient as the yield of oil is 30 percent more than the traditional ones. The distillation unit can be easily transported to the felling site/field.

Colouring and ammonia fumigation of wood

There is often consumer resistance in the use of plain looking secondary plantation grown woods like poplar for furniture, in comparison to traditionally used darker decorative grained woods like teak, sissoo, rosewood and walnut. The present methods of staining and artificial grain development, based on Aniline base dyes, are not only costly, but also hazardous for health, inconsistent and develop unnatural looking grains. The process of ammonia fumigation developed by FRI gives permanent shisham, teak and walnut appearance in otherwise dull and plain looking timbers. The process is simple, inexpensive, and effective and can be adopted by small entrepreneurs, as it works out to be nearly 50 percent cheaper over conventional methods of staining.

Wood plasticisation and bending

Wood bending is an ancient craft and is of key importance in many industries, especially in manufacture of furniture and sports goods. The traditional steam bending technique has several limitations in quality and number of species of wood that can be bent. Recent work carried out at FRI has helped to overcome these limitations by using vapour phase ammonia plasticisation technique, enabling a wider choice of species for production of bentwood components for a variety of commercial products. The technique would economize the use of wood without affecting the functional requirements of the products, as the current practice to obtain bent wood components is from wider sections, where there is lot of wastage of timber.

Preservative treatment of secondary species

Eucalypts have been planted in many states of the country to meet the growing demand for wood and has emerged as an important species for manufacture of doors/windows and joinery. It is, however, prone to termite attack, requires protection for giving long service life and is also refractory to treatment. ACA treatment technology has been developed for the treatment of such refractory wood species to make it suitable for joinery purpose. The method has been used on a commercial scale for the treatment of eucalyptus wood for door/ window panels for which no other method was available. By this technology the eucalyptus could be economically used with the treatment cost of about Rs. 900 per m3.

Conversion technique for eucalypts and poplar

Plantation grown woods like eucalypts and poplar, though extensively available, pose problems in producing standard quality sawn and seasoned material. Major problem in its utilization is the warping in sawn timber that occurs on the saw itself and further warping and splitting in portions near the pith that occurs in subsequent air or kiln seasoning. Processing technology has been developed for their economic utilization for doors, windows, furniture and many other value added products. Recent improvements in sawing and seasoning of eucalypts and poplar have enabled them to be commercially adopted for furniture, door and windows in states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh with cost advantage of about 35-45 percent relative to traditional products from species like sisoo and teak, etc.

Besides these, a number of other technologies have been developed, which include utilization of juvenile wood of eucalypts and poplar for furniture, utilization of poplar for doors/windows, afforestation techniques for stress sites and agroforestry models for different agro climate regions.


An important constraint to the operation of the forestry research has been the lack of a method, based on the systematic application of the tested technologies for the benefit of the target group (NFRP 2000). The intended beneficiaries have not adopted technologies to the desired extent. One of the obvious reasons being inadequate linkages between research institutions and user groups, probably due to insufficient outreach efforts. Inadequate linkages, on one hand lead to lack of information on constraints in adopting technologies and the modifications needed, while on the other hand lead to insufficient impetus to augment suitable research efforts.

Impact of forestry research

Direct Impact

Indirect Impact

Human Welfare Conservation
and Productivity



  • Adoption of new technologies.

  • Sustainable production.

  • Sustainable management of natural resources.

  • Resource conservation.

  • Improve environment

  • Extension of developed technologies.

  • Capacity building

  • Training and education.

  • Networking and collaborative research.

  • Improved research processes.

  • Improved institutional effectiveness.

  • Improved capacity of work force.

  • Improved quality of knowledge adopted.

  • Advances in science and technology.

  • Increased knowledge and understanding of the problems.

  • New and improved research tools and approaches.

  • Adaptive and applied research.

  • Contribution to better environment.

  • Contribution to better life.

Modified from Guevara (1999).

Policy interventions

The experiences over the last few decades indicate that economic growth, and targeted interventions alone are not sufficient to eradicate poverty. The essential precondition to growth should, therefore be participatory planning. The role of the target group should not only be as a beneficiary but also to act as partner in guiding the process of research and development. This requires institutional strengthening at grassroots level and bottom-up micro-planning in identifying village priorities through participatory approach. This can turn the poor communities from mere beneficiaries to active partners in the research and development process.

The National Science and Technology Policy 2003 directly addresses the problem of poverty, identifying one of its objectives as "To mount a direct and sustained effort on the alleviation of poverty, enhancing livelihood security, removal of hunger and malnutrition, reduction of drudgery and regional imbalances, both rural and urban, and generation of employment by using scientific and technological capabilities along with our traditional knowledge pool". However, there is lack of direct attention of this issue in National Forest Policy of 1988, that addresses the issue through increased productivity, sustainable utilization of resources, and effective conservation and management of resources besides adequate strengthening of research support.

This, therefore, calls for adequate policy revision. Generation of new and adoptable technologies and screening of available technologies for their direct impact on poverty is needed. This has to be followed by widespread dissemination through networking and support for the vast unorganized sectors of our economy. The forestry research institutions thus have their role cut out for them "to ensure food, agricultural, nutritional, environmental, water, health and energy security of the people on a sustainable basis".

Stakeholder driven approach and empowerment

Traditionally, the organization of research has always been highly compartmentalized. There is a strong need to rejuvenate the linkages between the researchers and the stakeholders. The lack of adequate linkages between researchers and stakeholders result in insufficient interaction and understanding of the needs. The absence of networking and sharing also results in lack of development of proper extension methods for successful transfer of technologies. The stakeholders are thus unable to benefit from the research programmes. The research institutes, therefore, need to develop adequately strong linkages with the stakeholders to understand their needs, and develop technologies. A paradigm shift in the attitude of forestry researchers towards stakeholders is needed. An integrated and holistic approach is needed with the concerted effort of all the stakeholders (Sharma 2003).

Empowerment through participation involves recognition that local people, through their knowledge and experiences, decide what is best for their development. True participation occurs when decisions by the government, services provided by the state, control of external productive resources and priority setting are carried out in conjunction with beneficiaries of these actions (Guevara 1999). James Gustave Speth in his address to UNDP in 1993 stated, "Sustainable human development is participatory. It can only be achieved when people have an opportunity to participate in the events and processes that shape their lives; where entrepreneurs, women, non-governmental organizations, and others in civil society are empowered to take initiative and participate in both open markets and effective governments, and where pluralism prevails and human rights and access of information to all parties are guaranteed". Thus the new paradigm of forestry for sustainable development must include participation, equity and environmental conservation.

Livelihood support, health and nutrition

There is a strong need for collective and individual endeavours at the level of target groups as well as research institutions and development agencies to undertake activities for income generation, development and operation of community support infrastructures and creation of assets.

Forests are still called the foster mother of agriculture. In most parts of the country, forests provide an essential supplement to the nutritional status of the family. In times of food scarcity, the tubers and rhizomes provide sustenance to fight hunger. In other times, the food from forest provides essential nutritional supplements in the form of vitamins and minerals. It is, therefore, important that nutritional aspects should constitute an essential component of the package of activities at the village level.

While a number of technologies have been developed to be implemented at the grassroots level, there is need to build the capacities of hitherto marginalized groups, especially women, to become actors in development productive employment and education need to become the entry points. Research institutions can actively associate themselves with NGOs as well as government organizations to initiate projects for integrated social development, for example, community based initiatives by women's groups to start collective farming, processing of forest produce and pisciculture. The education and health interventions will converge with regeneration of livelihoods and productive employment to ensure positive impacts on the society especially the marginalized sectors.

Increased availability of even a single resource, say, for example water or fuel would lessen the women's burden and provide them with time and opportunity to take up income generation activities such as gum collection, crafts and fodder production. Capacity building of women and youths can also be done through developing cadres of para-professionals, not only for primary health care but also for activities like rainwater harvesting, developing and maintaining biogas units, etc. Research institutions have a very important role to play in this field by organizing training workshops to train these para-professionals.

Reviving and strengthening traditional knowledge systems

While issues of sustainable agriculture, health, nutrition and education can be addressed through strengthening of community based organizations, there is a strong need to focus on improving, adapting and reviving local technologies not only for health and nutrition but also for water harvesting in traditional ponds, use of traditional methods of agriculture etc. For example, while the modern high yielding varieties require high inputs in-terms of fertilizers, pesticides and water requirements, the traditional pest and drought resistant varieties can provide equally good harvest with low inorganic inputs ( R&D institutions need to actively associate themselves with programmes for revival of such practices, besides developing strong linkages with community and NGOs. Research institution can also pay a lead role in setting up seed banks of important species and in adapting traditional technologies of rain-fed agriculture to rehabilitate degraded lands.

The importance of traditional knowledge in the field of health care needs no explanation. The importance of documentation of this knowledge is being talked about, the world over. Building on traditional knowledge in the field of medicinal plants, will not only help to preserve it for posterity, but also aim at optimal use of forest resources besides helping the community to take control of the health of its members. Research Institutions can help to take up research on traditional systems of healthcare so as to contribute to fundamental advances in health care, help to develop effective commercial products as well as appropriate norms for their standardization and validation. They also can have a key role to play in development of technologies for value addition to indigenous resources for their optimal utilization. This will have a direct impact on the health care as well as sustenance at the grassroots level.

The process of globalization is leading to a situation where the collective knowledge of the societies, normally used for common good is converted to proprietary knowledge for commercial profit of a few. Research organizations need to actively associate themselves with development of IPR systems to protect scientific discoveries and technological innovations arising out of tradition and indigenous knowledge.

Education, empowerment and capacity building

Education not only refers to formal education or literacy status, but also enhancement of the knowledge level of the society as well as the individuals to become partners in development. The research institutions can build upon the emerging concept of para-professionals to enhance capacity of the community to access facilities and serve the poor. Para professionals are people from with in the community or group who can be trained through capacity building to deliver the services to the society as well as provide feed back to the institutions. For example in accessing technology, to serve poor peoples needs, and exposure to and understanding of that technology, its appropriateness, implications and sustainability is important. The R&D institutions thus have a role to play not only in development of appropriate user-friendly technologies but creating enabling environment and building leadership within community.

Genuine forestry development manifests itself in the alleviation of poverty and the basic problems could be addressed by a four-pronged strategy, which could be outlined as:

Ultimately the research output can only be judged by its impact on development. The research institutions must therefore reorient themselves to "bridge the knowledge gap, i.e., disparity in the capacity to generate, acquire, disseminate and use scientific and technical knowledge, which is the most vital difference between the rich and the poor" (IDRC 1991).


The creation and implementation of plans for sustainable management of forests through integrated forest strategies is one of the central mechanisms for poverty alleviation programmes. It is not only important to view forest resources as effective potential tool for poverty alleviation but also to understand the connection between poverty and deforestation. Poverty is often viewed as one among the many causes of degradation of natural resources. With no better alternatives, forest destruction and degradation become short-term solutions to many of the burdens imposed by poverty. It is equally true, however, that for poor people who live in and near forests, and those who live in places where woodlands have been destroyed or degraded, silvicultural interventions can be effective in regenerating and rehabilitating such forests. This could be instrumental in reducing poverty by providing increased and sustained employment in the production and processing of timber and non-timber forest products. We must now agree that unless poverty is alleviated, the forests will continue to be lost. It is therefore, important that the natural resources especially forests are recognized as primary poverty fighting assets. An integrated and holistic approach is important to amalgamate the ideas from different disciplines and sectors to achieve successful sustainable forest development.

Forestry research institutions can play a leading role in the development of integrated forest strategy (Figure 1). As one of the major stakeholders, the research institutions can take up the challenges to develop ecologically sound practices, provide training for capacity building, ensure validation and extension of technologies, as well as develop information systems to integrate research outputs with cross-sectoral linkages. Creating an integrated strategy requires the interactions of forests with other sectors of the economy. The forest research institutions have the knowledge, experience and expertise to take up this challenge. Such institutions can thus play a pivotal role in utilizing the tool of knowledge to attain economic power by playing a decisive and beneficial role in improving the well being of all sections of our society. They can have a central role in raising the quality of life of the people, particularly the disadvantaged sections of the society, in creating wealth for all by utilizing natural resources in a sustainable manner and by protecting our environment.

Figure 1. Integrated forest strategy


Anonymous. 1999. Extension of ICFRE technologies. Dehradun, ICFRE.

Anonymous. 2000. Forestry Research Extension Programme. Dehradun, ICFRE.

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GOI-UNDP. Community based pro-poor initiatives programme.

Guevara, R. 1999. Human resource development. In Schmidt, R., Berry, J.K. & Gordon, J.C. eds. Forests to fight poverty: creating national strategies. New Haven and London, Yale University Press.

IDRC. 1991. Empowerment through knowledge: the strategy of the International Development Research Centre. Ottawa, IDRC.

NFRP. 2000. National Forestry Research Plan, Executive Summary. Dehradun, Directorate of Research, ICFRE.

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Sharma, J.K. 2003. Improving the quality of forestry research in developing countries with emphasis on stakeholders driven approach. IUFRO News Vol. 33, Issue 1.

[4] Silviculture Division, FRI, Dehradun, India; E-mail:
[5] Silviculture Division, FRI, Dehradun, India; E-mail:

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