Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

13. Forestry for poverty alleviation - the fourth generation paradigm
S. Shanmugasundaram


The paper distinguishes the radical shifts of forestry in its objectives and concepts as generations. Four generations are recognized. They are Forestry for Conservation, Forestry for Economic Development, Forestry with People and Forestry for People, respectively. The current generation is the fourth one. The results and experiences of the past three generations are briefly narrated. The First Generation 'Forestry for Conservation' led to the consolidation and appropriation of forests to state ownership. The alienation of rural people from forest access began. The Second Generation 'Forestry for Economic Development' emerged at states' interest to generate income from forests. It had experimented with different silvicultural systems. This generation had ended with the loss of forest capital and biodiversity. 'Forestry with People' is the third generation. It had recognized the indispensability of the support of rural people for the restoration of degraded forests. Social Forestry Project was implemented with the objectives of meeting the forest requirements of rural people. It advocated participation and joint venture in forestry. The people whose participation is sought for a joint venture are poverty prone. Now, the concern of foresters extended beyond forests to poverty alleviation of people at the forest interface. 'Forestry for People' is the fourth generation. The characteristics of Indian poverty in general and rural poverty in particular are spelt in order to show the dimension of the problem. The paper calls for radical transformation of socio-economics and integration of forestry in the rural life in order to establish a composite system in theory and practice. The systems approach as suggested therein is recommended as the way to alleviate the problem of rural poverty.


Forestry in India is more than 150 years old. During this long span of practice, forestry experienced radical changes and transformations with the changing socio-economic scenarios. At every changing scenario, forestry had to regenerate itself to suit the new paradigms that emerged along with the change. The planks on which forestry is placed and the focus, with which forestry is concerned mark the distinctions between generations. Forests and villages are the two principal planks, and forests and people are the two principal focuses. Together they recognize four generations (Table 1).

Table 1. Four generations in Indian forestry


Focus on




Generation I

Generation II


Generation III

Generation IV

Looking back at the changing situations from the inception of scientific forestry under the British, three generations have been born. To day forestry is at the doorstep of the Fourth Generation. There are three players who constitute the paradigm of forestry; they are the state, forest department and people. The state functions as the stipulator of policies, forest department as provider of technology and the people as recipients of the benefits. In all the generations forests are at stake. Therefore the survival of the forests depends on how well the players are prepared or qualified to play effectively. The impacts on forests from the past three generations are recalled in order to prepare us for safeguarding the interests of forests in the fourth generation.


'Consolidation of Forests' was the First Generation Forestry. Borrowed from British it began in the later half of the nineteenth century. It was pursued chiefly to consolidate the existing forests and then to appropriate them into the ownership of state. In the process, forests were protected from the access by rural people. In order to sustain the state ownership of the forests a system was set in motion. Accordingly the forest department was established, and forest policies were enunciated with the enactment of forest statutes. The process was justified stating that the forests were to be conserved for safeguarding the environment. Forestry of the first generation built up its expertise in consolidation and protection of forests from people. Forests referred to in village revenue records were notified and brought under the state ownership through forest acts. Reserved forests were delineated into sections and beats as protection units and placed under the responsibility of exclusive uniformed personnel of the state. Forest laws enacted with punitive provisions dealt with those indulging in anti-forestry activities.

The intention of the First Generation, namely consolidation of forests and appropriation to the ownership of state, was virtually achieved. The extent consolidated as reserved forests in this manner at national level was about 22 percent. People at the forest interface were alienated from forest use for the first time in history.


'Forests for Economic Development' was the Second Generation Forestry. It emerged at the instance of the states' interest to generate new income for the government and to increase aggregate income of the country through supply of timber, fuelwood and other forms of wood and non-wood forest produce for the development of industry-based and allied business activities. Forest department was geared up for this new generation. Forests which were deemed in the first generation forestry as the protector of environment and hence a resource to be conserved were now treated as resources of material harvest. Forest colleges and research institutions provided the technology for the harvest. The term scientific forestry was introduced. The knowledge on forestry was chiefly on harvest systems in different forest formations. This generation had experimented with different silvicultural systems for the sustenance of material production and development of forest produces.

Eventually two sets of activities emerged, harvest systems and plantation systems. Both systems were of European origin but tested in Indian forests. 'Selection' and 'clear-felling followed by plantation' systems were adopted for harvest of timber and allied wood forms. 'Clear-felling with coppice regeneration' or 'clear-felling followed by plantation' systems were adopted for harvest of fuelwood and small timber. While wet evergreen forests and in certain cases moist deciduous forests were subjected to selection system, dry deciduous, dry thorn and dry evergreen forests were subjected to 'clear-felling with coppice regeneration' system.

Enormous quantities of timber, fuelwood, bamboo and many kinds of non-wood usufructs were harvested from forests. Economic benefits accrued and it helped to increase the State's income and the aggregate income of the economy. Concurrently new markets for these produces came into existence and new kinds of utilization of forest produces were invented. A new genre of forest contractors was born who mattered much in the making of forest policies, forestry technology and produce markets.

The 'clear-felling systems with coppice regeneration' was not suited to the forests where it was tested. Cox (1920) had forewarned the danger of adopting the clear felling system of harvest stating that the system designed for the oak forests of Europe was not suited to Indian conditions. Nevertheless the system was continued for a long period. As a result the forests underwent serious degradation, terms of forest structure, green cover, biodiversity, density and productivity.

The system of 'economic plantations' did not yield the expected economic benefits. It had met with success only partially. Plantations raised with teak and eucalyptus species alone were available for harvest at their rotations and others were not. The primary cause of failure was the lack of organization to manage the newly created plantations. Wherever new organizations in the form of corporations were constituted plantations yielded benefits to the economy. The earlier organization (forest department) that was meant for First Generation Forestry had least applied to the production forestry of the Second Generation. While economic benefits from forest plantations were not forthcoming for want of organization, wood harvest from natural forests had ended in forest degradation due to inappropriate technology. The economic benefits that accrued from this generation did not flow to the interface people. Benefits least trickled down to reach them. Once again the interface people were alienated from forests and forest uses.

The sum total of the end-results of the past two generations was that vast stretches of forests had become degraded. The estimated figure of degraded forests in Tamil Nadu State was about 7000 km2. It accounted for 41.86 percent over the area of the allocated forest types and 30.84 percent over the area of the forests of the State.

Forestry was now concerned with repairing the damage done to forests. The authority had initiated measures to restore the degraded forests. Firstly, ban on felling of natural forests for harvest of materials was imposed as a state policy in 1975. The ban was contemplated under the assumption that forests were resilient, hence would revert back to their original composition and structure if given rest from disturbance. Secondly, restoration was attempted on degraded forest areas through artificial regeneration under 'afforestation' schemes. This too did not achieve its objectives.

The alienated interface people had continued to remove from forest growth whatever that emerged, graze their white cattle and goats, set fires thereby giving no chance to the renewing ability of the forests. The newly created forest market during the Second Generation provided an enlarged demand for forest produces. When the Second Generation was called off, the institutions emerged under the generation should have become defunct but it did not happen. It not only continued to survive but became functionally more active. The impact was on forests. Eventually the expected resurrection did not take place and forests deteriorated further.


Under the circumstances the realization came that restoration of forests was feasible only in association with the people. Therefore restoration of forests was planned with the cooperation of people. Forestry with the People was the Third Generation Forestry. For the first time the process to reverse alienation of interface people was seriously contemplated, but the focus still remained on the forests. In accordance with this new concept many new but radically different strategies were devised to enlist people's cooperation and participation. The strategies were contemplated under the assumptions that people resorted to theft for want of wood and non-wood requirements. Hence by providing forest resources close to villages the needs of the people could be met, which in turn would desist people from going to forests. People who had resorted to smuggling of forest goods were unemployed poor, hence by providing employment and thereby a source of income, it would end forest theft. In accordance to these premises Social Forestry Project was conceived and implemented.

New organization within the parent forest department was brought in to implement this new generation of forestry. Village wastelands in the category of village commons were utilized for raising wood lots. In Tamil Nadu State tank foreshores had accounted for an extent as large as 270 000 ha for raising Karuvel (Acacia nilotica) plantations. These plantations were subjected to 'clear-felling with coppice regeneration' system with 10-year felling cycles. The project was in operation for over 15 years commencing from 1981.

The contribution of the project to the state was very significant in respect of wood production, revenue generation and employment opportunities. Wood production in the form of fuelwood and small timber was in the order of 24.75 million tonnes The revenue generated from corresponding harvest of plantations was about Rs 1165 million. The revenue was shared equally between government and the Panchayat, the democratically elected village body. Free technology was provided to encourage tree cultivation in private holdings with commercial timber species. Many new policies were stipulated in support of the project.

The results were at great variance to the objectives. The materials particularly fuelwood and small timber were moved away from villages to cater to the demands elsewhere. The paradigm created in the Second Generation subverted the benefits of the Social Forestry to its advantage. In other words the recipients of materials produced and the revenue generated thereon were not the rural poor for whose sake the Social Forestry Project was conceived but the urban non-poor. The portion of revenue placed at the hands of village body was not duly channelled to benefit the poor. The opportunities of employment that were provided by the project were temporary.

In the implementation of Social Forestry Project the government insisted on the policy of handing over the woodlots for the ultimate management by the Panchayat. The policy did not spell out details of the management system. Rules and regulations in the management of woodlots were not laid. Eventually when the control of social forestry plantations was handed over to Panchayats it was done without any proper definition of authority either to exclude out-group members or to regulate the behaviour of in-group members who had participated in the project. Hence such handing over of authority invariably ended in failure. In pursuance of the policy, the newly created social forestry wing of the forest department gradually dissipated. Under these circumstances the Third Generation Forestry with People did not take off.


Close on the heels of the Social Forestry Project, new schemes such as Interface Forestry and currently the Tamil Nadu Afforestation Project were launched. These new schemes addressed the interface people directly seeking cooperation and participation for the restoration of degraded forests of the state. The scope of ascertaining the cooperation and participation of interface people was widened with an offer of forests cooperation and participation for the welfare of rural people. In other words mutual cooperation and participation were contemplated for addressing the problems of the others. Forest department is advocating joint ventures.

The people whose participation is sought for a joint venture are poverty prone. Now concern for forestry cannot go to forests alone and it has to extend to the people of the forest interface. The first priority concern of the rural people is poverty. This is a new arena, and foresters have neither the understanding nor the skills to manage problems of rural poverty.


There are two types of poverty, one that is inherited due to social distinctions and the other acquired from the development policies followed over the years. The former is concentrated in the rural areas and the latter in urban areas. Forestry of the Fourth Generation places the forest resources at stake for alleviating rural poverty. It lays its hope on the assumptions that constitute the two elemental strategy of poverty alleviation. The first element of the strategy is generation employment. Forestry by the nature of technology is labour intensive (nearly 70 percent of investment goes towards labour). It is equally intensive in both harvest systems and plantation systems. Labour is employed in very large numbers and at many stages of operation of the system. Establishment of 1 ha of plantation generates 200-250 man-days of labour per year. The second element of the stated strategy is to provide basic economic and social services. Forestry of the Fourth Generation looks further ahead and adds a third element to the strategy. It is to augment the productive capacity of forests and lands at the forest interface.

Primarily the life style of rural population is agricultural occupation. Forests are the biological resources situated in the neighbourhood of rural settings. The material wealth of forests is accounted in the form of fodder, manure, timber, fuelwood, medicines and in times of scarcity food as well. These materials satisfied the household and occupational requirements of rural people. Thereby, historically a cultural linkage has evolved between rural people and forests of the neighbourhood. Rights for the forest produce from the neighbourhood forests have turned out to be a tradition. The tradition was extinguished during the First Generation Forestry. The rural people lost their viable source of materials required for their livelihood. The Fourth Generation Forestry would reassert the mutual and holistic dependence between forests and people. In short it is the revival of the age- old healthy tradition.

Next, this Fourth Generation would generate employment by undertaking series of labour-intensive activities both in the forests and the interface villages. The activities include afforestation, water harvest and soil conservation works. The employment would facilitate money flow to the poor. The water harvest and soil conservation measures would augment the ground water resources at the interface villages. A syndrome effect is foreseen; restoration of forests back to nature would ameliorate the climate for better life, the augmentation of water resources would lead to change in land-use pattern of the village for better utilization; increased source of income to the otherwise marginal land holders; agricultural sector would provide new employment opportunities etc, etc. Ultimately an economic process would set in towards its logical end namely the removal of poverty from the rural scene. Optimism in deed!


Rural social life is ridden with class conflicts. There is an ethics that prevails in rural society, which stipulates 'what class of people to what kind of employment'. It makes an ethnic divide among rural population, which is far more superior to any kind of structural change mooted towards poverty removal. No institution exists to redress the class conflicts and ethnic divide. Panchayat is the only institution legally established but it is a political institution hence irrelevant for effecting socio-economic process in favor of development.

Rural economic life is in a land trap. People who once got into agriculture as an occupation could neither live in it nor could leave out of it. Any kind of improvement in land use is of little significance. Benefits of increased production or productivity from improved land use or technology are appropriated by the prevailing market mechanism, which works to the benefit of urban rich. The same entrapment would hold good for the forest produces generated from forests, community lands or private holdings as well.

The target people are not a motivated lot for freeing themselves from poverty. Their enrollment to employment is not an occupation but a lifestyle. There is a cultural link to this attitude. The motivated lot if any, looks at urban life and migrates. The migrating section of the population is educated or professionally qualified and skilled. It seeks employment from manufacturing and service sector in the urban market. This is a drain on human resources from rural to urban areas, very akin to the drain from the country. The people who stay back in villages are those in land trap, less resourced folks and the unmotivated fatalists.

The assumption that labour employment would alleviate people from poverty is not tenable because the kind of employment would only provide at best a day-to-day escape from poverty but not permanently. Further it is a temporary phenomenon, not sustainable.

Under the prevailing rural characteristics placing forests at stakes for alleviating rural poverty could be a misplaced objective. It is like betting on the proven lame horse.


Poverty is now an integral part of rural economy. Rural economy is in shambles because of the poverty entrapment. Until the rural economy is freed from the trap, staking forest resources to poverty alleviation is a serious risk. We need a kind of forestry that is capital-safe and at the same time people-supportive.


Academy for Management Excellence. 1996. Study on community wasteland plantations - Tamil Nadu. Chennai, India.

Balasubramanian, K. 1996. Tamil Nadu Social Forestry Project (1980-96): experiences and learning. Chennai, India, M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation.

GoI. 1997. State of forest report 1997. Forest survey of India. Dehradun, India.

Jha, R. 2000. Growth, inequality and poverty in India - spatial and temporal characteristics. Economic & Political Weekly, 11March 2000, pp. 921-928.

Krishnaswamy, V.S. 1957. Hundred years of forestry. Government of Tamil Nadu State, India.

Mundle, S. 1993. Policies, paradigms and development debate at close of twentieth century. Economic & Political Weekly, 4 Sept 1993, pp. 1879-1882.

Rao, V.V.B. 1999. East Asian economies: trends in poverty and income inequality. Economic & Political Weekly, 1 May 1999, pp. 1029-1039.

Shanmugasundaram, S. 2002. Parameters for evaluation of forest degradation - an approach. Paper presented at the National Seminar on Joint Forest Management, Chennai, January 2002

The World Bank. 1990. World development report 1990 - poverty. Oxford University Press.

[20] Tamil Nadu State, India; E-mail:

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page