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Pia Bergman, Gloria L. Scott, Augusta Molnar, Paula J. Williams, Carol J. Pierce Colfer

A multi-purpose species: Woman

Pia Bergman is a forester working for the International Rural Development Centre at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala.

· Foresters, like doctors of medicine, prefer speaking Latin, and classify their surroundings according to shallow or deep root systems, nitrogen-fixing ability, yield capacity and multi-purpose use. Because of the wood energy crisis, foresters today give special attention to species that generate easily on low-nutrient soils and that survive in difficult environments. Unconventional scientific research in this field has recently identified a species that might be a key factor in combating the energy crisis: woman.

Applied research shows that this species has an outstanding ability to adapt well to different sites and that it establishes easily, requires little care, is renewable when properly treated and has a high potential to enhance economic development. Further, the species is native to almost all parts of the world, with no known fixed environmental requirements. Yield varies according to region and soil fertility but, generally, woman must be regarded as ideal in areas of low fertility suffering energy shortages.

It seems that the plant has been known locally for a very long time, but, being used only for domestic purposes, it has not gained any wider reputation. Laboratory tests, however, indicate that it is a multipurpose species highly useful in several sectors, particularly forestry. This fact has already been discussed in several symposia. While the present underutilization of the species is therefore almost scandalous, it can probably be explained by territorial jealousies or discord among experts.

Some attempts have also been made to introduce woman into forestry departments in developing countries. The response so far is polite, but a trifle sceptical as to the purpose of such an exercise. The existing flora is considered sufficient to safeguard the vegetative equilibrium. Introducing a new component would uproot traditional management systems as well as requiring a botanical inventory and later the establishment of special nurseries to raise woman seedlings. Such an enterprise is considered both too revolutionary and far too costly.

It should not be denied that highly qualified foresters with international experience share such fears and apprehensions. Because of its genetic structure, woman can be both aggressive and quick-growing and should be cultivated only in areas of extreme energy shortages, particularly where climates and soil conditions are harsh. In more hospitable environments, where no acute shortages exist, such potentially invasive plants should be introduced only with great care. The threat of their weediness is too great.

Nevertheless, donor nations seem to ignore the reluctance in certain quarters and are now frequently including woman in project proposals in order to support alternative, low-cost energy systems.

As a gesture to compensate traditional foresters for this unorthodox matchmaking, it has been suggested that Latin should be used as a mode of communication at the field level.

Seeing women benefit from forestry

Gloria Scott is a Jamaican national and Adviser on Women in Development for the World Bank.

· In my view the forestry sector reflects very well the changed trend in lending toward people-oriented projects. Several factors worked together to bring about this change. Important among these was the recognition that world deforestation was reaching alarming proportions, that people's behaviour was aggravating it, and that women's roles were significant in the introduction of any changes.

· Who was spending hours ingesting acrid smoke from the burning of fuelwood and other vegetable matter in open hearths for cooking, heating and lighting?


· Who was spending hours having to go farther and farther away from home to gather fuelwood?

Again, women - along with children (mostly girls).

· Who was taking animals to graze already denuded or overgrazed lands and breaking off young succulent branches to take home as fodder for other animals?

Yet again, women - often with their daughters.

Thus, World Bank lending for social forestry projects, which have become increasingly popular in recent years, has been providing stoves with improved thermal efficiency and less-noxious emissions; plantations on road and canal banks; village and community woodlots; trees for school and household gardens; and fast-growing fuel, fruit and fodder trees, some of which can also be used for building-poles.

The planting and maintenance of these reforested areas are providing considerable seasonal employment to the landless and the very poor, many women among them. The projects also include provisions for socioeconomic studies to help identify key intervention strategies and communication techniques to reinforce community interest in reforestation. Especially important in this context is information for extension workers who have previously had little contact with women and now have responsibility for helping to design and promote trials and adaptation of the improved stoves.

While these projects are making only a small dent in the problem, and not all project interventions are working well, it is gratifying to have been able to witness some of the successes and the satisfaction of the women involved: the great pride with which a very poor woman shows off the smokeless stove in a corner of the house; the gratitude felt by a woman who, because she now spends so much less time gathering fuelwood, now has time to make rope from local grasses; the happiness in the face of a woman who has earned enough money to feed her family.

But the greatest promise comes from the school-children planting trees. When I was at school, we planted a tree only to mark some significant event such as a royal visit or a historical anniversary - solely a ritualistic act. In eight years of boarding school, I never knew one tree to survive. Today, visiting schools, I see tree-planting being taken seriously and children being taught the importance of protecting forests. I would like to see more made of forestry as a tool for global education. As with other forms of environmental degradation, destruction of our forests affects the air we ourselves breathe, our climate, rainfall and the crops we can grow. It has the same effects on our neighbours' lives and is no respecter of national boundaries. Equally critical, it can take generations to remedy.

Involving women in forestry projects

Augusta Molnar is an anthropologist who has worked on forestry projects in India and Nepal.

· In reviewing my own experiences as a forestry consultant, I find that the subject of women does not separate itself from general information-gathering and design considerations that are part of any project design or review. Certainly sociology consultants for forestry projects deal with a wealth of issues concerning the incorporation of women, but the frustrations or satisfactions are not related to the fact that I am a woman consultant working with foresters. The problems that I note are of a more general nature.

For instance, one area of frustration in working with foresters is that there is a tendency for them, like other technical personnel, to misjudge the length and quality of time required to gather usable and reliable information on rural women that can be a basis for planning. Foresters do see the need to incorporate women, but lack an orientation to the ways to accomplish this or to the complexity of the problem. It is usually difficult initially for the forester to understand that, however qualified the social scientist in the planning team, adequate information cannot be collected about incorporating women in a project's activities or goals simply by asking about it during short field visits.

Forestry projects for women only?

Generally speaking, it has proved difficult to attract funds for activities designed specifically for women. However, studies show that when planners do not distinguish women's separate needs and roles in the project design, women are apt either not to benefit or to be actually disadvantaged. The ideal in many cases is to have village or family efforts but with the needs and activities of all members (men, women and young people) distinguished and considered. Women, in this case, must be involved in the planning so as to express their own situations.

There are circumstances in which activities might be best designed for the participation of women only. These have been identified as follows:

1. When local cultural values strongly resist the association in public of unrelated males and females.

2. When girls and women need special programmes to overcome past discrimination and help them catch up with men - for example, in training for skills and professions previously closed to them.

3. When women represent a high percentage of de facto heads of households because of high rates of marital instability, widowhood or male emigration.

4. When women, in the prevailing sexual division of labour, specialize in certain tasks, such as the production of food, the raising of small animals or the marketing of vegetables, that could benefit from assistance aimed at increasing their productivity and the returns of their labour.

5. When men are otherwise likely to receive the returns of women's labour - for example, by selling the goods that women produce or by becoming, as household heads, the formal members of cooperatives based on women's work.

6. When women want their own activities, such as revolving credit clubs or marketing associations, in order to achieve a measure of self-reliance or to avoid conflict or competition with men.

Where women are already burdened with work, the community may be better served if the activity is carried out by the men, who have more time. In the Niger, several communities opted for the men to raise wood-lots, with the fuel going for family cooking needs. In yet other cases, women may want integrated activities. In Guinea, women suggested that a woman's wood-lot would be difficult to plant, as men would be angry if their wives were preoccupied with a project or if the dinner was delayed. The men would, they reasoned, appreciate their input better if the wood-lot were a communal project with everyone working together.

Adapted from World Food Programme, 1980. "The contribution of the World Food Programme to the United Nations Decade for Women". Paper presented by the United Nations/FAO World Food Programme to the World Conference of the UN Decade for Women, Copenhagen, July 1980.

This is not a "women-related" problem but, rather, a social science problem: socio-cultural considerations are more vague and harder to quantify than information on species choice, the source of seed or labour for nurseries. The problem of collecting information on women may be more marked than other socio-economic topics because women tend to be less open and more uncomfortable around strangers, whether male or female strangers. However, this is not always the case. In my last consultancy, assessing project success among Indian tribal farmers, I found the farmers as hard to assess during a short visit as I have ever found rural women to be.

A crucial point, which has been emphasized by other women forestry workers I have talked to, is that one should not automatically assume that women foresters or other technical personnel are more interested - because of their sex - in problems of rural women than in community members in general. The dangers of such an assumption are twofold. First, projects may assume that hiring women to work in a forestry project means that the project is adequately designed to reach rural women. Hiring women technical staff may help orient a project to rural women, but it does not by itself ensure that women will benefit.

Second, there is a danger that the women hired in a project will be forced into jobs that deal mainly with the "women's issue", whether or not they are interested in this. Merely having a woman in a technical role such as that of forester improves the chances that rural women's felt needs will become known, since women foresters are less threatening or strange to rural women. There is no need, therefore, to risk scaring away women who want to work as technical foresters, but who are not interested particularly in problems faced by women, by requiring that they concentrate on women specifically. The most important value of female foresters is that they provide a needed role model to other women and demonstrate that forestry is an appropriate area for women.

In the course of my last World Bank consultancy - eight weeks reviewing the progress of state-level agricultural extension projects and their success with tribal farmers - I found considerable variation in different parts of India regarding women professionals. For example, in the south, in Karnataka State, without special attention having been paid to the issue, a sizeable proportion of the extension agents are women. In the north, the number is negligible. A study of trained women coming out of agricultural, courses revealed that most graduates had focused upon home economics and showed no desire to act as field personnel. While, in the south, training more women will increase the number of effective female extension agents, women professionals in the north will probably be more effective if they are higher-level employees. In Nepal, by contrast, although there is no tested evidence to prove it, it is quite possible that women would be willing to do extension work as long as they were not required to stay outside their own or their relatives' homes overnight.

These points by no means exhaust the issues involved, but they emphasize how complex the incorporation of women professionals into project activities actually is. Unless planners realize before they design a project that this issue is complex, no adequate preparation will be made, either before and during design stages or during implementation of follow-up projects, to create a viable staff of women professionals.

Integrating women into forestry development

Paula J. Williams is a forester working as a Forest and Society fellow for the Institute of Current World Affairs in Ouagadougou.

· I think the situation for women in forestry is very much like that faced in other fields dominated by men. Until there is a large number of women in policy-making positions or teaching and research positions, women will face a number of structural problems - being relatively isolated from one another, having to work harder than the men to "prove" themselves, etc.

The problem that most concerns me at the moment is how to truly integrate women into forestry and forestry development. If women are not explicitly considered, they tend to be overlooked. However, when women are considered, only token efforts seem to be made. Thus, an organization will make an effort to hire a few women professionals or to set up a few forestry projects (or project components) for women. Having made these token efforts, they feel they have addressed "the women question" and feel no need to do anything further. The far-reaching implications of fully integrating women into the profession or into development projects are not addressed.

The Eighth World Forestry Congress had only one session out of 30 that considered the question of women in forestry. Although many of the other sessions touched on topics that concern women - such as firewood, food, rural development, quality of life - women were never mentioned. Many of the Congress participants expressed the belief that since more women are studying forestry now than previously, women are becoming integrated into the field, and thus at the next World Forestry Congress there would be no need to have any special sessions on women.

I would suggest, however, that women will not automatically be included in discussions at the next World Forestry Congress unless specific efforts are made. Most of the international forestry experts are men, who tend not to mention women unless specifically asked about them. They also tend to think of males when considering whom to invite to present papers.

The question of fully integrating women into forestry and making forestry cognizant of women's activities and needs is a difficult one, which needs to be addressed on several fronts. The situation for women in the forestry profession and related jobs needs to be empirically examined and analysed: how forestry projects of all sorts - not just community forestry projects but also industrial projects and other forestry management activities - need to be evaluated for their inclusion of and impact upon women. The concern with women is not one of women per se, but part of a larger issue of forestry's responsiveness to questions of social equity.

Effects of scarcity upon women

When the household and economic activities that rural women perform are examined, it is obvious that women throughout the world rely heavily on forestry products and tree-related resources for the well-being of themselves and their families. However, when resources become progressively scarce, they all begin making changes in their way of living. Often the pattern involves a series of changes, and the severity of scarcity can be evaluated by observing what changes have taken place.

1. Women spend more time and energy walking farther to collect, harvest and plant, or in cultivating larger areas because of poorer soil.

2. When time and energy constraints become too great, many women report asking daughters and other family members for added help. Some reports describe daughters being taken from schools, or family size increasing when more children are needed.

3. Life-styles or basic resource use begin to change: substitute foods appear and others are seen less often; foods formerly cooked are eaten raw or fewer meals are served. Dung may be substituted for fuelwood instead of being applied as manure. Small animals no longer have forage within access of the village and women give up raising ruminants. Women have less money, as they have fewer resources and less time for producing surplus items for sale or trade. Many family members search for off-season employment.

4. When some resources are very scarce, basic items are purchased and the woman has little possibility to earn money selling surpluses. In some societies, the men leave home even during farming season in search of work and the women continue to provide what they can, but farms produce less because of labour shortages.

Adapted from FAO, 1983. Rural women, forest outputs end forestry projects, by Marilyn Hoskins.

A journal about women in forestry

Since spring 1983, the College of Forestry, Wildlife, and Range Sciences and the Laboratory of Anthropology of the University of Idaho (United States) have been publishing a journal entitled Women in Forestry: A Journal for Professionals in the Natural and Related Cultural Resource Fields. The journal, which appears four times a year, is a revival of an earlier publication which appeared eight times between 1979 and 1982.

The aim, the editors write, is "to provide information and ideas for, from and about women on topics related to (1) the natural resource professions and associated social science fields, (2) the use and conservation of natural and cultural resources, and (3) issues of administration and personnel of special interest to women in natural resources. We want to serve as a source of ideas contacts and support, to help women in the natural resources reach their professional goals".

Although the focus of the journal is predominantly American, each issue contains a section on international news and a number of internationally focused feature articles. Recent article titles include "Forestry in West Africa", "Forest product use in Mauritania's Brakna region", "Getting started in international work" and "The first foreigner visits Wuyi Natural Reserve".

Although a number of articles deal with strictly women-focused or feminist issues ("How to have your baby and keep your job"; "Guidelines for dual career couples and managers"; "Employer liability for sexual harassment in the marketplace"), the editors (Molly Stock and Dixie Ehrenreich) foresee the journal slowly becoming a more strictly forestry and natural resources publication.

"We see Women in Forestry", they write in an editorial, "eventually evolving into a journal that deals less with women-focused issues and more with concerns common to both men and women. Along with this change of perspective will come, quite likely and naturally, a change of title. We hope that Women in Forestry, as well as other women's professional magazines, will soon become irrelevant sexist anachronisms. But in this transition period, we believe it necessary to focus on gender issues, on the special concerns of working women and particularly on women in our traditionally and still predominantly male profession."

Subscriptions are US$15 a year for non-students and $10 a year for students. All editorial communications should be addressed to: The Editor, Women in Forestry, Department of Forest Resources, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83843, USA.

An anthropologist among foresters

Carol J. Pierce Colfer is an anthropologist and acting team leader of the Topsoils Project on Soil Management in Sitiung, Indonesia.

· My experience is not as a professional forester, but rather as an anthropologist who has worked with professional foresters and with women in the forest.

I have had long-term encounters with foresters and people of the forest in two settings: the Pacific Northwest (United States) and the interior of East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). There are loggers and American logging equipment in both areas; there are foresters and community members in both areas; and there are large forests in both areas - but perhaps these exhaust the similarities. The one broad thread that unites these two locations is economic dependence on forest products.

Forestry, in the Pacific Northwest, represents a very constraining environment in terms of the roles available to women. The US Forest Service, a major employer in the community where I worked during the 1970s, had only two full-time female employees locally, and they were both secretaries. The prevailing expectations and behaviour were extremely sex-stereotyped, with any deviations from the "man at work; woman at home" pattern subject to rather extreme, though informal, social sanctions. In the local community, this was intensified by the mystique and danger associated with logging as the most masculine of professions. East Kalimantan, by way of contrast, was quite the opposite, representing the loosest division of labour by sex that I have ever encountered; and the dangers associated with logging were feared rather than valued.

Traditionally, the forestry establishment has paid little attention to people - and particularly to women. The field of "community forestry" is a welcome recent attempt to rectify this problem. In Kalimantan, I found that the major human activity in the forest was shifting cultivation of rice for human consumption and for sale. It was men who cut down the large trees; but women participated in all other activities related to rice-growing, including felling brush and small trees-in their ricefields. Although men were involved in agricultural production, rice was considered the special domain of women. Women's concern to supply their families with sufficient rice for subsistence was a major factor in family decisions about how much forest to clear each year. Yet the idea that women's views and activities might be of relevance was alien indeed to the foresters I encountered.

There is a tendency for some foresters (and many environmentalists as well) to lump all shifting cultivators into a category of "evil people", bent on destroying the environment. A recent article in Asiaweek, for instance, discussing the huge burns in East Kalimantan in 1983, laid much of the blame on shifting cultivators who reportedly began burning their fields in the midst of the drought. My experience in the area suggests that this is decidedly unlikely. Shifting cultivators are quite aware of the relationship between dry weather and thorough burns (or drought and uncontrolled fire), and their practice is to burn in late August anyway; not in March, when the fires began!

Truly destructive shifting cultivators exist in places; but my year of residence among shifting cultivators in East Kalimantan (within the borders of a major multinational timber concession) suggested to me that the damage done to the forest by the people was decidedly marginal when contrasted with the large-scale activities of commercial timber companies. Certainly in areas where there is greater population pressure, the damage done by such farmers is greater. But many foresters and policy makers have a tendency to lump all shifting cultivators together; and timber dollars surely contribute to the comparatively pristine reputations of the logging companies.

How endangered are the world's tropical forests?

What can be done to save them?

FAO's answers are here, in two widely quoted recent books on tropical forest resources

Tropical forest resources

FAO FORESTRY PAPER, No. 30 (1982), (available in English, French and Spanish)

Conservation and development of tropical forest resources

FAO FORESTRY PAPER, No. 37 (1982), (available in English and Spanish)


Although the world's attention has now been drawn to the fuelwood crisis in the developing world, the rural poor themselves and especially rural women - do not regard it as an isolated problem. For a woman, the need to walk long distances to collect fuelwood is only one part of the heavy burden of work she must bear. Her desire to plant trees springs as much from a need to supply products such as fodder, food and poles as it does from a need to supply fuelwood; moreover, she sees the fuelwood crisis in the context of endemic poverty and sexual inequality.

CARRYING FUELWOOD IN AFRICA newer and closer sources must be found

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