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3.1 Initiatives during the Colonial Period
3.2 The Role of Rural Forestry Innovations

Active and publicly-supported programmes to stimulate tree management and cultivation date back at least 2,000 years. Early Chinese rulers encouraged people to plant trees for food production and for lumber. At one point, the government granted public lands to peasants who would reforest them. In the 1500s, rulers in Sri Lanka set aside land for shifting cultivators and prohibited clearing timber from other protected lands for a proscribed period of 30 years (Seth, 1981).

China: 2000 years of tree growing

Ethiopia provides an historical example of a publicly-initiated tree growing programme to promote the production of fuelwood for urban areas. In the late 1890s, the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik introduced legislation to exempt land planted with trees from taxation and arranged for the distribution of introduced eucalyptus seedlings at nominal prices. This was a response to an extreme scarcity of wood around the new capital of Addis Ababa, which had been established in 1890. Although the tree growing program was slow to start, by 1920 it was reported that “the streets and paths of Addis Ababa began to look like a vast continuous forest” (National Academy of Sciences, 1980). By 1964, the area of eucalyptus forest around Addis had reached 13,500 hectares.

Other publicly-initiated tree planting activities have been started by local rulers and have had far reaching effects. In 1932 in the Amarasi region of Timor in Indonesia, local government regulations obliged shifting cultivators to plant rows of Leucaena along the contour lines of their swidden before abandoning them. Other regulations set aside areas for grazing, for other types of farming, and encouraged planting fruit trees. Eventually, this area which had been heavily degraded by overcultivation was transformed into a food exporting region (Metzner, 1983).

In the community of Muquiyauyo, in the Peruvian Andes, eucalyptus trees were introduced by a Catholic priest in the late 1870’s because the area had suffered from a lack of trees. A local committee was appointed to acquire more trees, and local work projects were organized to plant them in the town and along roads. The activity spread as people appreciated eucalyptus wood, using it in house construction, for making implements and furniture, and as firewood. The mining industry around the turn of the century provided a ready market for support props. Although eucalyptus was not seen as the best tree for construction, it was widely used because it was fast growing and cheaply available. Town dwellers also felt that trees added visibly to their community’s beauty (Adams, 1959). Organized planting continued at least through the 1930s, with some seedlings being raised locally and others being imported from other towns.

Eucalypts - frequently appreciated exotics

The spread of neem trees (Azadirachta indica) in West Africa and the Sahel is another striking example of the successful introduction of a new tree species in the more recent past. It was introduced into Senegal in 1944 and into Mali in 1953. In other parts of West Africa it was widely used by the forest services for roadside plantings. Highly valued for its rapid growth and its production of multi-purpose timber and tree products, it is one of the most commonly planted trees in the region, and the demand for seedlings still remains high (Taylor and Soumare, 1984).

3.1 Initiatives during the Colonial Period

During the extended period of colonial expansion in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, there were numerous efforts to introduce tree cultivation and management systems. The main focus of these efforts was on forest protection and reservation.

Figure 1a - Intercropping system

The taungya system was widely used as a means of reforestation. It originally started in Burma in the mid-1800s, where it was introduced as a means of controlling shifting cultivators and of growing teak on a large scale. In this system, farmers planted seedlings along with food crops in cleared plots. After a few years, during which farmers weeded and cultivated the seedings as they farmed, the trees began to shade the land, and farmers moved to another part of the forest where the cycle was repeated. Taungya, which soon spread to India, East Africa and elsewhere, has been favoured by foresters because it is a relatively inexpensive means of planting and weeding, and because it permits the multiple use of forested lands.

Figure 1b - Agroforestry crop rotation system

However, raising food crops in combination with trees is frequently more labour intensive after the first year than traditional systems of shifting cultivation which taungya replaced. For these reasons, successful taungya plantations have tended to be associated with areas which are characterized by under-employment, low living standards and shortages of agricultural lands (King, 1968). In these conditions, the system has been used to save public expense in planting and weeding of plantations while temporarily providing landless labourers with an opportunity to obtain employment and produce their own agricultural crops.

Among taungya’s drawbacks are that it is sometimes seen to be exploitative of the landless poor (Seth, 1981). When it uses their labour without providing any long-term access to land, it does little to stabilize already insecure systems of land tenure. In fact, fear that taungya workers will mobilize political support to obtain permanent tenure rights to agriculture production sometimes inhibits more widespread use of this system (Ball and Umeh, 1982). Project failures have sometimes been blamed on sabotage by land-poor farmers, who, fearing to be displaced when the trees grew, damaged the seedlings.

Introduction of tree crops, along with development of international markets for tree products, has probably had the greatest impact of all the colonial tree cultivation interventions. Although plantation-style management of tea, rubber, cacao, coffee and other tree crops was favoured by colonial agricultural services, smallholders quickly adopted these cash-producing crops as well. Often, this occurred in spite of official pessimism about farmers’ ability to incorporate these trees efficiently into their agricultural production systems.

In Indonesia, government officials were originally of the opinion that Hevea rubber could only be properly cultivated in large estates. Nonetheless, swidden cultivators quickly incorporated rubber trees into their systems, partly because of high market prices for rubber, but also because of encouragement and seed supply from Chinese traders. Recent studies have indicated that some swidden rubber cultivation practices in Indonesia have been found to be superior to plantation management practices (Pelzer, 1982), and the government is now actively promoting smallholder cultivation.

Market incentives favoured introduction of rubber trees

There are a number of other less successful examples of colonial forestry activities at a community level, initiated as a response to growing scarcities of trees. During the mid-1920’s, a village forestry scheme promoting the protection of indigenous forests was introduced by the colonial forest service in Malawi. Communal forests were established and placed under the jurisdiction of village leaders. The fact that communities traditionally set aside bush areas for protection raised expectations that the scheme would be successful, but it was viewed with suspicion by villagers because they feared land alienation.

In Kenya, the government initiated several soil conservation and tree planting campaigns. However, by the late 1940s, soil conservation measures had become immensely unpopular because they represented a cornerstone of the colonial government’s land policy. The Mau Mau emergency period disrupted tree planting activities, and years passed before its former momentum was regained.

Some of the problems encountered with tree planting interventions in the past were peculiar to the colonial situation: local people resented foreign initiatives; they distrusted government motives; they feared further land alienation. Coercion was all too often used as a means of implementing projects. Even now promoting tree growing by rural people is never likely to be an easy or straightforward process, especially in those areas that need it most. People have cut down trees where they live for reasons which are strong and valid. However compelling the imperatives for tree growing may appear at the national level, people will only take part in these activities if, from their perspective, they are both feasible and attractive.

3.2 The Role of Rural Forestry Innovations

Where tree growing is a feasible and attractive option to rural people, there may be no need for the introduction of new silvicultural practices. Both women and men may be planting and managing trees in ways which continue to meet their needs despite demographic and economic pressures. The most promising approach in such cases may well consist of simply “fine tuning” the existing system, but even then, planners must be prepared to question whether more complex management techniques will necessarily improve the current methods being used.

The need for interventions is all too often taken for granted. A recent evaluation of a smallholder tree-farming project in the Ilocos province of the Philippines linked farmer non-participation with deficiencies in the project design; there was criticism of the programme’s publicity, extension and marketing on the grounds that they failed to address the farmers’ needs adequately (Hyman, 1983a).

Closer examination showed that the faults were more basic. The project had been intended to produce fuelwood for tobacco curing, yet no prior evaluation had been made of the real demand for this wood. In fact, farmers in the area had already planted a large number of woodlots on their smallholdings to supply this market and were hesitant to change their successful management practices. The existence of these woodlots had largely gone unrecorded, although they appear to be very productive. They usually consist of mixed stands predominated by Gliricidia sepium which, planted on deep soils and yearly coppiced, can yield as much as 40 cubic metres/hectares/year (Wiersum, 1983).

This example serves to illustrate that the development of interventions to address apparent shortages of wood or tree products should be based on a careful examination of the local context. Rather than assume from the start that interventions or innovations are necessary, an evaluation of existing local tree cultivation practices will provide a useful means of identifying appropriate interventions in a particular rural context. The framework for such an analysis might resemble that given in Figure 3.1.

It must be emphasized that introduction of new tree cultivation and management strategies is only one type of response to a scarcity of tree resources. The spectrum of alternative responses ranges from doing nothing to introducing radically new rural silvicultural prescriptions. Between these two extremes lie numerous possibilities for designing strategies to increase efficiency of existing rural tree management and wood production systems.

Figure 3 Analysing the Need for the Introduction of Innovations in Tree Management

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