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12. Participatory agroforestry for poverty alleviation in Coimbatore District, India
M. George
[17], K. Gurumurty[18] and Vinu Aram[19]


Population pressure and inadequacy in rural income generation have resulted in increased degradation of forests in many countries. Land, which provides incomes, for both the landowners as well as the landless, can be sustainably managed to prevent rural poor from over-exploiting the forests. The basic issue is to optimize land use and maximize the turnover of investment. This requires comprehensive research and management inputs. Working towards this approach the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding (under ICFRE) and Shanti Ashram, a non-governmental organization, implemented a project with the assistance of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The objectives were to capacitate the institutions in the study area, develop village and land-use plans and guide in agroforestry development and further catalyse other income generation activities. The project was implemented in a block of 26 villages with the goal of achieving poverty alleviation through creation of self-help groups. The project also trained community-based organizations in participatory rural appraisal and further implemented agroforestry strategies in the farmers' lands. The research institute provided quality planting material, land-use plans and training to several hundred farmers. The non-governmental organization fine-tuned the income generating activities. The synergy of research institution and the non-governmental organization resulted in effective technology implementation by rural self-help groups. That can be replicated for blocks across the state and the country with appropriate modifications.


The Earth Summit 1992 produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Agenda 21, non-legally binding authoritative statement of principles for global consensus on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests, as well as decision to embark on efforts to negotiate a convention to combat desertification. Many of these obligations can be put in practice only if interest of the community are incorporated with the overall protection of the environment. Much of the fringe areas of forests are surrounded by villages whose sustainability and livelihood are dependent on the forests. Very often, even the agricultural practices in the area are dependent on the water yield from the forests. Therefore, the vagaries of weather affect the farm yield and the pressure on the forests. Also, the landless and the poor exploit the forests, as they do not have any resource to depend on.

Therefore, the need for involving local people in managing the forests enable them to optimally utilize their farmland. Forest research institutions can provide inputs and facilitate extension services to optimize the objectives of poverty alleviation programmes on sustainable basis. The concept of sustainability, whether it is for forests or farm revolves around the following factors: (a) growth, (b) yield of marketable product, (c) financial yield, (d) profitability, (e) creation of value, (f) working capacity, and (g) infrastructure performance like water supply and protective functions. Only when these criteria are adequately addressed, the people will fulfill the obligations of managing and preserving forests with respect to environment. Keeping this in view, the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding (IFGTB) applied the research technologies in a composite block around Coimbatore through participatory agroforestry systems addressing the issue of poverty alleviation so that environmental restoration can be stimulated. The work was carried out under the UNDP project by Shanti Ashram, a non-governmental organization and IFGTB. Various developmental activities were carried out in the Perur Block.


Perur Block consists of four town panchayats and 26 villages, with a population of 120 000. The total area is around 10 000 ha of which the nett sown area is 25 percent. According to available statistics, more than 30 percent of the area falls under wasteland. Considering the availability of land for tree cropping and the technical expertise available locally, Shanti Ashram and IFGTB implemented participatory agroforestry for poverty alleviation and environmental restoration with UNDP support.


The main objectives of the project were:



The activities designed for the project were:


To enable the farmers to establish nurseries to meet the seedling requirements, trainings was offered by IFGTB on nursery care and management and grafting techniques. The trainings was conducted in the institute so that the farmers could see the various stages of nursery management. They were given hands-on training on grafting and supplied with tools required for grafting. To identify site-specific trees, IFGTB collected soil samples in the 26 villages of the block for analysis. Based on the soil analysis, the farmers were given soil health cards indicating the nutritional status of the soils and the trees suited for each area. Apart from this, an expert from the State Department of Agriculture visited the 26 villages and held meetings with the villagers to discuss about the crops cultivated and the trees preferred by the villagers. For this purpose, 35 meetings were arranged in the villages attended by 1186 farmers.

Since the aim of the project was raising trees in wasteland to protect the environment, meetings were organized to create environmental awareness to the villagers. Apart from villagers, students selected from 10 schools in Perur Block, which formed the Green Brigade, were also exposed to agroforestry and tree planting. During the period of the project, 28 such meetings were organized benefiting 2091 villagers and school children. The Green Brigade planted trees specifically in schools and in houses and conducted environmental rallies.

The objective of preparation of village level land-use plans was achieved using Participatory Rural Appraisal technique. To start with, the field staff of Shanti Ashram and selected members of community-based organizations were given training in PRA. Three such trainings were organized involving 94 participants. These PRA teams visited all the 26 villages in Perur Block and carried out the exercises. In all, 1304 villagers, including women and youth, participated in the PRA exercises. In PRA exercise, the techniques of village mapping, seasonal calendar, matrix scoring, etc. were used to gather details on the land available for planting. The Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding, utilizing the soil, rainfall, temperature and other information, prepared the detailed land-use map for all the 26 villages.

To catalyse agroforestry with technical and supporting services, the Shanti Ashram with help of IFGTB prepared extension materials like posters, pamphlets, videos and charts and displayed them in prominent places in the villages for wider exposure. The members of the Green Brigade through songs and street plays during the Sarvodaya Fortnight, created awareness on agroforestry in the villages. With the help of the IFGTB, more than 80 000 quality seedlings were distributed to the farmers for planting. For wider exposure of the farmers on agroforestry, six tours were arranged to places of importance on agroforestry in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karntaka, benefited 295 farmers. IFGTB also arranged farmers exchange visits to nearby areas where farmers had already taken up agroforestry. To provide income during the gestation period, training in income generation activities were conducted on mushroom cultivation, bee keeping, fruit juice, jam and pickle making, paper bag making, and areca sheath plate making.



In any development programme, the most important aspect is the sustainability of the project after withdrawal of implementing agencies. In the present project as regards the sustainability, the major issues expected were, supply of quality seedlings in the villages at a reasonable price, demonstration of agroforestry to willing farmers to take up tree planting and solving the problems of felling, transporting and marketing of the trees. This has been achieved in the project through the establishment of ten village level nurseries in panchayat common lands along with the development of infrastructure facilities like fencing, watering and implementation sheds. The villagers trained in nursery care and management are expected to take up raising of tree seedlings in these nurseries to meet the local demand. Quality seedlings will be supplied at reasonable prices. To serve as demonstration units, ten model farms were established in Perur Block. These model farms have various combinations of tree crops that can be raised for optimal use of land to have a regular flow of incomes. These farms were established in individual holdings, provided with facilities like fencing and watering. The farmers maintain such model farms to help demonstrate to neighbouring farmers the need for taking up similar activities in their areas. To act as a link between the villagers and the officials, tree growers' associations have been established. These associations help in promoting agroforestry and help the farmers in felling, transporting and marketing of the trees. They will act as a link between the villagers and Department of Forestry and the commercial banks.

The participatory agroforestry project for poverty alleviation and environmental restoration in Perur Block has allowed for the creative partnership between the different stakeholders. It has given Perur a model where governmental and non-governmental agencies can collaborate in newer initiatives of poverty alleviation. The dimension of "technology transfer" has seen the coming together of a premier institute like the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding, a network of community-based organizations across Perur with a rich experience of over a decade and Shanti Ashram. This model can provide a template for further replication across the state and indeed the country.

When large numbers of villages are involved, extending services to the scale required is a big challenge for IFGTB. In this approach, it was handled through Shanti Ashram and village - villager interactions. The network of voluntary trainers was created. The data analysis village-wise, farmer-wise, category-wise and land utilization and profitability require more refinement. Appropriate sociological software development is required to determine acceptable strategies, hesitancies (with warning flags) and market knowledge. Continuous value addition is essential to overcome low value trap. Wiring up of villages is important but no proper methodology is available for demand forecasting. This is important to move the people out and away from the forests. More efficient farm management is the key to ensure social fencing of the forests.


We express our gratitude to Dr Minoti Aram, President, Shanti Ashram, for her continuous interaction and guidance during village workshops and in implementing the project. We are highly grateful to UNDP for funding. Keen interest evinced by FAO Representative for India and Bhutan inspired the implementation of the project.

[17] Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India; E-mail: [email protected].
[18] Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India; E-mail: [email protected].
[19] Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India; E-mail: [email protected].

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