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Appropriation and local usages

Photo 23. Harvesting fodder by drastic pruning of Faidherbia albida in Burkina Faso. (© Depommier/Cirad).

There is a close and constant link between people and the changing pattern of Trees outside forests, which have been selected, maintained and protected in accordance with usages and needs that are as much cultural as material. Human practice reflects "a paradoxical complexity which makes the clearer of land into the guardian of the tree and the agent of tree development, and much more than simply one more factor in an implacable ecological dynamics" (Pélissier", 1980).

Tree management practices differ in peasant and pastoral societies, and between men and women. They are the outcome of local and traditional technical skills which people have fine-tuned over time in answer to the random winds of ecological, economic and political change. Paying attention to the lore accumulated by human societies means gaining some sense of how people see their natural resources, and how these resources foster social and symbolic meaningfulness within a given society.

Local management

The specific tree management modes of farmers and pastoralists have to do with their different needs for wood resources and their contrasting perceptions of wooded areas (Shepherd, 1992). Herders use vast stretches of rangeland on which they try to conserve a great variety of plant species which can supply feed all year long. Farmers, instead, work a smaller area more intensively, and in this case trees complement the products which constitute their main activity. This is actually an over-simplification for the sake of editorial brevity, for peasant and pastoralist are often one and the same.

Peasant management

In most rural parts of the world, where trees are part of the agrarian landscape, people do not view trees in the field differently from trees in the forest. Shepherd (1992) remarked that small woodlands were never managed differently than trees growing on farmland. Populations who alternate shifting cultivation or crop rotation with fallow periods view treed land and farmland as two sides of the same coin, to be exploited in turn. There is, indeed, a continuum at the local level between forest and farmland management, whose respective dynamics are interlinked. At the same time, "agroforestry", which combines silvicultural and agricultural practices, reminds us that the distinction between agriculture and the forest is a relative one (Petit, 1999).

The European schism between forest and agriculture, a product of secular economic and political decisions, has no particular meaning in the minds and practices of farmers (Balent, 1996). In Indonesia, while agroforest and forest are structurally related, agroforestry as an agricultural production system derives mainly from peasant management). On the South American continent, in the "forest gardens" of the state of Bahia in eastern Brazil where cocoa is cultivated, Kapayo Indians select and preserve local forest species, which they sometimes replace with ecologically similar exotics. In West Africa, Pélissier (1980) describes the rural landscape in an area subject to long dry seasons as reconstructed tree savannah in which the rate of afforestation can be quite high, even higher than in the natural vegetation. Migrant populations bring forest species from their own lands, re-establishing the familiar setting of their original homes, mostly as symbols and for reasons having to do with identity (Trincaz, 1980). Such practices favour the emergence of production systems in which biological diversity is maintained as opposed to merely respected

Peasant tree management has gained greater recognition thanks to agroforestry (Biggelaar and Gold, 1995; Schultz et al., 1994; Thapa et al., 1995, Baumer, 1997). African peasants demonstrate their skilful preservation and maintenance of useful trees by establishing agroforestry parklands structured in accordance with their way of life. Trees in agroforestry parklands may be dense or scattered, mature or uneven-aged, with a different mix of associations. Parkland structures and tree species vary in accordance with the local ethnic group (Seignobos, 1996). In the most uniform agroforestry parklands, where the signs of repeated selection are most evident, the most intensive tree management and silvicultural practices are found near cultivated areas or people's homes. Intensively farmed lands often bear the most trees (Pélissier, 1995). Many treed areas, such as the Faidherbia albida parklands, have a positive impact on agricultural production, especially cereal production (ibid.). Conservation and selection are accompanied by the establishment of fences and clumps of irregularly planted trees in the fields, depending on which trees are present. Despite appearances, these deliberate local practices leave little to chance, and some have described their subtleties as "organized chaos" (Schulz et al., 1994).

Trees in fields assume their most universal function as the regenerator and protector of fragile or eroded soils (Guinko, 1997). Trees are omnipresent despite intensified cropping, the spread of cropped areas, population pressures, drought, and factors contributing to the disappearance of the tree. Trees are carefully ploughed around, and protected by weeding, by small drainage works, by stakes for younger trees (Boffa, 1991), and from the depredations of livestock. The commercial value of the fruits of many species also guarantees them a permanent place on agricultural land. Tree densities often represent a trade-off between the positive but long-term effect of soil regeneration and the negative but short-term impact of competition with farm harvests. In Rajasthan, India, Prosopis ceneraria is valued for intercropping because it enriches the soil, shields the millet crop from the wind, and provides nutritious fodder (Jodha, 1995). Eucalypts, instead, were abandoned by peasants in Uttar Pradesh, complaining of lower crop yields (Saxena, 1991, cited in Arnold, 1996). Lower yields are tolerated, however, where trees supply fruits or fodder, as in Nepal where peasants tend on their own plots the same fodder trees now seldom found in communal spaces.

Grazing livestock often supply the organic manure needed to fertilize farm soils. Contracts for herders to supply manure to farmers in areas where both compete heavily for land are few and far between, but there are still many places where lands lying fallow are used on a seasonal basis by pastoralists. Moreover, some trees such as Faidherbia albida are not propagated solely by seeds distributed by animals (Seignobos, 1996), but also and abundantly by vegetative propagation (Depommier, 1996; Bellefontaine and Monteuuis, 2000; Ichaou, 2000). Many African societies, indeed the ecological sustainability of entire regions, owe their survival to agrosilvopastoralism.

Photo 24. Spontaneous natural regeneration by rooting in the dry tropics. Niger. (© Ichaou and Farbe).

Pastoral management

A certain stereotype blames nomadic herders for much of the destruction of forests and treed areas, but Bernus (1980) asks why herders, who know every tree on the land, would conceivably be so careless as to destroy environmental assets crucial to their livelihoods. Livestock unquestionably constitute the wealth of pastoral peoples, but also of agro-pastoral and sedentary farmers (Box 23). Livestock, considered the most profitable, most reliable, and most constantly accessible investment, are found in almost all production systems for this reason.

Box 23:

African bocage landscapes

The Fulani herders of Fouta-Djalon have fashioned a bocage landscape of carefully tended, multipurpose hedges. Concessions are enclosed by living fences made of trees and shrubs which protect crops from freely grazing animals. The most heavily treed fences offer the best resistance to the assaults of livestock and the best protection from wind. Farmer-herders attach enormous importance to these fences, which they maintain as sources of fodder and as boundary markers. The expression "combing the fence" is used to describe the maintenance work of fence repairing and hedge-trimming (Lauga-Sallenave, 1997).

Pastoralist populations can be found in dry, hot regions stretching from Africa through the Middle East to India, on the high, cold plateaux of Central Asia, and as far as the chilly taiga regions of the Arctic. Nomadic populations exploit their surroundings within circumscribed areas chosen for the presence of watering points and pasture. These are used and maintained in line with informal rules involving the pre-eminence of lineage, the principle of first-come, first-served, priority to the well-digger, and the like. Pastures regenerate thanks to a complex and varied system of rotations and off-limits times and places as the herds move over an area. In the humid tropics, the abundance of pasture tends to favour tree stands over the herb layer (Audru, 1995). Associating several livestock species on the same range maintains a better balance between grass cover and tree cover (César and Zoumana, 1999). Overgrazing in arid and semi-arid areas, aggravated by wood-cutting, provokes a regression of trees, which is the first phase of ecosystem degradation and the process of desertification (Toutain et al., 1983). Once the drought period is over, the natural resilience of these ecosystems favours the biological resurgence of grasses and broad-leafed species. The reproduction and dissemination strategies of some trees combine seed and vegetative propagation. There are several natural means of vegetative propagation, including shoots, roots, and natural layering (Bellefontaine et al., 1999); Ichaou, 2000). Grasslands thus offer some resistance to overgrazing (Behnke, 1993) but where usage is excessive, they are not protected from degradation.

Trees, in additional to their many services as boundary markers, sources of building and craft materials, food, pharmaceutical and veterinary products, are first and foremost an essential source of fodder. Pastoralists draw on their backlog of observations and experience to manage trees and shrubs to their benefit. Shepards know how to play upon plant complementarities as they choose the pastures on which to graze their flocks, taking advantage of ecosystems with diversified fodder systems (Petit, 2000). Formal and informal rules are frequently introduced to increase tree and shrub productivity, and to protect trees from unauthorized cutting (Box 24).

The rules governing the appropriation of Trees outside forests vary greatly from one region to the next, strongly affecting the rules governing management. Trees growing in rangeland grazed by pastoralists' herds are considered a communal resource just like grass, and a great variety of plant species are preserved. Depending on the season, pastoralists use one plant strata or the other; the herb layer is grazed during the wet season, the shrub layer is browsed at the height of the dry season and then the tree layer at the end of the dry season. In parklands and savannah, pastoralists may contract with landowners for access to foliage, especially at pruning-time (Delouche, 1992). On ranches instead, it is up to the owners to decide whether to conserve, favour or destroy trees. In Australia, for example, ranchers found trees growing singly or in clumps to be a nuisance, and this hastened their disappearance on private stock ranches (Cameron et al., 1991).

Box 24:

Traditional rules of tree and shrub management

The Pokot and Turkana of Kenya rarely cut down a useful tree, and carefully choose which trees to prune. Only the branches of the less useful shrubs are cut to make hedges and to clear the rangelands of invasive bush. The Lahawin of eastern Sudan use special sticks to shake trees and knock off leaves for animal fodder, rather than cutting branches. The Kel Adrar Tuaregs of Kidal in Mali have traditional laws forbidding tree-cutting. The Mbeere of Kenya prune Parinaria curatellifolia, and then let it grow back for the next season or two. The Macina Fulani have a code with provisions for monitoring and protecting the bush and preventing unauthorized tree-pruning. (FAO, 1996b).

Fodder trees, though seldom planted by pastoral peoples, are thought of as perennial crops, and may be tended for the goods and services they offer. The interesting thing about fodder tree crops compared to prairie grasses is their plant cycles (they have different phenological cycles), and the feed supplements they supply with their nitrogen-rich (richer than grass) pods and leaves (Hiernaux et al., 1992). Planting layout varies with usage. If the foliage is harvested by cutting, line-plantings bordering meadows or plot plantations are usual, but where trees are browsed directly by livestock, scattered trees in pastures are preferred. In Southeast Asia extensionists recommend a complementary three-level agroforestry arrangement: an herb layer for grazing, a fodder bank of tree and shrub fodder, and multi-purpose trees.

The existence of pastoral systems with herds migrating in search of water and pasture is endangered by the current priority to sedentary establishments. Over one-third of the rural development funds earmarked for West Africa have been targeted at export crops, and only five percent for livestock improvement programmes (Jaubert, 1997). This despite the body of work demonstrating the ecological and economic importance of such pastoral systems (Bourgeot, 1999; Le Berre, 1999; Slingerland, 2000). In the face of the pressure on trees from urban peripheries, and sometimes even from small villages, there is an essential need to improve fodder tree pruning techniques (Box 25). Generally speaking, a series of factors complicates the management and exploitation of livestock production zones, including concentrations of people and animals, the expansion of cropland, and urbanization, all of which also exacerbate tensions among livestock producers, and among them and the farmers (Bourgeot, 1999).

Box 25:

Improved pruning techniques for fodder trees

Not all species can be pruned indiscriminately: the specific architecture of the tree and its regeneration potential need to be examined prior to action (érussage12 , trimming, stumped hedges, lopping, topping, etc.) and their timing need to consider a number of factors: species, rate of leaf growth, the nature of the soil, the distribution of runoff from rains, the presence of infectious germs in the tree wounds (which can quickly kill trees), and so forth. Not enough studies have been done on these questions. Bearing in mind that forestry laws in many countries do not permit branch-cutting in forest parklands and tree savannas, there is a clear need to update the legislation to allow for sustainable exploitation of aboveground fodder. There is one pre-condition, however: both the terms for using shoots or parts of branches and the proper techniques need to be explicitly spelled out, and the procedures respected.

Gender-differentiated management

One implication of the differentiation of men and women's activities into gender-based divisions of labour is that the two have acquired different and complementary knowledge and skills about the environment, tree species, tree products, and their uses. This has given rise to complementary and gender-differentiated management systems crucial to the conservation of biodiversity. The practices women use in exploiting tree resources are often more subtle than men's. Women have better overall knowledge of the use, selection and conservation of natural resources. They bear the bulk of the responsibility for providing for the family's daily needs and subsistence and are the ones most directly concerned by tree products when times are hard, And yet, though these facts are known and acknowledged, women are sometimes accused of contributing to natural resource degradation, especially of shrubs and trees, even though the legal, social and cultural strictures on women limit their management of such forest products as wood, fruits, bark, and so forth.

It has become clear that poverty is more a consequence than a cause of deforestation. Women are among the poorest of the poor, making up more the 70 percent of the 1.3 billion citizens of the world living in poverty. The number of rural women living in absolute poverty grew by 50 percent from 1975 to 1995 (UNDP, 1995). A succession of droughts, degraded forest cover, armed conflicts in some countries, and (since the 1980s) structural adjustment programmes, have spawned situations of crisis affecting not just the economic aspects, but also people's social and family lives. When recessions strike, social inequalities deepen and population movements multiply. Not only do women have to do more work, they suffer discrimination in the labour market and social isolation, a situation further aggravated by the lack of training and support. Moreover, the exploitation of Trees outside forests produced by certain economic and social trends such as the marketing of the products of select species, population growth, dwindling resources and market-oriented management practices are increasingly sidelining groups who have little access to land and, ipso facto, even less access to tree ownership and use. Between the absence of men and the lack of commitment, especially social commitment, on the part of the state, women find themselves ever more isolated in their efforts to ensure household survival under precarious circumstances.

Photo 25. The practice of stumped pollarding in Arles, France (© Bellfontaine/Cirad)

The mass exodus of men from the countryside that is emptying villages of a large part of the labour force, leaving farmwomen as the only permanent workers, would be reason enough to enhance and strengthen the role of women in the management of trees outside forests. Labour availability affects any given production system. Where labour is in short supply and hence dear and there are management problems, it may be preferable to plant productive trees on farmland (Arnold and Dewees, 1998) rather than concentrating efforts on the more labour-intensive annual agricultural crops. The labour factor is a decisive one, but benefits are too. Trees do not normally produce enough income to meet the needs of the family, even though the time and labour needed to manage tree resources may be less onerous. There are a few exceptions, such as agroforestry cash crops like cocoa, spices and resin, but these are also more labour-intensive. All these choices and decisions which households must take and act upon (and this is true of all households, not just those headed by women), revolve around getting enough to keep the household going, and maintaining social cohesion. Acting on labour or market constraints would have more impact on tree-planting than direct incentives (ibid.).

Traditional and local practices and lore

Local tree-tending practices are based on empirical knowledge which remains relatively undocumented, though richly deserving a much closer look. Local lore13 , the underpinnings of carefully thought-out systems of resource management, draws upon local awareness of plant resources (Box 26) and plant dynamics. The scientific botanical terms for trees refer to their morphological characteristics, whereas the local terms also describe plant properties and uses.

Box 26:

Local terms which combine plant uses, morphology and properties

Peasants in Nepal classify fodder trees used to feed cattle as either «chiso» or «obano» (Rusten and Gold, 1991). This refers to leaf characteristics and fodder quality in terms of their impact on livestock health and milk quality. «Chiso» means something which is cold, and defines poor-quality fodder with pliant, moist leaves, whereas «obano», meaning hot, refers to fodder with smallish, rather dry leaves. Other classifications have to do with the effect of tree roots on crops (Thapa et al., 1995). Repeated observations over time have made peasants very knowledgeable about their surroundings. They have established a correlation between foliage type and soil erosion, as expressed in the term «tapkan» (ibid.). They claim that leaf size and texture modify the size of raindrops falling on them, affecting their erosive potential. This notion, which runs counter too much of the body of scientific work, finds an echo in some recent and extremely precise experimentation (Hall and Calder, 1993, cited in Thapa et al., 1995).

Box 27:

Shedding light on local lore

Peasants draw upon their knowledge of plant dynamics and the impact of plant competition to manage agroforestry systems. In southern Kenya (Biggelaar and Gold, 1995), a sample of 240 men and women were asked to designate the local "tree experts" .Those chosen knew the most tree species, had the biggest farms (1,3 ha compared to the 0,2 ha plots owned by the other farmers) and were the most prosperous. Compared to the plots of the less prosperous farmers, there were more tree species but at lower densities: 34 species and 730 trees/ha, compared to 12 species and 1 700 trees/ha on the smaller plots. The latter, highly dense, configuration demanded a very good knowledge of plant interactions. So farmers with very small agroforestry plots drew upon quite a different body of knowledge than those designated as experts.

The ethno botanical sciences teach us the local and traditional names. But the local classifications and representations of vegetation, and the virtues (Arbonnier, 2000) and uses of plants, are much rarer in the literature than references to natural resource management lore. More attention began to be paid to local expertise in the early 1980s, particularly in the rural development project context. And today local lore has become a research field in its own right.

In the state of Bahia in Brazil, 500 ha of coastal mountainside are covered with dense, production-oriented agroforestry cocoa bean plantation (Schulz et al., 1994). These no-input systems attain a level of productivity unmatched by industrial plantations, barring huge inputs of fertilizers and pesticides. They are maintained solely in accordance with traditional agroforestry garden practices. Species introductions are based on local and traditional knowledge of plant successions. Species which grow wild and have no productive function are retained or even introduced to favour the growth of productive tree species. Some wild species are replaced by other cultivated species with comparable ecophysiological features. Maintenance is carried out every three or four months for regeneration purposes. Some interventions are intended to encourage biomass transformation. This agroforestry system has been described as owing more to the art of living as to science.

These are just a few modest illustrations of the vast range of empirical lore concerning Trees outside forests that has been handed down through the generations. The young lobi herder in Burkina and Côte d'Ivoire begins to acquire botanical skills at the very early age of 8 to 12 years. No less than 25 species of trees and shrubs with their edible fruits, berries, drupes and pods help to feed these young people year-round as they circulate within their environment, according to Savonnet (1980). This entire body of knowledge could be enhanced and harnessed for commercially and industrially oriented plantations. However, the technical and socioeconomic underpinnings that make sense of these systems have all too often been overlooked, which are why programmes to spread trees in rural settings have so frequently failed.

Cultural and religious representations

The natural environment does not represent some timeless backdrop for those who actually live in it. It is rather perceived as the outcome of practices reflecting an underlying system of representations upon which these practices, in turn, depend (Friedburg, 1992). There is a direct dialectical rapport between the technical systems people implement and how they represent the world around them Management practices and local and traditional lore reflect economic needs and usages, but they also mirror mental constructs which govern people's choices as to how to intervene in the natural environment. Fortunately for development (especially sustainable development), these notions of social and symbolic representation have now begun to attract attention. The human sciences are dipping into research formally considered the sole province of the natural sciences (ibid.). In any case, few works simultaneously satisfy technical curiosity about the expertise of a given society, and the mental, social and symbolic constructs (Box 28) by which people order their world and social lives (Mauss, 1973, Levi Strauss, 1983).

Box 28:

Social ubiquity of the date palm among the Toubou

In the Toubou society of northern Chad, «the Borkou palm grove owes its existence and appearance solely to human intervention, and at the same time human presence there is wholly dependant on the existence of these date palms » (Baroin and Pret, 1997). This work cites the myriad economic uses of palms and dates, as well as the legal, political and social connections. The date palm is "the object of property, gifts and exchanges throughout life", appearing at circumcision ceremonies for young boys, the weddings of young women, and other stages in life. Marriage and social exchanges such as dowries and gifts among married couples and different generations, compensation for crimes, murder or damage paid as compensation to a victim's relatives...all revolve around this tree, which is so intimately bound up with the set of social regulations governing customary law among the Toubou.

In addition to the hard facts concerning the relationship between a given society and its natural surroundings, there are some subtle and fairly obscure elements that have to do with people's belief systems and how they see the world. People in the industrialized countries tend to see only the utilitarian aspect of nature, and so their rapport with it is rather tenuous -- if they indeed have one at all. And yet, the dawning awareness and concern over the environmental onslaught on the planet would seem to indicate that the western countries have not lost all sense of the value of nature. In the collective European mind, the forest has always been the prime setting of fairy tales, myth and legend. Forest tree species are rarely spelled out, but the individual tree nonetheless primes the imagination as a dwelling-place of spirits and deities. On other continents, certain species loom large in the collective imagination because of something specific in their phenology. Faidherbia albida, for instance, with its inverted leaf cycle, may be widely adopted by peasant farmers, or, again, it may have evil overtones. Among the Baguirmi in Chad, Verdier (1980) points out that F. albida is a tree unworthy of benediction because it does not drink the same water as other trees, so it tends to be shunned. Other groups see this tree as the emblem of compassion and kindness, offering nourishing fruit and welcome shade when all about is dry and withered.

The tree as source of protection, nourishment, wisdom, symbol of resurrection, or prop for initiation ceremonies (depending on the significant criterion), is an inspirational component of people's thought systems, enlightening the processes of socialization and initiation. In this light, the tree is often associated with the representation of virility (Dognin, 1997), cited in Barreteau et al., 1997) and the rootedness of people to their own land. It evokes the link between the earthly and the cosmic, and between life and death. It confers authority and perpetuates tradition (Boffa , 2000a). Unsurprisingly, then, trees quite often house the memories of ancestors, sprits and gods, particularly in Africa. In Java, where the forest as such disappeared nearly one hundred years ago, the collective memory still feeds upon myths, heroes and representations intimately bound up with the Javanese vision of the forest (Lombard, 1974).

Photo 26. Sacred woods and single trees in northern Côte d'Ivoire. (© Louppe/Cirad)

These links between the world of people and the world of trees can be read through language and culture. The vocabulary used to describe tree species, parts of trees, their maturity, how and how much they are used, and their products -- all tell us something about popular knowledge of ecological matters, and reveal how closely and deeply trees are interwoven into everyday life. Place names are likewise very important in grasping a people's link with their ecological setting, giving some insight into the historical background of a particular landscape. A tree such as the baobab, which has been called the "griots' cemetery" tells us something about people and their movements. Defensive plantings testify eloquently to a people's bellicose and eventful past (Seignebos, 1980).

The holistic outlook and way of life of many southern societies, from the Wayapi Amerindians in Brazil or French Guyana (Grenand, 1996) to societies in Africa and Asia, constitute the social and spiritual backdrop to their systems of resource management. The lore concerning natural resource use and renewal in the areas under their control has, for many communities, been unfailingly directed toward achieving "lasting abundance" (ibid.) Specific provisions in each such society enable them to control the impact of new technologies without obviating their acceptance, and to insert notions of ecological sustainability and social cohesion.

12 Erussage is a local leaf-thinning technique used in Maine et Loire (France) on stumped elm and ash. The technique involves getting the leaves of non-thorny species to fall without using tools, by simply sliding the hand along the stem, leaving the branches whole.

13 The term "traditional" ecological knowledge (lore) is often used to cover local empirical knowledge, whereas the term "vernacular" refers specifically to the local nature of this knowledge, without reference to their traditional nature, which latter implies that this lore is fixed and handed down through the generations.

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