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Toward integrated management

Photo 27. The integrated management of this riparian buffer of ash trees in Cévennes, France, offers numerous benefits for formers (© Bellefontaine/Cirad)

Local and traditional environmental management skills are not receiving due consideration as beneficial lore which could be usefully tapped. Economic constraints, on the other hand, do constitute a means of measuring sustainable natural resource management in general, and tree resource management in particular. It is common now to see poverty quite naturally lumped together with resource overexploitation and abuse. It would be a good idea, however, to spell out the practices of the various components of the market economy, which have by now penetrated even the most remote corners. They are much more responsible for the new forms of resource exploitation. The impact on ecological equilibria can be catastrophic for people who were formerly quite capable of sustainably subsisting off these same resources. (Dufumier, 1996; Dupré, 1996).

Local rationale or the technical option, can they be compatible?

In the 1960s, various developing countries built their strategies around answering the demands of productivity through vast programmes, one of the most incisive being the "Green Revolution". Generally speaking, programme strategies rarely considered what Gellar (1997) describes as the potentially negative environmental consequences of tree felling and clearing for the introduction of farming with draft animal traction, intensive fertilizer use under conditions of insufficient rainfall, and the modification of traditional production systems. These strategies tended to box peasants into a process of external assistance which forced them to adopt expensive and sometimes unsuitable technology packages of fertilizers, varied inputs, and farm mechanization. A great many studies have reported on these programmes, ill-adapted not only in cost terms, but also for the cultural internalization and ecological degradation that followed. Rural tree development projects also favoured exotics over local species, even where local species were already well-integrated into agrarian systems that were undeniably well-adapted, especially in borderline climatic situations.

The sectoral interventions of certain modern agronomical options have been instrumental in fracturing the relation that once existed between trees, fields and people. Despite this, local rationales and mental constructs, though often overlooked, have emerged here and there, sometimes even gaining the upper hand (Box 29). These experiences have revealed the technical and socioeconomic rationale of peasant silvicultural practices. Peasants are quite prepared to adopt a new technique that offers economic advantages, meets some demand, and, most of all fits in with local land management practices.

Peasant practices and economic constraints: dysfunction or balance?

Local practices, often home consumption-oriented, unfortunately receive little attention from scientists and development projects. It would be of great interest to put such potentially sustainable systems on a permanent footing (Box 30), whereas they now tend to be sidelined by the technocrats unless they can be brought into the production-oriented logic of markets attuned to national and international economic imperatives. This is true of the planting and development of high value-added species such as gum, mango, shea nut, teak and eucalypts. These strategies, designed to favour particularly lucrative species, can easily cause a loss of biodiversity through monospecies cropping, even though biodiversity should be thought of primarily as a "capital handed down by our ancestors, and managed by present populations in terms of their needs and their history for the coming generations" (Walter, 1996). And even assuming that such decisions do actually generate the foreign exchange national economies desperately need, they clearly also tend to displace both traditional management methods and land access to forest products, fostering a potential source of conflict. This is what happened in Chad, where the development and marketing of gum Arabic gave rise to mechanisms of appropriation, exacerbating the clash between farmers and herders.

Box 29:

Indifference to corridor cropping

Corridor cropping (also called intercropping) is a technique for intercropping annuals and trees on the same plot with no fallow period. The point is to ensure soil fertility and boost long-term yields. Deep-rooted trees which can pump up nutrients are preferred. This corridor system was proposed in the late 1970s by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria. After station-testing, it was introduced on-farm, where it displaced local management systems and practices. First of all, the products of the recommended fodder tree species (Leucaena leucocephala and Gliricidia septum) were not marketable, whereas farmers had earlier harvested the cocoa, kola or oil palm they were accustomed to grow. Secondly, the benefits of fodder plantations were programmed to kick in after three or four years, which conflicted with the prevailing land use rules under which plots were assigned to households for a period of one year. This meant the household did not reap the benefits of the previous year's investment. And the third thing was that the trees had to be pruned periodically or else crop yields would drop, and this activity had to be done at a time when the entire labour force was busy with farm work. The two fodder species used grew poorly in acid soils and had little resistance to drought. Corridor cropping was of potential interest only on gently sloping farmland with fertile sub-soils (Whittome, 1994). In Benin and Nigeria, most of the farmers simply abandoned intercropping (ibid.) as irrelevant to their needs. Cajanus cajan, a nitrogen-fixing legume which farmers already knew improved soil fertility, would have been much more suitable despite its short life cycle.

Box 30:

Trees growing in fields

On the southern slopes of the Himalayas in Nepal (from 500 to 2 500 m), agroforestry is practiced on up to one-half of the territory. Agroforestry practices consist of preserving, selecting and protecting trees around fields, and on strips of land perpendicular to the slope. They are clear evidence of the intensive integration of trees within farmer's fields. The steeper the slope, the more trees are left to grow, which improves the beneficial impact of generous rainfall on agricultural productivity, Obviously, under these circumstances, the tree plays many roles: maintaining soil fertility, as well as providing fuelwood, fodder, fencing materials and food. No less that 55 tree and shrub species have been listed, together with all their many uses (Fonzen and Oberholzer, 1984). This system, though fragile, remains viable despite heavy population pressure. It supports a large population with an annual growth rate of around 2.5 percent, who mainly produce for home consumption. The system supports around 90 percent of the people, who have no commercial ties with urban or outside areas.

At the same time, agronomical studies have often emphasized the environmentally detrimental impact of practices such as slash-and-burn agriculture, brush fires, and overgrazing. Quite frequently, "the analysis of phenomena of degradation (Box 31) exclusively concerns (....) the physical environment, failing to establish the link with production systems, and simply citing their negative impact on the environment" (Jaubert, 1997). And though cropping on slash-and-burn land can occasion sometimes spectacular clearing of formerly wooded land, several studies have demonstrated the viability of some of these systems.

Photo 28. Sheanut and néré agroforestry parkland in northern Côte d'Ivoire. (© Louppe/Cirad).

The international community, increasingly aware since the 1970s of the degradation of treed areas in the tropics, looked for ways to check the process. The United Nations Convention on Desertification was one result, but the industrialized countries, facing economic recession at that time, were reluctant donors (Jaubert, 1997). The emphasis then was more on urban development projects. The Green Revolution concept had earlier been seen as a means of achieving food self-sufficiency. This experiment, with its basic thrust of monospecific and monovarietal crop specialization implied substantial inputs and assumed an artificial mastery of the natural environment. It was backed by subsidy policies and farm price stabilization measures (Griffon, 1997). This intensification engendered some serious problems in areas where ecosystems were already fragile: vast areas were cleared, soil fertility was lost, erosion set in, groundwater reserves were depleted and rainwater became polluted.

The breakdown of traditional agrarian systems is due in large part to radical changes in farm economies, coupled with the new and mounting needs of urban agglomerations (Le Roy et al., 1996). The rates of big city population growth are highest in the developing countries, with mean annual figures rising as high as 4.1 percent in Africa (Gendreau, 1993). In African capitals such as Dakar (Ribot, 1990) or Ndjamena (BCR, 1995), the rate is pushing 7 percent per year. Agrarian systems in rural areas around urban centres, as in Africa and Asia, are increasingly and visibly dysfunctional, experiencing losses of biodiversity and soil fertility as a process of "savannization" sets in (Dufumier, 1996). Forest degradation due to drought and removals of wood to supply fuelwood in towns are placing a grave and widespread burden on natural resources in rural areas.

Box 31:

Ecosystem maintenance and slash-and-burn practices

On the mid-altitude plains and mountains of Laos, slash-and-burn cropping does not appear to jeopardize the ecological balance, as the fallow period is quite long. Yields do in fact tend to drop by the second year after burning. Eliminating the thriving weeds would require a major effort, so the land is again left fallow, and trees quickly spring up. These trees "then give way to true secondary forest where benzoin trees (Styrax benjoin), tapped for resin, and may grow» (Vidal, 1972, cited in Dufumier, 1996). This particular system of cropping on slash-and-burn seems to work very well, and is replicable at no cost to the ecosystem. It does require room, however -- or perhaps low population density is a better way of putting is -- some 23 inhabitants/km2 in this instance. Peasants prefer to cultivate land where secondary forest has already sprung up and where the soils have replenished themselves, rather than clearing primary forest, an arduous, time-consuming and demanding task. «This is why certain authors wrongly assume a connection between slash-and-burn and the disappearance of the forest» (Dufumier, 1996).

Town and country: clash or fusion of ecological imperatives?

The contemporary agricultural and forestry situations of industrialized northern countries and southern developing countries are paradoxical. After the introduction of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the 1960s, the countries of Europe now have land use problems in once-farmed areas now abandoned due to agricultural set-aside policies. These same countries are major per capita consumers and direct importers of wood. The southern countries, on the other hand, still have very low levels of wood consumption, export their timber output, and possess vast and highly coveted tracts of forest. Sustainable use of tree resources is necessary in both cases. Europe, especially southern Europe, is no more immune to ecosystem degradation than southern countries are. The areas of fallow and natural build-up resulting from the disuse of traditional farming practices in southern Europe are also where the most spectacular forest fires are breaking out (Morin, 1991).

There is a tight connection between the changing economic value of Trees outside forests and mounting urban demand for wood for construction, woodcrafts, and (especially) fuelwood in the developing countries. European utilization of wood for fuel (especially in France) covers no more than four percent of the total energy expenditure. In the southern countries of the world, however, where few households can afford to cook their food with gas or other fuels, wood remains the only readily available fuel. Energy requirements have also evolved over time, with the ratio of fuelwood to charcoal consumption now inverted in urban and rural areas (Madon, 1987, cited in Ribot, 1990).

Photo 29. Terrace cropping in the Byumba region, Rwanda, with banana and scattered trees in concessions. (© Odoul/FAO)

Trees and tree formations thus remain a high-stake item in the relationship between town and country. And it is precisely in the rural areas of the developing countries, where living standards are so closely bound up with natural resource abundance, that the notion of farmers as responsible for deforestation still lingers on. This view of things may arise out of confusion between the peasants who gather deadwood for the home and the charcoal-makers who harvest live trees for primarily economic reason (Bergeret, 1995). The perception that peasant populations alone are responsible for deforestation is simply not correct. Peasant farmers are the first to feel despoiled by charcoal-makers' destruction of the forest. They have very little tolerance for these outsiders who exploit an environment to which they have no ties, and who simply show up, cut down the trees, and then disappears. Farmers are perfectly aware that the charcoal sector is highly lucrative, but with few exceptions they are powerless to act in this situation. This is the context of the now dramatically endangered tree stands.

The areas affected involve herders and farmers alike. The trees most useful for fuelwood and those supplying useful fruit and leaves for year-round consumption are also the most endangered species. This situation spawns further environmental disequilibria and disturbance. Game resources, mushrooms, honey and root vegetables such as wild yam (Discorea praehensilis) are also becoming rare and hard to find (Bergeret and Ribot, 1990).

The desertified zones that ring many towns bear eloquent witness to this situation. In 1950 the area supplying wood for the city of Dakar extended out 70-200 km, but by 1987 that radius had expanded to 300-450 km (Ribot, 1990). Such areas are also exploited beyond their capacity to regenerate (Bertrand, 1987); Bellefontaine et al., 1997). Throughout all of West Africa a laissez-faire race for trees is on, with no holds barred (Bertrand, 1991). There are countries, however, where the local political power structures give rural communities a certain managerial autonomy, as in Rwanda, where voluntary reforestation projects to regenerate tree formations have been implemented to provide fuel for urban areas. In Madagascar, the fuel needs of the capital are met through private Eucalyptus plantations (ibid.). Supplying the towns with fuelwood still remains, however, mostly either uncontrolled and/or tied to free access to forest resources, with standing trees having little or no value.

The production of fuelwood and charcoal for urban areas is clearly an important factor in the exploitation of wood resources, but it is not the only one. The process of urbanization drives a whole set of practices which impact on natural resources. In the absence of social and political controls, stakeholder conflicts are bound to intensify. Droughts and the unauthorized exploitation of tree resources have forced populations to migrate, especially into the towns, aggravating the impoverishment of urban and rural areas alike.

The situation cries out for better management of tree and forest resources in the proximity of big cities. This would ensure domestic fuelwood supplies, meet the myriad demands of urban populations, and generate income-earning activities for rural communities. Market organization and efficient institutional frameworks are also needed.

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