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Photo 46. Trees outside forests here we have a Faidherbia albida, which may grow wild but are mostly cultivated, are an often overlooked and underrated household resource (© Depommier/Cirad).

An underrated resource

Historically, policy-makers and donors have concentrated almost exclusively on forests and wood production in policy terms, documenting the goods and services offered by trees and forests. More recently, non-wood forest products, like the social and environmental services of trees, have attracted greater interest. What is now needed, particularly in light of these trends, is greater consideration for trees outside forests. Developing and developed countries alike now acknowledge the decisive cultural, environmental and productive role of these resources. The category of Trees outside forests covers a wealth of tree systems supplying a vast and varied range of products and services. In the countryside, trees give wood and fruit, helping to maintain soil fertility, while in cities they beautify urban landscapes, softening and buffering the urban microclimate.

The area under Trees outside forests, output, informal marketing channels, home consumption, volumes, and the financial flows from trade in these products are largely missing from the forest and agricultural statistics.

Discussion and definition

This resource lies at the interface of a number of sectors, domains and disciplines. The terms "Trees outside forests" and "woody species outside forests", while not wholly satisfactory, do constitute sufficiently widely known approximations for getting on with learning about, describing, managing, conserving and developing this resource. The definition undeniably contains some ambiguities, but it is bound to be further refined and enriched with time. And the concept of Trees outside forests will evolve as and when the resource receives more attention in the context of integrated land management.

Multi-disciplinary, national and international debate, especially on the definition, must be pursued and intensified so that all stakeholders will eventually speak the same language and bridges can be built between highly diverse domains. Efforts to define and/or clarify, necessary here, are also under consideration for the concept of the forest (especially activities, developments and changes affecting the forest as well as forest reconstitution and expansion).


The international conventions make no specific mention of Trees outside forests. However, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, 1992) did acknowledge the role of populations in natural resource management, and, implicitly, peasant farmer management of trees. Data on some tree systems outside forests, though diffuse and obtained from highly diverse measuring methods, are already available. But they are still too heterogeneous to permit a global analysis.

The purpose of this book, a preliminary survey of the current state of knowledge, is to inform decision-makers and donors of the importance of Trees outside forests and of initiating preferential policies for this resource. Activities to implement existing environmental conventions will undoubtedly include a closer focus on Trees outside forests.

Food security

Trees outside forests provide a wealth of goods and services. Wood and non-wood products provide a guaranteed income for rural dwellers. The fruits and wood of these tree systems are an integral part of household home consumption. Some items, such as gum Arabic, are also traded locally and in the international marketplace.

Measures concerning food security and the general welfare can no longer afford to disregard this important resource.

A key resource for planning and the environment

Trees, whether inside or outside forests, have an impact on soil fertility and climate. Trees growing outside forests are particularly representative of biodiversity, both in their own right and in terms of the ecosystems they create. Moreover, forest tree dynamics are very closely linked to those of non-forest tree systems.

Planners should now treat all tree and shrub resources as key environmental resources, including them in management master plans as part of integrated land use planning.


Trees outside forests systems are locally managed, and as such are implicit in subsistence strategies and the well-being of local populations.

It is important for extension and awareness-building efforts to reach out to local organizations and community leaders, so as to promote general awareness of this resource and ensure that stakeholders are instrumental in managing it.


Trees outside forests may come under farm or forestry legislation, or a combination of the two, or neither. Forestry institutions usually extend their prerogatives, even where they may lack the means to do so, to the management of all forest resources, including low and dense formations, or landscapes merely dotted with trees. Indeed, legal status and forest cover may not even coincide. There is still much uncertainty concerning legal rights to trees outside forests. The subject certainly deserves special attention and more discussion. Some recently promulgated legislation such as the new forest laws of Senegal and Gambia have been quite innovative in transferring rights to users and in distinguishing between land ownership and tree usage rights.

Despite the above, it is the rare country today which gives formal, legal preference to Trees outside forests, including their planting and management.

Institutional and regulatory backing

In the face of ecosystem degradation and declining living standards, various proposals have been set forth in this chapter, such as extensive dialogue and the long-term commitment of all economic actors. Differential taxation or guaranteed local management also suggested. One essential need would be a careful search of all recent local experiences that were freely accepted by the people involved, and then give official voice to the most relevant solutions.

The point would be to promote natural resource management in a more clearly defined institutional and regulatory context, with light reforms, tailored to fit the local context. Institutional matters are core issues in the maintenance or promotion of Trees outside forests. Flexible solutions are required.

Secure land tenure

Secure land tenure is a necessary pre-condition for tree-planting on non-forest land. Resource access becomes uncertain, however, when different kinds of entitlement, such as modern legislation, customary law, land rights, tree rights, and private and public law, are juxtaposed. If rural people are to be encouraged to protect, maintain and plant trees on farmlands and pasture, they will require acknowledgement of their user rights and a regulatory framework for long-term exercise of these rights.

Long-term legal or contractual arrangements and negotiated settlements between users and administrative authorities are crucial for the resolution of resource appropriation conflicts.

Recognition of people's cultural representations

Women nearly always shoulder a range of tasks and responsibilities, so it would be helpful if they were allowed more resource access. This implies, inevitably, increased social awareness and internal social change. The environment and the farming practices that transform the environment are intrinsic components of collective representation systems. These systems deserve more careful study.

In tackling the promotion of trees outside forests and ensuring the sustainability of their ecosystems, it makes sense to restore people to their rightful place at the heart of these issues. To ensure full community participation, discussion groups, negotiations and training need to involve both men and women.

Recognition of local lore and local skills

A tree growing outside the forest is quite frequently a domesticated resource for which men or women farmers act as guardians and managers, as good parents would. The received wisdom that a farmer is someone destructive of the forest deserves another look, for when farmers can afford to do so, economically speaking, they put their environment first. Agro pastoralists throughout the world have demonstrated their ability to reconstitute forest cover (assuming a certain threshold of deforestation is not breached). Hedgerows, fruit-tree meadows and riparian tree-rows, once pushed to the brink of extinction by agricultural intensification in the industrialized countries, are now making a comeback under conservation and rehabilitation programmes. The durability of these tree systems owes much to controlled resource use.

Integrated land management should foster the preservation of this body of farm practices, and the application of local lore. Integrated "tree-farm" techniques are not receiving enough attention from extension workers. Unhappily, local and traditional skills and lore are all too often completely sidelined.

Research, training and extension programmes

Persistent gaps, especially in our knowledge of the link between "Trees outside forests and society", have an effect upon the dynamics of these tree systems. Action-research by multi-disciplinary teams should be encouraged.

Continuous, long-term backing is needed to formulate research programmes in accordance with national needs, train development workers and prepare extension programmes. Discussion platforms are needed to put institutions in touch with the actors concerned.

Assessing trees outside forests, why and for whom?

There is no global assessment of trees outside forests and the goods they produce. What information we do have comes from geographically circumscribed sectoral studies which draw upon different methodologies, frequently quite unlike those used in forest resource assessments. It is very hard to evaluate the quality of their statistical data. We may well ask, what would be the point of a national inventory of Trees outside forests?

Countries cannot rely solely on inventories of trees present in forests. For planning purposes, they need to know the status and dynamic of all their tree resources, inside and outside the forest.

The other question, for which an inventory of Trees outside forests would be intended, implies two major groups of stakeholders. On the one hand, decision-makers and managers, and on the other, rural and urban populations.

Assessment calls into play the question of the classification of Trees outside forests. An unambiguous classification is essential at the country level to legitimate the resource in the eyes of all sectors concerned - agriculture, forestry, and the urban sector. Unless a clear distinction is made between "land cover" and "land use", overlapping or omissions among the different tree systems within the category will be inevitable.

What is the best way to assess Trees outside forests?

We can learn more about Trees outside forests, and monitor the relevant trends and dynamics, by revising and adapting tools and methods suitable for assessing the resource. The data from aerial photography are an apt means of characterizing the geographical distribution of these tree systems, provided the appropriate scale is chosen. Recourse to satellite imagery data for mapping this often highly diffuse resource is a little more complicated. But satellite data do make it easy to stratify a region in terms of ecological and land cover criteria, establishing a good working document for later and more specific work. An especially fundamental need is familiarity with local usage and practice. Suitable data collection procedures must be developed.

Simple, standardized, solutions, valid even for large-area coverage, are hard to imagine. The composition, structure and distribution of trees outside forests are by their very nature both variable and diverse. A minimal set of measurement criteria and factors, original sampling surveys tailored to these specific landscapes and a very judicious distribution of the results will be needed.

General conclusion

National and world tree resource assessments are incomplete because they are mostly confined to areas classified as forest. Sustainable resource management and truly integrated land use planning cry out for consideration of Trees outside forests.

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