The National Commission on Agriculture has given serious thought to the problem of deforestation and recommended introduction of “Social Forestry” to create multipurpose wood lots in rural India.
Social forestry may be defined as additional aid to wildlife conservation.
Social forestry is a new revolutionary concept, a multipurpose programme and a mission which aims at ensuring ecological, economic and social security to the people particularly to the rural masses especially by involving the beneficiary’s right from the planting stage to the harvesting stage.
It aims at a mixed production of fire wood, timbers, fibers, fruits, fodder and other raw materials for self-consumption and cottage industry. These objectives are achieved through public participation and cooperation. In view of increasing population and deforestation, social forestry will not only serve to meet the ever increasing demand of fire wood, fodder, timber and a variety of tree-based produce for rural cottage industries but also to maintain the ecological balance.
To meet the basic needs of villagers Social Forestry Programme was initiated in 1979 with the help of World Bank. Now the social forestry is adopted in almost all the states. Under social forestry programme different species of fast growing trees are planted which will provide fuel, fodder, raw materials for cottage industry.
Under social forestry programme plantation is done in the following types of land:
1. Government land which includes roadsides, side land along railway lines and degraded forest land.
2. Semi-government and institutional lands which include wasteland under Panchayat, school and college land and land around other buildings in cooperative sector.
3. Private land.
Forest department manages for cultivation in the wasteland of village according to requirement of villagers. Care and protection of plants is done by village committee. There is agreement between village committee and forest department through which 20 per cent profit is given to village Panchayat and the rest goes to forest department. Seedlings or nursery plants are supplied free of cost to villagers and the cost of plantation is met by the village Panchayat.
The social forestry which is done on private land is called agriculture-forestry or agroforestry. Agroforestry is one of the important components of social forestry. In this forestry, nursery of economically important plants is prepared at Block and Panchayat levels and supplied at nominal costs to villages for agricultural and timber purpose. Such plantation is done around agricultural fields, wasteland of houses and schools.
The preparation of planned scheme to ensure rapid economic growth of large number of poor people without any capital in rural areas needs a different approach. The trees like mango (Mangifera indica), Guava, Mahua (Madhuca longifolia, M. indica), Neem (Azadirachta indica), Kanji (Pongamia pinnatd), Imli (Tamarindus indica), Saijana (Moringa oleifera), Lisora (Cordid) spp, Ber (Ziziphus), Bel (Aegle marmelos), Babul (Acacia nilotica), August (Sesbania grandiflord). Bamboos etc. will provide necessary wood, timber, fruits, fodder and raw materials for a variety of cottage industries. Some other important plants suitable for social forestry are listed in Table 16.6.
Future Planning of Social Forestry:
Today a new consciousness is developing in our country about the importance of forests and social forestry. Social forestry is a new catch word which aims at meeting the fuel, fodder, fruit and timber needs of the people. The programme aims at covering a total of Rs 2.15 million hectares (ha) of land of which 1.52 million ha land will be covered under social forestry programme and the rest under production forestry. The afforestation in general and social forestry programme in particular have increased substantially in recent years.
Several state governments, particularly Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Haryana and West Bengal have already started new social forestry projects with the financial support of International agencies like World Bank, Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA), Canadian International Development Authority (CIDA) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
The Government of India has already sponsored programmes like a “tree for every child”, eco-development camps involving college students in tree planting and free distribution of seedlings to farmers. State sponsored Agroforestry schemes in Gujarat and Karnataka have resulted in plantation of trees of commercial values.
The World Bank has funded extension of the existing social forestry programme to bring under tree cover some 110,000 ha private land holdings currently being used for growing crops. Despite these developments, many environmentalists are critical of government’s social forestry schemes.
They often question the choice of tree species, monoculture plantations and the actual beneficiaries of these schemes. Critics of these schemes like Sundarlal Bahuguna from the Garhwal district of Uttaranchal have charged that paper Mill owners and synthetic fibres manufacturers are using social forestry programme to meet their selfish end rather than helping the poor man facing energy famine.
In the hills of Uttaranchal recent afforestation pattern has changed and in place of naturally growing broad leafed deciduous tree species such as oak, Ash, Pangar etc., timber trees like Pines, Deodar and other conifers are being planted now which have industrial and commercial values. While the old stands of broad leafed trees produce a rich humus and hold the rain water well, the new trees don’t play an adequate ecological role. The survival rate of new tree species is also poor because local people don’t care for commercial value of those trees as they do not gain anything from them.
There is enough scope for social forestry in the hills to cover lands with timber and other useful trees in order to check rapid run off rain water and to avoid sudden floods in the plains. Soil conservation measures should be adopted to check washing off of the top fertile soils and to increase moisture retaining capacity of soil which promote the growth of trees and crops. These two programmes, social forestry and soil conservation if launched together will prove to be beneficial for the poor masses and ensure the better living standards.