Social Forestry for Sustainable Development
Increasing population has been causing a serious problem of unemployment and poverty
throughout the world. Agriculture is the major source of livelihood in rural areas. However,
agricultural production is heavily dependent on rainfall, microclimate, surrounding forests,
eco-system and ability of the farmers to make timely investments on critical inputs.
Unfortunately, all these natural resources such as land and forests have been over-exploited,
while the other resources like water and livestock have been neglected and misused in the
As a result of denudation of our forest resources, there has been an acceleration in soil
erosion and floods. This has affected the ground water table and storage capacity of our
reservoirs. As an effect of change in climate, farmers all over the country have been
experiencing erratic and scanty rainfall more frequently than before. This has been
suppressing agricultural production directly. Furthermore, small land holdings, over-
exploitation of land resources and inadequate capital have turned rainfed agriculture into a
losing proposition. Gradually, most of these lands located in semi-arid tropics are turning
Presently, over 50% of the land resources are either underutilised or wasted due to low
productivity and uncertainty of recovering the investments. Such lands are suitable for
introducing treebased farming, as the trees are hardy and capable of surviving the vagaries of
nature. Among the tree species, farmers have a wider choice for selection, but profitability
should be the most important factor for cultivation. Over the last three decades, many
schemes to promote tree planting were launched by the Government and private agencies.
Among them, cultivation of fruits and timber species on private lands was most successful.
This was because fruits and timber could be sold easily in the local market at a
remunerative price and hence the profitability of such schemes was very high.
Tree Species for Income Generation
According to a recent study, a majority of the farmers in Maharashtra State have opted
for growing fruit trees on their wastelands. This was followed by timber and pole species.
Among 35 most popular tree species of the state, 18 species were grown for food, 8 for
timber, 3 for fuelwood, 2 each for oil and ornamental purpose and 1 each for fodder and
fibre. The most preferred among them were, eucalyptus (Eucalyptus hybrid), mango
(Mangifera indica), teak (Tectona grandis), Custard apple (Annona squamosa) and
jujubee (Zizyphus mauritiana). Well established fruits grown on commercial scale were not a
part of the study.
However, this preference is not only based on the profitability, but also on market demand
for the produce and field publicity. Eucalyptus is the most popular species, because of
reasons other than high returns. First of all, eucalyptus has good demand as pole in local
markets. Any wood that is not sold as pole is purchased by paper and pulp mills at the
site. In addition to assured demand and an attractive price, eucalyptus is a fast growing,
non-browsing, coppicing species with a short harvesting cycle of 4-5 years and well adapted
to adverse agro-climatic conditions. Being one of the very few species promoted by the
wood based industries, it has received wider publicity. Other tree species which were
cultivated in India on a commercial scale under farm forestry by farmers were Casuarina
equisetifolia in coastal areas and Poplar (Populus deltoides), which is confined to small
regions in Northern India, beyond latitude 28o N. It was also observed that the popularity of
the species varied from region to region, depending on the demand for the produce,
marketing infrastructure, agro-climatic conditions and availability of inputs. In Nashik
district of Maharashtra, eucalyptus was grown by a large number of farmers, because of the
infrastructure established by the Eucalyptus Growers' Cooperative for the supply of
technical know-how, inputs and marketing of produce. However, the small holders had
shown preference for fruit species, while the medium and large holders preferred timber
species. In spite of its popularity among the farmers, it was surprising to observe that
eucalyptus was not the most profitable species promoted under social forestry in India.
The benefit cost analysis of 14 important fruit and timber species based on the data
collected from the farmers is presented in Table 1. These species include Eucalyptus,
Leucaena leucocephala, Melia azedarach, Thespesia populnea, Dendrocalamus strictus,
Sesbania sesban, Annona squamosa, Zizyphus mauritiana, Tamarindus indica, Anacardium
occidentale, Mangifera indica, Moringa oleifera, Azadirachta indica and Tectona grandis.
It can be observed that pole timber such as Melia, leucaena, bamboo and portia start
generating income from the third year. Sesbania sesban starts generating income during
the first year itself and completes its economic life in 2-3 years, while eucalyptus needs 4-5
years for the first harvest. Sesbania sesban coppices well in the areas where moisture
supply is adequate, but it is advantageous to sow the seeds again after the first harvest,
because of high vigour of the seedlings. Melia, Subabul and Eucalyptus coppice well and
thus the plantations can be maintained to harvest 3-4 crops. Portia trees are pollarded at an
interval of three years and maintained for 20-25 years. Harvesting of bamboo starts in the
third year and continues every year for about 20-25 years.
TABLE 1 : ANALYSIS OF INCOME (IN INDIAN RUPEES) FROM DIFFERENT SPECIES
Common Duratio No.trees/ Net/Tree/ Net/ha/
Name of the Species Name n Ha Year year
Sesbania sesban Sesbania 2 5000 4.80 24000
Melia azedarach Chinaberry 9. 974 24350 2500
Leucaena leucocephala Subabul 9 2500 13.88 34575
Eucalyptus Hybrid Eucalyptus 9 2500 9.24 23100
Dendrocalamus strictus Bamboo 10 625 23.33 14581
Thespesia populnea Portia / (Bhendi) 10 625 83.93 52456
Tectona grandis Teak 20 625 80.00 50000
Azadirachta indica Neem 75 200 50.00 10000 *
Moringa oleifera Drumstick 10 400 124.00 49600 *
Annona squamosa Custard apple 10 400 29.69 11876 *
Zizyphus mauritiana Jujubee 10 400 48.52 19568 *
Mangifera indica Mango 50 100 100.00 10000 *
Anacardium occidentale Cashew 50 156 125.00 19500 *
Tamarindus indica Tamarind 50 45 463.00 20835 *
* Income from wood has not been taken into account.
** Prices of 1989-90 have been taken for calculation.
Neem is an oil seed tree with pesticidal properties, which starts fruiting from the fourth year.
However, good bearing starts after 7-8 years and continues for 75-100 years. A neem tree
can yield 50-100 kg seeds every year. Drumstick starts fruiting from the second year and
continues to provide income for 10-15 years. Fruit trees like Jujubee, custard apple, mango
and cashew start fruiting from the third year while tamarind starts producing fruits after 7-8
years. All these species except neem, mango, cashew and tamarind, can be planted on field
bunds without affecting arable crops, if the farmers do not have adequate land for
establishing large plantations.
Development of Orchards - Superior System
Establishment of fruit orchards is the most beneficial system, if the farmers have water
resources to nurture the plants in the initial years. Land having a soil depth of 1-2 m, even
with uneven topography can be used for establishing orchards with fruit species such as
mango, cashew, tamarind, ber, custard apple, Indian gooseberry (Amla), etc, which can bear
fruits without regular irrigation. These species can be easily grown in regions where the
annual rainfall is more than 800 mm.
For ensuring success of this programme, the primary step should be to develop the land into
small levelled plots. If the land is sloppy, then it should be converted into contour terraces of
5-10 m width. This helps in preventing soil erosion and retaining rain water in the field itself.
It is also advisable to dig pits 10 x 10m apart. The surplus rain water can be stored in a farm
pond dug at a lower elevation of the field, and used for providing protective irrigation to fruit
trees. Supplementary water sources should be tapped, either through open or borewells to
irrigate the plants during summer, as the farm pond will not have water throughout the year.
The grafted fruit plants should be planted either in the centre or about 1m away from the field
bund (in case of terraced plots). Then, the field bunds can be used to plant short duration tree
species such as papaya, drumstick, pigeon pea, castor, mulberry, etc for supplementary cash
income. Other tree species such as leucaena, gliricidia (for fodder and green manure), acacia,
casuarina (for fuel), agave and a wide range of medicinal herbs can also be established on the
bunds and borders. The interspace can be used to grow locally grown food crops, to ensure
food supply for the families. The short term crops help the families to earn some
supplementary income, till the fruit trees start bearing. As the farmers visit their fields
regularly, it has been observed that the crop yields increase by 50-200%, in spite of 20%
space being reduced due to the establishment of fruit plants.
Generally, the fruit trees start bearing fruits in 4-5 years, when the farmers can easily earn
about Rs 20,000-25,000 on 0.4 ha land and lead a comfortable life. This is an ideal system as
it ensures the supply of food, fodder, fuel, timber, medicinal herbs and cash income. With
establishment of orchards, they can also maintain some livestock and further increase their
income. Above all, these orchards establish a permanent green cover on the earth, which is
necessary to protect our environment.