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Agro-forestry, the rural poor, and institutional structures

Kamla Chowdhry


The Freiburg Workshop on Problems of Agro-Forestry was intended to focus attention on the social. economic, institutional and legal aspects of agro-forestry programmed. Foresters and other professionals involved in studying and implementing various kinds of agroforestry projects were invited to write papers sharing their experiences, in order to highlight the social, institutional and legal factors that need to be understood for successful implementation of agro-forestry programmes.

Review and Comments on Papers

Nine papers from different countries were sent to me for review. In reading the papers I was struck by the "two culture" phenomena. The foresters and other related professionals mainly discussed the technical aspects of agro-forestry problems - aspects relating to land, soil conditions, water harvesting, production methods, ecological degradation, watershed planning and integrated area plans. The aspects of better understanding of people, and of the strategies to be used to obtain participation and collaboration of the so-called beneficiaries tended to be overlooked. The importance of people-oriented approaches was realized by almost all, but the problem was dealt with by normative statements such as "farmer participation is one of the most crucial problems of developing agroforestry", "unless people are convinced of the advantages, the proposed method would not be possible", or "cultural environment must be taken into account." These "ought" statements did not help the reader to find ways and means to find out how, under what conditions, with what kind of people, and under what social and cultural factors participation would be feasible.

Indications from several papers were that "top-down" approaches were being used, that governments and donor agencies were assisting in transforming societies, and that implementing officials were the principal agents of change. In the paper by the sociologist, the "bottom-up" approach to the problem and modes of attacking it was emphasized. She clearly brought out the importance of first understanding the needs and the experience-based knowledge of local people before new projects are formulated for their benefit. Examples were given where good projects backfired because unrealistic assumptions were made of the needs of local people.

In most papers it was assumed that experts and technocrats have a body of specialized knowledge which defines their comprehension of situations, problems and solutions. What was not brought out was that experts and their knowledge often have built-in biases and assumptions, which need to be re-examined in relation to the new situation and people concerned. Who defines the problem (the professional expert or the so-called beneficiaries), is significant because the definition of the problem in itself confers control over the situation. The professional reformer defines the problem in ways that maximize his own power and control over the situation. Similarly the beneficiaries are likely to define the problem in ways meaningful to them and which give them the control of resources.

Out of nine papers reviewed only one paper was by a woman. It was interesting that only in this paper was the problem of agro-forestry discussed from the perspective of women. In agro-forestry projects, especially those having components dealing with fuel, fodder, animal management, etc., women are the main workers. And yet it was rare to find that projects were formulated taking into account the needs and activities of women. With "male" and so-called "developmental" perspectives, projects often end up by making drudgery and the quality of life worse for women.

A recent example is from a remote Himalayan village, Dungra-Paitaoli, where women defied their menfolk in deciding on the choice of land use and protection of trees. The men wanted to sell a nearby forest to the Uttar Pradesh government so that it could be converted into a potato farm. But the women defeated this move. They already spent several hours collecting firewood and would have to spend more time walking, at least another five kilometres every day, to fetch fuel and fodder. The men wanted a potato farm for its cash income which they could convert into drink, but also for other "benefits of progress" a motorable road, a bus connection, perhaps a school which they hoped the potato farm would bring.

Influential villagers including the village head did not like the women's protest. They turned the question of land use into a men versus women issue and warned the villagers against accepting the leadership of women. They spread rumours that the village had been blacklisted because of the women's movement, that their youth would not be recruited to the army nor would the village be supplied with essential items like salt and kerosene. These rumours frightened the women but they were not prepared to withdraw their decision.

The Dungari-Paitaoli women have raised pertinent issues. as did the women in Upper Volta described in Dr. Hoskins' paper (Hoskins 1982). In effect they are saying that since the impact of deforestation falls largely on them, they should have the primary right to manage their forests. They are also challenging the right of men to be the sole decisionmakers when it is the women who spend long tiring hours everyday collecting firewood.

In discussing participation and the impact of projects on village communities, it is important to consider men and women separately. For instance in the Himalayan district of Chamoli, the Chipko leader, Chandi Prasad Bhatt has been organizing ecodevelopment camps to involve the villagers in tree plantation programmed. When the village assembly was first asked to make its choice of trees to be planted, the men immediately answered: "Fruit trees". Fortunately, the women, who had tasted success in the Chipko movement. argued vociferously that these trees would not benefit them at all. They said, "the men will take the fruits and sell them by the roadside. The cash will go to buy liquor and tobacco. No, we want fuel and fodder trees." Finally, both types of trees were planted, the fruit trees because otherwise the men would have lost interest in the ecodevelopment camps. Similar differences were found between men and women in other camps. It was also interesting to note that when the forest department was approached for seedlings of fuel and fodder tree species, it had either fruit trees (men's trees) or trees which yielded good commercial timber. It had few women's trees.

There is enough evidence pouring in from the developing world, whether in Asia. Africa, or Latin America, that unless women are involved in the mainstream of social and economic activities development will not take place. Policymakers, government officials, and analysts are usually male and seldom take into account women's specific interests and needs in the processes of economic growth and improving quality of life.

Participation of women and other disadvantaged groups in policy-making and administration becomes meaningful to the extent that participation challenges social assumptions and forces officials to confront the falsity of their assumptions, exposes gaps in their perceptions and, it is hoped, helps them to take corrective action.

In most papers the implementing agency for new agroforestry projects was the government, mostly in the form of a forest department or a forest development agency. How do forest dwellers perceive the forest officials and the forest bureaucracy? Do the village people see the forest policy as helpful and the forest officials as agents of change in development? In general, the relationship has not been a happy one. The colonial heritage is continued by the black and the brown sahibs of the bureaucracy. In the Chipko movement, in the Himalayas, the local people have fought against forest policies and against forest officials and contractors to save their forests and villages. In 1972 the Forest Department gave a contract for ash timber to Simon Company, a manufacturer of sports goods, and denied the same wood to the local people who used it for making agricultural implements. The local people refused to let the contractors cut the trees by Chipko, i.e. clinging on to the trees. The movement spread from village to village. The women were the most active, for they knew what forests meant to them. Finally the government apppointed a committee to assess its policy of cutting trees in the valley, and its potential dangers of causing landslides, floods and erosion of river banks and hill slopes. The committee's findings were the same as the wisdom of the people, and it recommended a moratorium on tree cutting. It was only a strong people's movement that could challenge government policy; otherwise the poor villagers are too weak and passive to confront the might of the government. Having achieved some success the Chipko movement has now turned towards agroforestry and conservation practices to save their villages.

It is important where "top-down" approaches have been used that there are institutional mechanisms for "bottomup" questioning, otherwise policies and programmes are formulated which are detrimental to the poor. Also, programmes specifically meant for the poor often end up by benefiting the already well off, either because the poor do not know how to take advantage of the various policies and programmes, or because the rich know how to manipulate the system to their advantage, or a combination of both. An analysis of the many "poverty programmes" introduced by the government has shown that the benefits have not reached the poor.

Some papers have pointed out the need to reorient the bureaucracy. This is important if people-oriented approaches are to be used. On the other hand, it is worth asking the question whether the problem lies in the existing attitudes and behaviour of bureaucrats, or in the bureaucratic structure and its familiar pathologies - such as inappropriate procedures for developmental activities, literal emphasis on rules, generalist training, frequent transfers and postings, authoritarian and regulatory methods, intrabureaucratic conflicts and lack of coordination, etc. Reform measures when undertaken are sporadic, slow, and so far without any major impact on the system.

The financial aspects of agro-forestry projects were mentioned in several papers. Detailed cost-benefit analysis figures, however. were not worked out. In Gujarat, progressive farmers have found that with an investment of 20,000 rupees per hectare for eucalyptus plantations they can obtain a return, after expenses, of 50,000 rupees per hectare over a five-year period, thus earning 6,000 rupees per year profit (Gupta 1979). Calculations indicate that the farmer is earning an internal rate of return of 13 per cent per annum. If the small and marginal farmer were to go in for such investment where would he turn for credit? What role can the banks play in providing easy access of credit to the small farmer? What other institutional mechanisms can be designed not only for access to credit but also to provide seeds, technical information and other inputs? The whole question of financial and other infrastructural support. including marketing and legal services for the small and poor farmer, needs to be considered in an integrated fashion if agro-forestry and afforestation of wastelands and degraded lands is to be tackled seriously.

In India the average price of fuelwood in industrial centres has increased 611 per cent over the last two decades. However, the benefits from this price rise have largely gone to the intermediaries and not to the poor farmers.

It is evident from the various papers that the scientific and technical knowledge required for agro-forestry programmes exists. There are international as well as national research establishments which work on tree species, soil conditions, grasses, water harvesting, production methods, etc. Progressive farmers have utilized this knowledge and arrived at a mix of practices which yields optimum results and considerable financial benefits. However, the problems of working with the small farmer. of working on village and community lands, and of evolving institutional structures that deliver technical and managerial services that do in fact reach the poor, are the key problems that need to be addressed. These are. in other words. problems of social organization and management and of developing institutional structures relevant and responsive to the rural poor.

The Rural Poor

In order to design institutional structures to provide services - technical, social and managerial - to reach the poor, and to give them the power needed for effective social and agro-forestry programmes, it is essential to understand the nature of the poor and their relationship to bureaucracy and other resource-allocating structures. I shall present two cases which I hope will convey more realistically the problems of the poor in dealing with existing social and bureaucratic structures.

Case 1: Tribal Families of Balaheda

Balaheda has 260 families in the village (Bordia, 1979). Two-thirds of the land is irrigated. About 10 per cent of the families own 50 per cent of the irrigated land, and 40 per cent have small irrigated land holdings of up to two hectares. The remaining 50 per cent are the rural poor consisting of small agriculturists with unirrigated land, and tribal people whose source of income used to be collection of lac but whose income from this has disappeared with the depletion of forests. The tribal families have no land, there is 100 per cent illiteracy; and their skill in lac collection is no longer useful to feed their families. As would be expected, they are deeply in debt to the local money-lender.

At the suggestion of a local voluntary agency sixteen tribal families decided to seek a loan for the purchase of a buffalo each. They found that the local village credit cooperative society would not give them credit since they had no assets. With the assistance of the voluntary agency, a young bank agent who was a friend of the head of the voluntary agency agreed to provide the credit required for the purchase of the buffaloes. The sixteen tribal families then found that the common village grazing ground of 200 hectares was unavailable to them. It seemed that the custom was that grazing facilities were available only to those who had three head of cattle or more. Discussion and pleas with the local panchayat (village council) were fruitless. Approaching the local bureaucracy was found to be equally sterile. Unable to deal with the local power structure and the local bureaucracy the sixteen tribal families decided to sell their buffaloes. But even this step they could not take, for in order to repay the loan they would have had to sell whatever meagre possessions they had. At this stage the voluntary agency took up the matter, consulted the revenue law governing grazing lands, and obtained an injunction from the civil revenue courts which stated that the common grazing land could also be used by those possessing only one head of cattle.

The next battle was with the bureaucracy of the railways. Milk had to be transported every day by four tribal families to block headquarters where it was sold to a government dairy collection centre. The local railway authorities, who were supposed to provide the prescribed railway concession for transportation, would not do so because the tribal families did not know how to fill in the right forms and what procedures to follow to get their application considered. The tribal families decided to go in a delegation to meet the divisional railway superintendent at Kota, an expensive and time-consuming journey they could ill afford. The meeting lasted exactly four minutes with zero results. The voluntary agency, again through personal contacts, and through newspaper publicity, finally secured them the desired railway concession.

The case illustrates the gap between the tribal families and the development agencies, the importance of "social structures," "power" and "class interests." The tribal people's access to institutional resources whether for credit, inputs, media or legal services was well nigh impossible without a sympathetic intermediary.

Development activities involving the poor - whether in dairying, agriculture, agro-forestry, health or education threaten to upset the delicate social and political balance existing in a traditional community. New opportunities for the poor are difficult to open and even more difficult to develop successfully without some strong outside help and intervention.

Case 2: A Marginal Farmer

Professor Ravi Matthai of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, tells about the case of a marginal farmer who had wanted a small loan from the Small Farmers' Development Agency. In order to apply for the loan the farmer needed a record of his land holding size. The marginal farmer went to the talati, a junior government functionary in charge of land records in the village. The talati wanted a bribe of 50 rupees for providing this piece of paper. The marginal farmer was advised that there was strength in numbers. He collected a group of twenty other marginal farmers to march to the talati's office to protest against his behaviour. Just before they reached the office their courage failed. When people are living a marginal existence it is difficult for them to take a step which would earn them the displeasure of the talati, a petty officer who wields enormous power in the village since he is the keeper and the manipulator of land records. The rural poor with impoverished backgrounds are ill-prepared to deal with the talati of this world unless they are supported by strong intermediary agencies who can fight on their behalf.

Exploitation has become a way of life for both the exploiter and the exploited, passed on from one generation to another. To stand up against exploitation, to refuse to give a bribe, to unite in the form of a co-operative or a movement all such actions require self-confidence, an asset which the poor and the deprived do not possess.

In a recent International Workshop on Law and Resource Distribution in Singapore (Paul and Dias, in presse) the participants agreed that the most readily identifiable reasons for access difficulties centred in the bureaucracy. Case after case, country after country. cited the rebuffs and anxieties suffered by the poor at the hands of arrogant officials imbued with a superiority complex towards them. The uneasy client is curtly told to wait, often for hours, or is scolded for something or other. Some of the papers mentioned the need and necessity of reorienting the forest bureaucracy. This is certainly important, but it will not be easy. For too long the relationship has been of suspicion, mistrust and hostility. Participation, communication and collaboration under such circumstances is likely to be an uphill task.

It is clear from the two cases discussed above that structures of resource allocation are heavily weighted against the poor. This may be because of social and psychological reasons or class and caste differences, but the net result is the exclusion of the poor from the main stream of development. Alternative institutional structures are necessary which can not only help the poor and fight on their behalf but can also provide technical, managerial and other skills necessary for projects to succeed.

Institutional Structures

The most important programmes in social and agroforestry development have been initiated by government. The problem, however, is so enormous that there is need and scope in addition for voluntary and non-government agencies to work on these important issues of fuel and fodder on the one hand, and of conservation and ecological improvement on the other. I discuss below four kinds of institutional structure which have undertaken or have initiated social and agro-forestry programmes.

Bureaucracy: Government Programmes

The forestry departments of various states, encouraged with increased allocations from government and funds from the World Bank and other donor agencies have expanded their departments and embarked on ambitious programmes. We will examine here the social and agroforestry programme of Gularat State which is considered one of the most successful of these.

The forests of Gujarat cover 1.96 million hectares about 10 per cent of the area of the state. The financial allocations for social forestry have increased from 0.4 million rupees in 1970/71 to 119 million rupees in 1981/82, an increase of 297 times over a twelve-year period. The department has undertaken strip plantations on roadsides, canal banks and railway sides; woodlots on village community grazing lands; reforestation of degraded forests; agro-forestry on private agriculture lands of poor tribal people; and farm forestry. The various programmes are suitably planned, implemented and monitored by the Forestry Department. Evaluation indicates that agroforestry programmes with progressive farmers on private lands have succeeded, as have plantations on roadsides and canal banks, and reforestation of degraded forest lands. But programmes focused on the rural poor have not been able to generate their participation or enthusiasm, a situation which seems to surprise the government officials because of the built-in advantages for the beneficiaries.

Regarding the woodlots programme on village grazing lands the report states: "Though the village woodlot scheme stands to benefit the village community individually as well as collectively, it has uniformly remained more or less a government programme." Regarding the programme for tribal people (malki lands) the report states: "The involvement of the tribal occupant of the land who stands to gain considerably from this programme has not been found to be adequate. A majority of the beneficiary occupants have shown little direct involvement in the plantations."

Government programmes, whether in Gujarat or any other state, have not been able to get local participation a precondition considered essential for the success of social and agro-forestry programmes. Also, as discussed earlier, delivery systems for the poor, whether in terms of credit, inputs, health or education, do not seem to reach the intended beneficiaries. The poor are either too weak or do not know how to defend their interests. In general, bureaucratic structures as at present constituted are grossly inadequate for tasks calling for solutions at the local level. Institutional alternatives which are more flexible and responsive at local levels need to be considered.

Co-operatives: National Dairy Development Board (NDDB)

Development planners and administrators including foresters have realized that (1) development plans from above have to be complemented by development from below; successful programmes in agriculture including agro-forestry require the inclusion and integration of marginal and disadvantaged groups; and (2) there should be a shift in strategy from an emphasis on achievement of targets to questions of equity, because of the entrenched power of vested interests.

In India one of the most successful programmes, which has helped bring out the potential creativity of the weaker sections and integrate them into the modernization process, is NDDB's Operation Flood. Operation Flood is based on a three-tiered structure of co-operatives which has organized the rural milk producers into powerful cooperative federations owned by the small producers. It has already organized 1 million farmers in over 5,000 village co-operatives. In its next phase it plans to organize another 10.2 million families. The Government of India has also requested NDDB to use its strategy and structure to organize farmers producing oilseeds, jute and vegetables, and those engaged in horticulture, fisheries and, most recently, energy plantations. Because the model developed has been extraordinarily successful it is worth considering it in terms of agro-forestry projects. The elements of the model that need to be highlighted are as follows:

Spearhead Team
The NDDB sends out a 'spearhead team' consisting of four to six professionals to the village where a cooperative is to be established. The spearhead team lives in the village and discusses with the villagers the importance of the co-operative, of organizing themselves, of the professional inputs required for increased productivity and incomes, and of marketing to benefit the producers. The spearhead team performs a consciousness-raising function and opens the door for further action. The team is conscious of the need to establish a relationship of trust, over a period of time, before they initiate a process of self-organization and change.

A farmer cannot be properly understood except within the context of his own special "universe." The universe includes all those things which influence his attitudes and shape his behaviour, the experience he is exposed to and that which he is deprived of. The spearhead team is taught the concepts of deprivation and powerlessness in order to realize how a person becomes what he is.

Local Team
The spearhead team begins to identify a local "shadow team" which can visit the headquarters at Anand (Guiarat), talk directly to the farmers already organized, discuss with them their fears and doubts, see for themselves the functioning of the co-operatives, and learn about the veterinary services and their organization and other related matters. In general, the "shadow team" goes through an excellent self-learning process. On their return to the village it is the "shadow team" that organizes the village co-operative and the various activities associated with it.

Village Co-operative
The members of the new milk producers' co-operative elect a managing committee at the general meeting. The managing committee elects its own chairman, and appoints a secretary, a milk tester and a milk collector from the village community. The local members learn the beginnings of organization and management. Such an institution, they understand, replaces the more exploitative structures that have kept them in a state of dependency. With such an institution functioning in their midst they can see that their own actions have made a difference, that it is possible to improve their lot and that it is worth the effort and the risk.

Supporting System
The organization and efficient functioning of village-level co-operatives is not likely to survive opposition by the traditional vested interests unless it is supported by a strong infrastructure with committed young professionals, and also strong governmental support. NDDB has a mobile veterinary route, a planning division which surveys potential milkshed areas, an engineering division which builds processing and fodder plants, a research and development division for new products, a national milk grid which uses computers to keep information on the demand and supply of milk from various state level federations, and a centre for training and developing the rural managers needed. The three-tiered cooperative structure is a powerful means of dealing with complex village-level problems including social, technical and political problems. In the case of Balaheda this massive support system was missing. Without such a support system the developmental activities do not sustain themselves. In addition there are problems of getting large financial resources, and of capital accumulation, infrastructural networks, and non-exploitative linkages which need to be established and nurtured.

The model for organizing small farmers and the support system developed has been described in the case of milk co-operatives. I do feel the model has promise, with modifications, in organizing the tribal people and other small and marginal farmers for agro-forestry projects In fact the Gujarat government has recently appointed a working group to visit agro-forestry projects in the state as well as the NDDB co-operatives and their fodder farms, and recommend a viable model, with people's participation and control, for a massive programme of social and agroforestry.

Preliminary visits of the team have confirmed the proposition that wood co-operatives could be organized, and that members (especially the small farmers and landless people working on strip plantations on canal banks) would benefit enormously. In the present system the advantages of improved technology and increased prices bypass them because they have no market knowledge, and intermediary agents and contractors exploit them. The co-operative structure would establish its own nurseries, provide inputs and technical, managerial and marketing services, and also a mix of practices that would optimize land-use patterns. Within NDDB the establishment of a social forestry wing, to which experience could be transferred, is being considered; it will later be hived off to form an independent agency.

Professional Society: Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD)

India has an area of over 300 million hectares of which nearly half, or about 150 million hectares, is not used for agriculture. Twenty per cent of this non-agricultural land is either in the high Himalayas above the tree line or in arid deserts where plant life can hardly be sustained. Of the remaining 120 million hectares, about one-third is in reserved forests under the direct management of state forestry departments; the remaining two-thirds are under private ownership, or are village and revenue lands. These lands are undergoing rapid degradation. They constitute the "waste lands" of India, although they are highly suitable for fuel and fodder trees and various kinds of scrubs and grasses.

Around 100 million people - the poorest in rural India, including tribal people and other disadvantaged groups depend on these forests and waste lands for their livelihood. If these waste lands could be brought into productive potential through programmes of social and agro-forestry, then the problem of energy and ecology, as well as the problem of unemployment and income generation for the poor, could be resolved.

An informal working group of key Indian leaders of government- Planning Commission. Department of Forestry, Department of Environment- private and public sector corporations. national banks. and community-based organizations. came together to establish a nongovernmental, non-profit organization called the Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD). The principal objective of the society is to work with existing governmental, corporate and voluntary organizations to help promote the development of agro-forestry on lands owned by village and governmental organizations. The society provides technical services. training and information, and. in some cases. financial assistance to local communities wishing to implement agro-forestry projects. The principal financial support comes from funds of government and corporate members of the society in their own projects. In addition the society helps arrange bank loans to village level and other organizations for project support. The two largest banks of India are members of the society and have pledged credit support for these projects. The working philosophy of SPWD is based on the following premises

- The participation of poor people is essential to project success. It is realized that the enthusiasm and co-operation of the poor can only be generated by projects which yield an immediate sustainable and substantial economic return. The poor cannot be expected to sacrifice present income for long-term and uncertain rewards.
- The organization must ensure the equitable distribution of benefits. For such projects effective organizations are often community based, but they need the constructive support of government departments and regional institutions in research, training, planning and implementation.
- The community-based organization must be well managed. Many rural development projects fail because of weak management and because they do not take the time and trouble to overcome the initial scepticism of the participants.
- Appropriate and useful technical information must reach these organizations in forms they can understand. The problem is compounded by lack of audio-visual materials and arrangements for nonformal education of men and women implementing the projects.
- Because the people dependent upon the productivity of the waste lands are poor, external financial inputs will be required.

The Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development is based on the recognition that there are many business corporations who wish to pursue social priorities effectively. The government, too, encourages such corporations by giving them tax exemptions for expenditure incurred on such activities. The business corporations have the skills of organization and management, which are crucial inputs for any programme in agro-forestry. The business skills will be linked with local-level agencies providing them services required for profit at the local level.

How far the new Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development will fulfil its promise of utilizing productively the "waste lands" of India with primary benefit to the poor is yet to be seen, but the enthusiasm for the basic concept is considerable by all concerned government, corporate sector, financial institutions, voluntary agencies and professionals.

Community-based Approach: Village Reconstruction Organization

The Village Reconstruction Organization (VRO), India, was registered under its present name in 1971, although Father Windey, its founder, began activities in Andhra Pradesh in 1969 after the disastrous cyclone in coastal Andhra. Previously Father Windey worked in one of the worst famines of Bihar in 1966/67. With the co-operation of local government Father Windey took up the reconstruction of ten of the poorest villages affected by disaster. Along with the rebuilding of entire villages he organized education and health services and incomegenerating activities for these villages. VRO also carried out socio-economic and land ownership surveys of rural communities affected by the cyclone.

Since 1969 VRO's activities have spread to several other states. The Orissa government invited Father Windey after major floods which wiped out hundreds of villages. VRO's experience is rooted in a systematic endeavour to press for deep-reaching changes and relatively more permanent improvements after natural disasters - and the Indian subcontinent is not short of these. It has projects in about 150 villages, largely in remote areas where various aspects of cumulative poverty are found together. VRO has a professional staff of 300 consisting of graduates in various disciplines, architects, engineers, nurses, doctors, etc.

Before a village is taken up for reconstruction, the village community has to give demonstrable evidence of working together as a community. The villagers may work together on a well, a village road, a community woodlot, or on some other community asset. After the community has demonstrated its ability to work together, a formal document is signed between VRO and every member of the community (thumb impressions of 80-100 villagers) agreeing to contribute labour and to abide by other agreed conditions of working and living together. A village council is formed consisting of five men, four women and four of the youth of the village. The council manages the reconstruction of the village, plants trees along the village road, and later initiates developmental activities necessary to the village.

Only recently has Father Windey realized the socioeconomic implications of social and agro-forestry for the rural poor. With the existing infrastructure of the VRO Council, consisting of village leaders, and the village council, consisting of local people, VRO has planned nurseries, roadside plantations, woodlots and related agroforestry projects. In its training centre it is training villagelevel workers in starting nurseries, soil testing, managing seed farms, etc.

VRO has a community-based participatory structure. Discussion at meetings is free and easy. Decisions are not made by experts, although experts are consulted, but by the village council taking into account local needs and conditions. What VRO is able to achieve is a good fit between programme objectives, needs of the beneficiaries, and the capacity of the assisting organization.

There are many voluntary agencies working with communities of poor- helping them to organize, to articulate their needs as they themselves perceive them, and to help themselves. The various voluntary agencies in the Chipko movement are outstanding examples of participative approaches to helping the rural poor.


A wealth of information and experience was presented in the various papers reviewed. Some major issues of social, economic and institutional structures have been examined in relation to social and agro-forestry projects as they affect the rural poor. Through the cases and incidents discussed we have been able to glimpse the anger and anguish of the poor and disadvantaged, including women, when policies and programmes were formulated on assumptions which were far from the needs of the so-called beneficiaries. We have shown that beneficiaries need to be clearly defined not merely as village communities. but as rich and poor farmers, men and women. and perhaps other significant categories relevant to local conditions. As professionals and experts we must realize that we, too, have our own special ways of perceiving. defining and creating reality. We begin to understand more meaningfully Humpty Dumpty's statement to Alice, in Alice through the Looking Glass:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful voice, "it means what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less." "The question is", said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is". said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be the master- that's all?"

We realized, as Humpty Dumpty did, the power inherent in the right to define a situation.

We have looked at institutional structures, which were "topdown," and "bottom-up," and also two- or three-tiered structures which linked local institutions with strong central services and inputs for the benefit and profit of the local groups. We realize the importance of innovative structures and of management systems for productive utilization of "wasted" resources - whether in land, water, or human beings.

We would like to end the paper by two quotations which sum up the problems of agro-forestry and the rural poor:

Neat and tidy packages prepared by experts to describe the appropriate future energy mix will avail us little unless they are economically significant and socially and culturally acceptable to the people asked to use them. - Soedjatmoko.

We have no power to talk in front of the rich, like the Chairman. We are afraid of them. We are always looked down upon and scolded. So we never know what they are writing and doing. - A landless labourer in Bangladesh.


Bordia, A. 1979. Indian Journal of Adult Education.

Gupta, T. 1979. Some Financial and Natural Resource Managements of Commercial Cultivation of Irrigated Eucalyptus in Gujarat, India. Indian Joumal of Forestry, 2 (2): 118-137.

Hoskins, M.W 1982. Observations on Indigenous and Modern Agro-Forestry Activities in West Africa. Paper presented to the United Nations University Workshop on Problems of Agro-Forestry, Freiburg, June 1982.

Karamchandani, K.P 1981. Gujarat Social Forestry Programme: A Case Study.

Paul, J C N. and Dias, C.J. In press.


In summarizing her paper Dr. Chowdry stressed three points: First, that generally there has been a "top-down" approach to agro-forestry projects. Planners approach a target population with preconceived notions of what they believe is best for the population. The result is failure. What is necessary is a "bottom-up" approach - finding out from the beneficiaries what their needs are and, thereafter, formulating programmes to meet those needs. Second, she challenged the competence of bureaucratic ("governmental"} organizations to meet needs in that they were characterized by inflexibility, working to rule, and reluctance to allow for popular participation. She asked whether one should not also consider voluntary ("nongovernmental") organizations as the main channels of assistance. While government, then, would be concerned mainly with financial assistance and policy formulation, voluntary organizations would mediate between the beneficiaries and government. Third, Dr. Chowdry pointed out that most programmes did not address the weaker ("disadvantaged"} segments of the population who needed assistance most - women, the poor. This was largely because these segments were ignorant about programmes, were denied access to them, and the groups were not in a position to protest. The speaker suggested the need for policies and strategies which involved women and other disadvantaged groups.

Discussion focused on four issues:

Bureaucratic institutions. Should Forestry Departments be abolished? Could they be made more flexible? Why was it that bureaucracies found it so difficult to be peopleoriented? On the other hand voluntary organizations appeared to interact more easily with people. It was suggested that the advantage of voluntary organizations could stem from a lack of vested interests. Most of the participants disagreed with this and contended that voluntary associations could equally develop vested interests.

Co-ordination. As with the previous topic, there was no resolution of agreed perceptions of the lack of, and need for, co-ordination. Is there a need for new institutions to deal with agro-forestry? Some speakers noted that the main bottle-necks to co-ordination existed at the middle levels where officials were particularly concerned with career prospects and protection of their own "empires."

Approaches. There was general consensus that neither a "top-down" approach nor a "bottom-up" approach alone would suffice to make a programme successful. On the one hand the "top-down" approach would fail because it was unrelated to local needs, priorities and resources; on the other, a "bottom-up" approach could fail if technical parameters were not considered. What is needed is a mix of both approaches.

Motivation. An element essential for the success of agroforestry programmes was the ability to motivate participants. Numerous examples were cited of programmes that utilized religious or philosophical principles to successfully motivate change. In effect, it was agreed that incentives to participate were not confined to financial incentives. It was agreed that there were two common components of success in the examples cited: trust and flexibility.

Other issues touched upon were the need for examination of communications techniques and, most important, whether the questions raised were peculiar to agro-forestry or whether they were also common to other types of projects - say, rural development.

One of the speakers concluded with the important recommmendation that future similar conferences should include participants from other disciplines and from among decision-makers (in government, from planning bodies). This would result both in a cross-fertilization of ideas (rather than only an affirmation by the already converted) and a means of influencing policy.


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