Social Forestry Programme in India

Social Forestry
Social forestry programme failed to fufil the desired goal mainly owing to lack of community participation, wrong selection of tree species and lack of control over cattle browsing and grazing, and tree harvesting.

Social Forestry in India

-Dr. Arvind Singh 

Social forestry is afforestation of all lands other than croplands that are available outside the forest areas with the purpose of meeting the requirements of ecological and environmental security and day to day needs of the rural population.

The idea behind social forestry is to create forests on any available lands which are not being used for other purposes, with the help of society for meeting the needs of society, so that requirements of the society which are met so far through natural forests may be fulfilled by these forests and pressure on natural forest is thereby reduced. Thus social forestry can be described as forestry of the people by the people and for the people.

In fact, social forestry combines idle land, labour and water resources for optimum production of firewood, fodder, food, manure and small constructional timber. As such it essentially involves a kind of monolithic integration of forestry, agriculture and animal husbandry.

Why the Social Forestry Programme was Introduced?

Forests not only contribute to the maintenance of ecological stability but also occupy an important place in the economic development of a country. In India forest occupy about 19% of the total geographical area. This brings the per capita forest area to a meagre 0.10 hectares which represents one of the lowest in the world. The faster destruction of natural forests has made this problem more acute. Therefore, in order to remedy this situation, the National Commission on Agriculture in the year 1976 recommended developing social forestry.

The concept of social forestry, which aims at the production of fuel-wood, fodder and small timber for local communities calls for a gross root initiative in which local communities have to be both the implementers and beneficiaries of the programme. The Forest Department and other external agencies are required to provide only consultancy and support. Active involvement of local population is central to this concept.

Objectives of Social Forestry:
1. Fuelwood supply to rural areas to ensure the release of cow dung which can be used as manure.

2. To increase the production of fruits and thus add to the potential food resources for the country.

3. Supply of timber for rural housing and agricultural implements.

4. Supply of leaf fodder for cattle.

5. To help in the creation of shelterbelts around agricultural fields to increase their productivity.

6. Meeting the recreational needs of the rural population.

7. To conserve soil and water and to maintain ecological balance by enhancing biomass generation.

8. To provide employment opportunities and increase family income for alleviating poverty.

9. To popularize the planting and tending of trees in farms, villages, municipal and public lands for their aesthetic, economic and protective value.

10. To provide a congenial environment to the tribals and to help them to preserve their cultural identity as their life and culture are intimately related to forests.

11. To provide shade and ornamental trees for the landscape.

12. To foster the spirit of cooperation and to encourage cooperative enterprises.

13. To include the consciousness and love of trees amongst the people.

14. To relieve pressure on reserved forests.

Advantages of Social Forestry:

1. Conserves soil against erosive forces.

2. Improves soil fertility.

3. Provides fruit, fuel, fodder and timber.

4. Reduces surface run-off of water and sedimentation of reservoirs, rivers, streams etc.

5. Facilitates the infiltration of water thus helping in the maintenance of the groundwater table.

6. Helps in increased rainfall through transpiration.

7. Helps in environmental conservation by absorption of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen.

8. Helps in the control of noise pollution.

9. Helps in the development of cottage industries.

10. Helps in bringing the deep-seated nutrients to the soil surface.

Types of Social Forestry:

Social forestry programme can be categorized into groups; farm forestry, extension forestry, urban forestry and agroforestry.

1. Farm Forestry: In the farm, forestry farmers are given incentives by the government and encouraged to plant trees on their own farms. A farmer needs firewood for cooking and agricultural implements, fodder for cattle and manure for his fields. By planting suitable species of trees on his land, the farmer can, to a large extent be self-sufficient with regard to these essential needs and there can even be a surplus for sale. With an appropriate choice of tree species and the adoption of the scientific silvicultural practice, the farmer can considerably argument his income, without adversely affecting the agriculture.

2. Extension Forestry: It is also called as rural forestry. Extension forestry encompasses forestry on community and Panchayat lands, degraded forests road and railway sides, canal banks etc. for meeting the needs of rural people. It also includes restoration of derelict areas bearing scars of quarrying, mining and road construction, brick manufacture lime burning etc.

In farm forestry, the ownership of land is ordinarily individual while in extension forestry it is commercial. The ethics of extension forestry are bound to induce public interest in the well -being of public-owned forests.

3. Urban Forestry: Urban forestry aims at bringing trees to the door of the urban people. Broadly speaking, this concept lays emphasis on the aesthetic development of urban areas. Flower and fruit trees of ornamental variety which flower and fruit at different seasons are planted along roadside and canal banks, near towns, villages and cities. Urban forestry also envisages beautification of house, roads and vacant lands as also the creation of tree reserves, in town and cities.

4. Agroforestry: Integration of forestry with agriculture is known as agroforestry. In agroforestry, the silvicultural practices (the growing and cultivation of trees) are combined with agricultural crops along with orchard farming and stock ranching on the same piece of land.

Why Social Forestry Failed to Fulfil the Desired Goal?

1. Social forestry programme has completely ignored the prime objective of ensuring rural households access to fuelwood and fodder for domestic consumption. In these areas, women and children spend their maximum time to collect fuelwood.

2. In social forestry programmes, hardy exotic species of trees like Eucalyptus was planted on large scale on farmlands and public lands which has lowered the groundwater table and also deterred the growth and colonization of native plant species.

3. Social forestry has failed to involve the landless in afforestation. As a matter of fact, it has aggravated poverty and unemployment in rural areas.

4. Social forestry did not involve women who collect fuel for the family every day. It has also not involved the tribals who are deeply interested in the protection and promotion of forests.

5. Social forestry programme fails to check cattle browsing and grazing and cutting of trees.

6. Social forestry programme has only benefitted the bigger farmers. 


It can be concluded that the social forestry programme in India was introduced with the aim to raise the forest on private and public lands with the help of local communities to meet the need of fuel, fodder and timber so that pressure on natural forests can be minimized. However, this ambitious programme was not very successful in the country mainly due to lack of community involvement, wrong selection of tree species in afforestation programmes and lack of effective control over cattle browsing and grazing, and cutting of trees.

Author Bio:

Dr. Arvind Singh is M. Sc. and Ph. D. in Botany with area of specialization in Ecology. He is a dedicated Researcher having more than four dozens of published research papers in the journals of national and international repute. His main area of research is the Restoration of Mined Lands. However, he has also conducted research on the Vascular Flora of Banaras Hindu University-Main Campus, Varanasi (India). Furthermore, he is also an active science writer having more than 10 dozens of published science articles in different periodicals of national repute. His email address is:  

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