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Social Forestry – Types and Benefits

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  • Last Updated : 25 Feb, 2022

Social Forestry can be understood as the use of barren lands and their management and development with afforestation for rural development and environmental benefits. In 1976, the National Commission on Agriculture first used the term ‘Social Forestry’. The Government of India has since then started various projects for the development of barren lands with various social Forestry projects. However, the concept of Social Forestry has ancient origins in the teachings of Buddhism. Every good Buddhist was required to plant a tree and take care of it. The report on the improvement of Indian Agriculture, 1893, observed for the first time the significance of preserving village forests and the importance of these forests in the contribution of its local economy. The term ‘Social‘ transforms the mechanical activity afforestation to a concept of planting trees with social, economic, and psychological bonds. This helps in encouraging community participation which is the major thrust of Social Forestry.

Objectives of Social Forestry:

  • To help develop the environmental protection of agriculture from harsh climatic factors.
  • To increase the fuelwood for domestic purposes timber for rural areas fodder for livestock rearing.
  • Increase in the number of jobs for unskilled workers.
  • To increase the living standard and improve the lives of people in the rural and urban areas qualitatively.
  • To make the Barren land natural beauty and create a forest for the best use of it.

Social Forestry can be Classified into Three Major Types:

1. Rural Forestry

It can be further divided into:

a) Community Forestry: In this type of forestry the government is responsible for providing the seedlings and fertilizers and the community is responsible for protecting the planted trees. This Forestry is done on community land and not on individual land. It helps provide benefits to the entire community and not to a single person.

  • For example, Eucalyptus tree has been planted on the community land which benefits communities in a twofold way. They either use it for plantation sustainably or sell the trees for one-time benefit.  

b) Agroforestry: This forestry collectively uses Technology along with the already planted crops such as shrubs, bamboos, trees on the same piece of land. The different components of the environment of the same land interact economically as well as ecologically and produce greater environmental benefits.

Agroforestry is further divided into – Agri-Silviculture (a mixture of crops and trees like home Gardens), Silvopastoral (a mixture of forestry and domestic animals grazing on pastures or on farms), and Agro-silvopastoral (mixed use of trees, animals and crops).

Benefits of Agroforestry:

a. Social benefits: 

  • It helps to improve the farmers living standards by increasing health and nutrition standards due to the quality of output received in food and increased income.
  • It helps in reducing the unemployment rates in rural and urban areas.

b. Environmental benefits:  

  • It helps in improving the quality of land by improving the soil structure due to the inclusion of organic matter.
  • It helps to reduce the pressure on forests that exist naturally.
  • It enriches the soil nutrition as the trees have deep roots penetrating the soil.
  • It helps protect the environment and ecological system in a better way.
  • This forestry helps fight the increasing threat of climate change by conservation of natural resources and microclimate moderation. The species in this forestry produce as much carbon in below-ground biomass as they are produced by the primary forests and more than the grass and crop system

c. Economic Benefits:

  • Single cropping may lead to crop failure several times but Agroforestry may help to reduce the total crop failure.
  • Economically benefits the farmers, communities, and many others by the greater output of fertilizer, timber, fuel, wood, food, etc.
  • It helps in the increment of farmers’ income due to the extra and sustainable production.
  • Generation of employment and various other opportunities are open for the rural areas. It may help to achieve the vision of doubling the farmer’s income by 2022, which in turn will make villages and towns prosperous and sustainable for the upcoming generation.

2. Urban Forestry

It is the practice of growing and managing trees on privately or publicly owned lands around the urban areas for the sustainable development and environmental benefits of urban areas. It involves the growth of single and multiple groups of trees. The management, planting, and maintenance of various species of trees at the outskirts of an urban settlement are included in this.

3. Farm Forestry

It has been encouraged for commercial and non-commercial purposes across India. Farmers have been encouraged for planting trees on their farmlands for catering to the domestic needs of their households. In certain areas of the country, farm forestry is followed as a tradition. In most areas today the thrust of farm forestry is non-commercial in nature. Though fuelwood has been an important resource generated from farm forestry, at times there is no economic motive and other benefits can be listed as:  

  • Shade for agricultural crops
  • Shelters from wind
  • Conservation of Soil &
  • Effective use of land.

Some of the Major Benefits of Social Forestry:  

  1. Conservation of Soil – The run-offs from agricultural land often erode the topsoil. However, this can be reduced via social forestry. Organic matter is added to the soil through decaying leaves which enrich the soil and increase its moisture holding capacity
  2. Augmentation of Biodiversity – Trees act as a habitat for various flora and fauna which add to the biodiversity of the local ecosystem.  
  3. Improving Air Quality– Trees act as filters for various pollutants present in the air, therefore, providing improved air quality and some plants also add to the medicinal uses.
  4. Social Forestry ensures efficient land use and optimization of land resources.
  5. Development of wasteland via social forestry can be made community-driven involving local participation. This provides an impetus to afforestation, rehabilitation, and regeneration of degraded land.
  6. Via social forestry, farmers and landless laborers can add to their incomes.

Shortcomings of Social Forestry:   

The social forestry program was not a huge success in India because:

  1. Agricultural land was diverted to forestry in lieu of incentives which compromised food security and agriculture.  
  2. Due to lack of understanding and expertise, social forestry plantations opted for species not suitable for that particular ecological setting.
  3. Social Forestry is often not preferred by Indian farmers due to the small size of land holdings with them.  
  4. The Social Forestry produce is neither under any agricultural insurance scheme to cover for losses nor does it get any kind of marketing support. Such policy gaps discourage social forestry.
  5. Social Forestry is largely promoted by the government but private sector participation is lacking.

Way Forward  

  • Bansal committee in 2011 recommended that the species that are preferred by farmers for social forestry must have relaxed rules for their felling and transit.
  • Procurement channels must be made efficient and effective for social forestry produce. This has to be accompanied by better research and development to improve the quality of social forestry.
  • Local governments must be empowered for implementing Social Forestry programs and schemes.

With India being an agriculture-intensive economy looking for diversification, Social Forestry offers multiple dimensions for the growth and development of the agriculture sector. We must learn from the international experiences such as the National Forest City program of China and tweak it to suit India’s needs. All the stakeholders i.e. the government, the private sector, and the people must come together to address various challenges and further the cause of social forestry.

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