Social Forestry

Social Forestry

The National Commission on Agriculture, Government of India, first used the term ‘social forestry’ in 1976. It was then that India embarked upon a social forestry project with the aim of taking the pressure off the forests and making use of all unused and fallow land. Government forest areas that are close to human settlement and have been degraded over the years due to human activities needed to be afforested. Trees were to be planted in and around agricultural fields. Plantation of trees along railway lines and roadsides, and river and canal banks were carried out. They were planted in village common land, Government wasteland and Panchayat land.

Social forestry also aims at raising plantations by the common man so as to meet the growing demand for timber, fuel wood, fodder, etc, thereby reducing the pressure on the traditional forest area. This concept of village forests to meet the needs of the rural people is not new. It has existed through the centuries all over the country but it was now given a new character.

With the introduction of this scheme the government formally recognised the local communities’ rights to forest resources, and is now encouraging rural participation in the management of natural resources. Through the social forestry scheme, the government has involved community participation, as part of a drive towards afforestation, and rehabilitating the degraded forest and common lands.

This need for a social forestry scheme was felt as India has a dominant rural population that still depends largely on fuelwood and other biomass for their cooking and heating. This demand for fuel wood will not come down but the area under forest will reduce further due to the growing population and increasing human activities. Yet The government managed the projects for five years then gave them over to the village panchayats (village council) to manage for themselves and generate products or revenue as they saw fit.

Social forestry scheme can be categorized into groups : farm forestry, community forestry, extension forestry and agro-forestry.

Farm forestry

It is a term applied to the process under which farmers grows trees for commercial and non-commercial purposes on their farm lands. At present in almost all the countries where social forestry programmes have been taken up, both commercial and non-commercial farm forestry is being promoted in one form or the other. Individual farmers are being encouraged to plant trees on their own farmland to meet the domestic needs of the family. In many areas, this tradition of growing trees on the farmland already exists. Non-commercial farm forestry is the main thrust of most of the social forestry projects in the country today. It is not always necessary that the farmer grows trees for fuelwood, but very often they are interested in growing trees without any economic motive. They may want it to provide shade for the agricultural crops; as wind shelters; soil conservation or to use wasteland. Farm Forestry is another name for Agroforestry; a part of Social Forestry.

Due to huge requirement of pulpwood for production virgin cellulosic fibre based paper, the pulp and paper industry has become a major demand driver for certain species of tree such as Eucalyptus, Babul Acacia catechu, Subabul(Leucaena leucocephala) and was the connected Casuarina equisetifolia. As a rough estimate, the total demand for pulpwood is approximately 10 million ADMT (i.e. wood having 10% moisture). Indian Paper Manufacturer’s Association is an umbrella organisation of Indian Pulp and Paper Industry which coordinates and drives plantation efforts by member organisations in India. It is very important to us but on the evil side, it is causing damage to the forest. A full grown up pulp tree takes at least 40 years and gets cut down in 4 mins.

Community Forestry

Community forestry is a village-level forestry activity, decided on collectively and implemented on communal land, where local populations participate in the planning, establishing, managing and harvesting of forest crops, and so receive a major proportion of the socio-economic and ecological benefits from the forest.

Community forestry is a process of increasing the involvement of and reward for local people, of seeking balance between outside and community interests and of increasing local responsibility for the management of the forest resource. Also, like sustainable development, community forestry should be a learning experience for all involved parties.

Extension Forestry

Planting of trees on the sides of roads, canals and railways, along with planting on wastelands is known as ‘extension’ forestry. Extension forestry helps in increasing the boundaries of forests. Under this project, there has been creation of forests on the village common lands, government wastelands and panchayat lands.  Schemes for afforesting degraded government forests that are close to villages are being carried out all over the country.


This is the combination of agriculture and tree growing in order to produce both agricultural products and tree products on a commercial basis. The purpose of this scheme is to gain positive interactions between the two systems at both the paddock level and the enterprise level.  The two systems may be fully physically integrated, or treated as separate entities within a single business enterprise. It is therefore ideally suited to the landholder seeking to enter farm forestry on a small scale, whilst maintaining an existing agricultural enterprise.

Objectives of Social Forestry

Increasing Forest Area and Restoring Ecological Balance

Moisture conservation: trees take water from the lower soil strata and bring it to the upper layers through long tap root system and, also, trees check evaporation of water;  Soil conservation: trees help in checking erosion by wind and water;  

Natural habitat conservation:Trees provide habitat to many birds and animals, some of which are agro-friendly.


Meeting Basic Rural Needs

Social forestry satisfies the basic rural needs referred to as ‘five Fs’—food, fuel, fodder, fertiliser (green manure) and fibre. The large-scale depletion of easily accessible forests has resulted in acute scarcity of fuel-wood and fodder. What is disturbing is that the deficit in fuel wood is met by using cow-dung cakes, thus wasting a rich and cheap source of manure.

Ensuring Better Land Use

Social forestry helps achieve a balanced and viable land use by checking soil erosion, facilitating reclamation of marginal lands, checking waterlogging and by bringing about monolithic integration of forestry, agriculture and animal husbandry.

Generation of Employment

Social forestry operations have the potential of improving the employment situation in rural areas especially during the lean agricultural season. This helps in stabilising incomes of weaker sections of Society.

Controlling Pollution

Trees are known to absorb harmful gases and release oxygen. This way they help reduce air pollution especially in urban areas.


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