Motivating individuals to care for trees

Forestry

If you ask farmers in the hills of Nepal what benefits are received from trees and the forest, they will answer without hesitation. Starting with tree leaf-fodder for their livestock (their only source of manure), they will continue with firewood, timber, fruit, animal bedding and shade. They may also mention the rather less obvious benefits of improving water resources and preventing soil erosion. However, if you then ask whether they have planted any trees recently, or whether they have enough trees on their land to meet all their needs, they will usually say “no”.

What causes this problem?

At a recent meeting of forestry field workers in Okhaldhunga district, the reasons why so few trees are planted were discussed:

  • The Government controls most of the forest and farmers felt they had little security for their trees, even when they were planted on their own land.
  • There were few forestry extension workers to explain the benefits of tree planting.
  • Government Forestry staff showed a lack of respect towards villagers and tended to order them around. 
  • Poor people find it very difficult to take part in any activity which does not bring quick benefits. 
  • Food production and other essential tasks already take up all the available time.

Solutions

The discussions continued by trying to discover solutions to some of these problems.

People’s fears about the state control over trees were often based largely on rumours and were untrue. The local Forestry Officer could be invited to speak to village groups about the legal right to use the products from trees planted on village land. This might help to remove people’s fears, leading to increased trust in the Government.

Good extension work involves listening to the villagers and helping to solve their problems with the resources they have available. This attitude is often lacking in official extension workers, who may have been educated in the city and may be reluctant to go back to the rural areas. For this reason, a local leader (facilitator) can often do extension work more effectively.

Training programmes can also be very effective in motivating people. Most farmers already have a good knowledge about trees and the benefits they bring. Groups of farmers can come together for about a week during the dry season, when there is little agricultural work. With the help of an extension worker or local facilitator, they can learn together and discuss how trees can be used to improve the situation in their own community. Ideas and plans can be developed within the group, both for individual and community action.

For example, a group of villagers from Devisthan in Western Nepal, felt that the lack of seedlings was a problem. Some of the farmers attending the course, Decided to set up small private nurseries, raising seedlings for sale to their neighbours. A plentiful supply of seedlings helped the whole community.

Project demonstrations of new tree species, or methods of cultivation, are rarely very effective. But if you can interest local, enthusiastic farmers to try out new species and ideas on their own land, then surrounding farmers will be more likely to copy successful results.

One such demonstration farmer said: “Everything we need comes from the forest. The forest satisfies our own needs and can also help us to make money. Five years ago I had one buffalo. I had to go up the hill and walk for four to five hours to collect enough fodder. Now I have six buffaloes. I only cut fodder for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening on my own land to get enough. If I had not planted trees, I would have to send my children to collect fodder, but now all four of them are studying at school.”

Tree species which grow quickly and bring the farmer rapid benefits are very useful for encouraging interest. Once an interest in tree-planting has been established, then people may be more willing to plant slower-growing but more valuable trees.

Conclusions

There are problems to overcome in encouraging people to care for trees. But if this is done effectively, most communities will respond well. Probably the most important factor that we have identified is the need for a facilitator, either from the local community itself, or from outside. They will need to have not only technical knowledge, but a respectful and caring attitude to the community and real concern for their work.

A village leader from the Lalitpur district in Nepal said: “For forestry development we need unity.” The role of a facilitator should be to encourage that unity.

Keith J Fisher has worked as a forester in Nepal for many years supported by Tearfund.