Trees to free the rural poor
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Chambers, Robert. 1990. Trees to free the rural poor. Spore 26. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45244
The rural poor are vulnerable to disasters such as war, drought, floods and illness; to exploitation, and to heavy expenditure on social needs such as dowries, weddings and funerals. Their vulnerability increases as traditional supports weaken,...
The rural poor are vulnerable to disasters such as war, drought, floods and illness; to exploitation, and to heavy expenditure on social needs such as dowries, weddings and funerals. Their vulnerability increases as traditional supports weaken, costs rise, and their reserves, such as livestock, diminish. On the positive side, trees to which they have access or which they own, have become more valuable and easier to market. It is time trees were seen as savings and security for many of the rural poor.They can free poor farmers from insecurity by enabling them to build up reserves and meet contingencies. But for trees to be good savings for the poor, professionals have themselves to recognize their potential, and to be freed from misperceptions and representative reflexes. In the past, trees on private farms have been neglected because of foresters' concerns with field crops, and the absence of a profession with energy and fuel as its central concern. Temperate climate biases have also tended to blur recognition of the rapid rates of tree growth in many tropical conditions. Nor has it been widely appreciated how the value of trees to poor people has risen as a result of deforestation and increased demand for fuelwood and timber. In practice, poor people increasingly use trees as savings and security to deal with contingencies.As in the past, tree products are used directly to meet seasonal food and cash shortages. In many countries, the sale of firewood and charcoal continues to be a means for poor people to survive during bad times. But now, in addition, trees on private land are planted and protected by poor people as investments. In western Kenya they are planted to pay for school fees and in Benin to provide support in old age. Trees are also mortgaged, and sold to redeem debts. As savings and security, trees have advantages. They are cheap to establish, appreciate in value rapidly, are in manageable and divisible units, and often regenerate after cutting;nor are they easily begged, borrowed or stolen. In these respects they compare on balance favorably with other forms of savings such as livestock,jewellery, land and bank deposits. Trees are also increasingly cash crops for small and poor farmers. In two districts in Kenya - Kakamega and Kisli where landholdings are very small, and where aerial surveys have shown up to 30% of the agricultural land under planted and managed tree cover, small farmers who cannot afford to plant coffee or tea, planttrees instead.Unlike most other cash crops, trees have the advantage of being convenient and harvestable for timber or firewood at any time, and so provide a 'bank balance' which can be drawn on when the need arises. A 1987 study carried out in West Bengal showed that from trees harvested under the West Bengal Group Farm Forestry Programme, 38% of the cash was spent on buying land, 14% on housing, 22% on marriages, 4% on other contingencies, and 21% on other productive expenditure - thus confounding the poverty cynics who say that the poor will always fritter away their cash. Almost all the cash realized from the trees was used by these poor people to better their economic or social condition in some long-term manner For poor farmers to be able to use trees in these ways, it is only common sense that they need rights to their trees, just as depositors in banks need rights to withdraw cash when required. But the normal official and professional reflex is to restrict rights to cut, transport and sell trees and tree produce from private land. This is intended to serve the environment, but is self-defeating. Restrictions reduce or remove the incentive to plant and protect trees. Farmers who are insecure in their rights tend to cut and sell them when they can.ln contrast, experience in Haiti, Kenya and elsewhere shows farmers with secure rights planting and protecting trees on a large scale, confounding those who doubt poor farmers' ability to take a long view and to save. Policy makers and those engaged in policy dialogues have, then, to argue for and secure the removal of restrictions, and they must see that these removals are real and are widely known by the public. If they are successful, then a growing body of evidence suggests that small farmers will surprise the sceptics by the speed and scale of their tree planting and the restraint with which they harvest them. Conditions vary, but in many rural areas the potential seems large for trees to provide farmers with savings, security and income which could help millions to struggle up out of debt and dependence, and to gain in self-respect, independence and freedom. Trees can liberate.