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Overstory #197 - Community forestry depends on women

Editor's Note

This article from 1980 still has relevance today in the role of women in forestry development and conservation.


My first awareness of forestry as a special concern for women in developing countries came from women in Upper Volta. I was holding seminars there and although forestry was not on the agenda it dominated one of the most animated discussions of the programme. The women who participated in these conferences were social workers, schoolteachers, lawyers, doctors, and others who were in leading or essential occupations. They were all educated women, but none of them had been trained in forestry or agriculture. Nonetheless, they spoke with great authority and knowledge about the growing scarcity of leaves, nuts, and fruits needed for traditional dishes essential to the family diet. They talked of the scrub-bush land that looked so useless to developers, and which had been cleared to plant fast-growing exotic trees. Even when no trees identified as valued species were cut, these women considered the clearing of the "useless" bush a very serious loss. It is this scrub growth that formed the basis of emergency supplies, especially for the poor rural women and their families, by providing leaves, roots, seeds and bark for food, medicines and crafts. It also furnished fuel for cooking and heating that was extremely important to them. This "useless" bush was also food for humans and animals in times of scarcity or drought. Exotic fast-growing trees, they said, might fill the needs for urban fuel or building supplies more quickly than the bush, but these trees usually offered no secondary products and were even declared off limits to local residents who had previously had access to that land. It seemed to them to be a trade-off that was to the disadvantage of local people and their families, and especially to women, and to the benefit of the distant urban dweller. Wood products, they said, are needed by the population, certainly, but more thought should be given to at least minimizing the loss that results for the rural family.

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Overstory #196 - An introduction to pathways for plant introduction


Plants move. Vast native ranges support this. They don't pick up their roots and walk, although some whole plants may occasionally be transported naturally by storm or current, and there are many free-floating or loosely-fixed aquatics. Rather, they tend to spread inter-generationally, slowly, over time. Although the rate of movement through natural dispersal of seed or other propagules is assumed to be generally very small, there are important but infrequent long-distance dispersal events, thanks either to wind or water, or with the aid of animals. Thus in geological history, besides the slow 'creep' in the spread of plants, there were occasional long-distance pathways for plant introduction (and subsequent 'invasion', where the new arrival was better adapted to local conditions than existing species). These would have tended to follow geographical and migratory pathways, or 'corridors'.

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Overstory #195 - Trees, Forests and Sacred Groves

Forests and sacred groves

Every culture has narratives or beliefs which answer in different ways the fundamental questions about how we came to be, and articulate how and where people originated, collective transformations undergone by the community, and how people should behave towards one another and their environment (Elder and Wong 1994). Forests are the subject of a great deal of myth, legend and lore. Societies most closely entwined with forests tend to regard them with a healthy respect, an awe at their splendour and majesty, sometimes dread and fear of the powerful spirits that lurk within them. Ancestors often find their resting places in forests, many wandering in various states of unease and spitefulness.

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Overstory #194 - Forest degradation and food security


Forests and the benefits they provide in the form of food, income and watershed protection have an important and often critical role in enabling people around the world to secure a stable and adequate food supply. Forests are important to the food insecure because they are one of the most accessible productive resources available to them.

Deforestation and forest degradation, however, are impairing the capacity of forests to contribute to food security and other needs. This article focuses on tropical forests, which are currently experiencing the highest rates of clearing and degradation. From 1980 to 1990, an estimated 146 million ha of natural forests in the tropics were cleared, with an additional loss of 65 million ha between 1990 and 1995 (FAO, 1997). The area of degraded forest (defined below) is estimated to be even greater (WRI, 1994).

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Overstory #193 - Trees as Noise Buffers


Noise can cause anxiety, tension, or even illness. Prolonged exposure to high levels of noise can cause hearing loss. Today we regard noise as a form of environmental pollution, and in some circles noise is considered an international health concern.

Trees to the rescue? Planting "noise buffers" composed of trees and shrubs can reduce noise five to ten decibels (reduces noise approximately 50% to the human ear). To achieve this effect, the species and the planting design must be chosen carefully.

General recommendations for noise buffers

Recommendations to reduce noise with rows of trees and shrubs include:

  1. For best results, plant the noise buffer close to the noise source (rather than close to the area to be protected).
  2. Plant trees/shrubs as close together as the species will allow and not be overly inhibited.
  3. When possible use plants with dense foliage. A diversity of tree species with a range of foliage shapes and sizes within the noise buffer may also improve noise reduction.
  4. Foliage of the plants should persist from the ground up. A combination of shrubs and trees may be necessary to achieve this effect.
  5. Evergreen varieties that retain their leaves will give better year-round protection.
  6. When possible use taller plants. Where the use of tall trees is restricted, use combinations of shorter shrubs and tall grass or similar soft ground cover as opposed to harder paved surfaces.

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Overstory #192 - Thinning for wood production


In this article we consider thinning of tree stands as a means to improve financial returns or achieve other management objectives of the wood-production enterprise. Thinning for wood production generally implies the selective removal of immature trees for specific aims - mostly to remove the less desirable trees and concentrate the site's potential growth on the trees of best form and vigour.

We refer specifically to even-aged stands, such as plantations and some native forests regenerated by fire. The principles, though more complex, apply also to stands of uneven age, such as most of our native forests. Next to establishing the stands in the first place, thinning is the main tool for intensive forest management.

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