Overstory #197 - Community forestry depends on women
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.