National Commission on Agriculture used a term “Social Forestry’ in 1976 to denote tree-raising programmes -to supply firewood, fodder, small timber and minor forest products to rural populations. The main aim was to grow forests in lands outside reserve forests. This programme has mainly three components:
(a) Farm Forestry i.e. encouraging farmers by the Government to plant trees on their own farms b distributing free or subsidized seedlings;
(b) Woodlots Plantation is done by forest departments for the needs of the community essentially along roadside, canal banks side of railway tracks and other such public lands; and
(c) Community Woodlots plantation is done by the communities themselves on community lands, to be shared equally by them.
Massive areas of community lands were expected to be afforested under this programme, which aimed at utilizing the plantations to meet the growing demand for fodder and fuel. Ambitious social forestry programmes have already been launched by several State governments like Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, U.P., West Bengal and Orissa also, most which have been financed by foreign aid agencies like the World Bank. US Agency for International Development (USAID), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). Forest developments in most areas have set up separate social forestry wings.
The plants that grow faster in less water condition are usually selected for plantation. The common plants such as Eucalyptus and Acacia are planted under forestry programmes, without scientific practices, can do great harm to the environment. Species planted in many places are not suitable to the areas or densities exceed the need for sustainable growth of plantations.
The main objective of social forestry programme is to provide the rural people fuel, fodder and wood without disturbing the reserved forests. Though more than a decade has been passed, our achievement is not significant. Only in a few States in India i.e., Punjab and Haryana and Gujarat, it has attained satisfactory progress. A major failing of the social forestry projects is the lack of involvement of poor women who ought to be the main beneficiaries.