The ignored dimension

Mar 2007 | Comments Off on The ignored dimension

Issues pertaining to forest management in India

Sustainability is the key issue in forest management, be it India, or any other part of the globe. Unfortunately, so far, no scientifi cally sound and operational defi nition of Sustainability has been evolved for universal application in forest management. Nevertheless, it may be said on an empirical basis that sustainable forest management lies in attaining three basic goals: fi rst, maintaining the stability of the physical environment, secondly, maintaining, and if necessary increasing, the biological productivity of the resource, and thirdly, establishing equity in distribution of qualitative and quantitative benefi ts generated by the resource in the society dependent on it. The goals are to be attained not at any chosen point of time, but in perpetuity. Sustainable forest management is a multidimensional process. The major dimensions of the process are: ecological, silvicultural, technical (including the disciplines of genetics and biotechnology), socio-economic, and institutional. All the dimensions are equally important and neglect of any can mar the Sustainability of the process.

Goal-Dimension Matrix

If we considered the goals and dimensions of forest management together, we obtain the following matrix:

Goals | Stability | Productivity | Equity Dimensions

Perhaps, sustainable forest management would mean that all the three goals, and all the four
dimensions are in proper focus, and in the management process, no box in the matrix given above contains a negative value (Lal 1995 ).

Indian Forestry —- The Ignored Dimension

The tragedy in the Indian forestry has been that at any given point of time only one dimension of management was emphasized. If it was silvicultural till nineteen-sixties, it was socio-economic in nineteen-seventies, ecological in nineteen-eighties, and institutional in nineteen-nineties. The technical dimension was by and large ignored. There have been little or no technical innovations either in pre-harvesting (including management planning), or in post-harvesting (including monitoring and evaluation) forestry processes. Technical improvement with regard to harvesting, storage, and processing of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) has been little attended to. Nor has technical dimension been prominent in biodiversity conservation in general, and wild-life protection in particular. The situation in regard to identifi cations of goals has been rather nebulous. Till nineteen-sixties, the goal was distinctly none of the three. The goal was rather the earning of the maximum revenue for the state. In nineteen-seventies, the goal shifted towards producing greater quantities of commercial wood. In nineteen-eighties maintaining the ecological stability came to be identifi ed as the predominant goal. In nineteen-nineties, the goal has been progressively shifting towards “equity” in social environment.

Identifying Objectives

Planned human activities are normally governed by the hierarchy of ‘values’, ‘goals’, and objectives’. Values, the abstract ideas that guide the thinking and action of society determine goals, the specifi c situations in relation to various activities that the society wishes to attain. Goals in turn determine objectives, the well specifi ed targets, the activities aim at. Technical dimension, though of not great relevance in the ‘equity’ goal, is great signifi cance in relation to other two goals of sustainable forestry, viz., ‘stability and productivity’ of the physical environment. Objectives comprising the two goals with regard to which technological innovations or reorientation appear to be necessary in the Indian forestry may be identifi ed as follows:
. forest cover monitoring,
. collection of physical, biological, and socio-economic data from ground, air and/ or space, and conversion of data into maps or information for management planning,
. simulation of forest ecosystems to foresee the effects of various human interventions,
. conservation of species diversity,
. conservation of genetic diversity,
. qualitative and quantitative improvement in production of wood and non-wood forest products,
. harvesting systems which do little damage to residual crop,
. regeneration of harvested areas,
. wood preservation,
. storage and processing of nonwood forest products.

Technical options

The foremost necessity in sustainable forest management is effective monitoring or forest cover not only in regard to crown density, but also in regard to structure and composition of the crop. Though presently in India satellite data is being used to prepare a biennial report on the status of forest, it gives information only on crown density, despite digital interpretation of imagery. To obtain information on composition and structure of the crop, small scale aerial photography is more useful. But in a large country like India with a forest cover of nearly 65 million hectares, it is not an economic proposition, and air-borne video recording would be more economical and useful for areas of immediate silvicultural concern. Nevertheless for obtaining forest cover situation at the country level there is no substitute for satellite imagery. Satellite imagery is also signifi cantly useful in land use classifi cation, estimation of growing stock, assessment of fi re or pest damage, and in seeking information in regard to land degradation. As a matter of fact, it may be said without fear of exaggeration that availability of remotely sensed data has led to a holistic approach in forest management.

‘Forest management plans’, or ‘working plans’ are a basic requirement for sustainable forestry. The plans ensure continuity and objectivity in forest management. Preparation of a good working plan needs good information and a good decision support system. The technologies of remote sensing provide good, i.e., accurate, up-todate and comprehensive information, and good geographical information systems (GIS) decision support.

The application of GIS in the preparation of working plans is only recent and limited in India. And, though India has made good use of satellite imagery, and to some extent of aerial photographs, it has not kept up with other advances in remote sensing technologies which might improve the quality of working plans.

We mentioned the possible use of airborne video recording earlier. Use of air-borne lidar system for estimation of tree heights, and stand volumes (Nilsson 1996) is another example.

For maintaining ecological balance it is necessary that species diversity, and within species diversity, genetic variation, is maintained. It is relatively easy to monitor species diversity, but the monitoring of genetic variation needs the use of advanced technologies, such as DNA or isozyme anlysis by electrophoresis. An effective monitoring of genetic variation would help in improving silvicultural practices. A lot has to be done in India in regard to the monitoring of genetic variation.

In dense wet evergreen forests, saving the residual crop from much damage is one of the major concerns in adopting a silvicultural system as well as in selecting harvesting techniques. Damage to residual crop has not only economic, but also ecological implications. It may result in permanent loss of some species, or may reduce within species diversity. These losses might occur also from faulty design of extraction roads. Economics and operational feasibility of technologies, such as heli-logging and computer aided road designing, needs to be examined in the Indian context.

One of the major causes of deforestation in India —– which is presently estimated by Forest Survey of India at 270,000 ha (FSI 1997), is the big gap between supply and demand of fi rewood, which happens to be the biggest source of domestic energy in the rural India. The demand of fi rewood exceeded supplies by over 100 million tones in 1987 itself (Lal 1992). The gap cannot by bridged by merely attempting to increase the production as land is a limited resource. Demand is also to be managed. The way fi rewood is presently used in the rural India, only 5-10 % thermal effi ciency is attained (Lal 1992). The effi ciency in use is to be increased manifold.maybe by use of more effi cient stoves.

There is a gap of over 15 million cu. m. in demand and supply of industrial wood (Lal 1992). And though accurate estimates of demand and supply of nonwood forest products have not been made, it is believed that supply fails to meet demand not because of short production, but because of wastage in transport, storage, and processing of products. Use of technologies which save waste of wood and NWFPs in transport, storage, and processing would go a long way in bridging the gap between demand and supply.


Of major concern in Indian forestry is qualitative and quantitative improvement in wood production while maintaining the existing species richness and genetic variation in its forests. Great technological advancements are needed to meet these objectives. Indeed, the fundamental equation,
Phenotype =Genotype + Environment,
Needs to be extended to,
Supertype = Phenotype + Technology.


Forest Survey of India ( FSI ) 1998 Status of Forest Report, 1997. FSI, Dehradun, India.pp7-8

Lal, J.B. 1992India’s Forests: Myth and Reality.Natraj Publishers, Dehradun, India. Pp 89-93.

Lal, J.B. 1995 Forestry Planning: New Challenges in Indian Forestry in David Brand edited, Forestry Sector Planning. Natural Resources Canada. Pp 135

Nilsson, M. 1996 Estimation of tree heights and stand volume using an airborne lidar system. Remote Sensing of Environment. Vol 56(1). Pp1-7.



Former Director,Forest Survey of India, Bhopal, India
My coordinates
His Coordinates
Steve Berglund
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May 09 TO DECEMBER 2009

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