Deep Narayan Pandey

Introduction to Ethnoforestry
Towards the Equity of Knowledge
Global Status of Ethnoforestry
Protection Ethnoforestry
Why Bother with Ethnoforestry?
Relevance of Ethnoforestry
Examples of Different Types of Indigenous Forest Management
About the Author
Original Source
Web links
Related Editions of The Overstory
Publisher notes

Introduction to Ethnoforestry

The effectiveness of traditional forest management practices has often been overlooked by the scientific community. This edition of The Overstory by special guest author Deep Narayan Pandey of the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, India introduces the importance and application of ethnoforestry.

Towards the Equity of Knowledge

People throughout the world have effective traditional resource management systems including protection, production and conservation practices which they have validated over time. Many of these traditions have been incorporated into modern practices of scientific forestry by innovative foresters. We can define ethnoforestry as the creation, conservation, management and use of forest resources, through continued practice of customary ways by local communities. Thus, it is specific and appropriate to each community and environment.

Local knowledge on forests is a revolutionary way to recast our conventional approach to development. Virtual non-availability of written material in the subject is the result of long term neglect of local knowledge on forests by scientific forestry scholarship. Local knowledge, institutions, policy, empowerment, livelihood issues and forestry are inter-linked. We need to explore the operational part of sustainability of natural resources in association with these issues.

Global Status of Ethnoforestry

Ethnoforestry has mostly been neglected in global forest research and planning. Some pioneering studies, on various sub-disciplines of the subject, specifically from India (see, Pandey 1996, and, Singh and Pandey 1995), China (Menzies 1988), Brazil (Posey 1985), Ecuador (Irvine 1989) and Vietnam (Poffenberger personal communication) have appeared only recently. Recently, Asia Forest Network, based at University of California, has developed a pilot activity to assist minority Thai communities in the reestablishment of traditional "Yumpa" Forest Keeper system in Vietnam. In fact after Chambers (1979) drew attention to the importance of local knowledge little reference has ever been made to ethnoforestry.

However, the subject is important to local people, and development planners alike. We must realize that it enlarges people's range of choices. Environmental security now lies in integration of local knowledge and modern learning. Clifford Geertz (1993), in his famous book, Local Knowledge, demonstrates how local knowledge remains in dynamic tension with global knowledge. We cannot analyse policy developments and their implications if we do not have a more profound understanding of the meaning of forests for their societies.

This is not to say that all so-called prescientific societies lived in a state of ecological balance. Many pleistocene hunter-gatherer communities are believed to have caused the local extinction of a number of large mammals through over-exploitation (Joshi and Gadgil 1991).

Protection Ethnoforestry

Protection Ethnoforestry is also called conservation ethnoforestry. It includes the maintenance of sacred trees, sacred groves, temple forest and saffron-sprinkled forests or kesar chhanta forests and landscapes. Another category is closures or Beed, the wooded areas, near farmlands and dwelling houses, owned by private people. These practices have helped to maintain the biodiversity of natural forests and wild habitats.

Biodiversity conservation practices are as diverse as the cultural diversity in the world. Indigenous knowledge of local plants, animals, habitat preference, life-history and resource availability is socially transmitted from one individual to another within and across generations (Gadgil, Berkes and Folke 1993), though not necessarily in writings. In addition, there are examples where communities regulate the use of resource by restricting the access to resources, and enforcing compliance through religious belief, ritual and social convention. It is debatable whether these 'restraints' evolved after trial and error or as systematic prescriptions. However, it is certain that these restraints definitely contributed for the cause of biodiversity conservation.

Why Bother with Ethnoforestry?

The dynamics of social reciprocity in a poor and marginalised community is almost beyond the capacity of an outsider to imagine (Seeland 1997). The implementation of joint forest management with success in India has proved that those for whom the forests matter most can properly manage forests and sustainable livelihoods. And they may not be the so-called scientific foresters. They are the local people.

Ethnoforestry is very useful for participatory forest management. We have also proved and learnt to a great extent that local knowledge can be revitalized and operationalized within the context of social development and participatory forestry. Even more important, ethnoforestry saves people from the danger of becoming the subordinate participants in their community land use. It prevents people from the danger of further marginalisation, for it regards them as the producers of development, and not the mere spectators of it.

Relevance of Ethnoforestry

I am convinced that our application of knowledge for fieldwork has to be broadened to incorporate local knowledge in order to analyze the policy development and its implications on the life and livelihood of poor people. Forestry students need more understanding of the social and cultural context in which scientific forestry is developed and applied.

Social and political processes at the level of communities reflecting different interests in forests require more attention in policy analysis. National regulation can only be successful if they are meaningful to and accepted by indigenous people. At the global level, forests have become part of worldwide concern and subject to political efforts in order to develop a more consistent cooperation on their management. Policy research has to address such evolutions and their possible impact at the national and local level (Schmithusen 1997).


Ethnoforestry is the creation, conservation, management and utilization of forest resources by local communities through traditional practices and folk beliefs. Ethnoforestry is not to be confused with participatory forestry or joint forest management. Protections provided to habitats are classified as protection ethnoforestry. Traditional methods of regeneration of livelihood species by people are classified as plantation ethnoforestry. These include direct sowing, bamboo rhizome planting, cutting, nursing of wildlings and closures. Traditional methods of growing trees and crops in farmlands are called ethnoagroforestry.

Ethnoforestry will deliver vital and incomparably significant results for the future of world forestry. The reasons are many:

1. Ethnoforestry can ensure equity of knowledge between village communities and the scientific forestry community. It will stop exploitation at the hands of so-called scientific community. Equity of knowledge alone can, ultimately, make the forestry sustainable.

2. Ethnoforestry can provide location-specific solutions. Local knowledge is easily transmitted, used by large section of the society, does not require costly consultancy and other input, and thus, minimises possibility of corruption.

3. Ethnoforestry can reduce the costs of tropical afforestation. Economizing world's tropical forest plantations through ethnoforestry is a distinct possibility.

4. Ethnoforestry is not to be confused by participatory forestry or joint forest management. Ethnoforestry represents the traditional ecological wisdom of world's indigenous people.

Examples of Different Types of Indigenous Forest Management

Protected natural forests:

Sacred forests/sacred groves
abodes of (ancestral) spirits Asia, Africa
ceremonial & rainmaking forests Africa, India
shrine/temple forests S. Asia
sacred corridors  India

Water protection forests
spring forests Tanzania
riverine vegetation  Borneo, Kenya

Clan/village forests
clan forests     Borneo
village forests Himalaya region
tribe/clan/lineage grazing woodlands Africa
forest belts T'Olche, Mexico
protected tree species Taboo trees, pantropical

Resource-enriched natural forests:

Individually claimed trees
Tree marking, S.E. Asia

Enriched natural forests
enriched & expanded forest islands & gallery forests, Guinea
enriched rainforest groves, Borneo

Enriched fallows
casuarina fallows, New Guinea
rattan fallow cultivation fallows enriched w/ fruit/tree S.E. Asia,
Amazon palm fallows Amazon, W. Africa, East Indonesia

Reconstructed (natural) forests:

Forest gardens  
Ifugao woodlots, Philippines
Mixed damar gardens, Sumatra
Mixed fruit and rubber gardens, Borneo/Sumatra
Planted temple forests India, Thailand

Fortification forests
Defense forests around human habitations, Sahel
Village fortresses, Guinea

Mixed arboriculture:
Home gardens Pantropical
Smallholder plantations Pre-Hispanic cacao plantations, Mexico
Mixed damar/coffee gardens, Sumatra
Mixed rubber gardens, Indonesia

Source: Wiersum (1997). For an online version of this table with references see Ethnoforestry: Indigenous Knowledge on Forests, <>


Chambers, Robert (19) (ed.) Rural Development: Whose Knowledge Counts? IDS Bulleton 10(2)

Gadgil, Madhav and Berkes, F. and Folke, Carl (1993) Indigenous Knowledge for biodiversity conservation. Ambio. 22(2-3):266-270.

Geertz, Clifford (1993) Local Knowledge. Fontana Press, Londan, pp 244.

Gupta, Anil K. (1987) Why poor don't cooperate : Lessions from traditional organisations with implication for modern organisaitons. In : Clare G. Wanger (ed.) Reserach, Relationship, Politics and Practice of Social Research. George Allen and Unwin, London, 1987 pp 111-127.

Irvine, D. (1989). Succession management and resources distribution in an Amazonian rain forest. Adv. Econ. Bot. 7,223-237.

Joshi, N.V. and Gadgil, Madhav (1991) On the role of refugia in promoting prudent use of biological resources. (quoted in Gadgil and Guha, 1992).

Menzies, N. K. (1988) Trees, Fields, and People: The Forests of China from The Seventeenth to The Nineteenth Century.

Pandey, Deep N. (1996a) Beyond Vanishing Woods: Participatory Survival Options for Wildlife, Forests and People. CSD and Himanshu, Mussoorie/New Delhi/Udaipur, pp.222.

Pandey, Deep N. (1996b) Village Common Fund . In: Kurup, V. S. P., (ed.) New Voices in Indian Forestry. SPWD New Delhi, pp 288-292

Pandey, Deep N. (1996c) Plantation Forestry: India must Change to Advance Closure Technique. Paper presented at the JFM National Network Meeting, October 1996, New Delhi.

Pandey, Deep N.(1996d) Ethnoforestry, Prasashanika, 23(2): 29-47

Pandey, Deep N. (1997) Ethnoforestry by Indigenous People. Paper presented in XI World Forestry Congress, Antalya, Turkey

Pandey, Deep N. and Samar Singh (1995a) Aravalli Ke Deovan. Rajasthan Patrika, 21 May, 1995.

Pandey, Deep N.and Samar Singh (1995b) Traditions of Sacred Groves in Aravallis. Wastelands News, (Hindi), April-June 1995.pp3-6

Posey, D. A.(1985) Indigenous management of tropical ecosystems: The case of the Kayapo Indians of the Brazilian Amazon. Agroforestry Systems , 3, 139-158

Schmithusen, Franz (1997) Local Knowledge on Forests, In: Seeland, Klaus and Schmithusen, Franz (eds.) Local Knowledge of Forests and Forest Uses among Tribal Communities in India, Department Wald-und Holzforschung, Zurich.

Seeland, Klaus and Schmithusen, Franz (1997) (eds.) Local Knowledge of Forests and Forest Uses among Tribal Communities in India, Department Wald-und Holzforschung, Zurich.

Wiersum, K.F. (1997) Indigenous exploitation and management of tropical forest resources: an evolutionary continuum in forest-people interactions. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 63: 1, 1-16

About the Author

Deep Narayan Pandey is Associate Professor of Ecosystem Management and Technical Forestry at the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, India. He is coordinator for the International Network on Ethnoforestry, the Asia Forest Network in South Asia and the Master of Philosophy Programme on Natural Resource Management. Deep Narayan Pandey is devoted to cause of the sustainability of forests and livelihood security of indigenous communities and works extensively with communities for protection of forests, afforestation, entitlements to biomass, and environmental protection in ecologically threatened areas. Dr. Pandey can be reached at: IIFM, PO Box No. 357, Nehru Nagar, Bhopal-462 003, India; Tel: 91 755 775716; Fax: 91 755 772878; e-mail: ; web site: <

Original Source

This article is excerpted with kind permission of the author from _ETHNOFORESTRY Local Knowledge for Sustainable Forestry and Livelihood Security_ by Deep Narayan Pandey, Himanshu Publications, Udaipur/New Delhi, 1998 (online edition 1999), web site: <>. The included table of examples from Wiersum, K.F. (1997), is adapted from an online version presented in Ethnoforestry: Indigenous Knowledge on Forests, web site: <>.

Web Links

The International Network on Ethnoforestry <>

Introduction to Ethnoforestry produced in association with Winrock International is comprehensive and excellent: <>

The International Network on Ethnoforestry peer group e-mail list and archives: <>

Indian Institute of Forest Management focus on sustainable forest and natural resource management: <>

Related Editions of The Overstory

The Overstory #53--Nontimber Forest Products--An Introduction <>
The Overstory #51--Protecting and Expanding Traditional Agroforests in the Pacific <>
The Overstory #49--Traditional Pacific Island Agroforestry Systems <>
The Overstory #34--Forest Islands, Kayapo Example <>

Publisher Notes

The Overstory is distributed by Agroforestry Net, Inc., P.O. Box 428, Holualoa, Hawaii 96725 USA;; Web site:

Agroforestry Net, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization.

Past editions of The Overstory:

This publication is Copyright 1999-2005 Permanent Agriculture Resources. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. For conditions of use please contact or write to Agroforestry Net, Inc. at the address above.

This newsletter is designed to provide agricultural information, but is sent with the understanding that the editors and publishers are not engaged in rendering consultation. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be sought.

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