Bikash Rath
Coordinator, IUFRO Working Party on Community Forestry (9.05.06)

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Forests are the major source of our ecosystem services that the society avails for its sustenance and healthy growth. Forestry thus has continued to have a very complex and large social dimension with a number of interfaces between forest and society. These interfaces range from exploitation to protection & conservation. They form the key to an interdisciplinary approach between forestry sciences and social sciences, and create the potential for a mutual collaboration between the two.

Now, the question is: Do we really need such an interdisciplinary approach? How about forestry totally independent of social science, and vice versa?

The fact is that social scientists/activists/organizations pioneered in discovering many misdeeds and errors which the foresters either ignored or were unaware of, and this provided a scope for developing holistic management models for effective conservation of forest & wildlife.

Going for an interdisciplinary approach doesn’t disturb the exclusive identity of a stream/subject, rather it liberalizes it in a constructive manner creating scope for a more comprehensive and holistic understanding as well as expression. It’s like two or more nations sharing their boundaries (they obviously do not and cannot share all their boundaries with each other). And the challenges in the present world critically need an interdisciplinary approach for facing them in an effective and holistic way.

RCDC took a significant initiative towards making such interface possible in forest management. In the training-cum-workshop organized in 2010 it invited villagers practicing community forestry, and also some forestry experts to discuss silviculture in community forestry. And the interaction came out with a very interesting conclusion that silviculture needs to be participatory so as to avoid the possible ill effects (communities reported how the Departmental silviculture led to clearing of some of the valuable NTFP species and also to the invasion of weeds). It also gave a message to the community that silviculture doesn’t mean only thinning & cleaning, but it considers a lot of other elements and activities for overall forest development. Thus, silviculture itself can serve as an interface between foresters and communities, and participatory silviculture becomes an interdisciplinary approach.

One can obviously identify more interface points. In fact, few of the IUFRO units already recognize that their approach is and should be interdisciplinary. Further, limitations of the existing scope do not mean that we can’t have more/new points of interface in future, with changing dynamics.

Keeping ourselves mystified with our own identity followed by an attitude to not open to suggestions from other areas are our biggest barriers in promoting such an approach; so demystification must be a key word to remove such a barrier. The sub-division/WP coordinators have to identify the possible interface points first and the division coordinators have to ensure an attitude for demystification and liberalization. The IUFRO Secretariat can closely monitor the track.


The author works for Regional Centre for Development Centre (RCDC), a IUFRO member from India, in the capacity of Sr. Programme Manager; and the above article has been written in response to the debate on interdisciplinary approach in the IUFRO Division 9 conference recently held at Sarajevo from 9-11 May, 2012.