This study suggests that one of the most productive (and most neglected) uses of social science research in forestry development projects is to examine foresters' beliefs regarding rural peoples. This suggestion is illustrated with data from the Forestry Planning and Development Project, Pakistan's first nation-wide social forestry project.
The operational component of this project, intended to assist small farmers to cultivate trees on their farmlands, ran into immediate difficulties. Many of the foresters involved insisted that small farmers were simply not interested in tree cultivation. A comprehensive base-line study subsequently was carried out to examine the validity of this belief. The results of this study (confirmed by the subsequent experience with the project in the field) varied markedly from the foresters' beliefs.
While many of the foresters believed small farmers were opposed to having trees on their farms and would not agree to plant trees under the project, most farmers already had trees on their farms and expressed interest in planting more; while many foresters believed farmers would only be interested in planting large blocks of market-oriented exotics, most farmers requested small plantings of multi-purpose native trees; while many foresters believed farmers would plant trees only for market sale, most farmers requested trees to meet household needs for fuel and timber; and while many foresters did not think that increasing supplies of fuelwood could reduce the burning of dung, all of the evidence provided by the farmers suggested that it would.
The disparity between farmer reality and forester belief is attributed to failures on the part of both foresters and social scientists — failure by foresters to distinguish their non-empirical beliefs about farmers from their empirically-based knowledge of trees, and failure by social scientists to recognize the belief systems of foresters as a legitimate and important object of study. Their study comprises three parts: finding out what the foresters think the farmers want, finding out from the farmers what they actually want, and then analyzing and explaining the differences.