Go back

Uses of forests

People began life on this planet as forest dwellers. They were food gatherers and depended on the forest for all their needs: food, clothing, and shelter. They gradually became food growers, clearing a small patch in the forest to grow food. But they continued to depend on forests to meet a lot of their needs. Even today people depend on the forest for paper, timber, fuelwood, medicine, and fodder.

Fuelwood Fodder
Fencing Soil erosion check
Wind breaks and shelter belts Soil improvement


For the rural population, wood is an important source of energy for cooking and heating. They prefer smaller stems as these are easier to collect and carry. The wood that they select should be easy to split and have low moisture content to dry faster. Some of the wood is converted to charcoal and used for cooking.

Fodder from the forest forms an important source for cattle and other grazing animals in the hilly and the arid regions and during a drought. There are many varieties of grasses, trees, and shrubs that are nutritious for the livestock. Care is taken to see that trees poisonous to cattle are not grown. Trees that produce a large crown above the reach of cattle are preferred.

Fences created with trees and shrubs are preferred in developing countries as they are cheap to maintain yet give protection. Species that have thorns or are prickly and have stiff branches and leaves that are not edible are preferred. These species should be fast growing, hardy, and long lived.

Wind breaks and shelter belts
Trees grown for wind breaks should be bushy and sturdy to withstand strong winds, both hot and cold. Along the Saurashtra coast in India, casuarina has successfully been planted to check degradation due to salt laden coastal winds. A species of prosopis, called P. juliflora, planted along the desert border in Haryana and Gujarat has successfully halted the advance of the desert.

Soil erosion check
Tree roots bind the soil and prevent erosion caused by wind or water. Leaf fall also provides a soil cover that further protects the soil. Casuarina planted along the coastal region has helped in binding the sand and stabilizing the sand dunes in the area.

Soil improvement
Some species of trees have the ability to return nitrogen to the soil through root decomposition or fallen leaves. Such trees are planted to increase the nitrogen content of the soil.

Forest products and their uses

Timber Grasses
Cane Medicinal use
Fruit Floss
Fibre Essential oils

More than 1500 species of trees are commercially exploited for timber in different parts of India. It is used in timber-based industries such as plywood, saw milling, paper and pulp, and particle boards.

These are common in the north-eastern and the south-western parts of India, growing along with deciduous or evergreen forest. The main commercial uses of bamboo are as timber substitutes, fodder, and raw material for basket, paper and pulp, and other small-scale industries.

Cane or rattan are the stems of a climber plant and are used for a large number of household items. It is used to make walking sticks, polo sticks, baskets, picture frames, screens, and mats.

There are hundreds of varieties of grasses in the country that are used for a number of purposes. Lemon grass, palmrose grass, bhabbhar, and khus grass are some of them.

Fruit trees are an important source of income and food for the rural household. In some areas fruit trees are commonly planted along the field borders and around the wells. Mango, coconut, orange, pear, jackfruit and many others grow wild in the forest.

Medicinal use
Since time immemorial humans have been depending on the forest to cure them of various ailments. Even today man is dependent on the forest for herbs and plants to fight against disease. Of all the medicinal trees found in India, the neem is the most important. Leaves, bark, and other parts of many other trees also have medicinal value and are used to make various ayurvedic medicines.

Plant fibre has many different uses. Soft fibres such as jute are derived from the stems of the plant. Hard fibre from the leaves of hemp and sisal are used to make fabrics for various applications. Coir, another form of fibre from the fruit of the coconut, is used to make ropes.

The fruits of many species of Indian trees produce a silky floss. The most common of these is simal. It is used to made cotton wool, mattresses, and pillows.

Essential oils
Tropical grasses such as lemon grass, citronella, and khus are the source of essential oils. Oil is distilled from the wood of various species such as sandalwood, agar, and pine. Oil is also derived from the leaves of certain plants and trees such as eucalyptus, camphor, wintergreen, and pine. These oils are used for making soaps, cosmetics, incense, pharmaceuticals, and confectionery.

forest_rule.gif (74 bytes)