Why do foresters plant trees? Testing theories of bureaucratic decision-making in central India

Why do foresters plant trees? Testing theories of bureaucratic decision-making in central India


There is a long history of tree planting in India, and it continues to be favored by policy makers and bureaucrats at the state level. However, the author points out that the popularity of tree plantations is puzzling in the Indian case because firstly, it does not seem aligned with the goals of India’s forest policies which tend to emphasize ecosystem services rather than timber production and secondly, many degraded areas can regenerate naturally and do not require plantings to regenerate. This paper examines why tree plantations continue to be popular among state-level forest departments in India and how they are implemented in the field.

Research goals & methods

The author conducts an ethnographic study of forest administration in India to show how multiple causal mechanisms interact as a public program, in this case related to tree plantation, moves from policy makers to bureaucrats responsible for implementing the program. The paper shows that ‘blueprint’ approaches which implement the same set of interventions in diverse contexts are likely to fail because they do not factor in these multi-causal mechanisms.

Conclusions & takeaways

According to the author, several inter-connected factors lead to a continued preference for tree planting as an activity among state-level bureaucrats. These include a desire for larger budgets, values of policy makers and the public, the values of the foresters, the visibility of planting activities, the ease of monitoring tree plantations, a desire to make territorial claims to parcels of land, and fewer opportunities for corruption. Foresters act in part because they believe there will be benefits to undertaking tree plantations, and in part because their professional training has instilled a belief in the appropriateness of tree plantations as an activity. The author points out that foresters’ preference for tree plantations is not arbitrary, but is the result of individual behavior within specific institutional contexts.


Fleischman FD. Why do Foresters Plant Trees? Testing Theories of Bureaucratic Decision-Making in Central India. World Development. 2014;62:62 - 74. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2014.05.008.


  • Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota