The mandate of the Forest Department in Sri Lanka was updated in 1980 to provide for involvement of rural people in the development of farm forestry. As this paper reported, subsequent progress of government extension programmes and donor-aided forestry projects was slow, which the authors ascribed to fundamental social and institutional constraints. Sinhalese society was structured into households rather than communities. Inherent social hierarchies were reflected in the inflexible Forest Department with its stress on policing and retaining power. The many NGOs involved in forestry had inadequate technical and social skills. Optimistically, a pending reform of forest policy promised to bring greater recognition of forestry and a more bottom-up approach to planning.