Chapter 4: The socio-economic aspects of forestry and food security

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4.1 The dietary role of forest foods
4.2 Changing diets
4.3 Fuelwood and household nutrition
4.4 Forestry and disease
4.5 Income and employment from forests
4.6 Farm trees: contributions to household food security
4.7 Land tenure and food security
4.8 Common property resources: assuring household food security

The previous two chapters have identified some of the forest "services" and products which contribute to food security: forests and trees provide critical support to agricultural production and they provide foods and fodder. Besides providing food, they also serve as a source of income and capital - part of which can be used to buy food or invest in future food production.

This chapter focuses on the socio-economic aspects of forestry's contribution to household food security. It explores the dynamics of forestry's contribution to household food security: examining how households use forest and farm tree resources, and under what circumstances. It also examines how these uses are changing.

While few studies have focused specifically on food security issues, it is nonetheless possible to sketch out some of the main links involved. In terms of household food security, forest and farm tree resources serve to supplement existing food and income, fill in seasonal shortfalls of food and income as well as provide seasonally crucial agricultural inputs and help to reduce risk and lessen the impacts of drought and other emergencies.

However the picture that emerges is not a uniform one. Trees and forests play a far greater role in some communities than in others. For example, forests appear to be especially important for the rural poor. Neither is the picture static; almost everywhere, patterns of tree growing and forest exploitation are evolving in response to changing circumstances, new pressures and new opportunities.


4.1 The dietary role of forest foods

4.1.1 Forest foods as a dietary supplement
4.1.2 Trees and forests as seasonal food resources
4.1.3 The emergency role of forest foods

The last chapter highlighted the great variety of forest and tree foods which are consumed. These food resources are an established parts of the diet for huge numbers of people throughout the Third World. However they rarely supply dietary staples. Nonetheless they often significantly supplement the overall diversity and quality of the diet. In many agricultural communities forest or tree foods are relied upon during the "hunger" season before the new seasons crops ripen. In addition, forests have traditionally provided a source of foods during emergency periods when other foods are unavailable.


4.1.1 Forest foods as a dietary supplement

For some communities, forest foods are a major component in their diets, providing the bulk of their nutritional requirements. This is the exception, however, and is mainly restricted to the few isolated groups of hunter-gatherers still remaining in forest areas. For the vast majority of people, the role of forest foods is a supplementary one; they add variety to diets, improve palatability, and provide crucial vitamins and minerals. Although the quantities involved may not be large in comparison to the main staple foods, they often form an essential component in otherwise monotonous and nutritionally poor diets. Diet diversity is an extremely important element of nutritional wellbeing, in part because more essential nutrients are consumed, and also because it improves the taste of staple foods thus encouraging greater consumption.

Often, forest foods such as leaves and wild animals are added to soups and sauces which accompany staple foods. For example, the Peuhls from Senegal consume the leaves of Boscia senegalensis year-round in sauces which accompany their grain staple (Becker, 1983). Forest foods are often smoked, dried or fermented making them available over extended time periods;thus helping to ensure a year-round supply of food.

One of the most common uses of forest foods, especially fruit and insects, is as snacks. Most nutritional studies focus their attention on the main meals of the day, and ignore what is eaten between meals. There is therefore very little information on the extent to which snack foods are eaten, or on the nutritional value they impart.

The term "snack" implies their role is somehow peripheral. Yet some studies suggest that snack foods are often consumed in large quantities. Frequently, for example, people eat fruit between meals and while at work, herding, gathering, or tending the fields. A study undertaken in Swaziland found that some types of fruit are regarded particularly as children's food, and are eaten on the way to and from school (Ogle and Grivetti, 1985).

4.1.2 Trees and forests as seasonal food resources

Some forest foods, especially leaf vegetables and wild animals, are consumed throughout the year by rural households. The most widespread use of forest foods, however, is in meeting seasonal food shortages. Many agricultural communities suffer from seasonal nutrition gaps, or hunger periods. These generally occur at the end of the dry season and the beginning to middle of the rainy season, when stored food supplies have dwindled and new crops are not yet ready for harvesting (Hassan et al, 1985; Hussain, 1985). Forest and farm tree foods are also valued during peak periods of agricultural work, when less time is available for cooking.

In Northern Brazil, the fruiting season of Babassu palm corresponds to the off-peak agricultural period. The fruits and kernels make significant contributions to the diet during this lean period (May et al, 1985b). In Senegal, wild foods are most commonly used to meet a seasonal food shortage at the beginning of the wet season. As only two species, Boscia spp. and Sclerocarya spp., fruit during this hunger period, these are particularly valued (Becker, 1983).

One study in Zimbabwe has shown how most fruits are consumed during this annual hunger period. Interestingly, the period of peak collection and consumption of wild fruits did not correspond to the main fruiting season. People used fruit to supplement their diet when it was most needed rather than when it was most plentiful (Campbell, 1986a).

Seasonal nutrition problems are not just confined to the natural cycle of dry and wet seasons. Institutional factors can also cause food shortages. Payment of school fees, for example, is tied to an administrative calendar. As this may not correspond with the crop production cycle, it can create a marked seasonal cash shortage limiting a household's ability to purchase food. If they are available at the right time of year, forest foods can also help fill temporary gaps of this kind (Chambers and Longhurst 1986).

4.1.3 The emergency role of forest foods

Especially in Africa, forests and woodland areas have traditionally played a critical role during emergency periods, such as in times of drought, famine, and war. They provide food when crops fail, as well as yielding products which can be sold to raise cash.

In general, famine foods are different from those consumed during normal years. Many are chosen because they are rich in energy. Their disadvantage, however, is that they often require complicated and lengthy processing. For example, in Zimbabwe, the stems of Encephalartos poggei are soaked in running water for three day, sun-dried, and crushed into a fine powder before being consumed (Malaisse, 1985). In many cases their taste also leaves much to be desired. These characteristics are not entirely surprising. If they were tasty and easy to prepare people would not wait for a famine to eat them; they would be part of the regular diet.

A survey in West Africa found that rhizomes, roots, and tubers are the main sources of energy in times of famine. Various types of bark, pith, buds, sap, stems, leaves, fruit, flowers, and seeds are also eaten. A distinction was observed between periods of crop failures and severe famines: wild forest fruits were found to be useful in the former but less so in the latter. In severe famines, roots and tubers are more appropriate as they tend to be better sources of energy. For example, the leaves and fruit of baobab are commonly consumed during periodic food shortages, while their roots are consumed in famine periods (Irvine, 1952).

In India, Malaysia and Thailand, about 150 wild plant species have been identified as sources of emergency food. The kernels of Aesculus indica and Shorea robusta, and the bark of Acacia arabica, Bombax ceiba, and a number of other species are ground into fine flour to make traditional chapaties (normally made out of wheat or rice flour). The tubers and other underground parts of plants like Arisaema concinnum, and Dioscoria spp. take the place of potatoes and other root crops (FAO, 1983a).

The emergency role of forest food products may be changing with increased commercialisation and food relief programmes. None-the-less, for many poorer people, emergency foods from the forest remain as essential components of their diets in times of hardship. Their contribution to food intake may be small when measured in quantitative terms, but the fact that they can make the difference between surviving an emergency, and succumbing to it, makes the part they play critical.


4.2 Changing diets

The role that forests and trees play in food supply and nutrition has changed considerably in recent decades, and continues to do so. Population growth, privatisation of forest lands and resources, penetration of commercial markets, conversion of forest land to agriculture, logging and fuelwood extraction; these and other forces have put increasing pressure on the remaining forests. Many forest products that have traditionally contributed to people's diets are becoming increasingly difficult to find.

In Botswana, for example, the bushlands have been severely degraded in many areas. As a result, many traditional wild food species have disappeared or dwindled dramatically in numbers. In these regions, the Botswana people rarely use these plants any more, relying instead on the foods purchased in the commercial markets. Only at the cattle posts are wild food species still used to any great extent (Campbell, 1986b).

Reduced diversity of diet is a common trend, and one that frequently leads to poorer nutrition. This has been observed among Pacific Islanders, many of whom have become increasingly dependent on imported cereals and introduced vegetables, which have a lower nutrient content than traditional foods. Fruit and leaf vegetable use has been greatly reduced, with a consequent reduction in vitamin and mineral consumption (Parkinson, 1982).

It is often assumed that increased income and assimilation into a cash economy will raise the nutritional status of rural populations. In fact, in some cases it is just the opposite. In some cases the nutritional quality of purchased food does not compare with that of traditional foods. In other instances reliance on cash crops makes households dependent on the vagaries of market prices: a drop in cash crop prices will mean a household has less with which to purchase foods. Furthermore in situations where a shift from food to cash crops entails a shift in control of household income from women to men, household nutrition may be affected as women are more closely involved with provision of the household's food (Longhurst, 1985). These issues have important relevance for forestry projects geared to raising household cash income and improving household food security, as the two do not necessarily go hand in hand.

In a study in Bangladesh, for example, the food production and nutritional status in traditional and modern villages were compared. Traditional villages grew two rice crops per year, while the modern villages grew three. Despite the fact that the modern village had more food available throughout the year its inhabitants suffered a higher occurrence of malnutrition. It was concluded that this was due to a reduced diversity of foods in the diet, as well as higher energy expenditure (because of having to produce a third crop), and poorer hygiene. Although the modern villagers consumed more rice and wheat, and had a higher overall intake of calories and protein, the traditional villagers ate more roots and tubers, pulses, vegetables, and fruit. The result was that over the course of the year, the mineral and vitamin content of the diet was significantly greater in the traditional village than the modern one (Hassan et al, 1985).

Changing diets

The role of forest foods in the diet has changed with their diminishing availability and changing tastes and access to new products. In some regions forest foods are rarely consumed and knowledge about their uses is vanishing. This trend is not universal, however.

In some areas forests still provide a readily available source of food and fodder. In addition, commercialisation of rural markets and rapid urban migration have created markets for popular forest foods that previously did not exist. Dawadawa, made from fermented Parkia seeds, is now commonly sold in the markets of Accra, Ghana, for example, well outside its traditional consumption range (Campbell-Platt, 1980). The buoyant market for game meat in many West African towns, and the sale of forest products at the side of major roads, also underline the continuing demand for certain forest foods.

In some countries, people have responded to the declining availability of forest resources by protecting trees or deliberately incorporating them into their farming system. Studies in Zimbabwe, for instance, found that residents in the most severely deforested areas had selectively maintained their favourite wild fruit species (Campbell, 1986a). In other cases, farmers have begun planting fruit trees, both as a source of income, and as a supply of food for the household (Gielen, 1982). Thus, while the availability of foods from the wild may be decreasing, in some cases this is being compensated for by the increased cultivation and deliberate management of desired species.

The impact of declining forest food consumption is not clear. As was noted above, these changes have led to a poorer quality diet, in some cases. Perhaps the worst impact of the loss of forest food resources is that poorer people's food options will be further reduced, especially during seasonal and emergency hardship periods.


4.3 Fuelwood and household nutrition

Fuelwood is the main energy source in most Third World rural communities. All cooking and most food processing is dependent on fuelwood. Indirectly, therefore, fuelwood supplies affect the stability and quality of food supplies. With fuelwood becoming increasingly scarce in many rural areas, this raises a number of concerns about the likely impact on nutrition. While there are few studies that have specifically focused on the links between nutrition and fuelwood, some of the most important relationships can been identified.

Fuelwood shortages, for example, may influence the amount of food cooked. In one extreme case, it was reported that refugees in Somalia fed their bean rations to their livestock or discarded them because they could not afford the fuelwood to cook them (Cecelski, 1984).

Reports from other countries have noted a reduction in the number of meals cooked per day as a result of fuelwood scarcities. In parts of Sudan, food is now cooked once a day instead of the customary three times, according to one study (Hammer, 1982). This trend may be particularly harmful for children, since, if the staple food is starchy, a child may not be able to digest adequate calories in one meal alone.

It is not always clear, however, whether less frequent cooking results in less food being consumed. Nor is it obvious whether fuelwood scarcities are the only cause of this decline. Since wood shortages are often associated with other problems such as food scarcity, increased workloads, and increased availability of "fast" foods, a variety of factors may be at work.

A second consideration is that fuelwood scarcity may affect the quality of food consumed, if it results in reduced cooking time and greater reliance on uncooked or reheated foods. Eating under-cooked foods and reheating leftovers can have a serious impact on disease incidence. This is especially true of meats because of the danger of parasites, and of tubers and legumes which need to be cooked properly to destroy toxic components. One study in Peru found that in one area the consumption of half-cooked food was common, especially during the rainy season, and that it had a noticeable effect on the nutritional status of the families concerned (Alcantara 1982).

It is not only food quality which could be affected by fuelwood scarcity, the quality of drinking water may decline if water boiling is reduced, thus inducing increased incidence of diseases.

Changes in diet may also be associated with fuelwood shortages. Several authors have suggested that an increase in consumption of fast-foods and purchased snack foods may be in response to increasing fuelwood shortages (Cecelski, 1984; Agarwal, 1986). Generally, it is assumed that these foods are of lower nutritional quality than traditional foods, though there is little direct evidence documenting this. It is difficult to distinguish the effects of fuelwood scarcity from other factors associated with changes in dietary habits such as changing cultural values and increased urbanisation and commercialisation.

Fuelwood is also important for food processing often being used to smoke,dry and preserve foods. Food processing is of central importance for food security, as it serves to extend the supply of foods into non-productive periods allowing these resources to be spread more effectively over the year. In the case of commercial food processing (e.g. fish-smoking) if fuelwood is scarce (and thus expensive) this is likely to affect both the availability and price of the final product.

This is one of the problems for the fish processing industry in Kenya and Tanzania. A large percentage of the fish catch from Lake Victoria is currently smoked. Fuelwood scarcities in the region have meant that the cost of processing has gone up, costs which have had to be passed on to local consumers (Mnzava, 1981).


4.4 Forestry and disease

The linkages between forestry medicine and nutrition are extremely important. Many intestinal diseases, for example cause malnutrition by preventing the absorption of food by the body. Disease also debilitates and can affect food production by reducing labour efficiency during peak periods in the agricultural calendar.

Forests provide the only medicines available to a large proportion of the world's population. Many studies have catalogued the use of medicinal products gathered from the forests (Heinz and Maguire, 1974). While the effectiveness of different traditional plant treatments are still under considerable dispute, a few observations are important. Some plants contain high concentrations of particular chemicals which are the base for modern drug equivalents. Secondly, many plants chosen for their traditional medicinal qualities have high concentrations of vitamins and minerals which can help counteract illnesses caused by dietary deficiencies.

As was discussed in the second chapter, forests can influence and regulate water quality to a certain extent. In addition, fuelwood supplies the energy for water boiling. Water quality has a direct influence on disease incidence, and thus people's ability to absorb foods.

Some trees have properties which can directly affect the quality of water supplies. Moringa sp., for example, are used by women in Egypt and Sudan to clarify turbid water. The seeds of the tree contain natural coagulants which can clear water to tap water quality in 1 to 2 hours. The elimination of turbidity is accompanied by a 98-99% elimination of indicator bacteria. Thus the use of Moringa seeds can provide a low cost water treatment technology, thereby improving the health of rural communities (Jahn, 1986).

The fruits of Balanites aegyptiaca and Swartzia madagascarensis contain saponins. These are lethal both to the snails which act as the intermediary host of bilharzia and to the water flea which harbours the guinea worm. Planting these species along irrigation banks, it has been suggested, could do much to prevent the occurrence of the diseases (Wickens, 1986).

Forests may also have a negative impact on health by providing habitats for certain endemic disease carriers. Notorious among them is the tsetse fly, which causes trypanosomiasis in humans and cattle. Eradication efforts in some countries have involved the large-scale clearance of natural woodlands, as well as chemical spraying. The effects have been controversial, however, since in the process of opening up land for livestock and humans it may also expose fragile, and previously protected areas, to rapid environmental degradation.


4.5 Income and employment from forests

4.5.1 Gathering enterprises
4.5.2 Processing enterprises
4.5.3 Employment in forest-based activities
4.5.4 The importance of forest-based enterprises for women
4.5.5 Contribution to household food security: the role of forest-based income
4.5.6 Constraints to further development of forest-based enterprises

Millions of rural people depend on forests for income and employment. For many, the money earned from collecting, selling or processing forest products provides an essential input to family income enabling them to buy food and invest in future food production (e.g. purchase of seeds, or tools).

The particular products involved vary from region to region depending on markets, local traditions, alternative means of employment, and the types of forest resources available in the area. These activities, however, have a number of important characteristics in common:

* they are small in size and are often household-based;
* they are accessible to the poorer sectors of society;
* they are labour intensive;
* they require few capital inputs;
* they provide direct benefits to the local economy.

In the same way that forest foods contribute to family nutrition, forest-based activities usually provide a supplementary source of family income. Similarly, activities follow the seasonal patterns of agricultural cycles and tend to be concentrated during certain periods of the year when labour and the necessary input materials are available. They may also be particularly important in periods of hardship when cash is scarce because of failure of crops or other emergencies.

Two main categories of income-generating activities can be distinguished; those based on gathering forest products, and those centred around the processing of forest products.

4.5.1 Gathering enterprises

The gathering and sale of forest products is an important economic activity for a great many rural people. A multitude of products are gathered for local, urban, and in some cases, export markets. Since such activity occurs on the fringes of the formal economy, its nature and magnitude is rarely reflected in national statistics. Much of the information that is available comes from anecdotal accounts and localised case studies.

Many studies focus on forest product gathering and trade by forest dwellers (Weinstock 1983, Connelly 1985, IDRC 1980). Many agriculturalists, however, also depend on these activities especially during the off-peak agricultural season. Forest gathering activities are especially important for poorer households in rural areas (Siebert and Belsky 1985).

The collection of rattan has been studied in a number of countries. Derived from a climbing palm (Calamus sp.), rattan provides a source of income for many South Asian people, both forest dwellers and settled agriculturalists (IDRC, 1980). One study in the Philippines found that rattan collection provided an essential income supplement for many farming families, few of whom could survive on their agricultural income alone especially during drought years (Siebert and Belsky, 1985).

In north-east Brazil, collection, processing and sale of Babassu palm kernels (Orbignya phalerata) is an important source of income for millions of subsistence farmers. The majority of farmers in the area are landless tenants and kernel collection is one of the few ways they can supplement their income. Although most Babassu palm stands are wild, the sale of kernels is generally controlled by the wealthy landlords. Kernel collection and sale corresponds with the slack period in the agricultural calendar, which is the period of greatest cash need. In addition to food purchases, this income often contributes to agricultural inputs (e.g. seeds) for the following season. The palm also provides a multitude of other products including thatch, basketry, charcoal, and food (May et al, 1985b).

The fuelwood trade is an increasingly important source of income for many rural people, especially women. For example, it is estimated that as many as 2 to 3 million people in India are dependent on the fuelwood trade, earning an average Rs. 5.50/day per 20 kg. headload (Agarwal and Deshingkar, 1983). Most fuelwood surveys have focused on the consumption and physical supply of biomass. Only recently have studies begun to address issues such as the income to be earned by rural households in the trade.

One such study has been carried out in Sierra Leone (Kamara, 1986). Here, it was found that the rural firewood market was concentrated in villages near roads leading to towns. The fuelwood sellers, the majority of whom were women and tended to be the older members of the household, were mostly part-time, selling wood to supplement their household income. The cash earned played an important role in the agricultural cycle. It provided the first cash income from land cleared for rice production. Subsequently, fuelwood selling was concentrated in the off-peak agriculture period, providing cash at a time when food supplies were at their lowest. In one area close to a thriving urban market, fuelwood collection was almost as profitable as upland rice production. This is not typical, however. In most places, in Sierra Leone and elsewhere, the fuelwood trade brings very poor returns.

4.5.2 Processing enterprises

There is a wide range of forest and tree products which undergo simple processing at the household or small-scale rural enterprise level. A recent survey has been carried out in six countries, looking at the nature and magnitude of forest-based small-scale enterprises and assessing the contribution they make to rural income and employment (FAO, 1987). It was found that the most common enterprises are those producing furniture, agricultural implements, vehicle parts, baskets, mats and other products from cane, reeds and vines. These products are made primarily for the rural market. A variety of handicrafts, however, are also produced to serve urban and sometimes export markets.

Most enterprises are very small; over half the units surveyed were one-person operations, and most depend on family labour. Their average size, and some of the other basic characteristics of forest-based small-scale enterprises, are shown in Table 4.1.

Like forest gathering activities, processing enterprises often operate on a part-time or seasonal basis. They too are dependent on the cyclic demands for agricultural labour, the seasonal availability of forest products as well as the cyclic nature of agricultural incomes-- since the local market for many processed forest products depends on rural people's purchasing power.

As with other small enterprises, those dependent on forests have to be able to respond to market conditions if they are to be successful. There are a number of strategies they can follow. One is to concentrate on market niches in which factory products are not competitive, such as very low cost basic furniture items below the price range of factory products, or high quality hand-carved pieces. Alternatively, they can focus on products in which there is no competitive advantage from large-scale machine production, such as handicrafts. Another approach is to specialise in a particular product or process in order to get the advantages of longer production runs.

Table 4.1 Characteristics of Forest-based Small-scale Industries

Attributes Jamaica Honduras Zambia Egypt Sierra
Proportion of total FBSSIs (%)
One-person operations 58 59 69 69 36
Production at home, not workshop 52 72 81 76
Rural location:
- Enterprises 88 100 96 80 99 97
Employment 79 100 95 65 96
Women's share:
- Ownership 32 10 12 65 (3)
- Labour force 30 61 23 1 21
% family members in
- Labour force (No) 82 51 86 89 (41) 73
- Hours worked 68 57 89 34
Mean Values:
No of workers per enterprise 2.2 2.2 1.7¹ 1.9 1.8 3.8
Total investment (US$) 3030 10555 431 255
Hours worked annually per worker 990 1247 1205 1712 2004 836
Annual production value
per firm (US$)
4979 2536 1501 1384 2362

¹The number of hours per worker for Zambia is estimated from the one-visit survey.
Source: Fisseha 1987

The small-scale furniture industry in Egypt provides an interesting example of specialisation. Even the manufacture of items such as chairs is distributed between different units specialising either in particular parts such as legs or seats, or in different stages in the production process, such as primary processing, assembling or finishing (Mead, 1982).

In northern Thailand, small village-based entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the improved roads in their region to truck the furniture they produce to towns or busy roadsides where they assemble and finish it for sale. In this way they compete effectively with furniture from large urban producers and have expanded their markets (Boomgard, 1983).

4.5.3 Employment in forest-based activities

One of the greatest contributions of forest based enterprises to local economies is the employment afforded a great many rural people. Although the absolute numbers of people involved are not high in relation to the entire rural population, they form a large share of those employed outside agriculture. These activities often provide seasonal employment in periods when few other options are available, especially for the rural poor.

Several studies have attempted to estimate the economic importance of forest-based gathering and processing enterprises in India. In many rural areas, income generated from these sources is a key component in the rural economy. In the northeast State of Manipur, for example, an estimated 87% of the population depends on income generated from forest products. Some 234,000 women in this region are engaged in forest product collection activities.

Elsewhere in India, collection of tendu leaves (Diospyros melanoxylon) is an important dry season employer, especially for tribal groups. As many as 7.5 million people are estimated to be involved. In the areas around the forest, these leaves are used for wrapping 'bid)' cigarettes, which itself is a major cottage industry worth more than $100 million a year and employing a further 3 million people. Over the whole of India, more than 30 million people are thought to be involved in forest-based income earning activities of one kind or another (Cecelski, 1984). In south east Asia, at least half a million people are employed in collection, processing and small-scale manufacturing of rattan products. The trade of unprocessed rattan alone is estimated at $50 million annually (IDRC, 1980).


4.5.4 The importance of forest-based enterprises for women

Women figure prominently as owners as well as employees in forest-based enterprises in some countries. In Jamaica, for example, 32% of the enterprises are owned by women, and women make up 30% of the labour force. There appear to be clear distinctions, however, between the types of enterprises involving women and men. In Zambia, women are owners of a large share of the enterprises involved in broom making, bamboo processing and twine and rope making; but they are rarely involved in carpentry or furniture making (FAO, 1987).

The fuelwood trade is often dominated by women. In Sierra Leone, 80 percent of the urban firewood sellers are women (Kamara, 1986). In a survey of women fuelwood collectors in Gujarat, India, it was found that 70% of women collected fuelwood for sale for more than 25 days of the year (few collected wood during the monsoon season). Most of the income derived was used for buying food (Buch and Bhatt, 1980).

In some regions men are becoming more involved with the fuelwood trade as the distances to be covered increase, and because few rural women have access to the donkeys, trucks or other forms of transport needed to carry wood over long distances. This shift in roles of fuelwood collection may free women of one of their most tiresome chores. But at the same time it may deprive them of an important source of income.

Women play an important role in the collection and processing of Babassu palm fruit in Brazil. While both men and women gather the fruit from the wild, it is the women who process the fruit and kernel oil (May et al, 1985a). Similarly, in Sierra Leone, women are responsible for processing oil palm kernels which are gathered from the wild by both men and women. Much of the income generated from the sale of palm oil goes to men; women, however, retain some of the kernels to earn money for themselves.

The fruits on a young oil palm

Because women generally have less access to land and other income earning activities than men, income derived from the sale of forest products is often particularly important to them. The fact that gathering of forest products can often be combined with fuelwood collection, fetching water and other routine activities is one advantage. It also helps that processing can usually be performed at home, allowing women to combine these income earning activities with other household chores.

From the point of view of family nutrition, women's income is often particularly important. Some studies have compared women's and men's spending patterns and have found that women tend to spend more money on basic food supply. Nutritional status is therefore more directly dependent on women's income than men's.

Time constraints are often one of the main factors limiting women's involvement in income generation from forest-based activities. Fuelwood shortages are also a problem for many women involved in fish-smoking, beer-making and other food processing activities that rely on fuelwood. From a food security standpoint, one of the most harmful effects of fuelwood scarcities may be the added burden placed on women's time and therefore limitations to their income earning potential (Ardayfio, 1985).

4.5.5 Contribution to household food security: the role of forest-based income

Income earned from forest-based activities contributes to food security in a number of ways. Most obvious, is the availability of cash for food purchases, especially during hardship periods. In addition, these monies are sometimes invested in agricultural assets such as livestock, tools or land. In this sense, forest resources offer poorer households a means for investment in their future; providing an opportunity to escape from the cycle of poverty.

One of the advantages of small-scale forest-based enterprises is that the benefits accrue directly to the household concerned. For many families, a significant percentage of their income is generated through forest based activities. In northeast Brazil, for example, an average of 25% of household income (including non-cash income) comes from babassu palm kernel gathering and processing during the dry season (May et al, 1985b).

In some areas, collection and processing of forest products has taken over as the main income-generating activity. In one study in Sierra Leone, 18.6% of farmers interviewed said they considered non-agricultural enterprises - which included processing activities, fuelwood collection, hunting, fishing, palm wine tapping, and handicrafts - to be more important than farming (Engel et al. 1985).

Hunting for trade in game meat is a particularly lucrative activity in some countries. In Peru, a skilled hare hunter can reportedly earn $1350 a month compared with the agricultural labourer's wage of $100 a month. In Ghana, a single grasscutter sells for more than twice the daily minimum wage in rural areas, and as much as seven to thirty times this wage in Accra. A successful farmer-hunter can therefore earn more from hunting than from agricultural production (Asibey, 1987) . Trends in bushmeat prices in Ghana compared to beef and mutton are shown in Figure 4.1.

Table 4.2 Urban Consumer Prices for Meat in Ghana

  Beef Mutton Bushmeat
Kumasi Accra Kumasi Accra Kumasi Accra
1980 22.09 40.88 23.09 NA 78.15 83.95
1981 52.51 47.84 52.83 NA 81.90 144.00
1982 85.51 83.64 88.57 87.56 48.56 180.48
1983 165.00 135.75 150.91 150.33 125.73 373.48
1984 234.17 239.00 234.17 252.67 223.71 453.08
1985 283.94 276.53 305.00 453.15 299.98 510.61
1986 270.41 271.87 260.04 255.96 349.45 684.64

Source: Asibey 1987

The income earned from gathering and processing forest products is of particular importance to the rural poor. In many societies, local people have traditionally had "open" access to forest resources. Poorer groups within the community have thus been able to exploit the forests for food, fuel and other marketable products, and have tended to rely on these for a greater proportion of their income and basic needs than those in higher income groups. Similarly, because of their low investment requirements, small-scale forest-based enterprises are often more accessible to the poor than other income-earning activities.

In the Philippines, dependence on rattan collection has been shown to be linked to income. While poorer families rely on rattan collection and other forest-based employment for their regular income, better-off farmers use rattan mainly as an emergency source of income in times of poor harvest, or other emergencies (Siebert and Belsky, 1985). The same trend was observed in comparisons in Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. In all cases, the poorest households with the least land relied most heavily on off-farm income earning activities (Kilby and Liedholm, 1986).

While forest based activities provide numerous opportunities for the rural poor, some studies suggest the earnings vary substantially from one activity to another. A study in Tanzania revealed that returns to labour varied from well below the minimum rural wage rate for mat-making to several times this standard wage for carpentry (Havnevick, 1980). In this case access to markets was a crucial factor determining the profitability of different activities.

The implications for household food security are unclear: as women are predominantly involved in craft activities these findings suggest that household nutrition may suffer as women's incomes are directly correlated with nutritional wellbeing. On the other hand, the benefits derived from products produced to meet domestic needs may allow a household's cash income to be spent on other products such as food.

The returns to labour for many forest-based activities are marginal. In addition, markets for products may be vulnerable to introduced substitutes. Thus, although forest activities provide some source of income for a great many rural poor, activities which are dominated by the poor and women often earn the lowest returns. These activities may not be sustainable in the sense that they will be abandoned if other opportunities arise or if substitute products cause a market collapse.

Certainly, there is not yet enough information to accurately measure the impacts of marginal returns for forest-based activities on food security. It is clear, however, that some are likely to provide more secure and renumerative sources of income than others.

4.5.6 Constraints to further development of forest-based enterprises

Small-scale processing and gathering enterprises based on forest products face a range of problems. Being small, they tend to be more susceptible to fluctuations in market conditions and shortages in raw materials. The range of problems that are encountered by these enterprises can be summarized as follows:

* insecure markets due to low rural incomes, seasonality of production, poor market information, lack of access to urban markets, and external competition;

* raw material shortages, often compounded by wasteful processing, restrictive regulations, poor distribution, and lack of working capital;

* lack of access to appropriate technology in the form of suitable tools and equipment with which to improve productivity;

* shortage of finance, in particular working capital;

* managerial weaknesses, which serve to worsen all the other problems;

* lack of organisation of the enterprises in a manner which enables them to make effective use of available support services.

Market forces play a major part in determining the success of small enterprises. Their position can be eroded by competition both within the small enterprise sector, and with their larger counterparts. Due to very low capital and skill requirements for entry into many small-scale processing activities, it is all too common for many more production units to exist than can be supported by the local market. The resulting competition leads to high failure rates and prevents profitable operations emerging which can generate enough surplus to be ploughed back into improving and expanding the enterprise.

The instability of rural markets is another threat to small enterprises. Incomes, being agriculture-based, have a short peak during which demand may exceed their capacity to supply. The resulting supply gap provides an opportunity for larger suppliers. Lack of working capital is a major barrier preventing small enterprises from stocking adequate productive inputs to smooth out seasonal fluctuations in their markets.

Improvements in rural infrastructure which enable products from outside to be sold in rural markets, and changes in rural market demands with rising rural incomes, also put small enterprises under increasing competitive pressure. Thus, factory-made furniture tends increasingly to displace traditional furniture made by local artisans. Similarly, bags and mats made from synthetic materials take over from similar products made by hand from natural raw materials.

Shortages of raw materials pose a major threat for processing as well as gathering enterprises. Often this is related to unselective felling by contractors which fails to preserve unique species or varieties. Sometimes, the problem is that a specific type or quality of wood, cane, or other raw material is depleted. This may be because it is being selectively extracted by large scale industries, or it may be a result of uncontrolled harvesting by small enterprises. Almost always, it is the poor who are most seriously affected as they are the ones who depend most on income from forest products, and who have least bargaining power.

In some regions, commercialisation. of forest products has resulted in over-exploitation of forest resources as markets have expanded. The increased profitability of rattan collection, for example, has led to its depletion in many regions; where once it was easily collected it now takes longer trips to gather less material. Similarly, in parts of West Africa wildlife resources have been severely depleted because of the increased demand for gamemeat from urban markets.


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