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2.1 Support for agricultural production
2.2 Support for fishing and hunting activities
2.3 Support for livestock production

Forest products are used in numerous ancillary ways, supporting production sectors such as agriculture and fishing. Surrounding forest resources are used to fabricate the tools needed in agriculture, fishing, hunting, and livestock production. They also support many small-scale processing enterprises by supplying the main energy input (primarily fuelwood).

There is a considerable amount of information to be gleaned from socio-economic and geographic studies, primarily from those which attempt to assess people’s production activities and their socio-economic status. Ethnobotanical studies provide descriptive information on the use of ‘ forest resources in production of farm, fishing, and hunting equipment. No studies, however, consider the value of these assets to local people in terms of the costs of substitutes or the benefits they bring to local users.

Pods on a Prosopis spp.

2.1 Support for agricultural production

The role forests and trees play in improving agricultural productivity has long been recognised: forests and trees help to maintain and restore soil fertility and stability and they help protect water supplies (many studies on shifting cultivation and agroforestry examine this function). But forests and farm trees also supply important material support to crop production: they provide the raw materials for crop supports (e.g. yam stakes), agricultural implements (e.g. hoe handles), harvest and transport equipment (e.g. baskets), crop processing equipment (e.g. cocoa drying racks), crop storage containers (e.g. yam storage stakes), and crop marketing equipment (e.g. baskets and sacks). Forest products can also be instrumental in protecting crops (e.g. fencing and plant-based insecticides) and food stores (e.g. wood ash placed in storage bins). While these products may be rudimentary by modern agricultural standards, they are generally the only resources available to the majority of farmers in the region. Some farming systems studies include details about the farm implements (assets) commonly used by farmers in the region.

Atsu and Owusu’s (1982) study on farming systems in eastern Ghana includes a detailed analysis of the socio-economic situation and farming practices of two households. And Ijalana’s (1983) farming systems study, in Ondo state (Nigeria), describes the agricultural equipment available to most farmers in the region: on average, a farming household owns 2 hoes, 3 cutlasses, and 5 baskets. It has been found that farmers spend approximately 96 Naira a season to purchase a hoe, cutlass and baskets in Nigeria (Umeh 1985).

Palm products (e.g. leaves and petioles of Oil and Raphia palms), rattan, and forest lianas are the most common raw materials used in basketry. Blanc-Pamard (1980) notes that people in the Boualé region, Côte d’Ivoire, use Raphia palms for making coffee dryers and sacks. They use the leaves and petioles of Oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) for making harvest and transport baskets, cage-carriers for transporting chickens to market, and crop storage containers. In Western Cameroon, raphia palm leaf petioles and Hybophrynium braunianum leaves are used to construct harvest baskets, crop dryers, storage bins, and transport baskets (Dongmo 1985). And in Gabon, baskets of different shapes and sizes are made with specific materials to serve particular functions (Gollnhofer 1975) (See also Soup Nguifo (1982), Cameroon).

An example of a raised storage container next to a family dwelling

In Ghana, Asamoah’s study (1985) found that 92% of the trees on fallow lands helped satisfy domestic needs such as agricultural implement provision. Okigbo (1980) relates that the Igbo seek plants which branch in ways suitable for the hooked handles of hoes: primarily they use Pentaclethra macrophylla, Acioa barteri and Dialium guineense. The wood of some species, Diospyros sp., and Newbouldia laevis, are used for knives, machetes, and axe handles. Iron-tipped yam digging sticks can be made from Dialium guineense or Newbouldia laevis, while traditional yam digging sticks require Acioa barteri. (See also Téhé 1980, Côte d’Ivoire; Abbiw 1989, Ghana).

Throughout the region trees left in farm fields are often valued for crop stakes, especially yam stakes. Elletey (1986) found that farm trees are used for crop stakes, for fences, to improve crop yields, and for shade in Ashante, Ghana. And in forest regions of southwestern Nigeria, Herren-Gemmill (1988) has found that fallow land trees are also valued as yam stakes. (See also Ijalana 1983, Nigeria, Sections 5.3, 6.6)

In his survey of traditional methods of food storage and preservation in villages in the Accra district (Ghana), Sackey (1977) found that people stored maize and other grains in storage containers. These containers consisted of covered raised platforms made with poles (bamboo cane, rattan, or raphia) tied together with lianas. The crops were sprinkled with wood ash as an insecticide. In some cases, wood ash was also used as a fruit ripening agent. Tree stems were also used for building yam storage structures (yam “barns”) in Ondo State, Nigeria. Poles (species which easily root are preferred) are set vertically and yams are tied to them (Ijalana 1983).

Farmers taking sorghum from a silo. The nearest one is made of plaited reed.

Forest products are also traditionally utilized to package and process food (Mensah 1982, Ghana; Ijalana 1983, Nigeria; Vérnière 1969 Senegal). In southern Ghana, many traditional foods (e.g. kenkey and dokon) are cooked and stored in large leaves. These leaves are often gathered from forest areas, smoke dried, and saved for later use. They are especially valued for the flavor they give to the wrapped food, for their preserving qualities, and their ability to withstand boiling. The shelf-life of these wrapped products varies from a few days to a week, depending on the leaves used. Many traditional foods are wrapped in the leaves of specific species.

In Nigeria the Igbo commonly store cola nuts in the leaves of Onchocalamus sp. They use the leaves of Marantochloa flexuosa, Sarcopharnium sp. and Thaumatococcus daniellii to wrap and preserve several prepared foods (e.g. agidi, ukpo, and elele) (Okigbo 1980). In southern Côte d’Ivoire the leaves of Thaumatococcus daniellii are also used for food processing, packaging, and selling - in this case attieke (a common manioc-based food). The leaves are gathered from forest areas, and sold in markets for 10 FCFA/packet of 60 leaves (Berron 1980) (see also Mensah 1982, Ghana).

In an interesting study of women and agricultural production in Nigeria, Adeyokunnu (1981) examined the types of containers and packaging materials used for marketing agricultural products in different regions of the country. He found that, for the entire country, baskets (29%) and bags (29%) were the most common containers. Calabashes (16%) and bowls (20%) were also common. There were some interesting regional differences in packaging materials. In the west, bags and baskets accounted for 80% of the containers. In the east, baskets were most prevalent, while in the north, calabashes (containers made from the fruit of the calabash tree (Lagenaria siceraria)) were most common. Most baskets were manufactured locally from palm and rattan products, as were some bags.

The large leaf species (discussed above) gathered from forest regions are widely used for food packaging and storage and can be found in many regional markets. In several countries of the region, Forest Departments regulate the collection of these leaves - an indication of their widespread use. In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, for example, a commercial collection permit is required (costing 25,000 FCFA). In Senegal, the tax on collection of leaves is 5 F/kg. (Direction des Eaux et Forêts 1982).

2.2 Support for fishing and hunting activities

Throughout the West African region, fish supply the greatest quantity of animal protein to the diets of both urban and rural populations. Most locally consumed fish are still caught by artisanal, as opposed to commercial (industrial) fishermen (Berron 1980). Forest resources support fishing activities in many ways, as raw materials for boats, nets, traps, poles, poisons, and fuelwood for fish preservation.

The most common fishing vessel throughout the entire West African region is the dugout canoe (Collart 1986). In Cameroon, for example, there are an estimated 4,450 canoes and in Sierra Leone there are more than 7,000. In Ghana, dugout canoes are still the main fishing vessels. Ewusi (1986) reports that in 1962 an estimated 78% of the total fish catch was caught from dugout canoes. In 1982, 83% (14,900 tonnes) of the total catch was caught from dugout canoes. Over the last 20 years, the (recorded) number of dugout canoes in Ghana has remained approximately the same: 8,700.

The Wouri in southern Cameroon use different types of wood for different canoes. A light wood is good for large canoes while a heavier wood is preferred for smaller boats (Moby-Etia 1982). (See Appendix 11 for a list of forest species commonly used for canoes.)

On a commercial scale Ghana produces the greatest numbers of dugout canoes in the region. They are generally made from the trunks of Triplochiton scleroxylon. A new type of canoe has been developed in Senegal using board planks. These new canoes cost about three times as much as the traditional dugout canoes (the cost of a traditional 11 meter dugout canoe was estimated at approximately $2,000).

Rattan and Raphia palm petioles are commonly used for making fish traps and poles (Amat et al 1972, Profizi 1983). The leaves of Raphia palms provide material for fish nets and ropes in Western Cameroon (Koagne 1986). And the Banen (in Cameroon) use the bark of Raphia palms for making fish traps. Plant poisons are commonly used by women in fishing (Dongmo 1985 & Laburthe-Tolra 1981, Cameroon; Amat et al 1972). The Igbo (from southern Nigeria) commonly use the leaves of Tephrosia vogelii and the fruit of Lagenaria breviflorus (syn. Adenopus breviflorus) and Blighia sapida as fish poisons (Okigbo 1980).

Fish trap of rattan

Chong (1987) reports that in coastal Sierra Leone, wood from mangrove regions is used for making fish traps, shelters designed to attract fish, poles, stakes, and boats. Tannins extracted from mangrove species still help preserve lines and nets (although this is diminishing). Poles of Rhizophora sp. form the frames of fish-smoking ovens. And finally, mangroves provide the only source of fuel for fish-smoking.

Forests (and trees from fallow farm areas) generally provide the fuelwood needed by fish-smoking enterprises throughout the region. Berron (1980) notes that most of the fish sold in Abidjan and its regional markets are caught by small-scale fishermen and smoked locally using fuelwood. Fuelwood is an important cost for fish smokers, but he remarks that the value of fish increases two to threefold when smoked.

Forests also supply the materials for hunting equipment: for traps, snares, arrows, bows, poisons. Guns have replaced traditional hunting gear in some regions (especially Liberia and Nigeria), but many rural dwellers still rely on their traditional equipment. Rattan, Raphia and other palm products are commonly used for making traps that sometimes serve the dual function of pest control and provision of bushmeat.

Forest resources also often supply the materials for the construction of bee hives for honey production. In western Cameroon, hives are made with liana and palm products (Macleod 1987). Forests also provide a year round source of “fodder” for bees, making honey production possible.

2.3 Support for livestock production

The few studies which have been conducted on livestock production in the region show that forests, and especially fallow and farm trees, are important sources of fodder, thus supporting the limited livestock production in the region. Livestock production is not well developed in the region; it is, however highly valued. Cashman (1987) found that many Yoruba women (from southwestern Nigeria) “fix” their earnings from palm oil-processing and other cash-earning activities in livestock as a form of savings.

In the West African forest region fallow areas provide common sources of livestock fodder (Reynolds et al 1987). Animals are generally free ranging though “cut and carry” fodder systems do exist in southern Nigeria. Most browse is gathered from forest bush areas. One study in southwestern Nigeria found that fallow trees were widely used for livestock browse by farmers (Herren-Gemmill 1988). (See also Nweke et al 1985, Okafor et al 1987.) Commonly harvested species are Ficus thonningi, F. exasperata and Microdesmis sp.. In Ashante, Ghana, Elletey (1986) notes that on-farm trees are also used for fodder. (Appendix 12 provides a list of common browse species from the region.)

Plants are also widely used as livestock medicines. However, very little research has been done on this subject in the humid areas of West Africa. Ucha (1988) found that certain browse species were fed to livestock (primarily goats) for particular illnesses. For example, Manniphyton fulvum is used for treating diarrhoea, Microdesmis puberula relieves stomachaches and Spondias mombin is used as an abortive and to aid in the expulsion of the placenta after birth. (See also Atta Krah 1987.)

Though little information exists on the use and importance of browse the limited data suggests that in areas of low population density goats and other livestock graze freely on the surrounding vegetation; but as population pressure intensifies (e.g. regions of southern Nigeria) animals are confined and fodder collection activities increase. Throughout the region, forest and farm trees are important browse sources both for gathered fodder and grazing.

Spondias mombin L.

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