Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


5.1 The impact of commercialisation and urban growth on resource use
5.2 The impact of forest degradation on forest resource use
5.3 Use of forest tree species on farm lands
5.4 Changes in usuary rights to forest products

Many different factors work together to limit or alter the way forest resources are used. Widespread forest degradation caused by expanding agricultural land clearing, conversion to plantations (cocoa and timber), and timber exploitation all diminish people’s access to forest products. In addition, migration from rural areas to urban centers has created larger markets for some forest products. Increased commercialisation of rural economies in conjunction with increasing populations and degradation of the forest resource base have served to increase the pressure on dwindling resources.

Cocoa - an example of commercialisation

5.1 The impact of commercialisation and urban growth on resource use

There is little information which directly assesses the impact of increasing commercialisation on the way forest resources are used and valued. However, there are a few trends which can be discerned: urban growth has created new markets for formerly untraded goods, changes in the value of specific products (e.g. fuelwood) have changed traditional rules regarding their use: some traditional products are no longer sought after, locally-valued forest tree species are being incorporated into farming systems, and in some cases, degradation of the forest environment has led to a lower quality of life.

Bushmeat trade provides one of the clearest examples of the impact of commercialisation and resource degradation in the region. Commercialisation and increasing urbanisation have created an ever-expanding market for bushmeat. Consequently, wildlife resources are being over-exploited in most areas and their population sizes are thought to be dwindling (Asibey 1977, Jeffrey 1977, Ntiamoa-Baidu 1987). The result has translated into inflating bushmeat prices and a reduction in bushmeat consumption in rural areas (see Section 4.4.2). In some urban centres bushmeat has become a luxury item (den Hartog et al 1973, Asibey 1987b). Even in regional markets prices have increased over the last few years; Gartlan (1987) asserts that in southwestern Cameroon this inflation is due to a reduction in the availability of bushmeat.

In many regions, hunting for bushmeat has become an important income-earning activity (Asibey 1986, Dongmo 1985) (see Section 4.1). In some areas with good market access, bushmeat consumption is declining, as what can be caught is sold rather than consumed (Asibey 1987b). In these rural regions only what is not sold or what remains from the carcass dressing is consumed by the rural poor (Federal Department of Forestry, Nigeria 1987). Mankoto ma Mbaelele, Dudu, and Colyn (1987) note that in Zaire, the species which are consumed in rural regions differ from those species that are sold to urban consumers. People in rural regions eat what they cannot sell in urban markets.

There are several other traditional foods whose markets have expanded greatly with increasing urbanisation. One notable case from Nigeria is Irvingia gabonensis seeds whose market value is increasing as forest supplies dwindle (see Section 4.2.2). Although there are cultivated substitutes for Irvingia sp. seeds (e.g. Colocynthis sp. (melon) seeds), Irvingia sp. are preferred; people pay far higher prices for something of traditional value (see Tables 3 and 8, Okafor 1981).

Increasing urbanisation has also created a new market for a number of artisanal products such as cane and rattan furniture (see Section 4.8.2). Kaye (1987b) remarks that, in Côte d’Ivoire the rural market for traditional artisan products is declining at the same time that the urban markets are expanding.

In some cases, the increasing commercial value of forest products is altering the dynamics of the resource’s exploitation. For example, the increasing value of fuelwood has drawn more men into the business of production and marketing. In Côte d’Ivoire, both production and marketing of fuelwood and charcoal are dominated by women on a small-scale, but as the fuelwood trade has expanded, men have become increasingly involved because of the time they can afford to spend and their access to transportation (Ministère des Affaires Sociales 1986). Similarly, in Bo, Sierra Leone, Kamara (1986) has found that rural men are increasingly involved with the production of fuelwood for the market. There, men collect 25% of the wood for the market compared to 7% of the total wood collected for home consumption. Thus 79% of the fuelwood men collect is for sale rather than home consumption (see Appendix 7). Similar trends exist in other parts of Sierra Leone. Kamara notes that this may have a negative impact on women as it may reduce their income earning potential (though it may also reduce the time women have to spend collecting wood).

A change in the way lands are managed, through conversion to plantations for example, can also often limit access to, and therefore use of, a particular forest resource. In an assessment of a rice development project in northern Sierra Leone, Karimu (1981) found that non-project farmers had been negatively affected by the project; they no longer had access to Raphia palm groves which they valued as a source of raw materials for housing. Similarily, in an evaluation of the impacts of a forest plantation project in Ghana, local residents stated that local supplies of housing materials had declined due to forest conversion (Korang 1986).

5.2 The impact of forest degradation on forest resource use

In some regions formerly plentiful supplies of wildlife, medicines and supplementary foods have practically disappeared. This is not to suggest that substitutes are not adopted or that cleared forest lands reap no harvests. The degradation of the forest quite naturally leads to a decline in resource use. However, in the West African region there are some forest "products" which cannot be readily replaced; those that serve cultural or symbolic functions are especially important (e.g. bushmeat, medicines, and housing material). For example, in Korang's (1986) study of the impact of forest conversion on surrounding residents, a diminished supply of locally valued forest resources was noted. These losses had not been replaced with substitute products from the plantations. Thus people had lost a source of income (sale of canes and chewing sticks), food (bushmeat), and medicine.

In some cases, deforestation has reduced the extent to which forest resources are used. Visser (1975) notes that among the Ando in Côte d'Ivoire a decline in knowledge regarding medicinal plants and their uses has resulted from a decline in actual forest resources. In the case of plant medicines this loss of knowledge is particularly troubling, as traditional medicine is the only health care available to the majority of those living in rural areas of this West African region.

In Western Cameroon, Koagne (1986) notes that there are many forest foods which are decreasingly exploited. He adds that almost all of the region's natural vegetation has disappeared. Traditional supplemental foods are not available in exploitable quantities and new foods that are imported from other regions have taken their place. Forest foods with particular social value are still consumed on ceremonial occasions though these products are often specially protected or produced on farms for such occasions.

The greatest amount of information on the impact of forest degradation comes from studies of wildlife decline. Several studies have shown that bushmeat consumption is limited by the supply of wildlife (Ajayi 1974, Asibey 1987, Martin 1978, Ntiamoa-Baidu 1987, deVos 1977, Blanc-Pamard 1979) (See Table 1, Sections 1.1.5 and 4.1). In southern Cameroon Laburthe-Tolra (1981) asserts that the decline in bushmeat consumption, caused by reduced supply of wild animals, has resulted in a deterioration in the quality of people's diets. The risks associated with a continued decline in supply become particularity great when it is realised that, as discussed earlier, it is difficult to substitute for wild animals; livestock production is difficult in this region (see Section 1.1).

Fuelwood scarcity has led to a range of different problems. In the southern regions of Ghana, Ardayfio (1986) has found that fuelwood scarcity has forced households to purchase fuel at the expense of food (in one village household, fuelwood expenditures rose from 1% to 16% of total expenditures within a few months), cooking time is being reduced and, in some cases, different foods are being used. The additional time that must be spent collecting fuelwood has increased the negative health effects of fuelwood gathering, and women's income earning activities which require high fuelwood energy inputs, have, in some cases, been curtailed because the fuel costs have become prohibitive.

5.3 Use of forest tree species on farm lands

In some areas the combination of declining forest resources and increasing market demand for certain products has resulted in increased use of forest trees on farm lands. This is occurring, to different degrees, throughout humid West Africa. Its predominance depends upon the amount of land pressure that exists, the quality of nearby forest resources, traditional tenure regulations, the extent of commercialisation, and the markets for forest products. In Nigeria, on-farm trees are valued for cash income, shade, fruit, fuelwood, wood for building material and agricultural implements, soil conservation, and palm wine. As nearby forests disappear it is not only trees with marketable products which are increasingly left on farms, trees with food crops or particular household uses such as those use for medicine production, are also being preserved and supplemented (Umeh 1985).

Generally it is believed that many of the West Africans from the region do not plant trees. Trees on farm lands are most commonly those that have been left and protected during forest fallow and cultivation periods, or transplanted wildlings. But, tree planting on farm lands is increasing. In southern Nigeria, where land pressure is at perhaps its highest in the West African region, the number of trees being planted on farm and fallow lands is increasing (Okafor 1979). Currently approximately 37% of the farm and fallow land trees were planted (Obi 1985).

In southeastern Nigeria, there is a considerable amount of research evaluating trees on farm lands (see especially Okafor various). One hundred and seventy-one (171) common farm and fallow land forest tree species with edible products have been identified; the density of these species is often far greater on farm lands than in natural forests (Okafor et al 1987) (see Section 4.2.2). On-farm trees serve a multitude of household functions while providing support to agricultural production (e.g. yam stakes and mulch) and a source of cash income. Okafor (1987) found that the tree species with the greatest number of household uses were often incorporated into compound farms while less frequently used species were found in outlying fields. (See Appendix 17 for a description of the functions of trees on compound farms in southern Nigeria.)

Okafor also examined the relative predominance of tree planting and protection. His analysis showed that more Dacryodes edulis and Irvingia gabonensis were planted than were protected. On the other hand, Treculia africana and Pentaclethra macrophylla were generally protected rather than being planted. At the Anambra State Forestry Research Station I. gabonensis and D. edulis seedling demand far exceeds supply (Okafor 1986). Both of these species have valued traditional uses as well as an important market value (see Section 4.2).

In other parts of West Africa, tree planting also appears to be of growing importance. In Western Cameroon, Depommier (1983) notes that natural vegetation has almost disappeared. He finds that many useful forest species are protected and planted in hedgerows, especially those with market value. In Sierra Leone, Engel et al (1984) has also found that most farmers are interested in planting trees on their farms. The most valued species for planting are oil palm and other food trees.

Fruit trees are of growing importance. In an examination of agroforestry systems in southeastern Nigeria, Ijalana (1983) found that trees (especially fruit trees) were being incorporated into farms with increasing frequency. Trees were generally protected as wildlings though they were planted as boundary demarcations; generally those with long gestation periods were selected for this purpose, (e.g. Mansonia altissima and Nauclea diderrichii).

In the Ho district (Ghana), approximately 75% of the fallow field tree species have medicinal uses (Asamoah 1985). In Nigeria medicinally valued trees are also predominant on farm and fallow lands (Okafor and Fernandez 1987). For example, the leaves of Jatropha curcas are used for treating ringworm (the seeds are used as a soup ingredient).

Okafor found that at least half of the produce gathered from on-farm and fallow land trees was consumed by the household rather than being marketed, though strong markets for these tree products did exist (See Table 8 in section 4.2.1). Another study in southeastern Nigeria echoes Okafor’s findings. It reveals that a great portion of the tree product harvest is consumed by the household rather than being sold: for example, 78% of the Irvingia gabonensis fruit and seeds harvested from compounds are consumed by the household (Nweke et al 1985).

5.4 Changes in usuary rights to forest products

In addition to planting trees, changes in the commercial value of forest products has, in some cases, led to changes in traditional regulations over tree products. For example, in a rural community near Accra, in Ghana, Ocansey (1985) found that the increasing market value of fuelwood led to severe exploitation of the woody vegetation, and changes in the rules associated with resource use. Fuelwood became a privatised commodity, and could now only be collected from people’s own farm lands. Thus landless people in the community were forced to purchase their fuel.

In some instances changes in tree tenure systems may reflect increasing market demand for certain forest products and a rapid decline in resources themselves. This may be the case in Casamance, Senegal, where Pelissier (1966) writes that the traditional rights associated with forest products have changed with the decline of forest resources. Formerly, access to forests was “open”, then rights to forest areas surrounding farm fields and especially the vast array of palm products from them, were restricted.

Increased tree planting can also be a sign of increased privatisation as it is traditionally a sign of ownership in some parts of humid West Africa (see Section 3.4). The introduction of a new technology for palm alcohol production in southern Benin catalyzed changes in the management and value of raphia swamp resources. In village areas with considerable raphia resources a system of communal management has developed. However, in villages with good access to the Cotonou urban market, excessive overexploitation has sometimes led to privatisation of raphia groves (Profizi 1986).

In many cases, raphia groves have been divided among villagers who have been given permanent rights to parcels of grove. By tradition, raphia is never planted, it is seen as a gift of God. However, since the privatisation of these areas people have begun to plant young seedlings. Good seed trees are now protected and their seeds are distributed among the villagers who raise and transport them into the groves. In some cases the privatisation has led to clearing of the raphia groves for vegetable cultivation which, because it can be undertaken in the dry season, leads to higher profits. In both cases the increased marketability of a forest product has led to changes in the management of a formerly “free” resource.

As forest resources decline, their utility and value to local people may diminish. Some authors suggest that loss of knowledge about traditional foods, medicines and uses of surrounding resources are indications of cultural disintegration and impoverishment (Okigbo). There is, however, little concrete information on either the changing uses of forest resources or the differential uses of different forest types. The examples presented in this section highlight some apparent trends. They suggest that it may be possible to manage both forest and fallow land in such a way that the production of increasingly valued (both commercially and domestically) forest products is supplemented.


There can be little doubt that the rapid changes to the environment which are occurring throughout the West African humid zone affect the ways these forest resources are used. In some cases new products introduced from urban areas (and foreign markets) are replacing traditional forest goods.

In other cases, however, commercialisation and resource decline have placed a high market value on forest products, especially those that cannot be replaced for cultural (e.g. Irvingia seeds), environmental (e.g. bushmeat), or economic (e.g. medicines) reasons. While the expansion of agriculture and human settlements into formerly uncleared forest areas has destroyed many forest resources, it has also created new habitats for other commonly used resources (e.g. grasscutter). Clearing and forest fallow cycles favour much-used species such as oil palms.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page