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6.1 People’s responses to resource degradation
6.2 The value of forest resources as reflected in tenure and usuary rights
6.3 Indication values: the markets and market prices
6.4 Studies which examine the contribution of income from forest products to the household budget
6.5 Studies which estimate the quantity or frequency of forest product exploitation and consumption
6.6 Studies of the uses and distribution of farm and fallow land trees
6.7 Assessing the value of forest resources by their functions
6.8 Evaluating the importance of forest resources by examining those who rely on them most: Women and the rural poor
6.9 Evaluating the importance of non-timber forest products at the regional and national levels

The information that is needed to assess the importance of forests and forest resources at the rural household level differs from the information that is needed to assess their national or regional importance. At a national and regional level relevant information can include: the number of people employed in forest-related activities; the forest products with an export market; the uses of forest resources by regional and national enterprises; the availability of raw materials from the forest; the number of small forest based enterprises; and extrapolations of the quantities of forest resources exploited over a region. However, at the local level the importance of forests and forest resources can best be determined through more detailed examination of information about people’s values and daily needs. As was noted at the outset, little information exists in the literature to directly assess the value people place on forests and forest products. There is however, a great deal of indicative information which can be used to assess the local importance of forest resources. The following discussion draws on some of these examples in order to illuminate different ways in which the value of local resources can be assessed.

6.1 People’s responses to resource degradation

The local value of forest resources is perhaps most insightfully assessed by reviewing studies which examine either people’s responses to abrupt changes in their forest environment or the impact of development projects that change either the forest or people’s access to the forest (See also Ume Okafor 1987, Nigeria; Faure et al 1980, Cameroon).

Korang (1986) conducted an interesting study on the local impact of the Subri development project in Ghana. The Subri project converted a large forest area to a Gmelina arborea pulp and fuelwood plantation. People from the surrounding area said that the project provided employment and improved roads. However, at the same time their supply of forest products diminished and housing and food prices increased. Ninety-four percent of ‘those interviewed complained that the project reduced the supply or their access to forest resources. In their view the most important losses were bushmeat, chewsticks, canes, poles and other housing materials, and condiments. Korang notes that for many local residents the formerly abundant supplies of chewing sticks and canes had provided a source of income (these products were gathered and sold to wholesale traders).

A study (Karimu 1981) of an agricultural development project in Northern Sierra Leone provides another example. The project, a rice production scheme, parcelled out areas of formerly common land. As a result of these allocations, the study asserts, non-project farmers no longer had access to raphia palm groves, their source of building materials, food, wine, and raw materials for basketry and furniture making. As was the case in the preceding Ghanaian example, the project had not considered the value of these forest resources for local consumption and income earning opportunity.

6.2 The value of forest resources as reflected in tenure and usuary rights

Many parts of West Africa have undergone great changes in land tenure regulations. It goes beyond the scope of this study to examine the causes and implications of these changes. Nonetheless, it should be noted that they can have a profound impact on the ways people use and value their surrounding resources. This discussion examines some of the different traditional user regulations governing the use of tree resources; such regulations sometimes indicate the value placed on different resources by different societies. Often these rules of custom change as the value of different tree products change. For example, sometimes, as a fruit becomes more valuable on the market, user rights become more restrictive.

Throughout the humid regions of West Africa trees have generally not been planted. In some cases this is the result of tree tenure regulations. In many regions culture and tradition have dictated that planters gain permanent rights to land on which they plant trees (Gastellu 1980). This does however change when resources become scarce and/or more valuable (see Sections 3.4 & 5.4).

Boamoah (1986) presents an interesting study of the traditional regulations associated with trees and their use in Ghana. In some parts of Ghana the rights over the use of trees and their products depends both on the type of land on which they are growing and the type of products being harvested. The traditional rules which this study examines suggest that trees vary in their importance and significance, those valued for cash and those with subsistence value. In addition, the rules suggest that trees, both generally and by specific species, are indicators of land right, inheritance and thus future wealth (see Section 3.4).

6.3 Indication values: the markets and market prices

Information on the markets, market prices and consumer demand for forest products all reveal the extent to which forests provide both widely desired products and income-earning potential. The increasing market for forest products such as bushmeat and Irvingia gabonensis seeds (both discussed Section 4) is due largely to urban expansion. The urban demand for these and other forest products reflects their cultural importance. There are studies that examine the frequency with which forest products are sold in markets, the comparative market prices of various forest products, and the number of people involved in their trade.

The market prices for bushmeat reflect its popularity. Data on bushmeat prices from several urban markets in the region are presented in Table 4 (see Section 4.1.2). In almost all cases bushmeat prices are higher than prices for meat from domesticated animals. This seems to indicate that there is widespread demand. In addition, the escalating bushmeat prices in Ghana and Nigeria suggest that demand is far from being satisfied. The data on Nigerian market prices for other forest foods compare favourably with the prices of substitute cultivated varieties suggesting cultural preference for these “wild” foods (Okafor 1979, 1981) (see Tables 8 and 9 in Section 4.2, Appendix 16). The comparatively high prices that are paid for forest foods result partly from the fact that they are available during periods when cultivated foods are in short supply. Information of this kind provides an indication of the importance of forest products to both consumers and market traders (see Section 4.2.1).

Throughout the West African region, the trade of forest products involves many people at different levels: producers, village collectors, wholesale market traders, and retail traders (Ajayi 1979). In some cases these activities provide a vital source of income. At one market (Makola) in Ghana, Ansa (1986) found that there were 166 traders (the majority of whom were women) selling forest products or products made from forest raw materials. These included: chewing sticks, bushmeat, raw canes, fuelwood, charcoal, cane baskets, kitchen utensils, mortar and pestles, and stools.

The local markets for collection and trade of forest products indicate that there is widespread demand for forest produce and many potential income earning opportunities for local producers. These markets appear to be relatively stable (in comparison to export commodity markets) they can therefore provide a steady source of income for the many people involved in production, retail and wholesale trade of forest produce.

6.4 Studies which examine the contribution of income from forest products to the household budget

Few studies directly assess the contribution of forest-earned income to the household budget; however, some present data on the income earned from different forest based activities. While links are rarely made to the ways this income is spent, it can be assumed that income which supplements the household budget is important, especially in periods when other sources are not available. For example, Asibey (1977b) relates that animal hunting and gathering provide an important source of supplemental income to some farmers (see Section 4.1.2). And Okafor (1979) presents data on the income earned by farmers in Anambra State from palm wine production (see Table 10). He shows that the income earned per day from palm wine production exceeds the Nigerian daily minimum wage (2.3 naira/day).

Kamara (1986) presents data on income earned from fuelwood sales by both rural farmers and retailers in Sierra Leone. He estimates that the returns per roan day from rice cultivation and fuelwood sales are almost equivalent, and notes that the fuelwood income is critical as it provides the first returns from land clearing and income during the agricultural slack period when few other sources of cash income are available. For urban retailers (80% of whom are women), income earned from fuelwood contributes from an average of 42% of total household income in Freetown (where 80% of traders work full-time), to an average of 5% of the total household income in Makeni.

Cashman’s (1987) study from southwestern Nigeria represents another example of the importance of trees as a source of household income. She notes that in this region, women earn the majority of the household’s cash. Some of the regionally important income earning activities which employ women include: palm oil processing, cola nut trade, parkia bean processing, soap making, maize processing and food sales. Oil processing is especially valued for “bulk” expenses such as school fees.

In some cases, communities have come to rely and specialise in the trade and production of forest products. In Bas Mungo, Cameroon, for example, some 20,000 villagers are dependent on the sales of palm wine to nearby Douala (see Section 4.3) (Moby-Etia 1982). Similarly, in Anyama, Senegal, Vérnière (1969) relates that the cola nut trade provides the main source of income for the town’s 6000 residents (see Section 4.6). Finally, in Ahwia (a Ghanaian village in the Kumasi area) all the village men depend on wood carving activities. Carvers earn a good living (about 1300 cedis/month on average) (Addey 1982).

6.5 Studies which estimate the quantity or frequency of forest product exploitation and consumption

Studies which examine and estimate the extent to and frequency with which different forest products are used also shed light on the value of these resources. Food consumption studies, and housing surveys evaluate the extent of forest product use. These case-specific studies which quantitatively assess the day-to-day use of forest resources provide analytical data which allows the utility of forest resources to be compared with the utility of other resources, and production systems.

Food consumption studies that examine the consumption of wild and forest foods or assess quantities of snack foods consumed can show the importance of forest products. Although not from the West African region, Ogle and Grivetti’s (1985) study on the cultural, ecological, and nutritional aspects of wild plant use in Swaziland is an excellent example of how information from different subject disciplines can be integrated to help understand the role of wild plants in people’s diets. They include a quantitative analysis of the frequency with which species are consumed. They find that over 220 wild plants are commonly (more than once a month) consumed; many agriculturalists who were interviewed claim they consume more wild plants than cultivated varieties.

Dietworst’s (1987) meat consumption survey in three Nigerian village communities provides an informative analysis of the frequency of bushmeat consumption (see Section 1.1.5). A village study in Sine, Senegal also examines household consumption of bushmeat. Although the area is known to have poor wild animal resources, the researchers found that bushmeat was regularly consumed (on average, 12.9 g./day/per son). They added that the greatest quantities of bushmeat were consumed by children (Vincke et al, 1987).

Faure and Vivien’s (1980) study of the local uses of forest resources in the Littoral region of southern Cameroon included an analysis of the extent to which they are used in house construction (see Section 1.5). They assert that approximately 300 poles are used for constructing one house. From this, they estimate that the nine study villages consume 4,200 cubic metres of wood to this end (see also Tanga 1974).

While few studies actually assess the extent to which plant medicines and traditional healing practices are used Abosede Akesode (1986) provide an unusual case study which examines the use of a traditional plant cure Nigeria (see Section 1.3.3).

Studies which examine the extent to which resources are exploited also indicate how valuable they are to local people. Moby-Etia’s (1982) study of palm wine tapping in southern Cameroon estimates the amount of palm wine tapped per person per day and the amount produced per season (see Section 4.3). In Ghana, Dodah (1970) estimates that farmers in the Krobo region tap between 25 and 100 trees per season. In Nigeria, Okafor (1979) provides data on the numbers of trees tapped for palm wine by farmers in Anambra state (see Table 10).

6.6 Studies of the uses and distribution of farm and fallow land trees

Sometimes the types of trees on farm lands and on fallow lands differ, but often valued species are maintained regardless of their location. Regionally, trees such as oil palms are often protected and selectively left in clearings and on forest fallow lands. The multitude of functions associated with these farm trees demonstrates their value to local people. There are a number of studies from the region which inventory fallow and farm trees. The density of different species on farm and fallow lands can often indicate their importance (especially when compared with density of the same species in nearby forest areas).

Okafor and Fernandez (1987) conducted an inventory of farm and fallow land trees in southeastern Nigeria. They identified 171 edible tree species. The most commonly used and highly valued species were found in compound farms rather than in outlying farm and fallow land areas. These farm tree species provided food and beverages, stakes, fodder, fuelwood, medicines, fibres and housing materials. (See Appendix 17 for species.)

Other tree inventories of farm and fallow species reveal similar trends (Obi et al 1973, Herren-Gemmill 1988, ICRAF et al 1986). Herren-Gemmill compares the uses and management of fallow areas by farmers in the forest and derived savannah region of southern Nigeria. She finds that farmers in the forest zone leave a broader range of forest emergents standing when crop land is cleared. A great number and variety of trees are also allowed to germinate during cultivation. In comparison, savannah farmers preserve only economic species.

There are many regional farming system studies that focus on the functions trees serve. For example, in the Ho district of Ghana, Asamoah (1985) notes that 76% of the fallow species identified provide medicines, 92% are valued for their soil improving qualities, 92% have domestic uses, 88% are used for fuelwood, 67% have commercial value and 50% serve in customary rites. In another Ghanaian study, Elletey (1986) examines the reasons why farmers protect (or tolerate) farm versus fallow trees. Among the Banen of southern Cameroon, Dongmo (1985) finds that most farm trees are valued for their leaves, fruit or seeds. A few species are also left in fields for protection and demarcation (see also Depommier 1983).

6.7 Assessing the value of forest resources by their functions

6.7.1 Seasonal variation in the use and importance of forest products
6.7.2 The emergency or buffer role of forest resources

There are a multitude of household uses for forests. Some are region specific, while others are specific to a group of people, or even a household. In examining the uses of resources by individual households, and in assessing their importance at a regional level, it is more useful to focus on the functions they serve rather than the specific species exploited. People are not concerned with trees themselves; they value functions such as cooking, warmth, food, medicine and shelter. The first part of this study broadly defined important West African tree products and their functions: as foods and materials for household consumption, as support to other productive activities, as sources of cash income, and as cultural symbols.

Information on the functions of forest resources can be found in anthropological (Bahuchet 1978) and geographic household-level studies, as well as in studies evaluating the uses of farm fallow trees (Asamoah 1985, Boamah 1986, Dongmo 1985, Elletey 1986, Herren-Gemmill 1988, Okafor et al 1987) (see Sections 5.3 & 6.6). In regions where the natural forests have disappeared, useful trees are often incorporated into the farming systems (Okafor 1981, Ijalana 1983). For this reason studies of on-farm trees often reveal information on the functions that forest resources once served (See for example Poulsen (1981) who also suggests that forest products can be classified by function.)

This study has identified many of the common functions forest products serve in households throughout the West African forest region:

* food (both animals and plants) to supplement the diet and meet seasonal shortages;

* drinks: palm wine and alcohol, “water”;

* food and cash buffers or insurance in emergency hardship periods;

* medicines and dental chewing sticks;

* fuel, for all household and enterprise needs;

* marketable products exploitable for cash income (e.g. cola nut);

* material for house construction: poles, bark, liana, palm roof tiles and other roof leaves, wattle slats, timber;

* material for household, agriculture, hunting and fishing equipment;

* yam and other crop stakes;

* materials for crop storage containers;

* fencing and boundary markings;

* fodder;

* shade;

* inputs for processing enterprises (e.g. fuelwood);

* locations for social, religious and healing ceremonies;

* symbols of cultural and religious identity and importance.

By focusing on the functions of forest products the role of these products can be examined and information from different areas of the region can be compared. In addition, this focus allows one to examine how uses change over time and by setting. For example, in examining the function of foods gathered from forest areas, similarities can be seen across the region: forest foods provide dietary staples and supplements; fill in seasonal and emergency food shortfalls; and provide specific nutrients and culturally symbolic foods. Forest leaves, nuts and wild animals are used in sauces which accompany main meal staples. Forest fruits and insects are consumed largely as snacks, especially by children and during periods when agricultural work is most time-consuming. Mushrooms are consumed as meat substitutes, and are generally available only during the rains. Forest foods may have particular cultural value (such as the cola nut, a sign of welcome in many parts of the region). Some forest foods provide regular supplements to the diet, others are consumed seasonally, when staple food supplies dwindle or during peak labour periods when little time is left for cooking. Still other forest foods are used only in emergency periods when no other foods are available. These generally differ from regularly consumed products, they are more energy-rich but require lengthy processing. What is important about the focus on function is that discussions move beyond species descriptions.

The changing uses of forest resources (see Chapter 5) can also be viewed in terms of their evolving functions. For example, in some cases forest foods may no longer provide the diverse range of produce which they once did. But culturally important foods may still be widely consumed. In other instances, the growing market for some forest foods (e.g. Irvingia gabonensis seeds) may have changed their role in rural areas; trees may now be valued as a sources of cash income. Concomitant with these changing functions, changes in the ways in which these products are valued and managed may ensue. In southern Benin, for example, a new technology for palm alcohol distilling was introduced which changed the way the raphia palms were used and valued. Formerly they had served a great range of household functions and had been used by anyone in the community, but with the introduction of this new technology, they were rapidly overexploited because of the nearby urban market for palm alcohol (Profizi 1986) (see Section 5.4).

There can be little doubt that the functions of forests will change for households in the rural regions of southern West Africa. The relative importance of different forest products may also change: this can already be seen as some products take on more of a commercial value. But, for most of the functions listed above, contemporary evidence suggests that forest products are still important for the majority of rural households. Although substitutes exist for many non-timber forest products, few people have the resources to buy them. Perhaps for this reason, of those noted above only “material for household, hunting, and fishing equipment”, “foods as a buffer during emergencies”, and “drinks” appear to be of declining importance throughout the region as a whole.

6.7.1 Seasonal variation in the use and importance of forest products

Perhaps one of the most crucial functions of forests is that they provide products for consumption and sale during seasons when other foods and sources of income are less prevalent. Although the seasonal variations may not be as pronounced in the humid zone when compared to more arid regions, forest product use still complements the seasonal agricultural cycle. Many smallscale enterprises are run seasonally, when labour is available.

In rural Sierra Leone fuelwood collection for market sale is concentrated in the off-peak agricultural season, thereby providing income in a period when food supplies are generally at their lowest (Kamara 1986) (see Appendix 16). Similarly, palm oil processing takes place when cash is needed for food purchases. The palm fruit and kernels are processed as soon as they are harvested, despite the fact that returns would be higher if they were saved and processed later in the season (a result of seasonal variations in selling prices) (Engel et al 1984).

The income earned in forest based processing and gathering activities often plays an essential part in the agricultural cycle. In rural Sierra Leone, income from fuelwood sales (the first returns from cleared lands) is often used to purchase agricultural inputs such as seeds or equipment (Kamara 1986). Similarly in Ghana, the income that is earned from bushmeat sales is often invested in agricultural production (Asibey 1987b).

Many forest products are gathered and consumed seasonally. In most cases this reflects a seasonal need for food supplements. However, in some instances forest foods are only available in specific seasons. Perhaps the most popular examples are snails and mushrooms which are both generally only available at the beginning of the rains in a review of bush foods consumed in southern Cameroon, Pélé and Berre (1967) found that plant foods gathered from wild areas (notably forests) were most valued when other food sources were unavailable - at the end of the dry season. Dongmo’s more recent study (1985) in Banen, Cameroon reiterates these findings suggesting that forest foods are still roost important during the off-peak agricultural season. Okafor’s study (1981) on forest foods in markets in southern Nigeria reveals that many are available in seasons when cultivated varieties are in short supply (see Appendix 15). He notes that these foods are only available in the dry season because they are gathered from the forest. In some cases forest species are cultivated (e.g. Gnetum sp.), but these cultivars do not produce for as long a period into the dry season as those found in forest habitats.

Throughout West Africa consumption of bushmeat is generally higher during the rainy season. In some communities, hunting is an important off-season activity. In southern Cameroon, trapping is common during the rainy season (Amat et al 1972). And among the pygmies from southern Cameroon the species hunted as well as hunting techniques vary by season (Bahuchet 1978).

6.7.2 The emergency or buffer role of forest resources

Forests have traditionally provided food and marketable products during emergency periods of food shortages, illness or death. This function is well illustrated in stories from the region in which trees are portrayed as providers during famines (see Section 3). Early works, such as Irvine’s (1952) study on the emergency uses of forest products, also illustrate the former importance of forests as a buffer source of food supplies. He relates that forest tubers, roots and rhizomes were the main source of energy during famine times. It is not however clear, from recent accounts, whether and how this function has changed in the last few decades. Forest resources have declined, so too has people’s knowledge of their varied resources. In addition, the commercialised rural economies and food aid programmes may, in some cases, substitute for the food buffer forests once provided. It can be postulated that marketable and processed forest products provide a means for earning cash income during emergencies, although no information has been found on this issue.

6.8 Evaluating the importance of forest resources by examining those who rely on them most: Women and the rural poor

This discussion has focused largely on common forest products and their use. Little has been said about who within the rural community relies most on forest resources. While forests are exploited for a variety of products and functions, they are especially important for those with access to fewer resources, most notably the rural poor, many of whom are women. This is of particular importance as many development projects are geared towards improving the lives of the rural poor. In most communities in the region, exploitation of forests has traditionally been open to all for subsistence needs. The poor often rely to a great extent on forests for foods, medicines, and building materials, as well as other needs discussed in earlier chapters.

Forest foods are particularly important for poor households as they provide an available, accessible source of a diverse range of foods. Especially important are fish and wild animals, leaves, nuts and mushrooms. For some forest foods such as bushmeat, consumption is limited by supply. In these cases, the poor’s access to these products may decline as they become scarce luxuries. In other cases, forest foods may be considered poor man’s food. In these instances people may attempt to purchase substitute foods whenever possible. In both situations forest food consumption may decline. However, there is little information from the region which specifically addresses the changing dietary patterns of the rural poor, or which focuses on their changing consumption of forest foods.

Forest-based activities, such as gathering and processing NTFPs often provide important employment opportunities in rural regions. Gathering of forest products for sale is often dominated by the rural poor. In Sierra Leone, for example, it is the poorer households within the rural community who rely on sale of fuelwood (Kamara 1986). Similarly, poorer women often dominate the gathering and trade of forest leaves (Okafor 1979). While forest based activities may provide numerous opportunities for the rural poor, the earning potential varies substantially (e.g. basket-making versus wood-carving). Generally, activities which are dominated by the poor reap the lowest returns. In some cases income earned from forest based activities can be invested in agricultural assets (such as implements, or livestock). In these cases forests offer the poor a means of investing in their future.

Working on the construction of a hut in North Senegal

Throughout the region women dominate the collection, trade and processing of the majority of non-timber forest products. In Ghana 84% of both retail and wholesale traders are women (Ardayfio 1985). This is due, in part, to the central role of women in West African (southern regions) trade. In general, wholesale traders control the market for products which are transported over long distances. The majority of wholesale traders derive their capital from personal savings as banks are not supportive of women. In southern Cameroon, Kenge’s (1987) study of more than 1500 markets reveals that women (commonly known as “bayam sellems”) dominate the wholesale and retail trade of almost all forest products with the exception of cola nuts, which men control.

Trading activities are often conducted seasonally, when demands for agricultural (or other) labour are low. For example, Riss (1984) finds that in the Kaolack region of southern Senegal, forest product gathering is an extremely important dry season activity for most women. All women collect forest products for the market. In addition, women generally use forest products to help meet their household’s basic needs: foods, fuel, medicines and other products are frequently gathered. Women, therefore, can combine gathering forest products for subsistence needs and for the market. In addition, because of their experience in forest gathering they are knowledgeable about forest product exploitation. Visser (1975) found that among the Ando in Côte d’Ivoire, for example, women were more knowledgeable about gathering and using plant medicines than other members of the community. Forest product processing activities can also be adapted to women’s other work. Often processing can be performed near the home, allowing women to combine these income earning activities with some of their household work (e.g. childcare).

6.9 Evaluating the importance of non-timber forest products at the regional and national levels

More regional level information should broadly assess the impacts of resource use. General statistics on the consumption and trade of commodities are important but information on the dimensions of forest based activities is also needed: the numbers of people employed, and the numbers of small-scale enterprises. Estimates of the quantities of forest resources extracted and consumed on a regional scale are also needed. Often, regional assessments are based on extrapolations from case specific data. In other instances it is collected by government services at trade and collection sites. In general, reliable, accurate information is difficult to find. At best, macro-level data are collected regarding the commercial and export products extracted from Forest Department lands (Senegalese Forest Service being one notable exception).

Most Forest Services of the region collect some information on the non-timber forest products extracted from forest areas. Generally, these records are incomplete and focus on products with an export market (e.g. plant medicines). They do, however, provide an indication of the products that are gathered from Forest Reserves. The Senegalese Forest Service has collected the most thorough and useful information (Direction des Eaux et Forets 1982). It includes comparative data on regional production and product specialisation.

Information on the numbers of people involved in forest-based activities indicate their importance at a regional and national level. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire, Kaye (1987a) estimates the number of people who work in cane processing. Shiembo (1986) makes similar estimates for Cameroon. Ewusi (1986) provides an interesting analysis of statistical data from Ghana collected over the last twenty years. He includes information on a few forest products (e.g. palm kernel, shea nut, cola nut and copra production) and the fishing vessels used in Ghana (see Section 2.2).

Information on the production and consumption of forest products at a local level is often extrapolated to the region or country level. For example, Adeola and Decker’s (1987) estimates of the quantity of bushmeat produced by farmers in different ecological zones and throughout Nigeria as a whole is based on studies of 480 farmers in the savannah, rainforest and deciduous forest zones (see Section 4.1.2). Similarily, Martin (1983) estimates the national value of bushmeat based on results from a market survey in southern Nigeria.

Faure and Vivien (1980) use information from a study of nine villages in Cameroon to calculate the quantities of forest resources used in the Littoral region as a whole. For example, based on household level estimates of fuelwood consumption, they conclude that rural inhabitants in the Littoral region (39,000 people) annually consume an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 m3 of fuelwood. They also estimate the amount of forest area needed by rural dwellers to meet their needs by measuring the distances people travel into the forest to collect different products (e.g. bushmeat, fuelwood, housing poles). They found that a minimal area of 10 km2 of surrounding forest is needed for each community.

While statistics of this kind can provide a general idea of the importance of forest products, they are usually based on little data, and may vary dramatically from one estimate to another (see also Ministère des Eaux et Forets, Côte d’Ivoire 1987). Regional-level extrapolations serve to illustrate the kinds of information available on the regional importance of non-timber forest products. Compared to other regions of the world such as Asia, Africa collects very little information at the national level. Nonetheless, these examples indicate that some forest products and forest based enterprises contribute significantly to national economies of the region.


Discussions on the use and importance of non-timber forest products generally focus either on those products which are traded at the national and international level, or on describing the myriad of species used by rural households. However, knowing the value of a country’s medicinal plant product exports gives no indication of the impact of this trade on the lives of rural people. Additional questions need to be answered: does this trade provide a means of earning cash income, open up new forest areas for exploitation, result in the exclusion of people from formerly available resources, deprive them of an important medicine source, or simply have no impact at all? Studies which focus on the “major” (i.e. exported or industrial) non-timber forest products do not address these kinds of issues; they focus on foreign exchange earned, quantities exported, or government revenues collected (e.g. from taxes and permits).

Studies which focus on the myriad of resources that are exploited generally only produce lengthy lists of plant and animal species; they rarely distinguish between past and present uses, nor do they assess the relative importance of different products in people’s lives. It is therefore not possible to assess the changing uses of forest resources, or the impact of forest decline on the lives of people in rural regions. In addition, long descriptive lists of useful forest species provide little information for planners and policy makers.

The importance of forest products needs to be assessed on several different levels: the region, country, ecological zone (i.e. humid zone) and household. At a regional or country level, information on the numbers of jobs created by forest-dependent activities can be important, as would material supply problems to large urban and export markets. At the local or household level the variety of uses of forest resources should be considered. But the great diversity of species used by people in different areas and at different times makes assessment difficult. Forest products’ multiple uses can also be analysed in terms of their functions.

New ways of addressing the role and general importance of non-timber forest products are needed in order to move beyond the notion that these products have importance to local people but not to foresters. Foresters’ management objectives have often been geared to products with large industrial markets, and the information they require for forest management is generally geared toward this end. More diversified management objectives will require different kinds of information. By judging the value of forest products in a variety of different ways it may be possible to more completely assess their importance on a range of different levels.

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