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In 1985 the Policies and Institutions Service of the FAO Forestry Department began to explore ways that forestry could strengthen food security for those most dependent on tree and forest products. In addition to the direct nutritional inputs (food, fodder and fuel), the often more important indirect inputs of provision of cash income through sale of forest products or employment through household enterprise, were also explored.

A series of case studies and an expert consultation led to production of Forestry Paper 79 Forest-based small scale enterprises (FBSSEs) which emphasized the often primary role forest-based small scale enterprises play in ensuring food security. It noted that these enterprises frequently provide an off-farm source of income during seasons when agricultural activity is lower, income scarce and supplies for the new agricultural season are needed. FBSSEs provide crucial support to small holder farmer production systems.

In many areas the landless are particularly dependent for their food security on forest and tree product collecting and processing enterprises. Other than seasonal agricultural labour these resources commonly provided the only available sources of income.

This new information was presented to the Forestry Departments of member countries through the Committee on Forestry (COFO). The Committee requested that FAO continue its examination of the subject and develop further the ways national services could more effectively strengthen the FBSSEs.

Additional case analysis have further highlighted the dynamic characteristics of these enterprises. They have also made evident the difficulty institutions have in correctly identifying viable industries and supporting them in a manner which assures that those who are most dependent on these enterprises receive the benefits of state support. As is often the case, there is the danger that as the viability of the enterprise and its benefits increase, stronger individuals are attracted, further marginalizing the more vulnerable.

Beyond studying the process of marginalization, these case studies focus on the major role women play in these enterprises, though often in the least renumerative positions. The studies indicate that women are the most vulnerable in times of change; that their role must be especially well-understood if forest services and others are to successfully augment the benefits female workers receive.

FAO commissioned the Institute of Social Studies Trust to focus on these issues in its examination of two FBSSEs in India. Devika Jain directed the study. The material has been edited and expanded upon by Jeffrey Campbell. This document examines the Indian experiences with two FBSSEs in an attempt to identify the issues that must be considered if forest services and others are to effectively support improvements in both local community management of these industries and the forest and tree resources upon which they are dependent. This study was carried out through a joint effort of the Regular programme of the Forestry Department and the FAO/SIDA trust fund Forests, Trees and People.

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