Win-wins in forest product value chains?: how governance impacts the sustainability of livelihoods based on non-timber forest products from Cameroon

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Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as nuts, leaves, resins, barks and honey have medicinal, food, energy and cultural uses. This study examines eight such NTFP value chains from Cameroon, sold in markets locally and exported worldwide. It finds that these products are more valuable than previously realized. Together they are worth over 32 million US$ annually, providing income to around 34,000 people including harvesters and traders. Multiple arrangements govern these chains: formal statutory regulations, customary traditions, market-based rules, projects, international agreements and corruption. The mix and intensity of how access to species and markets are governed results in trade-offs. Wins - generally shorter-term socio-economic benefits, are gained by different groups at the expense of long-term sustainability of the species from which these products are derived. Focusing on regulations alone in the current socio-political and economic contexts in the Congo Basin doesn't make a chain sustainable. Complementary, plural arrangements are shown to be more effective in creating sustainable livelihoods by providing bundles of rights and responsibilities governing a species, its ecological niche, chain activities and benefits. Making chains sustainable depends on the mix of arrangements, and the ability, resourcefulness and power of participants to ‘bricole' new governance arrangements and replace ineffective institutions, such as corruption. Poor and vulnerable groups have gained more control and value when aided by initiatives. However, the intricate links in chains present have resulted in some unexpected outcomes, both positive - such as for honey, and negative - exemplified by the Prunus africana and Gnetum chains.

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