Dry forests play a significant role if the livelihoods strategies of millions of people, including many of the world's poorest. This paper reviews the role of dry forests in providing goods and services to the rural poor. The review shows that while dry forests are essential, rural communities are engaged in multiple activities that generate income and the economic importance of forests and trees is context specific. Although the majority of households benefit from forest resources, poorer households tend to generate more relative income from forest products than wealthier households. Community forestry, tourism and payment for environmental service (PES) are promising alternative sources of environmental income, but the outcomes for the poorest remain uncertain. Trade in non-timber forest products (NTFP) is often viewed as a last resort and provides the safety net to cope with both environmental and economic shocks, especially for women. Hence, beyond timber, there are few examples of dry forest products that have generated a sustainable source of significant wealth. As such, it seems likely that dry forests will continue to play a more supplementary role in direct poverty alleviation but an increasingly important role as a safety net that prevents the most vulnerable from slipping into increased poverty and food insecurity during times of crisis.