[Table of Contents]

Sustainability of Forests


Non-Timber Forest Products


Non-timber forest products have long been an important component in the livelihood strategies of forest-dwelling people. Today, efforts to promote more environmentally benign use of forests has led to increased interest in NTFP collection and marketing as an instrument for sustainable development. Despite this emphasis, however, there is no guarantee of a positive outcome. A large body of NTFP research by CIFOR and its many collaborators has been influential in providing useful lessons about what works, and what doesn’t.

As CIFOR scientists and others have noted, considerable research has already been done on NTFPs. But much of the resulting knowledge has been narrowly focused and specific to certain locations, products and user groups, thereby limiting its usefulness. In contrast, CIFOR focuses on the broader dynamics of NTFP collection, use and trade, especially in the context of social, economic and environmental changes. Thus, the findings should lead to better understanding of the actual role or potential opportunities of NTFPs as a tool for development and conservation in a variety of settings and strategies.

A highlight of 1998 was the publication of Incomes From the Forest: Methods for the Development and Conservation of Forest Products for Local Communities. Based on case studies from a number of organisations, it offers useful lessons about various methods that have been used to assess the conservation and development of forest products in different contexts. The book includes a conceptual framework that illustrates the complex nature of NTFP development and conservation, with issues that must be addressed at various levels: in households, markets, local institutions and the surrounding forest.

Also in 1998, CIFOR began a major global research study designed to provide insight into NTFPs and their relation to land use and local livelihood strategies. In the initial phase, CIFOR is studying a number of forest products in Indonesia as case studies to analyse the process of NTFP use and development. Eventually, similar studies will be done in the three main tropical regions, leading to international comparisons and broad-based conclusions. This global comparison will constitute CIFOR’s main research thrust on NTFPs in the next couple of years.

Among the research in Indonesia, researchers are investigating the potential for renewed viability of small-scale cultivation of rattan and fruit gardens in an area of East Kalimantan in the face of changing government regulations. Rattan was once a key product of the area, but local production essentially collapsed since the late 1980s following a ban on the export of raw rattan to safeguard domestic supply.

The multi-faceted research initiative is modelled in part on a pioneering study of the dynamics of the bamboo sector in China, which involved close collaboration by Drs. Manuel Ruiz Pérez and Brian Belcher of CIFOR and scientists from the Research Institute of Subtropical Forestry and China’s National Economics and Development Research Center. The findings of this research are now being used by the Chinese Ministry of Forestry to guide new policies and support for the bamboo sector in China.

In a comparative study of damar agroforests in Krui, Sumatra, and the collection of gaharu (a resin-impregnated fragrant wood) in East Kalimantan completed in 1998, researchers found that the level of income earned from a forest product is not enough to predict whether people are likely to sustain that income source or exploit it. Instead, it is necessary to understand the future expected importance of the income source in the household livelihood. Hence, steady but low income from damar was seen to be valued more than the high returns from perennial crops such as coffee because of the damar income’s contribution to household food security.

A particular focus of interest in the research on gaharu collection was the more general question of how high prices are likely to affect incentives for sustainable management of an NTFP. The study examined the economic importance of gaharu to Kenyah swidden farmers in three villages. Today, this wood still ranks among the most highly valuable traded forest products worldwide. Findings reported in 1998 showed that since 1993, prices paid to collectors in East Kalimantan for high-quality specimens have soared to unprecedented heights, stimulating the most intensive period of gaharu collection in living memory.

Another study in Indonesia is examining widespread collection and marketing of benzoin (a tree resin used chiefly for incense, perfume and medicine) in North Sumatra. Among the findings to date, benzoin was found to be particularly important to middle-income villagers; in both absolute and relative terms, this group has a much higher income from benzoin than the poorest group. The results correspond well with similar findings for bamboo in China.

Key partners in CIFOR’s research in Indonesia are the Center for Social Forestry at Mulawarman University in Samarinda and Project FORRESASIA, a European Union-supported programme concerned with alternative strategies for the development of forest resources. The research in Kalimantan builds on a strong foundation of related work in the region by other local and international collaborators, including the World Wild Fund for Nature-Indonesia, Indonesia’s Forestry Research and Development Agency (FORDA) and the Consortium for Community Forestry.

Much CIFOR research on the role of forest products in development is also being done in Bolivia and Zimbabwe. Follow-up work will focus on legal, institutional and marketing factors that affect NTFP trade in these two countries, such as new forestry laws, land tenure practices, village structure and competition between institutions.

Research in northern Bolivia has analysed a dramatic shift in the distribution of benefits from NTFP collection following the collapse of the Brazilian rubber market in the 1980s. Previously, rubber barons exerted control of trade through peonage systems that left rubber tappers heavily indebted and locked out of the benefits from forest product sales. Today, Brazil nut collection and processing has become the single most important source of income for many rural households. Factories in neighbouring cities control processing, and forest residents reap financial benefits from both collecting the nuts and working seasonally in the shelling plants.

In Zimbabwe, CIFOR is participating in analysis of economic and ecological impacts of a booming wood-carving industry that offers much needed income to thousands of rural residents. The project is under the auspices of CAMPFIRE, a programme of the U.S. Agency for International Development that promotes the protection of biologically threatened areas by enlisting the support of local people who can benefit from eco-tourism based on wildlife and from commercialisation of natural resources. The wood-carving industry in Zimbabwe has been controversial because of concerns that some indigenous species of trees are being seriously depleted as a source of wood. Studies by CIFOR and other research partners are exploring issues related to sustainable management of local wood supplies, including legislative reforms, economic incentives for change and local participation in planning constructive solutions.

Also in 1998, new NTFP field work was conducted in the Western Brazilian Amazon, and spatial analysis of data for the Alto Juruá Extractive Reserve began. Preliminary results show a changing pattern of settlement in the reserve, with rubber tappers moving from the hinterland and headwaters to the more accessible river banks. Changes in the economic base of the area have also been seen. Rubber was shown to play a decreasing role, while some crops, livestock and income from the tertiary sector (such as pensions and health and school salaries) have increased their contribution to the reserve’s production.

In Cameroon’s Humid Forest Zone, a programme of NTFP research by CIFOR brought to light an unexpected situation, showing that women in the region play a surprisingly strong role in NTFP production and trade in sharp contrast to their restricted role in decision-making. Although NTFP trade in Cameroon is officially governed by local regulations, women were found to exert considerable control over the markets, as well as related savings schemes that operate to finance NTFP trading ventures. The findings have implications for socioeconomic policy change and sustainable management of forests in Cameroon – and potentially other tropical regions – because NTFP trade appears to be an important income strategy for women, who constitute the majority of poor forest dwellers in rural Cameroon but are generally denied ownership of land and assured access to forest resources.

The research has also demonstrated the potential role of NTFP markets in degradation of forest resources, and underlines the difficulty in achieving a balance between improving the livelihood of forest-dependent people and forest conservation. It revealed an increased dependency of rural dwellers on medicinal plants as a result of a national economic crisis and the devaluation of the CFA franc.