Overstory #183 - Forestry interventions to reduce poverty
More than 25 percent of the world's population – an estimated 1.6 billion people – rely on forest resources for their livelihoods, and of these almost 1.2 billion live in extreme poverty (World Bank, 2001). These people lack the basic necessities to maintain a decent standard of living sufficient and nutritious food, adequate shelter, access to health services, energy sources, safe drinking-water, education and a healthy environment. When governments signed the Millennium Declaration in 2000 and committed themselves to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, they agreed to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
In addition to forests providing food, shelter, clothing and heating, a significant number of people living in poverty depend on forests and trees outside forests to generate income through employment and through the sale of surplus goods and services. However, the extent to which these resources can alleviate poverty and improve food security for vulnerable populations is not well documented or obvious to most policy-makers. Even less is known about ways to capitalize on the untapped potential of forestry to lift people out of poverty or at least mitigate its effects.
How natural forests can better contribute to livelihoods and poverty reduction
Because natural forests provide a variety of goods and services to different user groups, their importance to each must be clearly understood before making interventions. Natural forests not only act as a savings account for people living in and around them, but they also provide a range of products for subsistence. Before community leaders or other authorities decide to harvest valuable timber species, they should assess the potential of the resources that will remain as these resources provide food, medicines, and woodfuel to residents, especially poor people.
Practitioners and others must not simply consider natural forests in terms of the economic value of timber. It is important they draw on local knowledge to learn the full range of benefits and functions of these resources and how different groups use them. By facilitating discussion among the various stakeholders, practitioners can guide the development of collaborative strategies to achieve common goals. They can also help to assess the impact of interventions on livelihoods by studying and analysing the complex interactions between local people and forests. Information can then be used, for example, to lobby concessionaires in order to make them consider people's needs for local forest products and services in their harvesting plans. In addition, practitioners can play a role in convincing companies to hire local people and pay fair wages or to form partnerships.
Agroforestry is a dynamic and ecologically based natural resources management system that integrates trees on farms, ranches and in other agricultural landscapes for diversifying and increasing production. For hundreds of years, small farmers have nurtured trees for the social, economic and environmental benefits they provide. Agroforestry systems have the potential to generate cash income and to provide poor households with a more reliable supply of food, home-grown medicines and substitutes for products they cannot afford to buy – for example, nitrogen-fixing tree plants instead of mineral fertilizers; fodder shrubs instead of dairy meal; timber for the construction of buildings; and fuelwood for energy (FAO, 2005).
Main agroforestry practices include improved fallows, home gardens, alley cropping, combining trees and crops in multi-storeys, boundary planting, agroforests, woodlots, orchards, windbreaks and other types of shelterbelts, hedges and live fences, fodder banks, trees on pasture, and taungya systems. Farmers usually adopt and adapt tree-growing patterns that complement their crops, or use land that cannot be used agriculturally because of site characteristics or labour shortages.
A major challenge in agroforestry is to adapt existing systems to local ecological, economic, social and cultural conditions because doing so is often more effective than imposing new ones. A particular constraint for poor people is that they do not always have access to the intensive labour that some agroforestry systems demand, such as fodder production or maintenance of intercropping. Moreover, incentives are often inadequate to cover the risks and costs of changing from annual agricultural crops to agriculture/tree-based systems. Another limitation is the cross-sectoral nature of agroforestry, which makes collaboration among institutions difficult since it requires the interaction of a variety of technical, policy and legislative specialists.
On the positive side, agroforestry systems allow product diversification which, with sound marketing strategies, can generate profits throughout the year from the sale of trees, NWFPs and surplus crops. They provide short- and long-term opportunities to generate income as the example from Kenya shows. In addition to tangible livelihood benefits, agroforestry systems offer important environmental benefits that affect livelihood capital and flows – windbreaks protect soil from erosion and improve production by sheltering crops, and selected tree planting increases biodiversity.
Practitioners should consider the following suggestions when working with households, small farmers and communities on issues related to agroforestry development.
Agroforestry as part of good farming and agricultural practices
- Because agroforestry is one option among other farming production systems, help small farmers to assess their risks and determine ways to optimize the integration of trees into their operations – with crops, farm animals, herds, wildlife, aquaculture, as fruit orchards or in commercial forestry.
- Identify factors that will influence a farmer's decision to practice or expand agroforestry – exchanges, site visits and workshops offer good opportunities to share information and promote wider adoption of successful agricultural practices.
- Encourage small farmers to combine agroforestry with other good practices such as conservation agriculture (zero tillage, minimum integrated pest management) and biological agriculture.
- Raise awareness of the importance of agroforestry in meeting nutrition and health needs.
Land and tree management
- Assist small farmers and communities in choosing appropriate agroforestry production systems by taking into account the spatial distribution of trees; the choice of tree species; how farms are linked to surrounding ecological environments (i.e. landscape, watershed and ecosystems); access to incentives such as free seedlings or government subsidies for tree-based production systems; and training needs.
- In production systems that mix trees and crops, assist farmers in selecting tree species according to their capacity to – be grown together with crops; – improve soil fertility; – serve as shelter against wind, sun, sand and rain; – protect against encroachment of livestock and wildlife; – serve as boundary markers; – act as a transition from annual crop into tree-based systems (e.g. taungya; multi-storey of banana-coffee-trees for roundwood); – provide fodder and a variety of other products such as gum (e.g. Acacia senegal and Acacia seyal); – be part of an integrated pest management system (e.g. neem – Azadirachta indica).
- Encourage diversification within agroforestry systems and distribution of trees on the farm in such a way that they produce a variety of products that can be harvested year round – fruit production from the orchard, the agroforest and the home garden; – fuelwood and charcoal production from woodlots and from trees and tree parts recuperated from the pruning of orchards, windbreaks and living fences; – wood products such as poles and roundwood.
- Help establish seed stands and nurseries to provide small farmers with better access to quality planting material.
- If the goal is to increase cash income, help to choose tree species that yield products that are valued in the market.
FAO defines woodfuel as all types of biofuels from trees and shrubs grown in forest and nonforest lands, including on farms. The term includes fuelwood and charcoal derived from silviculture activities such as thinning, pruning and harvesting – tops, roots and branches, for example; industrial by-products from primary and secondary forest industries; and recovered wood such as construction materials and pallets that are used as fuel. The definition also encompasses woodfuels from forest energy plantations (FAO, 2004).
Most consumers of woodfuel in rural areas harvest fuelwood freely from scattered trees on farms, fallows or as a by-product of timber production. Open access can lead to unregulated cutting, resource depletion, land degradation and desertification. Similarly, unsustainable charcoal production can degrade or exhaust the supply of certain species. Shortages can also occur when agricultural expansion, uncontrolled fires and overgrazing reduce forest areas. At the other extreme, restricted or inequitable access and over-regulation can lead to illegal cutting.
The difficulties associated with collecting scarce woodfuels increase the vulnerability of women because they have little or no time to engage in productive activities. Children are also adversely affected because the hours they must spend searching for fuelwood may prevent them from attending school. Substitute fuels such as gas, oil and electricity are either not available to poor families or not affordable.
In addition, smoke in the home from cooking on open fires with wood, dung, crop waste and coal is one of the major causes of an estimated 1.5 million deaths every year, 1 million of whom are children (ITDG, 2006).
The extent to which the forest area is maintained and made accessible to poor people directly affects their well-being and livelihoods. It is estimated that more than one-third of the world's population – 2.4 billion people – relies on biomass energy (wood, crop residues, charcoal and dung) to prepare meals, boil water and heat and light homes. Of this figure, about 1 billion face shortages as supplies dwindle (M. Trossero, personal communication).
Charcoal and fuelwood are a main source of cash for poor people living in and around forests. Although the informal and unregulated nature of woodfuel harvesting, transportation and commerce mean that supply is often unreliable, this situation makes it easier for them to participate in the sector.
How to maximize the contributions of woodfuel to livelihoods and poverty reduction
Before practitioners can identify ways to assist rural poor people to address issues related to woodfuel, they need to gather information on
- all current and potential sources of woodfuels, including farms, fallows and forests;
- where rural people collect fuelwood and charcoal;
- what they use fuelwood and charcoal for;
- how much fuelwood and charcoal they consume and how much they sell;
- the problems poor people face in relation to woodfuel and whether these can be solved locally;
- if they have a surplus of fuelwood and charcoal to sell to urban markets, the extent of demand, the capacity to fill shortages and the ability to develop new markets;
- the difficulties that women face in collecting, storing and using fuels;
- how energy, agriculture and forestry regulations affect them.
Once informed, practitioners can help communities to develop sustainable forest management plans that consider energy aspects, including charcoal production, based on the availability of suitable species and on market needs and prices. They can also encourage tree planting specifically for woodfuel production and provide technical advice on the appropriate tree species to use.
Non-wood forest products
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs) consist of goods of biological origin other than wood that are derived from forests, other wooded land and trees outside forests – edible nuts, mushrooms, fruits, herbs, spices and condiments, aromatic plants, game, fibres, resins, gums, and other plant and animal products (FAO, 1999). Although these products are gathered mainly from the wild and from natural forests, some planted forests established for the purpose of supplying wood also provide grass and leaves, both of which are important to livelihoods.
NWFPs play a crucial role in meeting the subsistence needs of a large part of the world's population who live in or near forests. They provide shelter, food and medicines on a daily basis as well as in times of crisis. For poor households, NWFPs are rarely the primary source of revenue, but can supplement income or lessen unexpected hardships such as the loss of crops. As long as people rely on these products for their basic survival and nutrition, care must be taken to prevent the resource from shrinking or being degraded.
NWFPs are also important in terms of their potential to improve livelihoods through the sale of surplus products. In these instances, increasing forest areas or processing raw materials to add value could significantly enhance returns – making plant-based essential oils or manufacturing lotions and creams from shea butter, for example. Fair trade organizations can increase the amount of income that poor people earn as well, for example, by encouraging producer cooperatives to offer reasonable prices to suppliers, by providing good working conditions and by reducing the number of intermediaries in market transactions.
How NWFPs can better contribute to livelihoods and poverty reduction
In order for practitioners to assist poor people to overcome obstacles to collect, consume and sell NWFPs, they need to
- discuss the importance of NWFPs with users and identify the type of contributions that they make to livelihoods, recognizing that households rely on these products to varying degrees, depending on the extent of their poverty and vulnerability;
- find out which groups gather which NWFPs, how they access them, and whether they use them for personal consumption, trade or both;
- be aware of traditional practices regarding harvesting and collection, including traditional norms of access;
- determine which households can afford to invest in commercial activities and whether this option is more appropriate than other potential sources of income for vulnerable groups;
- identify opportunities and constraints related to access, collection and trade of NWFPs. Once practitioners obtain this information, they can start working with community leaders, users and other stakeholders to
- compile an inventory as a first step in formulating or revising management plans and practices that reflect local needs and promote sustainable use;
- form local associations/cooperatives and develop cottage industries or community-based enterprises if commercialization of particular products appears viable;
- choose sites that have the potential to yield maximum benefits such as those where plants that are used for medicinal purposes could be grown in home gardens for households to consume or sell;
- document knowledge on and experiences with cultivating medicinal plants and disseminate this information in local languages to inform village residents which ones to use for what illnesses and how to set up this type of home garden;
- lobby authorities to give priority to local residents or communities when issuing permits to collect NWFPs, based on management agreements that regulate, monitor and control harvesting levels.
FAO. 1999. FAO Forestry Towards a harmonized definition of non-wood forest products. Unasylva, 198 63–64. Available at www.fao.org/docrep/x2450e/x2450e00.htm
FAO. 2004. Simpler forest management plans for participatory forestry. Forestry Policy and Institutions Working Paper 4. Rome. Available at www.fao.org/docrep/008/ j4817e/j4817e00.htm
FAO. 2005. Realizing the economic benefits of agroforestry experiences, lessons and challenge. In State of the World's Forests 2005, pp. 88–95. Rome. Available at www. fao.org/docrep/007/y5574e/y5574e00.htm
Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG). 2006. Smoke – the killer in the kitchen. Internet document. Available at www.itdg.org/?id=smoke_index
World Bank. 2001. A revised forest strategy for the World Bank Group. Draft. Washington, DC, USA, World Bank.
This article was excerpted with the kind permission of FAO from
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 2006. Better forestry, less poverty A practitioner's guide. FAO Forestry Paper 149. Rome. http//www.fao.org/DOCREP/009/a0645e/a0645e00.htm
About the author
The FAO Forestry web site provides literally thousands of pages of information, access to all of FAO's forest-related databases, detailed country profiles and links to documents on all aspects of forestry. Recent additions include new sites on forest fire, national forest programmes and forest reproductive material, among others. Pages are available in English, French and Spanish, and increasingly also in Arabic and Chinese. The site includes pages for technical specialists as well as the general public. Some 2 000 to 3 000 visitors browse the site each day.
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