Economic benefits that can be derived from non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and agroforestry products have been identified as a major opportunity for community forestry projects. However, while many projects are producing products which fall into these categories, the markets are generally informal and it is difficult for local people to have access to information about potential markets and have any control over the prices they receive.
In 1989, the FAO Senior Community Forestry Officer conducted a survey in selected Asian countries to learn of opportunities for and constraints to community forestry in order to plan activities meaningful at the national level. Government ministers, staff of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and project managers were included in the survey.
While those surveyed noted that there were many topics of importance, improved benefits from marketing products from community forestry projects was the priority. Of highest importance was a locally-managed market information system (MIS). They emphasized that it should be a low input system which could be sustainably controlled by users, with very little need for external investment or maintenance. They required a market information system which would empower local producers and traders by providing more transparent information on community forestry products, making them more profitable to produce, manage and sell.
In 1990, a locally-designed MIS was established by a farmers' group in the Philippines, in collaboration with the FAO's Forests, Trees and People Programme. Starting with price comparisons between different markets, the activities of the MIS have expanded into two-way information flows and more complex analysis. The success of the MIS can be measured by the fact that it has continued after outside support stopped. The Philippines Government has adopted the ideas behind the MIS and is incorporating this approach into its extension programme.
The approach was field tested in two other locations in the Philippines. as well as in Uganda, the Solomon Islands and Peru, and it appears that it is being found useful by many farmers. This field manual draws on the experiences to date. Experience has shown that, when established at a simple level (as described in examples in this manual), an MIS can be self-sustaining and empowering. It is hoped that people will try out these ideas, adapt them to other situations and give feedback to enable further development and expansion of this manual.
Clearly, no market-oriented production should be included in a community forestry project until a market study has been carried out. But, community forestry and agroforestry activities seldom include market studies or market strategy planning. The market information system, as proposed in this manual, is limited to situations where the products and the markets already exist. It may be that increases in profit and control which result from an MIS will be useful, as was the case in some of our examples. Or, the increases may be too small to warrant the development or continuation of an MIS. The problems related to lack of information when a project or community is considering new products are not addressed by this manual.
The next step will be to expand the ideas presented here into a market-oriented micro-planning system. This will be a greater challenge, as there are many other issues to consider in the development of new products especially when they are long-term investments, as is often the case with tree and forest products. A market information system is just one element of the whole, one place to start addressing complex marketing strategies.
The FAO Community Forestry Unit invites practitioners working with community-managed MISS and market-oriented micro-planning to share their experiences in order to improve strategies and tools in this very important area.
Marilyn W. Hoskins
Senior Community Forestry Officer
Forestry Policy and Planning Division