3. Assessing local use of the resource


Why assess local use?
Local importance of non-wood forest products
How to study local resource use
Identifying target and indicator groups
Subsector analysis for marketed products
Learning about local forest management
Summary
References
For further reading



Why assess local use?


Having completed an inventory of the forest resource, why do forest managers need to study current forest use by nearby communities? How does this justify using scarce funds and skills that otherwise might help develop the resource?

There are two main reasons. First, successful improvements in forest management usually resemble and build on traditional activities already practiced in the area. Many attempts to switch suddenly to year-round, capital-intensive activities which differ drastically from local traditions have failed (Poole, 1993).

Second, if innovators do not understand local practices and know which local groups rely on which specific products, they may introduce innovations that are technically feasible but bring negative socioeconomic effects. Too often, the actual value that communities place on their non-wood resources is not fully understood until after the resource is gone (Wickens, 1991).

This chapter surveys the more widespread rural uses of non-wood forest resources, and describes how to determine subsistence and market uses of NWFPs in a locality. It also looks at the importance of local management systems and how they can provide a basis for sustainable forest use.

Local importance of non-wood forest products


Cultural values
Household subsistence
Food and nutrition
Fodder and grazing
Medicinal uses
Local trade



The following paragraphs describe groups of NWFPs that are commonly important to local communities, particularly those living near the forest. But importance is location-specific and dynamic. The key to good forest management is to identify trends in use, not merely static facts.

Cultural values


Rural people use NWFPs for food, income and farm inputs but also for social, cultural and religious functions. The intangible, non-economic roles of NWFPs can be more important and even provide a foundation for the economic roles that development programmes usually address. In many cultures, communities maintain certain areas as sacred groves where harvesting is banned or carefully controlled (Arnold, 1995). Harvests are, in such cases, restricted to meet the needs for religious/socio-cultural ceremonies. In villages of northern Thailand, for instance, sacred groves form an integral part of an overall community system that combines farm and forest management (Uraiwan, 1993).

Certain species may play a crucial role in spiritual ceremonies, or have taboos associated with them that forbid certain harvests. In central Africa, parents plant a tree in the wild for a newborn child, and the child's growth is forever linked to the tree's growth (Vergiat, 1969 in Falconer, 1990). Other trees figure in burial rituals. Forest foods play a part in wedding rites, initiation ceremonies and other events. In many places, these cultural and spiritual roles are losing their importance, but in other places they persist and are even renewed in the face of encroaching values from outside the community.

Table 3.1 shows that in southern Ghana, people value intangible cultural and spiritual benefits from the forest as highly as physical products and services. It illustrates the wide variation of local values within the same society variation occurs even at the household level, and among individuals within households. Men, women and children in the same household often cite different uses and needs for forest products.

Table 3.1: The highest valued forest benefits in eight villages in South Ghana (figures represent percentage of people who rank the benefit first).


Banso

Betinasi

Essamang

Nkwanta

Essuowin

Koniyao

Kwapanin

Nanhini

No. of people ranking product first - all villages

Benefit from forest










Pestle

28

9

27

33

45

31

38

24

71

Bushmeat

40

9

27

38

37

26

36

13

68

Canes

48

18

33

48

29

15

15

10

56

Building materials

24

18

13

33

8

15

30

10

43

Chewstick

40

9

13

38

18

5

15

7

39

Timber

20

9

2.7

-

32

21

19

-

39

Water

4

9

7

5

11

33

6

10

27

Medicines

16

9

13

10

5

5

6

27

24

Sponge

16

-

27

5

18

3

15

-

24

Gods

-

-

-

-

16

-

-

50

21

Land bank

-

-

-

24

3

10

13

7

18

Wrapping leaves

-

-

-

5

3

-

32

-

17

Fuelwood

20

-

13

-

3

8

6

7

16

Mortar

12

-

-

-

5

10

11

7

16

Fertility

8

9

-

5

3

13

13

-

16

Rains

4

18

-

-

5

5

11

10

15

Forest food

16

-

-

14

3

3

11

-

14

Raphia

16

9

7

10

3

3

4

-

12

Others

8

18

7

10

24

18

17

3

25

Total no. of people interviewed

25

11

15

21

38

39

47

30

226

Note: Some people named more than one benefit as most important (Falconer, 1994 in Arnold, 1995)

Household subsistence


Among all the many NWFPs, the most common worldwide are used for food, fodder, medicine, and construction materials. Other uses include, among others, farm tools, household baskets, sleeping mats, pillows, sponges and brooms (Arnold, 1995).

Rural families provide for their needs not just by growing crops but also with other household income. Therefore assessments of local dependence on NWFPs for food security must count local product sales as well as direct contributions to food and nutrition. A family often changes its strategy for food security as its economic options change. This can have varying effects; for example, more labour-intensive harvesting methods for a product could force women to spend less time cooking and caring for their children (Longhurst, 1987 cited in Arnold, 1995).

Food and nutrition


Foods from the forest include fruits, leaves, seeds and nuts, tubers and roots, fungi, gum and sap. Beekeeping for honey is often a forest-based activity. Wildlife is an important source of food, particularly in Africa. In West Africa, more than 60 wildlife species are commonly consumed (Falconer, 1990). In parts of Africa, bushmeat provides a major source of protein to people's diets. Smaller animals and invertebrates are more important food sources than larger game (FAO, 1995).

Forest: foods often provide essential vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and protein (Table 3.2). Besides direct nutritional contributions, they provide variety and taste. Even where people consume only small amounts of forest foods, they play an important role by adding variety and spice and encouraging children, in particular, to eat more of otherwise bland foods that their bodies need.

Table 3.2: Contributions of forest foods to human nutrition

Type of forest food

Nutritional contribution(s)

fruits and berries

carbohydrates (fructose and soluble sugars), vitamins (especially C), minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium); some provide protein, fat or starch

nuts

oils and carbohydrates

young leaves, herbaceous plants

vitamins (beta-carotene, C), calcium, iron

gums and saps

proteins and minerals

invertebrates (insects, snails)

protein, fat, vitamins

vertebrates (fish, birds, mammals)

protein

Source: FAO, 1995.

Leguminous Parkia species provides popular foods on three continents, yet this important food source is commonly overlooked in assessments of local resources and nutrition. People in Southeast Asia eat the whole pods of Parkia speciosa either raw or cooked as a vegetable. In West Africa, people from the Gambia to Cameroon ferment the beans of the savannah Parkia species to make a nutritious traditional food that provides protein and fat. Children eat the pericarp raw, and gain vitamin C. In the semi-arid Chaco region of South America, the fruit of the related carob tree is made into a flour or beverage that provides important calcium (FAO, op. cit.).

Attempts to gauge local use of forest foods must consider that harvests are seasonal, and depend not just on when the forest species fruits but also on the farming cycle. For example, harvests of forest -foods often peak not during the main fruiting season, but during the "hungry season" when staple agricultural crops are not yet harvestable and food reserves and/or household cash is scarce.

Within a single community, different groups rely on forest foods to varying degrees. Poor and landless people often depend more heavily on forest foods than others. In many areas, children tend to snack on forest fruits and seeds more than adults. This variation is important for gauging local resource use. Identifying key indicator groups that depend most heavily on NWFPs provides a tool for monitoring resource availability.

Gender and other variables also influence the processing of forest and tree foods. All family members might help with collection, but it is usually women who are responsible for processing these items. In southwestern Nigeria, for example, women process parkia beans, palm oil and soap (FAO, op. cit.).

Fodder and grazing


Forest fodder for stall feeding, in addition to widespread forest grazing is very important in many developing countries where rural families keep domestic animals, especially in arid and semi-arid areas. While fodder, almost exclusively, is used locally, uncontrolled fodder collection and grazing often can lead to forest depletion.

Medicinal uses


Use of medicines from the forest often overlaps with forest food use. People add certain items to foods for the dual purpose of improving taste and adding health tonic properties (Arnold, op. Cit.). Often these uses are closely linked to cultural values, and integrate traditional and Western - style medicine. In Ghana, people in one study regarded diseases as caused by either "natural" or "supernatural" problems, using Western medicines for natural illness and traditional cures for supernatural problems.

Text box 3.1: Beekeeping in Zambia

In northwestern Zambia, beekeeping is an integral part of rural life and livelihoods. Nearly all beekeepers are also farmers, and the time they spend beekeeping is dictated by the farming calendar.

For a long time, foresters considered beekeeping to be damaging to Forests in northwestern Zambia, because many trees are felled to make hives and because honey-hunters sometimes cause indiscriminate burning of the forests. In the 1960s, however, foresters realized that beekeeping in the woodlands offered better livelihood than did timber production. Furthermore, beekeeping does not conflict with other land uses in Miombo woodlands. In some places, beekeepers and foresters have recognized common management goals, for example, in preventing unmanaged fire (which destroys flowers leading to reduced nectar flow}. In other areas, traditional beekeeping does not easily harmonize with increasing pressure on the forest. This requires innovation to integrate farming, beekeeping and overall forest management (Fischer, 1993).


Local trade


In local trade of NWFPs, women often play a major role. In two out of eight villages studied in Ghana, collecting forest leaves for wrapping food, sponge-making and basket-weaving (activities mostly done by women) provided the main sources of income (FAO, op. cit.). Local processing and trade of NWFPs is often seasonal. These activities offer a cushion of extra income in times of hardship.

How to study local resource use


What information to collect
How to collect the information



Because local use of the non-wood forest resource varies greatly, prospective enterprise managers need to conduct their own assessments. This assessment also provides an opportunity to learn how local communities manage key non-wood resources and what practices they employ. Recording and studying this knowledge helps ensure that forest management plans consider all relevant information.

What information to collect


A study in Ghana illustrates the types of information to look for (Falconer, 1992):

• forest food consumption and its importance in the diet;
• local use of plant medicines;
• use of forest products for house construction, tools, fuel and fodder;
• relative use of on-farm and village trees, and attitudes toward forests;
• use of NWFPs in trade and processing;
• consumer demand for bushmeat and other items such as chewsticks, baskets, food - wrapping leaves and medicines.

For each activity, it is necessary to estimate numbers of people involved, the quantities traded or used, purchase and selling prices and transportation costs.