1.1: General background
1.2: Characteristics of FBSSEs
1.3: Issues and constraints for FBSSEs in general
1.4: Women's involvement in FBSSEs
1.5: Women in FBSSE in India
Forest-based industrialization has traditionally focused on large, capital intensive enterprises. However, large enterprises have high capital requirements and require large infrastructural bases. They involve complex skills and training but still have low employment rates. Increasingly, forest-based small scale enterprises (FBSSEs) are being recognized as vital interface activities because they provide employment and generate income for millions of rural and urban poor worldwide. These activities involve the collection, processing, consumption and trade of forest products and they often provide essential full time, or supplemental sources of income. They benefit both those who cannot fully depend on agriculture in rural areas including forest dwellers, the landless, small holders, and marginal farmers and urban workers who cannot find employment in more organized sectors. FBSSEs also contribute significantly to village and household economies by producing food, fuel, fodder, implements, medicines and culturally significant artifacts for local consumption. In their total contribution, FBSSEs form an important component of many countries rural economies.
Women are especially active in FBSSEs. Though initial research data on FBSSEs has made evident a number of universal issues and constraints (FAO 1987), very little specific attention has been given to the role of women, with their critical input into family economies. This publication focuses on women's issues in FBSSEs. Case studies from the Indian state of Karnataka examine women's involvement in two FBSSEs that have had to confront changing markets and technologies. Initially the major characteristics, issues and constraints that have been identified for FBSSEs in general will be outlined. Following this, the unique impact of these and specific gender-related constraints will be discussed.
Forest-based small scale enterprises encompass an incredibly wide range of activities; the collection of forest products as diverse as fuelwood, fruits, leaves, gums, resins and butterflies; their processing by hand or simple machinery, whether in the courtyard of a rural house or in a small urban factory; their marketing at every level from household consumption and bartering to the international export market. They are by nature location specific. They differ based upon resource availability, the products' end use, market and labour accessibility and local social and economic conditions.
Despite their variability, the majority of FBSSEs share a number of characteristics:
- they are small in size and are often household based;
- they are predominantly rural and frequently seasonal;
- they are labour intensive and use simple technologies;
- they require very low capital inputs;
- they are accessible to low income and socially disadvantaged groups;
- they provide direct benefits to the local economy; and,
- women are heavily involved, often forming a majority of the labour force.
(FAO 1987, ISST 1988)
Diminishing availability of raw materials
Insecure markets/fluctuating commercial value
Introduction of new technology
Access to alternate sources of income
Lack of entrepreneurial/managerial skills
Degree of institutional support
With the rapid demographic and economic changes sweeping the world, FBSSEs face a number of critical developments that may significantly alter their nature. They operate in a dynamic environment. The effects of change on the nature of these enterprises and on the people who benefit from them need to be better understood. Significant constraints and some of the major forces of change facing FBSSEs are given below. Most of these issues affect both men and women in FBSSEs, but the nature of their impact on women and men may differ significantly.
Diminishing forest area and continuous exploitation are producing shortages in traditionally utilized forest products. Loss of forest cover, changes in distribution of forested areas, low productivity and reduction in biological diversity due to over-exploitation, are all constraints to the development of FBSSEs. Changes in distribution and diversity are particularly important as FBSSEs often involve collection, processing, utilization and trade in the vicinity of raw materials. It may not be economically viable for an FBSSE to operate using distant resources. Increased use of forest products to develop FBSSEs places even more pressure on heavily used forests. The unplanned growth of large scale forest industries, whose resource requirements are very high, often reduces the availability of raw materials to FBSSEs.
Income generating FBSSEs are characterized by small, often insecure, markets. Access to these markets is important to the viability of FBSSEs. The changing nature of new and old markets and the fluctuating prices of raw materials and finished products ensure that FBSSEs are dynamic enterprises, constantly coping with change. In many areas selected forest products are increasing in commercial value and developing external markets (deBeer et al 1989).
Increased commercialization of either raw or processed goods can sometimes force FBSSEs to make the quantum leap from a local, subsistence level enterprise with totally local end use, to a business involving the international export market. Some FBSSEs, when faced with either the prospect of increasing competition from synthetic substitutes or changes in products' cultural or technical functions, may be abandoned in favour of more commercially viable ones. Groups that were previously dependant on a locally valuable product may have to give-up their FBSSE entirely.
On the other hand, there are an incredibly wide range of existing non-timber forest products (NTFPs) that are underutilized. The possibilities for new processing enterprises and end uses for many of these products have hardly been explored. New commercial opportunities will continue to increase the range and size of FBSSEs. Local people involved in FBSSEs need to cultivate their ability to constantly adapt to change.
As mentioned above, increasing commercial values, expanded markets or even increased institutional efforts, can lead to the introduction of new technologies that effect FBSSEs. New technologies involve new and often more complicated skills; they may require training, increased capital, larger work areas and factory production. Failure to adapt to new technologies may result in closure of smaller and simpler production centers. Inability to utilize new technologies may result in a relocation of FBSSEs to a different geographic area.
Many FBSSEs provide only marginal returns, therefore, participation is often linked to the existence or absence of alternate sources of income and employment. As an income generating activity FBSSEs must provide competitive employment at a better wage than alternatively available work. Additionally, there must be sufficient value in the activity as a supplement to wage work or as a culturally significant function. The energy and time involved in collection or processing must be commensurate with the income derived from the products.
Many poor and disadvantaged groups including women are unable to take entrepreneurial advantage of new FBSSE opportunities (Joshi 1987). With low capital, limited free time, restricted ranges of activity and lack of experience, entrepreneurial risk-taking and strategy-making are unlikely to be feasible.
Many FBSSEs are in the informal sector; that is they are not officially recognized by financial institutions. Therefore, it is often difficult for them to get financial assistance to startup small scale processing or marketing enterprises. The degree of institutional support FBSSEs receive from cooperatives, government departments, NGOs, banks and industry can also effect operations.
Issues and constraints: their impact on women
Given their small size, frequently seasonal or part time nature and the fact that many are household-based family operations, FBSSEs are often important to women. Social and economic factors that link to the cultural environment, determine the extent of women's involvement. Women are invariably busy with a wide range of subsistence activities and domestic responsibilities. They may have few income and employment generating opportunities. Given the constraints of most male dominated societies, women find unique niches which enable them to earn supplementary income. The easy accessibility of FBSSEs, especially the fact that they can often be undertaken at home, in harmony with domestic chores, is particularly important. FBSSEs contribute directly to household economies and provide locally used, affordable products, from food to furniture. FBSSEs may be most useful for women precisely because they can be undertaken as an extension of household activities.
Available data suggests that woman all over the world form a majority of the labour in FBSSEs, particularly those that are rural and household-based. In the West African Humid Forest Region women dominate the collection, trade and processing of the majority of non-timber forest products (Falconer 1990). In the six country study already mentioned, women contributed up to 31% of the total labour pool. It is likely that the percentages in the informal sector are even higher.
The issues and constraints that apply to FBSSEs in general, as outlined in Section 1.3 above, have special impacts on women.
Women may bear the impact of diminishing resources to a much greater extent than men, particularly in places where women traditionally collected fuel and fodder, forest foods, and non-timber forest products. Under these circumstances, trips to forested areas, or harvesting patterns of local vegetation, have been regular subsistence level activities for women. Increasing distances, or comparative local scarcity, means longer hours spent on these activities. This leaves less time for additional income generation, for example through secondary processing type FBSSEs. When FBSSEs involve the purchase of raw materials for secondary processing activities, diminishing supplies mean higher prices and greater efforts spent in procurement, both potentially more difficult for women to afford.
Commercialization also has many implications for women in FBSSEs who may traditionally be tied to very local economies, or to subsistence utilization. Increasing commercialization may require: more complicated processing skills and technology, extensive marketing, expanded contacts with outside forces, new managerial skills, and entrepreneurial acumen. Ultimately this may result in a higher value-added to the product, stimulating increased competition for and interest in the FBSSE.
Market availability can greatly effects the ability of women, limited by their inability to leave the home, to succeed with an FBSSE. Seasonal availability of many forest resources can cause localized gluts and fluctuating prices, leading to exploitation by middlemen. Additionally, because men often perceive FBSSEs as having very low income prospects, women are allowed to dominate. Problems arise when the FBSSEs show signs of commercial promise.
Substitution of forest-based products can be another major problem for women, who may only have had a monopoly on the supply of a specific product. Once this has been substituted, their traditional skill and niche is of no economic value.
It can be especially difficult for women to use new FBSSE technologies when their adoption requires higher capital, outside training, increased production levels and more rigid time constraints.
Research on the nature of women's role in FBSSEs is extremely limited. By focusing on women in India, the specific features of women's involvement in that country emerge.
The situation in Karnataka
Characteristics of FBSSEs in which women's participation is most common
Accurate data on the extent and nature of women's participation in FBSSE are not available in India, particularly where rural, informal activities are concerned. What data there are comes from the Government of India National Sample Survey and All India Census records in which relevant Small Scale Industries are listed under a National Industrial Classification Scheme. A survey by the Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST 1987a) based on this data and on regional reports by a variety of authors, indicates that FBSSEs play an important role in the life of Indian women.
It is estimated that women constitute 51% of the total workforce involved in FBSSEs in India, amounting to over 518 million days annually. Ninety percent of the forest-based employment for women is generated in FBSSEs. This is in direct contrast to their involvement in purely wood-based large scale forest industries, in which women constitute around 10% of the workforce. Table 1 gives a breakdown of total male and female employment figures for small and large scale forest-based enterprises.
FBSSEs significantly supplement women's income. Studies of tribal households owning less than five acres of land in four states revealed that the collection and processing of non-timber forest products constituted as much as 55% of total family income.
There are more female than male workers in the rural areas and 66% of the total number of female workers involved in the FBSSE sector are based in rural areas.
Table 1 - Employment in forest based enterprises
Enterprise Employment of:
(in million person days)
Large Scale Forest Enterprises
SOURCE: ISST 1987a
In the state of Karnataka, where the case studies are located, state census figures indicate that FBSSEs account for approximately 10% of the total number of workers other than cultivators and agricultural labourers. Of this number, 51% are women. This percentage does not include marginal workers, so the actual numbers of women engaged in FBSSEs is substantially higher. FBSSEs provide almost a third (27%) of all employment for women workers outside of agricultural labour and cultivation. For the nation as a whole, there are more rural (54%) than urban (46%) FBSSE workers. Women in FBSSEs in Karnataka outnumber men by a ratio 1.03 state wide (ISST 1987b, 1988a).
Census data from Karnataka suggests that women's involvement in FBSSEs has increased over the last two decades. The phenomenal growth of the bidi1 industry which is dominated by women, is considered one of the major reasons for this expansion.
1 Bidis are low cost cigarettes made of tobacco rolled in a leaf. The most widely used leaves are those of the tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon) shrub which constitutes a very important non-timber forest product in India. Tendu leaves are collected from the forest, often by tribal people working for government cooperatives or wealthy contractors. They are then bundled, dried and transported for bidi production. The actual production process which involves rolling individual bidis by hand, is done by small factories and household based enterprises where women dominate the labour force. For a very comprehensive study of the economics of tendu collection see Gupta et al 1982.
In Karnataka women engage in a range of different FBSSEs. However census data from 1983.(ISST 1988) indicates that levels of female participation vary based upon features of the women and their enterprises:
i. Rural women participate significantly more often than urban women.
ii. Women participate more frequently when they are self-employed and when the unit of production is small, either household and family-based or a non-household cottage industry.
iii Women dominate FBSSEs in which employment is seasonal or temporary.
iv. Participation rates are highest for FBSSEs that work with non-timber forest products and involve local skills and local collection, extraction and processing technology.
Over three quarters of the workers in FBSSEs in Karnataka are engaged in enterprises that are only partially wood based or even totally non-wood based. The most widely practiced FBSSE is that of manufacturing wooden and cane boxes, crates, benches, baskets, and other products made entirely of rattan, bamboo, reed and willow. A large number of women in FBSSEs in Karnataka are engaged in processing bidis and cashew nuts; in fact, both of these labour intensive and relatively simple hand operated processing activities are dominated by women.
v. Women's participation rates decline sharply when extraction and processing become mechanized and processing is organized in factory-type establishments. Rural women's participation, however, declines at a much faster rate than urban women's participation.
With changes in technology and skill levels, including increased entrepreneurial and managerial roles, FBSSEs often switch from low to high value activities, with the result that men tend to enter and dominate the enterprises to the frequent exclusion of women.
These issues are examined in detail in the two case studies that follow. Both case studies were undertaken in the Indian state of Karnataka by the Institute of Social Studies Trust. Special emphasis has been given to the way FBSSEs function within the dynamic social, economic, cultural and environmental system. The first case study focuses on a rural collection and processing industry which, although very localized and small in scale, is fairly representative of many FBSSEs based on non-timber forest products. The second looks at a semi-urban processing FBSSE which depends on a purchased supply of wood and lac2.
2 lac: the secretion of a forest based insect, Technadria lacca used here as a polish for finished wood products.
Both studies raise critical issues of unequal access to benefits and increasing marginalization of women. Although FBSSEs are very location specific, the problems faced by the women of Karnataka, in a dynamic setting of growing commercialization and environmental stress, have broader relevance.