Weighing up the pros and cons of commercializing non-timber forest products
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|Policy information, decision-making tools and research methods to support community-based NTFP commercialisation that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable|
Three new tools are now available to help weigh up the pros and cons of commercializing non-timber forest products. A book looks at how harvesting and selling forest products could make a difference to the lives of the poor and what factors need to be considered. A manual, developed and tested in rural communities, maps out ways to scale-up, add value and overcome obstacles along the marketing chain. Then, a computer program helps compare options to reduce the risk of failure. National networks, researchers and development agencies already draw on these tools to help shape their programmes. Both producing and importing countries and regions use them – Mexico, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, the Nile Basin, Sahelian West Africa, the Mekong Delta and the Philippines.
Project Ref: FRP42:
The CEPFOR project was funded by the Forestry Research Programme, which also funded other projects on NTFP commercialisation with which there was some informal exchange of information (particularly the ‘winners and losers’ project R7795).
There was further exchange of information and analysis tools with the CIFOR global comparison of NTFPs (Belcher et al., 2005), which was part-funded by DFID through its support to the CG system. The data from the 61 case studies collected by the CIFOR project are currently being used to validate the CEPFOR Decision Support Tool (DST) in a small additional contract between FRP and Bournemouth University.
Relevant Research Projects:
The CEPFOR project (R7925) was implemented by UNEP-WCMC in collaboration with partners in the UK, Mexico and Bolivia. The project leader at UNEP-WCMC was Elaine Marshall (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Overseas Development Institute, London, (contact: Dr. Kate Schreckenberg on email@example.com), was responsible for developing the research methods and oversight of the socio-economic data analysis.
Professor Adrian Newton of Bournemouth University (ANetwon@bournemouth.ac.uk) initially supervised the project at UNEP-WCMC and was responsible for development of the electronic decision support tool.
Collaboration with Fauna and Flora International in Nicaragua focused on designing the initial inception workshops and carrying out an information needs assessment in Central America during the third year of the project.
In Mexico, three NGOs worked with the project, carrying out research and data analysis on a range of NTFP commercialisation cases:
An important partner for dissemination in Mexico was the RAISES (Red de Aprendizaje e Intercambio para la Sistematización de experiencias hacia la Sustentabilidad; Learning and Exchange Network for Systematizing Experiences Towards Sustainability) network, which coordinated all the book and policy-briefing launch activities and has taken forward the project’s policy messages. Contact: Fabrice Edouard on firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Bolivia, the main partner was CARE Bolivia, which carried out research in several of its project sites. Contact: Eric Arancibia on email@example.com.
The project produced three principal outputs in January-March 2006:
Output 1. A book (Marshall et al., 2006a) – in English and Spanish – analysing the factors influencing success in NTFP commercialisation, drawing on lessons from Mexico and Bolivia.
Based on 19 case studies, the book and associated policy briefs provide an analysis of how NTFP value chains function and how different NTFP commercialisation strategies impact on poverty, women’s livelihoods, the resource base and access rights, and suggest policy interventions to improve the success of NTFP commercialisation. Targeted at decision-makers, the book addresses the lack of understanding about the factors that determine whether and how NTFP commercialisation can contribute to sustainable rural development in highly marginalised communities.
Output 2. An electronic decision-support tool (DST) for use by decision-makers to evaluate the potential for successful NTFP commercialisation (English and Spanish).
Responding to the need of decision-makers to decide which NTFP commercialisation activities to support and with what kinds of policy interventions, this expert system allows users to compare the potential success of different NTFP development options, assess the opportunities and constraints of current NTFP initiatives, and explore the potential livelihood impacts of different policy options. Structured around a sustainable rural livelihoods framework, the DST requires the user to score 66 factors – including the characteristics of the product to be commercialised, the socio-economic characteristics of the communities involved, and characteristics of the value chain. The resulting insights can contribute to more effective financial, technical and political interventions that help to increase the value of forests through sustainable development of NTFP resources, while reducing the risk of failure for poor producers, processors and traders.
Output 3. A methods manual (Marshall et al., 2006b) providing practical tools for NTFP value chain analysis, for use alone or in support of the DST (Spanish).
The manual addresses the previous lack of an integrated, multi-disciplinary, methodology for NTFP value chain research that can guide external interventions and support community decisions concerning NTFP commercialisation. Developed and tested with rural communities, the manual is targeted at organisations that support community-based NTFP commercialisation. It provides a range of locally adaptable research tools that can generate the information needed to help identify opportunities and obstacles to NTFP commercialisation at community level, and along the marketing chain. By providing guidance on participatory objective setting and the development of indicators, the manual can also support establishment of monitoring and evaluation of the impact of NTFP commercialisation.
The outputs focus on plant-based Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) in Mexico and Bolivia. Some of the policy results in the book are likely to be applicable to NTFPs in other countries, to animal-based NTFPs and to non-traditional agricultural products. This also applies to the methods manual and to the electronic DST. The latter is based on a Bayesian Belief Network, which could be used to build DSTs for many other natural resource management decisions.
NTFPs are collected from a wide range of land uses from natural forests to weedy verges along roads and trees retained in fields. They are not linked to any specific farming system but are particularly important in marginal contexts where their existence may supplement farming activities, providing income or other inputs during the agricultural slack season.
The CEPFOR outputs focussed on the value chain of plant NTFPs. They could benefit from being clustered with the following RNRRS projects:
ˇ R8305 – has a greater focus on resource inventory and management issues, specifically relating to medicinal bark in southern Africa. Good potential for collaboration to improve understanding, research methods and decision-making tools to analyse the full value chain with a view to identifying stakeholders with a specific interest in protecting the resource.
ˇ R8295 – produced a methodology for planning sustainable management of medicinal plants in India and Nepal. Good potential for collaboration on developing integrated methodology for sustainable resource management and marketing of medicinal plants in Asia.
ˇ R7285 – produced a manual on viability and potential of ethical trade in all types of forest products (NTFPs, agroforestry products, timber). Good potential for collaboration to incorporate the additional dimension of ethical trade into the CEPFOR DST and methods manual.
The CEPFOR outputs could also benefit from collaboration with some non-RNRRS projects:
ˇ TRAFFIC project (World Bank funded) on wildlife trade in East Asia is testing similar research hypotheses as the CEPFOR project, relating to the relationship between livelihoods and resource use. Good potential for collaboration on (i) broadening the CEPFOR policy recommendations (output 1) to take into account wild meat and other animal trade issues, (ii) adapting the CEPFOR DST (output 2) to incorporate factors specific to animals and highlight commercialisation impacts not just on livelihoods but also on resource conservation, and (iii) expanding the CEPFOR manual to integrate animal specific methods.
ˇ Stellenbosch University and Pennsylvania State University have applied for funds to work on NTFP enterprises in Mozambique and South Africa, a project with which collaboration on value chain analysis methods (output 3) and interventions (output 1) could be very fruitful.
How the outputs were validated:
Policy recommendations (output 1) can be considered validated if they lead to changes in policies or are recognised by other organisations as being worthy of promotion. The CEPFOR recommendations have been widely promoted within Mexico by the RAISES network. They project’s findings were also presented at the CATIE international conference on “Small and Medium Forest Enterprise Development for Poverty Reduction: Opportunities and Challenges in Globalizing Markets” (Costa Rica, May 23-25, 2006) and will be included in a forthcoming Spanish publication for dissemination in Central and South America entitled “Small and medium forest enterprises for poverty reduction: perspectives from the field”.At an international level, the policy briefings have met with a positive reaction. A review in the International Forestry Review (Vol 8(3), 2006) considers the book (output 1) a ‘must read’ for ‘anyone interested in NTFPs, rural development and small enterprise development’. The policy findings were taken up by the World Resources Report 2005 (‘The Wealth of the Poor: Managing Ecosystems to Fight Poverty”), and were further promoted by USAID/FRAME through their electronic conference on natural products in rural enterprises (June 2006), as well as being featured on the website of Botanic Gardens Conservation International.
The DST (output 2) was developed on the basis of information collected in 19 case study communities. It was first validated internally by testing it with an independent set of data collected from the same communities (Newton et al., 2006). A second validation is now in progress, which consists of testing the DST with data from 61 case studies, collected by CIFOR during their global comparison (Belcher et al., 2005). This international validation exercise is being carried out jointly by CIFOR and by Prof Adrian Newton at Bournemouth University and results will be available in early 2007.
The methods manual (output 3) has been through a process of internal project validation. All the methods were used by project partners in Mexico and Bolivia and modified over a period of two years through a series of iterative meetings followed by further testing. However, no monitoring system is in place to determine the extent to which the methods manual has been used or adapted by user groups outside of the project.
Where the Outputs were Validated:
The project outputs were only finalised and promoted between January and March 2006. There has, therefore, been little time for external validation. As explained above, internal validation (within the project) of outputs 2 and 3 took place in Mexico and Bolivia during the last two years of the project (2003-5). External validation of output 2 is currently taking place using an international set of data. Validation of output 1, in the form of uptake and further promotion of the project’s policy recommendations is ongoing at various levels: national, regional and international.
Who are the Users?
The RAISES network, several members of which participated in CEPFOR research, is the key organisation that continues to promote the use of CEPFOR outputs in Mexico, both within and beyond its members. RAISES has put together a project proposal, being circulated to national and international donors, to strengthen NTFP management and commercialisation plans in several states. This would involve holding regional workshops to identify organisations interested in strengthening NTFP value chains, training them in the use of the CEPFOR outputs (1, 2 and 3) and additional ones relating to resource inventories and management, and support the development of activities and inter-institutional collaboration.
At the international level, the CEPFOR policy findings (output 1) have been used by the two lead researchers (Elaine Marshall and Kate Schreckenberg) to shape debates on NTFP issues during an electronic forum (June 2006) and an international workshop on NTFPs in rural enterprises (Washington DC, 3-5 Oct 2006), both organised by IRG/FRAME for USAID.
Insights from the project have further been applied by Kate Schreckenberg in the development of a proposal for a new programme of support to poor rural producers engaging in the global economy. They are also being used by Elaine Marshall and Adrian Newton to inform the research and analytical approaches of a TRAFFIC project, funded by the World Bank, examining the drivers of the wildlife trade (including both animal and plant based NTFPs), associated livelihood contributions and the impact of trade-related interventions.
Where the outputs have been used:
There is currently no monitoring system in place to determine where the project outputs are being used.
We assume that outputs 2 and 3 are being used by some of the participants that took part in the launch workshops in Mexico and Bolivia.
The RAISES network of NGOs and researchers in Mexico have made particular use of the first output – the book and summarised versions in the form of policy briefs – to strengthen their work on improving public policy and regulations relating to NTFP commercialisation. The policy findings may also be having an impact on other organisations to whom they have been disseminated.
At an international level, the project’s research and policy findings are being applied by the CEPFOR researchers in the development of new projects implemented or to be implemented in a wide range of Asian and African countries. These include:
ˇ The TRAFFIC study mentioned above which focuses on wildlife trade in and from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam, with work also extending to countries that are markets for natural resources from these countries, particularly China.
ˇ A proposed programme of research on the theme: ‘Productive Strategies for Poor Rural Households to Participate Successfully in Global Economic Processes’, to be managed by ODI. This will take a value chain approach and have a strong focus on natural products with proposed activities in the Nile Basin, the Sahelian belt of West Africa, the Mekong Delta, the Philippines and South Asia.
Scale of Current Use:
In the first six months of 2006, eight of the 25 most frequently downloaded documents from the UNEP-WCMC website were CEPFOR reports, indicating great public interest in the theme. However, there is no monitoring system in place to determine how widely the manual and DST are being used.
Policy and Institutional Structures, and Key Components for Success:
Stakeholder involvement in the research is one of the best ways of ensuring that research outputs are used and disseminated. In Mexico, several of the research partners are members of the RAISES network. This Ford-funded network consists of six NGOs and academic researchers who work with civil society organisations in Guerrero, Chiapas and Michoacán, with management and commercialisation of NTFPs as one of its principal themes. RAISES is the most effective platform for continued dissemination of the project’s research findings in Mexico as well as their application within its own and its members’ activities. Having a network that includes institutional and individual members helps to overcome the continuity problem that has arisen in political and administrative circles.
The fact that the Bolivian partner, CARE Bolivia, is primarily an implementing organisation, resulted in promotion and adoption of the project’s findings within its network of activities.
At international level, the UNEP publicity network has been an important institutional structure for widespread dissemination of the project’s policy findings (output 1) as has the website of the ODI.
Capacity-building of project participants was an essential focus of the project, given that the partners were primarily development organisations rather than researchers. The approach taken (successfully) was to organise frequent meetings of all partners at which different elements of the research agenda were discussed, methods developed (followed by field-testing) and amended in an iterative manner. These were complemented by supervisory visits during fieldwork and email support during analysis. The use of an agreed set of research hypotheses helped to focus support on specific research and analysis methods.
Lessons Learned and Uptake Pathways
Promotion of Outputs:
The project had no funds for promotion and training beyond the launch workshops in Mexico (Oaxaca and Mexico City) and Bolivia (La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz). These included presentation of the policy findings and training in the use of the manual and DST. It should be possible to follow-up with the workshop participants to monitor their use of the project’s outputs.
An additional launch of the policy findings took place in London in March 2006, followed by a presentation at an international conference on small and medium forest enterprises at CATIE in May 2006.
No further promotion has been funded or organised through the project.
The RAISES network, however, continues to promote the project’s findings at a range of regional meetings within Mexico. Furthermore, it is circulating a proposal to donors for a project to strengthen NTFP management and commercialisation plans in several states. This would include training organisations interested in strengthening NTFP value chains in the use of the CEPFOR outputs (1, 2 and 3).
At a regional and international level, the policy outputs continue to be disseminated in an opportunistic manner by research partners attending conferences and becoming involved in new projects.
Potential Barriers Preventing Adoption of Outputs:
In both Mexico and Bolivia, a lack of administrative continuity will hamper future uptake of CEPFOR policy-level suggestions (output 1) and promotion of the use of outputs 2 and 3. In Mexico, the federal administration changed on the 1st of December, 2006, removing many of the political decision-makers who participated in project meetings and workshops. In Bolivia, political change coincided with the launching of the project outputs, such that many of the staff with whom the project had contact are no longer working for the government. Furthermore, the Forest Department and the Protected Areas administration are both going through difficult political times that make any operational activities difficult, let alone application of the new tools suggested by the project.
In general there is a problem (highlighted in the project’s findings) that there is no single government institution responsible for NTFPs, which means that adoption of the project’s outputs requires coordinated action by many different players.
How to Overcome Barriers to Adoption of Outputs:
There is no way to ensure political continuity. However, a specific dissemination phase, of at least one year, added to the end of the project would help to ensure that the outputs are disseminated to sufficient people to create a critical mass of potential users. During this time a greater focus on dissemination via NGO, civil society and researcher networks is needed.
Support to national-level coordinating bodies for NTFPs would also be helpful, bringing together multiple stakeholders to assess where and how to implement different recommendations and apply research and decision-making tools.
None of the CEPFOR outputs were developed for direct use by poor people. Rather the intention was for organisations working with poor people to engage with the policy findings and to employ the DST and research methods. Working through national networks of NGOs and researchers as in the case of the Mexican RAISES network, appears to be an effective way of reaching relevant organisations and individuals.
Impacts On Poverty
Poverty Impact Studies:
We are not aware of any poverty impact studies that may have been carried out specifically in relation to the CEPFOR project outputs.
However, the importance of NTFPs in sustaining people’s livelihoods is widely accepted (Falconer, 1990; Scoones et al., 1992) and is one of the two main driving forces behind donor support to NTFP commercialisation initiatives, the other being resource conservation. The increasing focus of development policy on poverty reduction has, however, brought with it a need for unequivocal evidence about whether and how much NTFP commercialisation can contribute to poverty reduction (Wunder, 2001; Arnold, 2002). The CEPFOR project is only one of several studies that have sought to fill this gap. CIFOR has carried out a global comparative study of 61 NTFP cases (Belcher et al., 2005), which has examined the impact of NTFP commercialisation on livelihoods, grouping activities into three groups depending on their contribution to the household income and main mode of production. Sheona Shackleton’s work in South Africa has highlighted the role of domestic trade of NTFPs in supporting livelihoods, particularly for marginalised women.
Based on its case studies in Bolivia and Mexico, the CEPFOR project distinguished three types of NTFP activity with respect to poverty reduction:
The CEPFOR project itself was undertaken, in part, to assess the impact of NTFP commercialisation on poverty. Its partner organisations carried out enterprise budgets and cost-benefit analyses for different marketing strategies of 10 products and adapted their activities according to the findings (e.g. increasing the focus on product quality through grading and improved communication between producers and buyers). No formal analysis has been carried out but anecdotal evidence from the partners suggests that the case study communities have benefited from participating in the research.
How the Poor have Benefited (including gender and other poverty groups):
Because the outputs were only launched in Jan-March 2006, and no monitoring system is in place, we have no formal evidence for the poverty impacts of the CEPFOR project. Impacts we would expect to see include:
Resulting from the above activities, we would expect to see more people engaging in NTFP value chains that are transparent, socially just, environmentally sound and provide higher returns for participants.
Direct and Indirect Environmental Benefits:
No monitoring of environmental impacts has taken place since the outputs were launched in early 2006. However, the process of research did lead to improved environmental sustainability of a number of the products studied through better organisation of producers and more availability and dissemination of information relating to resource harvesting and management.
Adverse Environmental Impacts:
We are not aware of any adverse impacts. However, the project found that increased commercialisation of NTFPs initially leads to overexploitation of the resource in 75% of cases. The type of tenure (individual or communal) and availability of external support are important factors in how producers overcome this problem. There is strong justification, therefore, for disseminating the outputs of this project together with those of other projects (as listed under “Potential for Added Value” and under “Where Poverty Impacts may be Achieved”), which have focused more strongly on resource harvesting and management issues.
Coping with the Effects of Climate Change, or Risk from Natural Disasters:
By improving the success of NTFP commercialisation, the three outputs reduce the vulnerability of poor people (producers, processors and traders) to disasters ranging from illness within the family to crop loss or other natural disasters. The outputs specifically promote the consideration of NTFP commercialisation as one of a number of rural livelihood activities, highlighting the potential of NTFP activities to help households achieve a more diversified and hence more resilient livelihood (as opposed to diversification out of desperation).
Value chains, particularly for internationally traded NTFP, can be notoriously faddish. The project outputs help communities select products that are less likely to be subject to substitution or changes in fashion. They also increase the potential sustainability of the value chain by promoting an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of different actors and the potential bottlenecks in the value chain, emphasising the need for communication between actors in the value chain, and recommending a focus on product quality and continued innovation.
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Falconer, J. 1990. The Major Significance of “Minor” Forest Products: The Local Use and Value of Forests in the West African Humid Forest Zone. Community Forestry Note No. 6. FAO, Rome.
Marshall, E., Schreckenberg, K. and Newton, A. (eds). 2006a. Commercialization of Non-Timber Forest Products: Factors influencing success. Lessons learned from Mexico and Bolivia and policy implications for decision-makers. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK.
Marshall, E., Rushton, J. and Schreckenberg, K. with Arancibia, E., Edouard, F. and Newton, A. 2006b. Practical tools for researching successful NTFP commercialisation: A methods manual. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.
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Wunder S. 2001. Poverty alleviation and tropical forests – what scope for synergies? World Development 29(11): 1817-1833.
Vedeld, P., Angelsen, A., Sjaastad, E. and Berg, G.K. 2004. Counting on the Environment: Forest Incomes and the Poor. Environmental Economics Series Paper 98, World Bank, Washington, D.C.
Relevant Research Projects, with links to the