Assessing the potential of forest product activities to contribute to rural incomes in Africa

Assessing the potential of forest product activities to contribute to rural incomes in Africa

How can forests contribute to local incomes?

Large numbers of rural households in Africa continue to generate some of their income from forest product activities. However, much of this involvement is in labour intensive low return activities that help to provide the poor with an income safety net, but which decline once better alternatives become available. Expansion of forest product activities is likely to be concentrated on a limited number of products and services for which demand grows with rural and urban development. The paper reviews the implications of this dichotomy for support and resource management strategies.

Policy conclusions include:

  • intervention strategies need to recognise the distinction between those who are engaged in forest product activities because they lack alternative means of sustenance, and those who are responding to market opportunities
  • it may be more fruitful to help people engaged in activities with declining prospects to move into other more rewarding fields of endeavour, rather than seeking to raise their productivity in their current line of work
  • support to sustainable types of activity needs to be geared to meet the different needs of those at different points in the enterprisedevelopment process (start-up, expansion from a small beginning, further upgrading, etc.)
  • management of the resource needs to take account of the declining prospects for some of the presently more important products, the likely concentration of demand on a limited number of products of growing commercial value, and the need often to maintain forest resources for their ‘buffer’ role in times of hardship
  • where reliance on forest products is likely to decline, care needs to be taken not to commit communities to institutional arrangements that they are unlikely to be able to sustain once forest products are less important in their livelihoods.

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