News / 17 September 2021

Beyond trees: the importance of Non-Timber Forest Products for communities

About one in every six people, particularly women, directly rely on forests for their lives and livelihoods, especially for food. This shows how important non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and forests are to ensure community resilience. Not only as a source of food, water and income, but also because of their cultural and spiritual meaning.

Forest products are not only derived from trees, but from all plants, fungi and animals for which the forest ecosystem provides habitat. Examples of NTFPs are wild honey, fruits, edible leaves and roots, medicinal plants, spices, gum, fuel wood and rattan. They come not only from "natural" primary forests but also from managed, secondary or degraded forests, but not from plantations.

The advantages of NTFPs for community resilience

The sustainable management and marketing of NTFPs offers a new framework for promoting an ecologically sound plan for the economic development and conservation of tropical forests simultaneously whilst also improving the access to natural resources, income position and resilience of (forest) communities.

The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic showed just how important local food production and short food value chains are, particularly during times of crisis. In India, where a lockdown sent millions of people back from the cities back to the countryside, wild foods and other non-timber forest products (NTFPs) proved essential to hungry migrants.

But also in "normal" times, NTFPs are an important part of livelihood strategies of forest communities. In sustainably managed forests, NTFPs are always at hand and they are less prone to diseases, weather extremes and climate change than products coming from plantation and other large-scale agricultural methods.

NTFPs, land rights and forest conservation

Both ENDS has a long history of collaboration with partners such as the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) and Keystone Foundation, which support forest communities in promoting the NTFP concept for forest conservation and livelihood enhancement.

An important priority in securing the ability of communities to gather, use and sell NTFPs has always been to secure their access rights to their surrounding forests. NTFPs at the same time play a role in forest conservation, as they show the economic value of a forest beyond just timber. This way, the work of Both ENDS and partners in promoting the NTFP concept is important in the fight against land grabs, deforestation and ecosystem degradation.

The role of women in NTFPs

In recent years, Both ENDS, NTFP-EP and Keystone have collaborated as part of the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) to strengthen and unify the women's rights and environmental justice movements. A new research report on the gendered aspects of NTFPs showed that most processing of NTFPs is done by women and that women tend to have greater access and control over NTFPs that can be collected easily, like leaves and berries. In most cases, women did not have control over the income from NTFP sales, and their access to formal or distant markets was limited due to social norms that restrict their mobility.

As part of the GAGGA programme, Keystone and NTFP-EP are working to address some of these gaps. NTFP-EP and Keystone are providing small grants to strengthen women-led NTFP initiatives. For example, a grant from Keystone supported indigenous women's groups across India to develop common packaging and branding of honey. The new packaging not only helps provide better income but also establishes the women's rights over these financial resources.

NTFPs: more than forest conservation

So, by focussing on NTFPs, not only communities' access to food and income is improved, but other issues are also being tackled: land rights, traditional forest management, gender equality and adaptation and resilience towards climate change.

More information can be found on the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme´s website.

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