The hidden costs and values of NTFP exploitation in the Congo Basin

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2009

The importance of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) to rural, forest-based people's livelihoods has been increasingly recognised. When NTFPs move from subsistence use to commercialisation, the livelihoods of urban traders and consumers become interlinked with demand and supply pressures that can lead to unsustainable exploitation and concerns about biodiversity conservation and forest degradation. In Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo, over 500 species are used as food, medicine and fuel. About 50% of these are traded, however surprisingly little is known of the value, scale and circuits of commercialisation, despite centuries of trade. Policy and regulatory at tention has also focused largely on timber. Value chain analysis (VCA) can be used to calculate market values and understand how power, benefits and costs are embodied and distributed among actors. NTFP markets in the Congo basin exhibit multiple routes from production to consumption. Five products; honey, Gnetum spp., Irvingia spp., Dacryodes edulis and Prunus africana have a combined annual turnover of at least $US 45 million, providing employment to some 250,000 people and connecting forest -based harvesters and producers with consumers nationally, in Central Africa, Europe and America. Governance arrangements in these market chains create "hidden'' costs and benefits, hindering or helping access of the poor to forest resources and their sustainable exploitation. Power imbalances in the chain, disconnected actors, limited competition, and little information results in a poverty trap for small -scale producers, product quality degradation and an unsustainable industry. Small scale producers are ill-equipped to know about and respond to market demand, often unorganised, being price takers with weak bargaining power. Governance and institutional arrangements enable actors to reposition themselves and increase income to sustain both forest and the sector. Following the VCA analysis, action research is being conducted, combined with an emerging framework of regional standards focussing on NTFPs in Central Africa, international standards for collection and exploitation, resource assessments and increasingly tough international trade regulations, and stimulating with new sustainable markets for products previously unregulated or little-exploited in Congo Basin countries such as beeswax and some types of mushrooms. Researchers and stakeholders in the chains for honey, Prunus africana and Irvingia spp., worked together on actions to strengthen markets, change institutional arrangements, improve value addition and contribute more to livelihoods of along the whole chain. To reinforce positive local and international impacts, CIFOR collaborated with national governments, industry associations, networks of community forests, harvesters and producers, the FAO, SNV, ICRAF and GTZ.