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[KUALA LUMPUR] A new study presents evidence that millions of rural smallholder farmers across the developing world still derive as much income from foraging forests as from cultivating crops.

Said to be the “most comprehensive study” on the link between forests and livelihoods, a paper on the global research was published in the monthly journal World Development (20 March). The study was commissioned by the Poverty and Environment Network (PEN), an international research group focusing on tropical forests and poverty, and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

More than 8,300 households in 333 villages on 58 sites in 24 developing countries – including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and China from the Asia-Pacific region – were surveyed over 12 months by 33 PEN partners and their teams.

Lead researcher Sven Wunder says that although there had been a “growing number of case studies on the subject”, a study of this scale was never done before because there was a lack of standardised methods.

“Conducting a study like this is logistically challenging, extremely expensive and time consuming. These challenges and expenses were largely overcome with the innovative project structure or design whereby a network of PhD students conducted individual PEN case studies,” Wunder explains.

Nick Hogarth, who carried out his research in China back in 2007 and is now a scientist at CIFOR, says that those who were involved in the research project used the standardised PEN method and questionnaires which allowed comparative analysis.

The results of the study are reported in five complementary research papers that address various themes, including income generation and rural livelihoods, safety nets during shortfalls, gender and forest use, forest clearing and livelihoods, and tenure and forest income.

“Our findings have implications for how we understand rural livelihoods and how we should design interventions that affect access to and use of natural resources. Rural folks are more dependent on foraging resources than most people think,” says Wunder, who is also CIFOR’s Brazil office head and the lead guest editor of the special issue.

“The results thus underscore the importance of managing access to those forests and its resources equitably, because they provide income to many of the world’s poorest people,” Wunder tells SciDev.Net.

He says the bulk of the resources that the people are dependent on are wood fuels, food and materials for building structures.

He says these studies provided a baseline or “reference point” for future studies and could “in principle” be replicated.

Arom bin Asir, a member of Malaysia’s Orang Asal indigenous peoples and head at a rural village in Kelantan, confirms that their village uses the forest for many things — from food to materials for house-building to medicines.

“Everything in our life, we are using the forest,” he says.

Link to full paper in World Development
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.


World Development doi: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2014.03.007 (2014)