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Kusters, K., R. Achdiawan, B. Belcher, and M. Ruiz Pérez 2006. Balancing development and conservation? An assessment of livelihood and environmental outcomes of nontimber forest product trade in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Ecology and Society 11(2): 20. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss2/art20/
Research, part of Special Feature on Navigating tradeoffs Balancing Development and Conservation? An Assessment of Livelihood and Environmental Outcomes of Nontimber Forest Product Trade in Asia, Africa, and Latin America
1Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), 2Universidad Autonoma de Madrid
This article addresses the question, to what extent and under which conditions nontimber forest product (NTFP) trade leads to both livelihood improvement and forest conservation. We based the analysis on a standardized expert-judgment assessment of the livelihood and environmental outcomes of 55 cases of NTFP trade from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The results show that NTFP trade benefits several components of peoples' livelihoods, but may increase inequality between households. Involvement of women in the production-to-consumption system (PCS) tends to have a positive impact on intrahousehold equity. In 80% of the cases, the commercial production of NTFPs does not enable people to make financial investments to increase quality and quantity of production, limiting the potential for development. In our set of cases, commercial extraction from the wild, without further management, tends to lead to resource depletion. NTFP production systems are generally considered to have lower environmental values than natural forest, but do contribute positively to the environmental values in the landscape. We found that higher livelihood outcomes are associated with lower environmental outcomes and conclude that NTFP trade is not likely to reconcile development and conservation of natural forest.
Key words: assessment; conservation; development; environmental outcomes; forest use; livelihoods; livelihood outcomes; nontimber forest products; trade.
In the early 1980s, the protectionist paradigm that had dominated nature conservation since the 19th century began losing ground. It was replaced by a strong notion among both conservationists and development practitioners that poverty reduction and environmental protection should go hand in hand (Adams 1990, Roe and Elliot 2004). In the following years several approaches emerged to reconcile development and conservation goals. The promotion of commercial nontimber forest product (NTFP) production, encompassing both extraction and cultivation, is one of these approaches (Ros-Tonen et al. 2005).
NTFPs were given a prominent role in many conservation and development projects based on the proposition that supporting the production and trade of NTFPs leads to livelihood improvement without compromising the environment. That proposition was based on the following assumptions: (1) commercial NTFP production can provide economically attractive options to farmers helping to increase their income and offering development opportunities (Peters et al. 1989, Clay and Clement 1993); (2) NTFP production is a more benign way to use tropical forests than most land use alternatives, allowing for the conservation of key forest values (Myers 1988, Nepstad and Schwartzman 1992); and (3) increased monetary value of the NTFP will prevent people from converting the lands into other land uses (Evans 1993, Stiles 1994). Attracted by the potential for conservation and development, numerous scientists have studied NTFP production and trade. The evidence, however, remains inconclusive (see Neumann and Hirsch 2000, Arnold and Ruiz-Pérez 2001, Ros-Tonen and Wiersum 2005 for reviews). Although the extensive literature on NTFPs provides a good overview of the range of experiences, the lack of an extensive, comparable sample of cases studied with a common methodology has made it difficult to draw more general lessons.
To address that need, a recent multicollaborator project conducted comparative analyses of a broad range of cases of commercial NTFP production, processing, and trade, termed here production-to-consumption systems or PCS (Belcher 1998). NTFP was defined broadly to include woody products and cultivated products of forest origin. With the help of regional coordinators, the project selected a total of 61 cases, and researchers familiar with those cases, from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Only cases that already had been studied were selected, representing a wide variety of products and systems. Elaborating on a methodology developed by Ruiz-Pérez and Byron (1999), two distinct datasets were collected. The first dataset includes standardized descriptors of the ecological, economic, social, and political characteristics of 61 PCS. These data provide a “snapshot” of the current situation, with some trend information. The approach to the development of this dataset is described in Belcher and Ruiz-Pérez (2001). Several products of the analysis are now available (e.g., Ruiz-Pérez et al. 2004, Belcher et al. 2005). The main lessons from the analysis are captured in a short video (http://www.cifor.org/publications/ntfpsite/docs/video.htm).
The second dataset was collected for a separate assessment of conservation and development outcomes of NTFP trade, based on expert judgment by the case researchers. The researchers responsible for the case studies assessed whether and to what extent the commercial trade of the product resulted in positive or negative effects on livelihoods and the environment.
This paper reports on the second exercise. It outlines the approach and the variables used, and analyzes the relationship among variables and among different groups of cases. This allows for an assessment of livelihood and environmental outcomes of NTFP trade and an analysis of the linkages between conservation and development. Furthermore, this analysis helps clarify the disparity of results with respect to the livelihood and environmental outcomes of NTFP trade found in the literature.
We developed a methodology to assess livelihood and environmental outcomes, based on expert judgments. The aim was to identify the general direction and degree of changes that result from commercial nontimber forest product (NTFP) production and trade, based on existing knowledge. Although the cases were to be assessed by recognized researchers with a long experience working with their respective cases, it was accepted that any individual assessment will be subjective and may focus on some issues more than others, depending on the professional orientation, personal preferences, and actual experience with the case. In order to maximize the objectivity and the comparability, we designed two assessment tools to be used by the case researchers to make the individual assessments systematic, comprehensive, to help ensure that all important issues are considered, and consistent, such that different assessors familiar with the case would make similar assessments.
We used an iterative process to develop a set of indicators to capture the key changes resulting from commercial NTFP production and trade. We began by outlining the objectives and constraints of the assessment process and proposing a prototype set of indicators to all collaborators. These indicators were then challenged, revised, and refined with the input of scientists representing a wide range of disciplines and experience. This helped to prevent the disciplinary bias that is often reflected in indicator sets (Bossel 2001, Rigby et al. 2000). A full description of the methodology and the process by which it was developed is presented in Kusters et al. (2005).
The livelihood part of the assessment considers whether and to what extent commercial NTFP trade has affected peoples’ livelihoods. The hypothesis is that increasing trade of nontimber forest products provides income, employment, and other opportunities for poor rural people to improve their welfare (Peters et al. 1989, Clay and Clement 1993).
Following contemporary definitions of livelihoods that include nonfinancial aspects, we used the Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (SRL) framework (Carney 1998, DFID 2005) to guide the selection of indicators (Table 1). Accordingly, indicators were defined to capture changes in the five asset categories that form the main components of peoples’ livelihoods, namely financial, physical, natural, human, and social assets. These five asset categories have been widely adopted as an organizing principle of peoples’ livelihoods (Bebbington 1999, Bossel 2001, Campbell et al. 2001, Gottret and White 2001, Angelsen and Wunder 2003, Cramb et al. 2004).
Recognizing that outcomes are highly scale dependent, we designed indicators for three different scales. At the household level, we selected indicators to assess how the commercial production of the target species has contributed to household assets and equity within households. Here we focus on NTFP producers, i.e., the households involved in extraction or cultivation of the studied product. At the community level, indicators address the effects on overall community assets in the study area. At this level, we also assess the effect of commercial production on equity between households in a community, as changes may be positive for one group of stakeholders, while negative for another (Dove 1994, Ashley and Hussein 2000). Theoretically, a strong production-to-consumption system (PCS) might also contribute to economic performance at the national level through job creation and foreign exchange earnings. In most cases reviewed for this study, national level impacts were insignificant, so these data were not analyzed further.
In addition to the five asset categories, an equity component was added to assess whether the NTFP trade has led to differential access to assets, as well as empowerment of women. Table 1 shows the set of livelihood indicators used in the analysis.
The assessment of livelihood outcomes was based on a 10-yr period, with an indicative reference period of 1990 to 2000. As there are often no baseline data regarding livelihood status, the assessment relies on the expert judgment of changes on indicators. The 10-yr period was deemed sufficiently long to be able to observe changes, but short enough for the assessor to make reliable judgments of changes based on the information available. Changes that occurred before 1990 are not captured in the assessment. Each indicator was assessed according to the question: “Did commercial production of the forest product lead to changes in ....”
We expect two major kinds of ecological impacts from the harvesting and management of any biological resource. First is the impact on the species itself, with effects on population size and distribution, as well as on the genetic composition of the population as a result of selective harvesting, active selection, or deliberate genetic manipulation. Second is the impact on the broader ecosystem. Some of these effects come directly from the actions of harvesting and management. Potentially much more important is the influence of decisions about overall land use. One of the arguments to support NTFP commercialization is that increased revenue flows from the standing forest can justify maintaining forest cover (Evans 1993).
We selected indicators to assess the sustainability of extraction, the environmental value of the NTFP land use system, and the extent to which the product influences peoples’ land use decisions. There may be negative consequences of extraction that are unknown such as genetic impacts of selective harvesting and that are therefore not reflected in the assessment. Because ecosystem properties differ according to spatial scale (Hoekstra et al. 1991, Allen and Hoekstra 1992) and management outcomes can diverge between scales (Gottret and White 2001, Ticktin 2004), we selected indicators at three levels. The “target-species population level” refers to the population of NTFP species on which the case study has focused in the particular study area. The “land-use ecosystem level” refers to the zone within the study area in which the NTFP target species is produced. This can, for example, be a certain area of secondary forest, or the area in the study site that is covered with agroforest gardens. The “regional landscape level” refers to the study area, generally encompassing a mosaic of land uses, including settlements, agricultural lands, and forested lands. The selected indicators for each level are presented Table 2.
At the population and land-use ecosystem level, the assessors compared the current situation with two hypothetical alternatives: (1) undisturbed mature natural, nonplanted forest, typical of the location; and (2) the most likely land-use alternative, i.e., the land use that would most likely occur if the NTFP target species had no commercial value. At the regional landscape level we did not compare with alternative scenarios. Here the researchers were asked to value whether the NTFP land use has a significant impact on environmental conditions in the study area. For example, the outcome for the indicator “reservoir of forest species” is positive when the NTFP land use system preserves biodiversity existing in the study area.
Implementation and analysis
Researchers were asked to rate the outcomes for each indicator in their case on a five-point ordinal scale: very negative (-2), negative, neutral, positive, and very positive (+2). Assessments were mostly done in group exercises in the regions, with researchers assessing their own cases and discussing the process and the results. This was effective for stimulating discussion, facilitating consistent and comparable interpretation, and scoring of the indicators. We acquired complete assessments for 55 cases: 17 from Africa, 21 from Asia, and 17 from Latin America (see Appendix 1).
In the analysis, the indicators were all treated as having uniform weight. We explored the relationships among livelihood indicators, among environmental indicators, and across the two sets of indicators using Spearman rank correlation tests, Kruskal-Wallis nonparametric tests and multivariate principle component analyses. We explored the relationship between the outcomes and five NTFP-related livelihood strategies, following the typology developed by Belcher et al. (2005) on the basis of the analysis of the descriptive variables.
The five distinctive groups of cases identified by Belcher et al. (2005) are each characterized by the role of the NTFP in the household economy. The groups are:
Each group showed clear patterns of relations with a wide range of other variables in the data set (Belcher et al. 2005). We therefore used the typology as entry point to explore which case characteristics are associated with different types of outcomes. The main characteristics of the household strategies are summarized in Table 3. Though all categories are found in all three regions, African cases tend to fall in the subsistence category, whereas the specialized categories are relatively common among the Asian cases. These patterns are indicative of broader regional features, i.e., the relatively poor conditions in Africa, and the existence of better-developed markets in Asia. Lastly, it should be noted that the sample of cases that we studied does not provide a truly random sample of all NTFPs. Still, the methodology, in combination with a large enough data set, allows good comparability of general changes as a result of commercial production.
Overall, the assessments show that nontimber forest product (NTFP) trade has a positive impact on local livelihoods (Fig. 1). Financial, human, physical, and social assets, the conventional development indicators, are well above the neutral line (0), with a very low occurrence of negative scores. Equity is positive, though with a lower average and with 24% of cases having negative scores. The average score for natural assets is neutral, with 42% of cases showing a reduction in access to natural assets, i.e., negative score. In the livelihood outcomes analysis the term “natural assets” only relates to the target resource. The high standard deviation for this asset group implies a large variability among cases in the response to commercial NTFP production.
There has been a rich theoretical discussion about the multiple components of livelihoods, and the Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (SRL) framework explicitly disaggregates them. In our cases the components are indeed differentiated, but there is a very strong positive correlation between financial, social, human, and physical assets (Table 4), with the financial assets typically scoring highest. The score on the equity component is associated with human and social assets, but independent of financial and physical assets. Scores on natural asset indicators are correlated with equity outcomes, and independent of the rest. Financial assets are thus related to all asset groups, except the natural assets and equity. There are no negative correlations between the scores of the various livelihood components.
Classifying the cases according to the five NTFP-related livelihood strategies presented in Table 3, results in some strong patterns. All classes show positive mean livelihood scores, but there are important variations in the absolute and the relative contributions of the different components (Fig. 2). Most notably, the mean score for natural asset indicators is negative for the subsistence and specialized extraction household strategies (Table 5). These livelihood strategies are based on harvesting from the wild, which tends to result in resource depletion. Though the supplementary strategy is also based on harvesting from the wild, this group has a neutral mean score for the natural asset indicators, because it contains several cases where the resource is being managed to protect or stimulate growth. The integrated and specialized strategies based on cultivation show positive scores on the natural asset indicators.
Some of the indicators in particular are indicative of the development potential of NTFP trade in a particular case.
The livelihood outcomes scores at the household level are consistently higher than at the community level (Fig. 3). Community benefits tend to be secondary to those at household level and are often indirect. Equity within the community is negatively affected in 25% of the cases in which some households gain from trade opportunities while others do not, or even lose access to the resource. The cases characterized by specialized extraction from wild products, i.e., the specialized extraction group, in particular tend to have negative outcomes for interhousehold equity. This group also has the largest difference between mean household and community outcomes (Fig. 3), reflecting the importance of niche specialization both to promote development but also to increase inequality. In line with this, cases with increasing differences between households tend to have negative outcomes for sociocultural cohesion between households (Chi-Squaredf2 = 6.227; P-value = 0.044).
Intrahousehold equity improved in about half the cases. This is correlated with the involvement of women in the PCS (Chi-squaredf2 = 6.8; P-value = 0.032). This involvement provides opportunities for women to engage in the cash economy, strengthening their position in the household. There is also a positive correlation between women’s involvement and the “endogenous social resources” indicator at the household level, reflecting social cohesion and confidence within the household (Spearman rank correlation coefficient = 0.255; P-value = 0.060).
There are much greater differences in the environmental outcomes than in the livelihood outcomes, and there is much greater variability between the various environmental indicators across cases (Fig. 4). The mean score at the target species population level, i.e., three indicators, is close to neutral but more than 40% of the cases experienced resource depletion. This is consistent with the natural asset outcomes in the livelihood assessment.
In order to have a reference point for the environmental outcomes assessment, it is important to identify the most likely land-use alternative. In most cases where the product is collected from the wild, the harvesters do not have control over the land use, and/or the product is not valuable enough to influence the land-use choice. In these cases, the alternative land use is therefore the same as the current land use, but without commercial extraction of the product. In cases in which the target species is being cultivated, the land-use choice does depend on the value of the product; if the product had no commercial value, managers would use the land differently. In most cases, the NTFP ecosystem is considered to perform environmental functions better than the most likely alternative land use, usually intensive agriculture, but worse than a hypothetical natural forest alternative. At the landscape scale most cases were assessed to have a positive impact, with only 5% having a negative outcome (Fig. 4).
As with the livelihood outcomes assessment, we analyzed the environmental outcomes for each of the NTFP-related household strategies. Unsurprisingly, the effect of harvesting on the target species population is generally positive when the product is cultivated, and negative for the other cases. Cases in which households have specialized in extraction from the wild have the most negative mean outcome, indicating a high impact of harvesting activities on the species’ population (Fig. 5, upper left panel).
As discussed above, the assessment of outcomes at the ecosystem scale depends on the benchmark used. The upper right panel of Fig. 5 shows the mean scores when the environmental functions of the NTFP production system are compared to those of the natural forest. The functions of the production systems in the subsistence group tend to be similar to those in natural forest. The production systems in the specialized cultivation group, on the other hand, are the least similar to natural forest. The outcomes are different at the landscape scale (Fig. 5, lower left panel). Remarkably, the specialized cultivation group has higher outcomes than the specialized extraction group. This indicates that more intensive NTFP management typically occurs in more developed areas dominated by agriculture or other intensive land uses. Thus, even though an intensively managed NTFP production system has low environmental values when compared to the natural forest, it may still provide some important environmental benefits of a forest ecosystem.
In the integrated and specialized cultivation groups in which people tend to have control over their lands, the value of the product may prevent people from converting the lands to uses with less environmental functions (Fig. 5, lower right panel). However, with intensified production, the system becomes increasingly similar to intensive agriculture or horticulture.
Development and conservation
So far, we have analyzed the livelihood and environmental outcomes independently. Below, we will explore the relationship between the development and conservation outcomes. Again classifying the cases by household strategy, we consider the outcomes for development, defined as increasing access to financial, physical, social, and human assets, and the outcomes for conservation, defined as the maintenance of natural forest functions in tandem (Fig. 6). The extent to which a NTFP system maintains natural forest functions is based on the scores of the comparison of environmental functions of the NTFP ecosystem with those of natural forest. As a general trend, the development scores are high when households specialize, whereas conservation scores are high when the product is collected from the wild. The specialized extraction group seems to represent the most balanced relation between development and conservation. When we consider the various household strategies as different stages in the development process, starting with the subsistence strategy and with the specialized cultivation strategy as the highest stage, the trend lines in Fig. 6 suggest that the development process leads to a decrease of natural forest functions.
For a more nuanced analysis of the relationships between the different environmental and livelihood outcomes we used principal component analysis (PCA, Fig. 7). For this analysis we excluded the population level from the environmental outcomes, as changes in target resource base are covered under natural assets. Financial, human, physical, and social assets are strongly correlated, and financial assets serve as the most indicative component of livelihood outcomes. Environmental functions at the land-use ecosystem and landscape scales are strongly opposed to the main livelihood outcomes. This means that cases with relatively high outcomes for environmental functions at the ecosystem and landscape level tend to have relatively low outcomes for conventional development (cf., Levang et al. 2005). Natural assets and, to a lesser extent, equity represent orthogonal, independent dimensions, as already discussed.
The PCA also allows us to address the relations between the outcomes and the household strategies. The specialized cultivation cases are characterized by relatively positive outcomes on livelihood assets. Groups pursuing subsistence, supplementary and integrated strategies are characterized by positive outcomes for environmental indicators at the ecosystem and landscape scale, but relatively low livelihood outcomes. Whereas in Fig. 6 the specialized extraction group stood out as having relatively high scores for maintenance of natural forest functions, Fig. 7 shows that this group of cases is mostly characterized by low outcomes for access to natural assets, suggesting highly unsustainable production systems due to rapid depletion of the target resources. By looking at individual cases, we found that specialized production through cultivation of NTFPs in an agroforestry system offers the best compromise, yielding generally positive livelihood and environmental outcomes.
A general understanding of the potential of nontimber forest product (NTFP) trade for conservation and development has been hampered by the lack of comparative studies using a common approach. Our methodology was designed to fill this gap, by assessing livelihood and environmental outcomes of a large number of cases of NTFP trade, based on expert judgment, and using simple indicator sets. Though such a method unavoidably subsumes details, and depends on case selection, the method proved useful to produce generalizable results regarding relations between the types of cases, i.e., characteristics, and types of outcomes.
Almost all cases were assessed to have positive livelihood outcomes. This is logical considering that, by definition, there is a commercially viable trade, one of the criteria for case selection, and so each of the cases evaluated is providing income, employment opportunities and other benefits. The financial benefits are unequivocally positive, but in a few cases commercial production had negative social impacts, nearly 25% of the cases had negative equity impacts, and more than 40% had negative impacts on the natural assets.
Although it is without a doubt that these benefits are important in their context, often with very limited alternatives, most of the production to consumption systems (PCSs) assessed fail to provide the incentive or the opportunity to reinvest in the subsector. In these cases, NTFP trade is important for meeting basic needs, but there are important constraints to NTFP-based development. We speculate that many of these constraints lie outside the subsector and reflect conditions typical of the rural poor throughout the developing world. The exception is found in cases where households specialize in cultivation. These systems generate the most substantial livelihood improvements, but require a relatively high level of access to assets, such as secure tenure and market access to begin with. In most cases these conditions are not in place.
The strong correlation found between the four main sets of livelihood indicators, i.e., financial, human, physical, and social assets, also has an important methodological implication. As Angelsen and Wunder (2003) discuss, comprehensive livelihood models such as the SRL framework, are useful conceptually but difficult to use empirically. They suggest that simpler and less ambiguous indicators are more appropriate for actually measuring livelihood status and change. This is supported by the finding that financial indicators are a good proxy to measure access to human, social, and physical assets. Changes in access to natural assets and equity, however, are not related to financial assets and would need to be taken into account as independent dimensions in field-based measurement.
Unlike the livelihood outcomes, with a low occurrence of negative impacts, the environmental outcomes are highly differentiated. Environmental outcomes vary between cases and between the different scales of analysis. Furthermore, outcomes vary depending on the benchmark that is being used. Strikingly, the role of NTFP systems in the landscape is consistently positive. This helps explaining the enthusiasm with which NTFP production was promoted in conservation and development approaches as an environmentally friendly mode of production. In many landscapes, NTFP production systems provide relatively important forest functions within a matrix of more intensively managed, less environmentally functional land uses. It is likely that the common assumption of positive conservation values of NTFP commercialization uses, explicitly or implicitly, a landscape level of analysis and compares the environmental values of NTFP systems to those of the surrounding landscape.
On the basis of the cases analyzed, we conclude that commercial production of nontimber forest products is not likely to reconcile conservation and development objectives. More of the one tends to mean less of the other. We found that cases that are characterized by key variables such as secure tenure and market access are associated with high livelihood outcomes. Cases that are less developed, probably because they lack the necessary conditions to facilitate development, have higher environmental outcomes, but this is expected with less human intervention.
Efforts to achieve NTFP-based development need to create conditions that enable people to intensify forest product management and production and improve their market access. But these same conditions tend to have negative impacts on natural forests, at least at the level of the management unit. Governments and conservation and development organizations working in this area need to understand these trade-offs. Breaking away from the proposition that NTFP trade automatically reconciles conservation and development objectives will help the relevant agencies to formulate realistic objectives, and to also consider the potential negative effects of their interventions.
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTSWe thank the 55 researchers responsible for the case studies, listed in Appendix 1, who provided the basis of the analysis presented in this paper by contributing their outcome assessments. Several people have helped to develop the outcome assessment methodology, namely, in alphabetical order: Miguel Alexiades, Carmen García, Anthony Cunningham, Hubert de Foresta, Paul Hersch Martínez, Kathrin Schreckenberg, and Sheona Shackleton. We thank Charles Clement, Tony Cunningham, Alfredo Fantini, Hubert de Foresta, Mirjam Ros-Tonen, Jeff Sayer, and Kate Schreckenberg for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this article. The four authors contributed equally to this article. The work was funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Dutch government, the European Commission (EC), the World Wide Fund for Nature UK (WWF-UK), and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
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