A collaborative global study between the Centre for International Reasearch (CIFOR) and Poverty and Environment Network have unearthed the myths between forests, livelihoods and incomes.
In a release to the Ghana News Agency, it said n the most comprehensive study on the links between the environment and livelihoods to date, researchers have challenged conventional wisdom about the importance of environmental income, the roles of men and women in forest-product use, and the function of forests as safety nets.
It stated incomes from forests and other natural environments makes a significant contribution to the livelihoods of millions of people in developing countries, according to the study, although not always in the ways case study research had suggested.
Until now, development actions related to forests and livelihoods have been based on incomplete or fragmented data. In many cases, forestry has been combined with agriculture in national income statistics, or not counted at all.
Five complementary research papers tackle the themes of income generation and rural livelihoods; safety nets during shortfalls; gender and forest use; forest clearing and livelihoods; and tenure and forest income.
The study’s findings depicted that income from natural forests and other natural areas accounted for 28 percent of total household income, nearly as much as crops noting that State forests generated more income than private or community forests.
It found that men generated at least as much income from forests as women do, contradicting long-held assumptions as well as forests were less important than previously believed as “safety nets” in response to shocks and as gap fillers between seasonal harvests.
Sven Wunder, lead editor of the publication, said: “Our results indicate that, even some 10,000 years after the start of the Agricultural Revolution, rural people in developing countries still depend strongly on foraging from nature for their livelihoods.”
The size of environmental incomes, that is wood, game, plants, and other resources harvested from the wild, has until now been poorly documented, and is not obvious to most policymakers.
It said many existing tools for assessing poverty and income, such as poverty reduction strategy plans, poverty surveys, the World Bank’s Living Standard Measurement Survey, and national income accounting systems, fall short of capturing adequately the importance of the income from natural resources, so that its true value in the livelihoods of the world’s rural poor remains largely invisible.
It noted simply ignoring this large “hidden harvest” risks giving rise to policies or reforms that strip local people from access to extractive resources, the study’s authors write.
Moreover, they indicated that policy interventions intended to address poverty through improved market access and integration may undermine forest conservation efforts.
Given one of the study’s crucial findings, that people with relatively higher incomes are responsible for a larger share of deforestation and forest product extraction than the poorest, an increase in assets and income of rural households could provide the means to increase forest clearing and use, challenging hopes for win-win solutions.
Findings also suggest important local benefits of maintaining forest cover, so the potential for combining climate change mitigation with livelihood benefits may be larger than often assumed.
“It worked,” said Arild Angelsen, an economics professor with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and coordinator of the global study.
“They got an answer to their emails and questions the next day. They appreciated that they were not alone in the field. I think PEN provides a model for how to create a community of researchers and to collect big data sets in an effective way.”
The amount of data compiled is impressive: With more than 2,300 data fields, the PEN global database now contains more than 15 million data cells.
The data set will soon be made publicly available for use in future research.
Detailed results from this study could be used to design country-specific survey components that can capture the lion’s share of environmental incomes by focusing on the locally most important products.
“We used random sampling within villages, but PEN is not a random sample of sites,” Wunder said.
“We had to find partners willing to participate and accept the sites they had chosen, and then free resources to fill some of the geographic holes, particularly in West Africa.
But we still have balance in terms of forest types and rural areas in the developing countries of these three continents. Along a series of dimensions, we cover all but the most deforested and densely populated rural areas quite well. This is the universe we can reasonably extrapolate results to.” GNA