With half the world’s 1.2 billion poor depending for their livelihoods on harvesting wild natural resources, ranging from cocoa and rubber to oils and spices, in a trade valued at $4.7 billion annually, the United Nations environmental agency today released a blueprint for a fair deal to lift them out of poverty.
A key recommendation of the report by the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), is that aid should be targeted at developing the business skills of rural communities to help them avoid exploitation by entrepreneurs and other middle men in the trade of non-timber forest products (NTFP).
“There is no doubt that if provided with the right kind of support, trading forest products can genuinely provide a route out of poverty,” (UNEP-WCMC) project coordinator Elaine Marshall said of the report: Commercialization of non-timber forest products: factors influencing success (CEPFOR).
The study identifies how commercial development NTFPs can enable rural communities to escape poverty without irreversibly damaging the environment. It examines 19 different case studies in Mexico and Bolivia, involving products ranging from wild mushrooms and palm fibres to incense and the agave-based traditional beverage, Mezcal, looking at why some commercialization initiatives succeed while others do not.
In many areas these products provide the only source of income, and communities are dependent on them for survival.
Entrepreneurs often provide a link between producers and the market place and play a critical role in determining whether trade is fair to producers or not. CEPFOR found that they play a number of positive roles, including identifying markets, providing business contacts, advancing capital and providing training to producers.
But the inequitable distribution of power along the market chain was widely seen by producers as a major factor limiting commercialization success, with relatively few entrepreneurs resulting in lack of competition. Many communities are entirely dependent on one or a few entrepreneurs for bringing their products to market, which can result in exploitation and unfair trade.
Hence the need to develop the business skills of these communities as well as to support socially-minded entrepreneurs and create producer organizations providing opportunities to share information and contacts. This can greatly strengthen the ability to negotiate favourable deals and command a higher price for products.
CEPFOR also calls for training and education to prevent the widespread scourge of over-harvesting.
NTFPs include a wide range of commercial products traded internationally, including nuts, seeds, fibres, resins, fruits, oils and spices, used for foods, crafts and medicines, among many other uses.