Dependency of Rural Households on Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs): A Study in Dryland Areas of West Bengal, India

Dependency of Rural Households on Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs): A Study in Dryland Areas of West Bengal, India

Sebak Kumar Jana (Department of Economics with Rural Development, Vidyasagar University, Midnapore, India), Mamataj Uddin Ahmed (Department of Economics with Rural Development, Vidyasagar University, Midnapore, India) and Katja Heubach (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Eschborn, Germany)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJSEM.2017040104
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Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) are an important source for livelihoods for a significant portion of rural populations all over the world. The present study explores the dependence of rural households on forests managed under Joint Forest Management (JFM) in the state of West Bengal in India. Using primary data collected from 300 households from 57 Forest Protection Committees (FPCs) in the dryland areas of two districts of West Bengal in India, authors compare households' income levels across regions and investigate disparities between income groups, with particular emphasis on income from NTFPs. The study reveals that households in forest-fringe areas are highly dependent on forests in maintaining their livelihoods. The results show that dependency of household on NTFPs varies across the regions as well as income groups. Authors also find that dependency of households on NTFPs depend significantly on the factors like number of forest goers, possession of assets, level of education, location and occupational diversification of the households.
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Forests deliver a great range of different goods and services. Next to timber, they provide an impressive variety of other natural goods, such as leaves, firewood, fruits, barks, fibers and other vegetable textures, which are essential to, amongst others, human diets, construction purposes, cultural-spiritual traditions and medical treatment, particularly to rural households in the developing world. Such Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) have attracted considerable global attention in recent years due to an increased recognition of their contribution to household and regional economies, as well as food security (Campbell & Luckert, 2002; Heubach et al., 2011; Timko et al., 2010; Johnson et al., 2013; Ravindranath and Sudha, 2004). As assessed by the World Bank, about 1.6 billion people all around the world heavily depend on forests and NTFPs for both sustenance and regular income (World Bank, 2004). In developing countries, forest-based activities provide about 30 million jobs in the informal sector, as well as up to one-third of all rural non-farm employment (CIFOR, 2016). Widespread changes in forest governance are happening that support strengthening local rights over forest resources and more secure land tenure. These have the potential to improve sustainable resource use and management. Although individual NTFPs mostly make minor contributions to livelihoods, collectively they often represent a larger proportion of the rural economy. Studies in different countries worldwide revealed that household dependency on NTFPs vary considerably across countries, regions and continents. In African studies, for example, the mean economic contribution of NTFPs to household economies across all studies was found to be 25% of total household income, which was close to that in Asia (24%) and Latin America (25%). On the contrary, in Sri Lanka, for instance, the average share of NTFP income in total income is around 2 to7%, while being much larger in Peru (51%), Nepal (67%), and Indonesia (71%) (Stanley et al., 2012). However, a large proportion of the mentioned studies used different quantification and valuation methods. Thus, their results are often hard to compare. Also, there is hardly any consensus on the two related issues, namely the measurement and interpretation of forest/NTFP dependency (Narain et al., 2008).

In India, roughly 21% of its vast geographical area (of about 329 million hectare) is covered with forest (MOEF, 2015). There are about 15,000 plant species, out of which nearly 3000 species yield NTFPs, used as foods, medical plants, construction material, forage and for many other purposes. They are massively used by local people representing an essential part of their daily supply in forest-adjacent areas. However, only about 126 species (roughly 1%) have been commercially developed (Murthy et al., 2005). NTFPs constitute an essential source for cash income and serve as important safety-nets in times of financial crises and/or food shortages (Shackleton et al., 2007, Cavendish, 2002), particularly for the poorest households within the communities (Heubach et al., 2011, Kamanga et al., 2009, Chilongo, 2014). It is worthwhile to note that while annual regeneration of forest in India is 0.35% during the period of 1990-2007, while during the same period the world annual average rate of deforestation was 0.21% and that for low and middle income countries it was 0.29% (Sengupta 2014). India’s experience on NTFPs is worthy to be studied as these are tremendously valuable due to their pharmaceutical potential and also markets have been established around them. Thus, this issue is important for everyone globally who is interested in forest protection and sustainable development.

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