Lusaka: Forests support rural livelihoods and food security in many developing countries by providing critical sources of food, medicine, shelter, building materials, fuels, and cash income. The increasing demand for forest products has enhanced rural livelihoods and enabled the expansion of domestic markets, particularly in urban areas where woodfuel and other forest resources are scarce. Therefore, non-timber forest products may offer sources of income and opportunities for poverty alleviation in both rural and urban areas.
In Zambia, most rural households residing near forests extract a range of forest products for both direct consumption and trade (including food products and wood for cooking fuel and charcoal production), and forest products are among the top sources of household income in some rural areas. Households engage in trade of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) because of low capital requirements and relatively easy entry to markets. NTFPs help bridge seasonal gaps in income for many farmers, and they provide a safety net for many rural households during years with low crop yields.
Despite the widespread trade in NTFPs by rural households in Zambia, the contribution of forest products to rural livelihoods is not well understood. NTFPs receive little attention from researchers and development practitioners because of the small scale and dispersed nature of extractive activities. Information on the contribution of NTFPs to rural household income is important for both rural development and forest management policies because of their potential role in poverty alleviation and the growing demand among both rural and urban households.
The objectives of this study were to examine the role of NTFPs in rural household welfare and the characteristics of households that rely on NTFPs for livelihoods and income. Data from a 2008 survey of rural households in Zambia were used to estimate the contribution of NTFPs to rural household income in districts where there was extensive business activity related to forest products. The survey included questions about income from business activities related to four types of NTFPs—woodfuel, ants/caterpillars, mushrooms, and wild honey—which are some of the most commonly extracted and traded NTFPs in Zambia.
NTFPs contribute 33% to total household income for participating households, and woodfuel was the most common source of NTFP income, with 68% of all the households that reported participation in NTFPs having obtained income from this source.
We defined a sub-sample of households in districts where at least 10% of the households reported income from NTFP-related business activities, in order to focus the analysis on areas where NTFP activities are most prevalent; 16 of 72 districts (n=1,257) met this threshold, with four districts in Northwestern Province leading in terms of percentage of households deriving income from NTFPs.
An analysis of the distribution of NTFP income revealed that the wealthiest quartile derives more income from NTFPs than the other three wealth quartiles in absolute terms, but the share of total income is considerably lower than the share for the other three quartiles. This implies that poorer households are relatively more dependent on income from extraction and sale of NTFPs than wealthier households. Overall, NTFPs account for about a third of total household income for participating households in the 16 districts, a finding that highlights the important role of NTFPs in rural livelihoods. While agriculture is the dominant economic activity in rural Zambia, income from NTFP-related business activities surpasses even agricultural income for the poorest 50% of the sample.
A two-stage model was used to estimate the determinants of rural households’ participation in NTFP-related business activities and the contribution of these activities to household income. Identification of these determinants is important for designing interventions aimed at improving incomes of participating households because it will enable rural development planners to understand the role of NTFPs in rural livelihoods. Information on the characteristics of participating households can help forest managers design effective conservation interventions to ensure that forest resources are managed sustainably.
The results show that age of the household head is significantly and negatively associated with both the probability and level of contribution of NTFPs to household income, which suggests that households with relatively older heads are less likely to participate in NTFP activities, and their share of NTFP income is relatively less than those headed by younger heads. Sex of the household head is positively and significantly associated with both participation in NTFPs business activities and NTFP income, suggesting that households headed by males are more likely to participate in NTFPs.
Households with heads that have higher levels of education are less likely to participate in NTFPs, implying that education may afford a wider range of income-generating opportunities. Landholding size is positive and significant in explaining probability of participation in NTFPs, but negatively associated with the contribution of NTFPs to household income, implying that greater access to land reduces rural households’ dependence on NTFPs’ income, and could play a role in controlling extraction to ensure resource sustainability.
Distance to the nearest district town is negatively and significantly related to the likelihood of participation in NTFPs and their contribution to household income. This implies that the farther away a household is from the market, the lower the likelihood to participate in NTFPs and also the less dependent a household is on income from NTFPs. This underscores the relevance of improving market access in order to encourage rural smallholder households to diversify into NTFP business activities and increase their income.
Furthermore, the quantity of maize harvested is negatively and significantly associated with the level of NTFP contribution to household income. This may be an indication that food insecure households turn to NTFPs to cushion their vulnerability to economic shocks and crop variability, and as such NTFP participation may be seen as safety nets, especially for poor, rural households. The effect of wealth on NTFP participation and income can be estimated by the variable representing the value of household assets. The negative and significant average partial effect for the log of the value of household assets implies that households with more valuable assets rely less on NTFPs than those with less valuable assets.
Using assets as a measure of overall wealth, these results imply that poorer households may be relatively more dependent upon NTFPs as a livelihood, and confirms our hypothesis of a positive relationship between poverty and dependence on natural resources such as NTFPs. The positive relationship between poverty and dependence on NTFPs underscores the importance of integrating forest management policies and rural development strategies to take into account the central role NTFPs play in the livelihoods of the rural poor, because of the economic vulnerability that drive poorer households to extract NTFPs.
However, careful policy considerations are required to ensure rural household welfare improvement while sustaining the forest. NTFPs can be used to build a case for forest resource conservation in rural communities by ensuring that rural households understand that the continued availability of NTFPs depends, to a large measure, on the integrity of the forests.
- Executive summary: Non-timber forest products and rural poverty alleviation in Zambia, (25 pages, April 2012). The report can be accessed here.