Managing natural capital for improved livelihoods

Engaging with local people in forested landscape
Engaging with local people in forested landscape

Forests are inextricably linked to our social and economic value, to our bonds with nature and to the health of all ecosystems. Forests have a central role to play as the world confronts the challenges of improved livelihoods for a growing population. If predictions prove correct, the world will need to shelter, feed, clothe, and provide livelihoods for another two billion people by 2050. This presents a staggering challenge, particularly given new research from the World Bank showing that world temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius this century, impacting water availability, agriculture, and severe weather events. Accordingly, by 2025, two-thirds of all nations will confront water supply stress, and 2.4 billion people will live in countries unable to provide sufficient water for basic health, agriculture, and commercial needs.

For centuries, forests have served as a kind of natural safety net for communities during times of famine or other events that impact agricultural and food production; they provide fruits, leaves, gum, nuts, timber, and wood for fuel. Forests feed people and the animals they might depend on for trade or meals when crops fail. At the same time, many of the world’s remaining forests are under increasing threat because of human activities and climate change. Although the pace of deforestation has slowed in some regions, the world still loses about 14.5 million hectares of forests each year. In parts of the Amazon rainforest, rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are connected with the increased risk of catastrophic dieback with dangerous local, regional and global consequences. In the Congo Basin, a recent analysis of deforestation trends published by the World Bank highlights the intense pressure that agricultural expansion, mineral exploitation, growing energy needs, and an improved transportation network will pose to the integrity of this vast rainforest area.

If the world is to confront the challenges of improved livelihoods for the earth’s inhabitants, mitigating and adapting to climate change, it is vital that we find the balance between conserving and regenerating forest areas with economic growth for poverty reduction. In this regard, forest research is vital. By bringing relevant and reliable scientific information to national, regional and global policymakers, forest research has a positive on-site impact on livelihoods, environment and sustainable development. To better understand the potential impacts of forest exploitation on both livelihoods and the forest resource base, we have been working a little over six years on non-timber forest products harvesting within tropical lowland rainforests of Southwestern Nigeria.

The project has brought into the fore that if harvested responsibly, forests are a haven for diverse suit of renewable natural resources including edible fruits, vegetables, sweeteners, mushroom, spices, chew-stick, sponge, medicinal products, building materials, fiber and fuel. These are tremendous assets as the world looks to sustaining its inhabitants. Contrastingly, the project also shows that forests are one of the most mismanaged resources in the world, partly because they are undervalued and partly because poor governance has fuelled illegal activities. But more importantly, the link between the economic benefits of most of these forest products and the resource base is poorly understood. There is a dearth of adequate correlated research that matches socio-economic activities on these products with ecological data. Inadequate information on the ecological productivity, growth forms, life history and conservation of the various species involved have continued to complicate management scenarios, the setting of conservation priorities and defining sustainable harvest levels.

In the light of the foregoing, helping governments to improve economic policy, the management and governance of the forest sector is an important priority. Dialogue, engagement and participatory forest management are also key. A valuable starting point is to ask how can numerous forest resources that serve as source of food security, income and improved livelihood to the people be sustained, so that forests contribute more revenue to the state, produce more and better jobs, and result in more sustainable development? Our project has generated a lot of data which has been extremely useful in our understanding of forest resources management and governance in the rural landscapes. Harvesting and trade in several forest products have contributed significantly to household income in tropical lowland rainforests of Southwestern Nigeria. In the meantime, there is need to set off-take limits and augment regeneration of over-exploited species in order to ensure sustainability of harvesting and trade in these species. These will help in sustaining the forests and sustaining the people.

Written by: Dr. Tajudeen Okekunle Amusa
Affiliation: University of IIorin
Country: Nigeria

This post is entry #23 in the #IUFRO2014 Blog Competition. The most popular entry will receive a certificate and 500 USD. The second and third most popular entries will receive a certificate and copy of the new book, “Forests and Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development”.

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