Forestry Through a Gender Lens: The Role of Women in Forestry Value Chains

F-05 Gender and Forestry Value Chains

Women play a critical, and often unrecognized, role in forestry in developing countries, particularly in Non-Timber Forest Product-based (NTFP) activities. Today’s technical sessions F-05 “Gender and Forestry Value Chains” focused on exploring the role women play in these value chains in the context of forest loss and an ever-increasing demand for forest products and services.

Woman of Pengerak village makes a bemban mat. Bemban mat is one of non-timber forest product (NTFP) from Lake Sentarum National Park, West Kalimantan, Indonesia.   Photo by Ramadian Bachtiar for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Woman of Pengerak village makes a bemban mat. Bemban mat is one of non-timber forest product (NTFP) from Lake Sentarum National Park, West Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Photo by Ramadian Bachtiar for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Drawing from case studies such as gum and charcoal production in Africa and furniture manufacturing in Asia, the session highlighted the ongoing research regarding gender in the forestry development arena.

Research by Fiona Paumgarten focused on three African NTFPs with international value chains: gum arabic from Burkina Faso, gum olibanum from Ethiopia, and honey from Zambia. Value chain frameworks were used to piece together a comprehensive picture of the trade in each product to understand women’s roles in these chains. It was found that despite the substantial involvement of women at various stages of the value chains, their roles are often poorly recognized due to their informal or more “hidden” nature. This translates into a lack of support and empowerment of these women.

It is critical to ensure the less visible parts of the value chain are given consideration to inform targeted interventions in policy and legislation that positively impact women. In this way, research on value chains helps understand gender roles throughout the process, and provides ongoing support of the activities performed by women.

The contextualization of this information is also important, and consideration must be given to the women’s time and mobility constraints. In  Zambia, for instance, cell phone communication has become available which aids in the marketing of honey without necessitating long-distance travel to gather and disseminate this information. It also deals effectively with cultural sensitivity issues.

The importance of promoting women organizations for collective action was also pointed out during the session.

Research by Harry Pumomo explored value chains for furniture in Indonesia. This is a large industry (annual export of $1.4 billion and livelihood provision for about 5 million people), with production largely driven by small and medium forest enterprises. The research was conducted in Central Java’s Jepara District – the centre for teak furniture production in Indonesia – and focused on the relationship between women’s role in the furniture value chains and their potential to impact the adoption of green certification standards.

The furniture value chain is a complex network with myriad links connecting small-scale producers to the final consumer. Through Focus Group Discussions (FGD) that explored the role of women in the various types of connections within these networks, it was found that their presence was stronger in market-based and more directed linkages as opposed to a top-down hierarchical structure. The adoption of certification standards in various scenarios was found to potentially improve occupational safety and health for women, income, and sustainability of forest resources.

Other research by Phosiso Sola focused on charcoal value chains in Eastern and Southern Africa. A critical review was carried out to find out how women participate, benefit, and are affected throughout the charcoal value chain, from wood production, to charcoal production, to transportation, wholesaling, retailing, and consumption, in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Despite biomass fuels meeting over 80 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s energy demand (70-80 percent of energy demand in Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania is met by charcoal), it was found that the charcoal industry is largely informal and unregulated. The economic significance of this industry is considerable, and comparable to agricultural sectors such as coffee and tea.

In the value chains, it takes as many as six actors and as few as one to deliver the charcoal to the final consumers. Women dominate the two tail ends of the value chain, acting as wood producers, or wholesalers/retailers. They always remain in small-scale businesses because of limited or no access and rights over key resources such as land, trees, financial capital and access to financial support.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprising, the income gains are inequitably skewed towards the middle players in the transportation and trade, who are mostly men.

Recommendations to help remedy this included creating an enabling policy framework to formalize, legalize, and operationalize these businesses; produce evidence to inform development and policies (in-depth research with comparable methods for gendered value chains); and technology research and dissemination that positively benefits women.


Written by: Olivia Sanchez Badini

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