By Giulia Micheletti and Marlène Elias
An estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide live in and around forests, and depend on them for their livelihoods. However, forest degradation and deforestation are accelerating, and endangering local livelihoods. The careful management and conservation of biodiversity are fundamental for sustaining ecosystems and livelihoods but are increasingly difficult to achieve in contexts of persistent poverty, a growing international demand for timber and non-timber forest products (NTFP), and climate change. Moreover, at the local level, decision-making power on management of forests and forest products, and the sharing of related costs and benefits are often inequitably distributed across groups, marginalizing people based on gender, caste, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other factors of social differentiation.
To address some of these challenges, many countries have adopted community-based or joint forest management approaches. It is increasingly recognized that gender equity and social inclusion are key components of effective and efficient forest management approaches, as well as a goal. Yet, they are also a complex challenge with deep-seated causes and effects, including poor governance, corruption, and lack of tangible and equally distributed benefits, all of which hinder sound forest management.
In their new publication, Guidelines for Equitable and Sustainable Non-timber Forest Product Management, Bioversity International scientists Riina Jalonen, Hugo Lamers, and Marlène Elias draw from their experience in two Indian districts – Mandla, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and Uttara Kannada, in the state of Karnataka – to provide guidance on how to pursue the triple goals of gender equality and social inclusion, environmental integrity, and improved livelihoods through the sustainable use and management of NTFPs. NTFPs are of foremost importance for rural communities living in or near forests. For example, the flower of the mahua tree (Madhuca longifolia), which is used to make a local alcohol or as an alternative to coffee in the Mandla district, or the rind of the kokum fruit (Garcinia gummi-guta) found in Uttara Kannada district, which is valued for its weight loss properties in the international pharmaceutical industry, bring important income to local households. Other NTFPs, like mangoes in the Uttara Kannada district, also play an integral role for home consumption and are important for the local food culture.