Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Climate Change and Non-Wood Forest Products

Talk about the forest and what readily comes to mind is Timber! But timber is not the only benefit the forest gives. But a major player in the forest economics is Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) or Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs). These are goods of biological origin other than wood, derived from forests, other wooded land and trees outside forests. NWFPs include foods (nuts, fruits, mushrooms, honey, game, gums); food additives (spices, herbs, flavorings, sweeteners); fodder; fibers (furniture, clothing, construction); fragrances for perfumes; ornamental pods and seeds; resins; oils; plant and animal products with medicinal value. Forests also provide many spiritual, aesthetic and recreational benefits. The FAO estimates that 80% of the developing world relies on NWFPs for some purpose in their everyday life and NWFPs also play an important role in the international marketplace with over US$1.1 billion in trade.

As it is, “different things mean different things to different people”. When we talk about the impacts of climate change, we easily tend to think about tsunamis, hurricanes, massive flooding and many more. A relatively less mentioned issue is that of Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs). NWFPs such as fuelwood, charcoal, chewing sticks, are particularly important to the forest-dependent poor in the tropical and subtropical regions where people rely on them for their livelihoods and for meeting domestic energy, food- and health-security needs. To some people, the NWFPs are all they have but they are usually forgotten in the climate change debate. In regions with large forest-dependent populations, such as large parts of Africa, expected decreases in rainfall and increases in the severity and frequency of drought are likely to impose additional stresses on people. A decline in forest ecosystem services reduces the ability of forest-dependent people to meet their basic needs for food, clean water and other necessities and can lead to deepening poverty deteriorating public health and social conflict.

Generally, the impact of climate change on NWFPs is difficult to assess because of the high level of uncertainty about the ecological effects of climate change and because knowledge of the current and projected future demand for these products is incomplete. In Ghana, for example, despite the high dependence of rural livelihoods on NWFPs, there has not been any comprehensive assessment or database on them which will make a case for these NWFPs and inform any interventions to protect them in the face of recent climatic changes. Why will we want to protect them when we have no empirical evidence of their importance? What evidence will back our claims of their importance? But this may not be very difficult in doing because already, there is substantial local/indigenous knowledge on NWFPs and their management and this is critical in the response of forest-dependent people to climate change and can contribute to the development of adaptation strategies.