Who Is “Forest-Dependent”? Capturing Local Variation in Forest-Product Sale, Eastern Honduras
How researchers describe groups living within or near the world's tropical rain forests has important implications for how and why these groups are targeted for assistance by conservation and development organizations. This article explores how data about market behavior can be used to assess one aspect of forest peoples’ livelihoods: their “dependence” on forest resources as a source of market income. With the intent of revealing the importance of methodology to how we describe forest peoples’ livelihoods, I draw from a multiyear survey of market activity among the Tawahka Sumu of Honduras and distinguish nested measures of the Tawahkas’ engagement in forest-product sale. Results indicate that whether or not the Tawahka —or any forest group — can be considered financially “dependent” on forest resources depends on the spatial and temporal scales at which data are aggregated. As a group, the Tawahka earned 18 percent of total market income from forest-product sale, but their group profile masked a high degree of heterogeneity at the village and household level. Similarly, multiyear data indicated that while group-level generalizations adhere from year to year, they belie considerable change in households’ market behavior across years. I discuss three ways in which the findings are relevant to the theory and practice of conservation and development in the humid tropics. I emphasize the importance of spatial scale in interventions, how market-oriented conservation schemes can benefit from a broader conceptualization of the economic context in which forest-product sale occurs, and how longitudinal analysis can reveal the dynamism of forest peoples’ livelihoods.