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The importance of non-timber forest products in rural livelihood security and as safety nets : a review of evidence from South Africa


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We review and synthesize recent South African work that examines the role and importance of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in the daily lives of rural people in South Africa. The most commonly used such products are wild spinaches, fuelwood, wooden utensils edible fruits, grass hand-brushes, and twig hand-brushes, used by 85% or more of households. More than half the households investigated also make use of edible insects, wood for construction, bushmeat, wild honey and reeds for weaving. Individual households may exploit dozens of animal and plant species. The range in annual, direct-use values is large, from less than R1000 per household per year to over R12 000. The value to rural households is manifest through a daily net function which represents a cost saving to the families involved and to the state, as well as through an emergency net, which serves as an insurance in times of misfortune, such as drought, disease, and unexpected economic hardship. The emergency net function has hardly been quantified in South Africa and internationally. Ad hoc trade in NTFPs is a common emergency net, which in some instances evolves into a permanent way of life. Financial returns from trade are variable, depending on resource type and hours worked, but are typically low. Despite the small cash incomes from trade, they provide an important contribution that complement the diverse livelihood strategies within a household, especially for the poorer sectors of rural society. Moreover, there are non-financial benefits of NTFP trade that are commonly overlooked.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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