The socio-economic importance of non-timber forest products for rural livelihoods in West African savanna ecosystems: current status and future trends
- For millennia, rural West African communities living in or adjacent of savanna ecosystems have been collecting components of local plant species (e.g. fruits, leaves, bark) in order to fulfil essential household subsistence needs (alimentation, medical care, energy demand etc.), to generate cash income and to overcome times of (financial) crisis. Thus, these non-timber forest products (NTFPs) make a considerable contribution to the well-being of local households. However, climate and land use change severely impact West African savanna ecosystems and, consequently, the safe-guarding of dependent rural livelihoods. The conversion of savanna area into cultivated land for subsistence farming owing to the ongoing population growth, as well as the progressive promotion of cash crops (e.g. cotton) is ever-increasing. As a consequence, present land-use management in West Africa has to cope with serious trade-offs. Within this decision-making NTFPs have been constantly understated due to a lack of appropriate economic figures to use within common cost-benefit analysis, and, thus, have been frequently outcompeted by seemingly more profitable land-use options. Therefore, it is crucial to provide appropriate economic data for NTFPs in order to create positive incentives for both decision-makers and NTFP beneficiaries to conserve NTFP-providing trees. The key finding of this analysis is that income from NTFPs accounts for 39 % on average of an annual total household income in Northern Benin, representing the second largest income share next to crop income and proving the respective households to be economically heavily dependent on NTFPs. Thereby, socio-economic characteristics of NTFP users tremendously shape their preferences for woody species. Particularly ethnicity has a major impact on the species used and the economic return obtained by them. Moreover, the study investigated the impacts of climate and land use change on the economic benefits derived from the three economically most important tree species in the region Vitellaria paradoxa, Parkia biglobosa and Adansonia digitata in 2050: Environmental changes will have primarily negative effects on the economic returns from all the three species. At large, the study underpins the economic relevance of NTFPs for rural communities in West African savannas and, consequently, the necessity to appropriately sustain them in order to safe-guard local livelihoods. Providing key figures on the current and future economic benefits obtained from NTFPs can augment common cost-benefit analysis, and, delivering detailed information about peoples’ use preferences for local species, this study clearly contributes to improve the basis of decision-making with reference to local land-use policies.