NTFPs and Local Populations

In what has become a classic article, Peters et al. (1989) demonstrated the potential economic importance of NTFP to local populations. The article showed for the first time that a hectare of forest in Iquitos, Peru, harvested for NTFPs, could yield a higher economic benefit than other more destructive land uses such as slash-and-burn agriculture and cattle. Their results were limited to their study area and some economists criticized their work because it did not consider possible market saturation if NTFP production increased. However, other authors conducted similar studies in other forests and the idea that, due to the economic importance of NTFPs, forests may be worth more when intact than when exploited was generalized in the 1980s and 1990s.

In developing countries, the dependence of people on NTFPs may be higher than in developed countries. In developing countries, unemployment is often high and unemployed people generally do not receive good government subsidies; thus the extraction and sale of NTFPs can be an important contribution to income generation. Traditional medicines are often the only or principal healing aid in many forest communities. Fruits that are rich in vitamins can be important in the diet of local people. Ornamental plants extracted from forests are used by local people for their aesthetic value. Animals that inhabit the forest are often important sources of protein for local populations. However, overhunting has seriously depleted game populations in some tropical forests.

In general, there are two types of non-market values, attributable and intangible or non-assignable (Farnworth et al. 1981). Fruits, medicines, animals, ornamental plants, and other products can be attributed a market value, while for other NTFPs it is more difficult or impossible to assess a value. Some social, cultural, and religious values are very difficult to quantify. In addition, indigenous people living in forests often have strong religious and cultural links to the forest. For them, the extraction of NTFPs relates to their cultural and religious beliefs.

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