Children are forgotten entrepreneurs of the forest, says new CIFOR research

Scientists estimate a third of young people in forest communities involved in trade of non-timber forest products.

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Photo courtesy of Michael Balinga.

BURKINA FASO (4 November, 2011)_Scientists in Burkina Faso have discovered that children in West Africa are boosting household incomes by selling non-timber forest products (NTFPs) independently of adults, providing an opportunity to involve children in defining the future use of forests.

“This is a fresh dimension to the NTFP debate in West Africa … It could mean greater recognition of children’s involvement in household livelihoods, and forest use or management, and potentially different figures for household incomes, forest resource extraction, or for food security estimates,” said Michael Balinga, a researcher with the Center for International Forestry Research and one of the pioneers of the upcoming study.

“Ultimately, it provides an opportunity to involve children more in defining what the forests of tomorrow will be, though it will be essential to ensure that any actions could not be misinterpreted as promoting child labour.”

With no training or start-up capital required, NTFPs are easy to trade and can offer a way to cope with rural poverty. Balinga’s preliminary findings show that children (aged 5-18) use the journey to and from school to harvest various fruits and nuts, including tamarind, kapok and bush mango.

A portion of these goods is then sold and the additional revenue brought home; something which is not captured in conventional studies. Balinga found that profits were spent on clothes and shoes, as well as, school text books, lunch meals and registration fees.

“All the literature says that children usually are assistants to their parents, and you hardly see anyone saying that children are independently carrying out trading,” he said.

Balinga estimates that the vast majority of children living in areas rich in forest resources are involved in harvesting NTFPs, of which more than a third engage in some form of marketing.

These findings, he said, could have a wide-reaching impact not only on the conduct of future research, rural development and forest management activities, but also on the involvement of children in these processes.

Past assurances may also have to be reassessed and some previous studies may have to be re-examined, said Balinga, while schemes such as Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) may need to review their stakeholder dialogue process.

Balinga stressed that the study remains in its infancy and is a long way from developing a clear idea of the full impact of children on forest management. Nevertheless, he argued that children should be included in forest management-related education, adding that they could also contribute to the design of both education and management schemes.

“They will be leaders in the next ten to 20 years, and their sense of participation in planning processes today might be an important factor in their understanding of the issues and their commitment to implementing solutions ten years down the road,” he said.

Although the research is, at present, being conducted mainly in Burkina Faso — Séguénéga, Gomponsom, Barsalogho, Fada, Boumoana, Zamsé et Nobéré –, Balinga hopes to extend its scope as far as Mali and Senegal within the coming year.

This, he predicts, will only be the beginning of its geographical expansion, explaining that any results found in West Africa are likely to be echoed in South America and in Asia.

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