Can you log your forest and eat it too?

New research suggests the negative impacts of logging can be mitigated.

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The timber trade may have negative impacts on local communities. Photo: CIFOR.

Is it possible to limit the negative impacts of logging on the food security and income of rural people dependent on non-timber forest products (NTFPs)? Although there are significant challenges, a recent multiregion study by Lucy Rist and colleagues in a recent Special Issue of Forest Ecology and Management indicates that negative consequences for NTFPs important for local livelihoods could be mitigated, particularly if affected people are given stronger roles over decisions affecting forests they use.

The article titled ‘The impacts of selective logging on non-timber forest products of livelihood importance’ synthesizes existing knowledge to highlight current understanding of logging impacts on forest livelihoods and suggests pathways for future research and policy. According to the authors, finding solutions will require identifying how forest-dependent families are adapting to livelihood changes caused by logging.

Although there has been much debate on reducing the impact of logging on future timber harvests and forest ecosystems, there has been less emphasis placed on the consequences of logging on rural livelihoods or the compatibility of timber and NTFP management systems. Rist and colleagues were able to identify and review 38 academic articles that examined the interaction between timber and non-timber forest product use. They found that the overwhelming majority of the articles (31, or 82%) highlighted negative impacts. Among these, ‘indirect impacts’, in which logging changed forest structure, composition and function in ways that inadvertently affect NTFPs were the most common impact mechanism (cited in 22, or 58% of the articles identifying negative impacts), followed closely by ‘conflict of use impacts’ (cited in 17 articles, or 40%) where species were valued both as timber and as NTFPs.

Given that few of the articles were based on quantitative analysis, the authors fleshed out their small sample by drawing on case studies from Brazil, Cameroon and Indonesia to illustrate the implications of logging impacts on forest dependent people. They saw conflict of use as the most problematic mechanism of impact as logging removes the species or diminishes availability. Resolving such conflicts will entail significant trade-offs, suggesting that ‘it comes down to whose costs and whose benefits feature in decision making’.

The authors identify several reasons for the lack of attention paid by academics and policy makers to the impact of logging on NTFPs. Because timber is often assumed to be a more valuable forest product, it receives more management attention than NTFPs. Also, research is biased towards internationally traded commodities rather than forest products used and traded locally, frequently by marginalized communities. In addition, the socio-economic and cultural importance of NTFPs for rural and urban households is often grossly underestimated. As food security becomes a more prominent issue, the need to understand how logging could be affecting nutritional systems based on other forest products, such as NTFPs, increases.

Despite the considerable trade-offs observed in the case studies, the examples also illustrated potential paths for enhancing compatibility between timber and NTFPs. For example, limiting the number and intensity of logging events can be critical for determining the type and severity of impact. In some cases segregating areas important for NTFP collection and excluding logging activities could effectively conserve important livelihood resources. Such outcomes are more likely when communities have more control or influence over decision making, usually as a result of strong social organization, recognized property rights, and appropriate policies that are adequately implemented. Unfortunately, in many areas of the forested tropics such conditions do not exist or are nascent.

While it would be easy to simply condemn logging, the authors emphasize that responsible and ecologically sensitive logging can be a source of livelihood benefits as well as degrading resources of livelihood importance. There are ways to assure that adverse consequences do not fall too heavily on forest-dependent people, but these will require more systematic study by researchers or action by policymakers to ensure that forest-dependent people can play more proactive roles in management and have sufficient information to make informed decisions.

Research should incorporate community driven questions and needs, and development approaches should build on local land use management practices that could provide points of departure for broader forest management planning. Furthermore, research should clarify how the vulnerability of forest communities changes after logging events and identify their associated livelihood adaptations and coping strategies. As Rist and colleagues conclude, if such research indicates that communities are adapting to change, there is less to worry about, but if not, we need to understand the consequences in terms of lost income, reduced food security, and negative impacts on long-term health and wellbeing.

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Further reading

For a copy of the study by Rist, L., Shanley, P., Sunderland, T., Sheil, D., Ndoye, O., Liswanti, N. and Tieguhong, J. 2011 ‘The impacts of selective logging on non-timber forest products of livelihood importance’ in Forest Ecology and Management, visit //