Village children collect firewood for cooking fuel. Tianlin County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China.
Photo courtesy of Nick Hogarth/CIFOR
Understanding the role of forest income in rural livelihoods: Insights from China
By Louis Putzel
With almost a quarter of the world’s population relying on forest resources for their livelihoods, understanding how forests can improve the lives of the poorest people is an important topic in economic development. In a recently published World Development article, Nicholas Hogarth and colleagues show that rural households in a poor and remote mountainous region in southern China get more than 30% of their livelihoods from managing plantation forests.
Since 1994, the Chinese government has been engaged in a national poverty reduction plan incorporating a number of important policies to promote forest-based cash crops while increasing both forest cover and the area of forestlands allocated and managed by rural households. In the 15 years since it established its Priority Forestry Programs, including the national Conversion of Cropland to Forest Program, China has become a huge—and unprecedented—source of knowledge and experience on afforestation and promotion of forest product markets for poverty reduction.
Overall, 75% of people surveyed in Tianlin County in Guangxi Province, where Hogarth conducted his fieldwork, perceived an improvement in their living conditions in the five years preceding the study. This was due in part to their improving markets for forest and agricultural products, as well as overall growth in national income levels. Tianlin is an area where 80% of the land is classified as forest, and where, at the time of the study, almost half of the population was living on less than US$1 per day.
Among the 225 households surveyed, the greatest source of cash income (over 20%) came from marketing of forest products, compared to around 10% from crops and business respectively. Although forest-related income was important to households at all income levels, the poorest households got a significantly higher share of their cash income from forests than did better-off households; the poorer the households were, the more important forest income became.
In examining this data, Hogarth et al. reveal that inequality in land ownership and access to off-farm jobs, and market barriers and price fixing, prevent the poor from profiting fully from markets, especially for timber.
Even though China’s national policy on land allocation was intended to give more land to larger families, in reality, better-off households have both more land and smaller families. In absolute terms, the richest 20% of families earn three times as much cash from forests than the poorest 20%. They also derive the biggest part of their income from business activities and have substantial wage incomes, reflecting a very different access to opportunity across the sample population.
Read more in Trust.Org