Commercialization of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) has been widely promoted as an approach to rural development in tropical forest areas. However, donor investments in the development of NTFP resources have often failed to deliver the expected benefits in terms of poverty alleviation and improved conservation of natural resources. In order to ensure that NTFPs fulfil their potential contribution to sustainable development, it is important to understand the reasons for success and failure, and the conditions under which NTFP commercialization can make a positive contribution to the livelihoods of the poor.
Definitions of key terms
The term non-timber forest product (NTFP) encompasses a very wide range of forest products and marketing systems, and has been defined variously by different people (Belcher 2003). This study uses the definition provided by de Beer and McDermott (1989), which states that 'NTFPs encompass all biological materials, other than timber, which are extracted from forests for human use.' Examples of NTFPs include fruits, nuts, seeds, oils, spices, resins, gums and fibres, which contribute, in a raw or processed form, to rural livelihoods by improving food security and health. Many NTFPs are commercial products that can make a significant contribution to the cash economy of households. Individual forest products may be processed into one or more marketed products, and traded through a variety of different value chains. Commercialization is defined as the entire process from production, through collection or cultivation, to sale of a product in exchange for cash, or sometimes for barter, resulting in the product leaving the community of origin.