BOGOR, Indonesia (27 July, 2011)_In the humid forest zone of Cameroon, traders have since 1996 given valuable information to CIFOR researchers about the local market for non-timber forest products, such as fruit, honey and nuts. As traders rarely benefits directly from the research they contribute to, CIFOR followed up this study in 2000 with a capacity-building programme that has significantly boosted incomes and strengthened the local market.
A more recent analysis of the programme showed that 81 percent of the 155 traders surveyed said their incomes increased by an average of 55 percent. Ninety-four percent of NTFP traders in the area are women, who, according to numerous studies, play a crucial role in poverty alleviation and improved living standards for families and communities.
“In the domain of NTFPs in Africa, the activities are generally carried out by women, probably because they are directly in charge of feeding the family on a daily basis,” said CIFOR research officer Abdon Awono, lead author of the study “Empowering Women’s Capacity for Improved Livelihoods in Non-Timber Forest Product Trade in Cameroon”.
“As households cannot produce everything they need, women will look for ways of getting money to acquire what they don’t have. This should be done with good knowledge of markets – local, national or international – which are complex.”
The legwork of the study was done over a decade, during which a market research and capacity-building initiative investigated the commercialisation of the NTFP sector, as well as its impact on local people.
In 1998, thirteen markets were selected based on their roles in assembling and distributing NTFPs, their accessibility and their links with other markets including those in the neighbouring countries of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Nigeria.
The programme included training on market trends, product specialisation, storage strategies, availability of raw materials and better organisation among traders.
“Traders were given information on prices in different markets – local, regional, border and international – and were introduced to concepts of commodity chains of NTFPs. They were also given information on communication and transportation – such as mobile phones and public transport agencies,” Awono said.
Esther Foungong, a young trader and programme participant said her income increased significantly after the training.
“In 1999, when I met with the CIFOR team, I was retailing safou. Since 2000, I have been receiving guidance and market information from CIFOR, which have improved my activities and income,” she said.
Foungong began retailing the popular local safou fruit when she was just 14. “I did it to make a living, as I had nobody to take care of my school fees,” she said.
Esther now wholesales safou by selling to traders from Gabon. She has invested in a storage facility and decided to expand her investment and now owns a drink stall in the market, which is also her contact point during the non-productive season.
While the season for selling safou is short, Foungong’s income is approximately US$8,000 during peak season over a six-month period – around 10 times more than retail traders, who earn an average of $700 over the same period.
Eleven percent of surveyed traders, however, experienced a negative impact, attributed to an increase in competition. Before CIFOR began studying NTFP markets in 1995, these traders were better informed of prices than other traders and benefited from a monopolistic market.
CIFOR hopes to make sustainable the improvements in income by scaling up the programme.
“We put in place a system where traders were in touch with suppliers to make sure that the activity does not stop suddenly. The project has now ended, but we continue to encourage women to keep up with the practices learned. Some other institutions, like STCP-IITA for instance, are linking their interventions to the same communities, which is having a good impact.”