Globally, 1.5 billion people use or trade non-timber forest products (NTFPs) with the majority of NTFP use and trade occurring at local and regional scales, generally invisible to researchers and policy makers.
NTFPs cannot be measured by monetary estimations alone, as they have significant subsistence and sociocultural importance and are commonly one part of multifaceted, adaptive livelihood strategies. In spite of low-cost substitutes, both rural and urban people continue to use select forest resources for medicine, crafts, rituals, and food. And as drought, disease, famine, and conflict escalate globally, growing numbers of displaced and marginalized people depend upon forest resources for survival.
In general, forests managed for timber and NTFPs retain more biodiversity and resilience than forest plantations or forests managed for industrial timber. Forests that harbor NTFPs also protect ecosystem services such as hydrological functions and soil retention and act as a buffer against climate variability. Land use change through logging, fire, and agribusiness is contributing to the degradation of forests, resulting in declining access to NTFPs for local communities.
Land stewards can mitigate detrimental impacts to NTFPs by employing multiple-use management practices that emphasize ecosystem services and community needs in addition to traditional forestry outputs (timber and non-timber). For multiple-use forestry to be applied broadly, forest policies need to be cross-sectoral and scale sensitive to lessen regulatory obstacles for small holders and for common pool/property systems.
In addition, forestry training needs to include a stronger social focus and improved understanding of the ecology, use, and societal and ecosystem service values of NTFPs.