Common lands provide smallholder farmers in Africa with firewood, timber, and feed for livestock, and they are used to complement human diets through the collection of edible nontimber forest products (NTFPs). Farmers have developed coping mechanisms, which they deploy at times of climatic shocks. We aimed to analyze the importance of NTFPs in times of drought and to identify options that could increase the capacity to adapt to climate change. We used participatory techniques, livelihood analysis, observations, and measurements to quantify the use of NTFPs. Communities recognized NTFPs as a mechanism to cope with crop failure. We estimated that indigenous fruits contributed to approximately 20% of the energy intake of wealthier farmers and to approximately 40% of the energy intake of poor farmers in years of inadequate rainfall. Farmers needed to invest a considerable share of their time to collect wild fruits from deforested areas. They recognized that the effectiveness of NTFPs as an adaptation option had become threatened by severe deforestation and by illegal harvesting of fruits by urban traders. Farmers indicated the need to plan future land use to (1) intensify crop production, (2) cultivate trees for firewood, (3) keep orchards of indigenous fruit trees, and (4) improve the quality of grazing lands. Farmers were willing to cultivate trees and to organize communal conservation of indigenous fruits trees. Through participatory exercises, farmers elaborated maps, which were used during land use discussions. The process led to prioritization of pressing land use problems and identification of the support needed: fast-growing trees for firewood, inputs for crop production, knowledge on the cultivation of indigenous fruit trees, and clear regulations and compliance with rules for extraction of NTFPs. Important issues that remain to be addressed are best practices for regeneration and conservation, access rules and implementation, and the understanding and management of competing claims on the common lands. Well-managed communal resources can provide a strong tool to maintain and increase the rural communities’ ability to cope with an increasingly variable climate.
Author: Woittiez, L.S.; Rufino, M.C.; Giller, K.E.; Mapfumo, P.