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Research Report

Guide for small and medium enterprises in the sustainable non-timber forest product trade in Central Africa

Abdon Awono
Verina Ingram
Jolien Schure
Patrice Levang
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2013
Pages: 34
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    The commercialisation of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) (see Box 1) in poor, rural, forested environments can provide important cash income for local populations, as well as traders, processors and retailers in urban areas. Many rural community members harvest and process a variety of products cultivated on farms, in fallows and from the forest, as harvest seasons are mostly short and vary per product. The use of different products diversifies livelihoods and makes the most of the opportunities presented by nature. In Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on average, about 39% of harvesters interviewed work together in...

  2. (pp. 2-4)

    A business based on sustainable exploitation of NTFPs can have a number of benefits:

    NTFPs create high economic value and large-scale employment. Lively local, regional and international markets exist despite the fact that these products remain largely unrecorded in national statistics or export figures. In Cameroon, at least 25 major markets trade significant volumes of different NTFPs (see Figure 1). NTFPs can also be found in nearly every market in small quantities for everyday use. At least 570 plants and 110 animal species in Cameroon are used as NTFPs. The estimated market value of the 45 main NTFPs traded in...

  3. (pp. 4-5)

    Although the trade for many NTFPs, such as cola and raffia is centuries old, small and medium forest enterprises often find it difficult to optimise profits and manage NTFPs sustainably at the same time. They face risks and challenges, which can lead to only short-term returns, rather than sustainable, viable businesses. These risks include:

    Governance practices that lead to poor management of NTFPs. How the forest is governed; how it is managed; who can harvest, when and how; and who owns the land and forests legally, as well as under local traditions, are important conditions that determine whether harvesting is...

  4. (pp. 6-7)

    What can an SMFE do to make sure that there is a sufficient supply of their product, not just for the next season, but also in several years? Whether an SMFE owns the NTFP or not, knowledge and control of the product can ensure ongoing supply. This is known as creating a ‘chain of custody’ or ‘secure supply chain’. So, even though seasons and harvests may vary, an SMFE can better manage products, reduce risks and make business more predictable by securing, as much as possible, the supply and quality of the NTFP in which it trades. The following guidelines...

  5. (pp. 7-12)

    Knowing the regulations governing trade of their products can help SMFEs operate legally and more efficiently. About 90% of SMFEs interviewed in Cameroon and the DRC are operating without permits and therefore are acting illegally. Formalisation, while taking money and effort, can bring rewards in terms of combating corruption and allowing increased access to formal channels of finance, and technical and organisational support. This section highlights the regulations on NTFPs in both countries, but does not touch on the framework for small and medium enterprises.

    The Cameroon 1994 Forestry Law⁴ grants free, customary-user rights to forest communities, allowing collection of...

  6. (pp. 12-14)

    Tips from successful enterprises focus on the benefits of working together and exchanging information:

    Think long term (instead of day to day) and dare to make strategic choices. Then establish tactical partnerships – this may be with processors or traders.

    Think like a business and not as a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) (even if you are one).

    Join an association or union – they can help lead to new markets and provide information, and give more negotiating power to buy or store in bulk. Membership can also help legitimise your business and gain access to support and information. Group sales of...

  7. (pp. 15-15)

    SMFEs can study how harvesting is done, to see what areas can be improved to increase quantities, improve quality, reduce losses and improve sustainability.

    Most NTFPs can be harvested in more than one way. Choose the option with the lowest impact on the individual plant or the population remaining.

    For example, don’t cut the tree but harvest fallen fruit only, take some but not the all leaves and don’t harvest young leaves. If a harvest is inherently destructive, such as the roots or bark, then make sure there are also regeneration and planting programmes. For Prunus africana, only harvesting small...

  8. (pp. 15-18)

    What happens after harvest can make the difference between profit and loss? Many SMFEs interviewed incur costs by continuing to do ‘business as usual’ and not critically analysing how different actions can have more profitable results.

    Simple equipment can boost production, speed up processing times and reduce losses. For example, the diesel-powered, locally made, cracking machine for njansang (Ricinodendron heudelotii) kernels, and the cutting machine for andok fruits (Irvingia gabonensis) (Photo 2), both reduce the processing time by 50–75%. For wax processing, simple wax melters and solar filters can save fuel wood and maximise the volume of wax produced...

  9. (pp. 18-18)

    Actors at all stages of the chain can potentially increase profits by ‘adding value’; this might mean storing or bulking products together, it could mean processing or packaging the product. The majority of NTFPs sold by harvesters undergo only basic value-adding processes such as drying, chopping or cleaning. SMFEs can look at the options and weigh the costs and benefits of adding value by:

    Identifying processing techniques and which processed product could be sold to different consumers;

    Analysing where it is most cost effective or most benefits can be gained for processing to take place (for instance close to the...

  10. (pp. 19-19)

    As many NTFPs are seasonal, SMFEs should examine the opportunities for diversifying or specialising. CIFOR’s research indicates that half of the 2108 NTFP harvesters studied in Cameroon already derive income from more than one NTFP, but specialise in one major product. They also engage in other economic activities to provide a diversification of household revenues. For most harvester households an average of 42% of their annual income comes from NTFPs. For SMFEs, the same strategy can be effective.

    SMFEs can make a choice about whether and how to diversify, to similar products for example, or to specialise in one or...

  11. (pp. 19-21)

    SMFEs are encouraged to invest in getting to know their markets – even if not directly selling to consumers. Many value chains are complex, with multiple stages and actors involved in the process of getting a product from forest to consumer; they are also dynamic and change over time. Experience from successful enterprises in the forest regions,⁹ shows that one of the most important steps an SMFE can take is to know more about the value chain of their product and their market. Ways to do this include:

    Being proactive and looking for market information: This means investing and going...

  12. (pp. 21-22)

    Interviews with traders in the markets of Yaoundé highlight the fact that access to finance is one of the biggest limitations to the size and profitability of SMFEs. Financing problems are often related to poor access to financial institutions. Instead, informal financing systems predominate, such as collective savings (12%), loans from third parties (57%), and ngangis or tontines10 (28%). Ignorance and fear resulting from the 1990s banking crises underlie this, with both the SMFE and the finance sector being largely unaware of the opportunities and needs of the other.

    However, many new finance institutions are now willing to enter the...

  13. (pp. 22-22)

    One way to ensure the chain of custody for a product is to plant it – taking it out of the forest and onto the farm. A lot of work has been done in Cameroon, particularly in domesticating some of the high value NTFPs. The World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) has worked on safou, bush mango, eru, Allanblackia and bitter cola (Garcinia kola). The collaboration between CIFOR, CENDEP and ADIE (Cameroonian NGOs) has led to the creation of the national programme for eru domestication, known as PAPCO in Cameroon, funded by the government. CENDEP and the Botanic Gardens in Limbe have...