Non-timber forest products in West Bengal: knowledge, livelihoods and policy

Ghosal, Somnath (2010) Non-timber forest products in West Bengal: knowledge, livelihoods and policy. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The theme of this research is the conservation of open dry-deciduous forest areas of West Bengal, India, through the socio-economic progress of forest dwellers. The use of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) is manifold in the livelihood of this area. Systematic and sustainable harvesting of NTFPs could improve the standard of living of forest dwellers and play an important role in the conservation of forest ecosystems.

The research was conducted in Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapur districts, in the south-western part of West Bengal, India. Firewood is the main source of fuel for the forest fringe dwellers of these three districts. Due to the high demand firewood harvesting is an important occupation for a large number of forest communities. The incessant collection of firewood is adversely affecting forest cover and the type and quality of plant species. In this circumstance, sustainable and systematic harvesting of NTFPs can play a potential role in creating job opportunities for forest dwellers. The enhancement of organised NTFP marketing channels could improve the economy and thus reduce the major dependence on firewood. Therefore, the aim of the thesis is to examine NTFPs-based economic development of forest fringe dwellers and to protect the forest cover.

The thesis starts with a brief introduction to NTFPs and its present importance in forest livelihoods in India (with reference to West Bengal) and in international context, highlighting work by geographers, forest researchers, economists and sociologists who are becoming more interested on NTFPs and forest livelihoods from their respective disciplinary perspectives.

To have an idea about NTFPs based forest livelihood of West Bengal, it is necessary to study the geo-physical features of the State and the study area. This will reveal the reasons why this area has been selected for this research. A variety of complementary sources and methodologies were used for the collection and analysis of data and information. Detailed archival research at the British Library, London provides insight into the pre-colonial and colonial NTFP-based forest livelihoods of the Presidency of Bengal.

An exploration of the socio-cultural characteristics of forest communities through interviews and surveys helped to reveal the use and importance of NTFPs. After collection of NTFPs, it is necessary to store those products for gradation and value-addition. The research reveals that the organised markets are quite away from forest villages. Therefore, the knowledge of systematic and sustainable collection and storage of NTFPs needs to be enhanced at the grassroots level.

After the collection and processing of NTFPs, the most important thing is marketing. Through the organised marketing system, forest dwellers can earn more money selling the same amount of products. It was discovered that a large number of intermediaries are involved in the NTFPs business and these intermediaries often try to purchase NTFPs from actual collectors at a very low price and then sell them at a high price. The reasons for the presence of middlemen and how the formal marketing channels can be stronger than the present informal channels were all revealed to be important issues which bolster the formal marketing channels, in which actual collectors might earn reasonable price for their collected NTFPs. It is argued that the efficient and sustainable harvesting of NTFPs can promote opportunities for marginal forest dwellers of these three districts. The increasing production of value-added products from different NTFPs can improve the economic status of these forest dwellers and will reduce rampant demolition of forest resources. The socio-economic improvement can also shift forest dwellers to other professions, which will reduce the dependency on forestry and subsequently it will help to promote the dry-deciduous forest ecology.

Therefore, the research begins with an investigation of historical perspective of human-forest interactions in the Presidency of Bengal and subsequently explores the contemporary forest-based livelihoods of the socio-economically deprived forest fringe dwellers in the dry-deciduous forest areas of West Bengal. The research draws on interdisciplinary areas including historical geography with reference of indigenous knowledge regarding forest products, development geography of the forest-based livelihoods and economic geography of the systematic and sustainable harvesting of NTFPs for the enhancement of formal marketing channels. The study demonstrates that there is a need for intensive research at the grassroots level that will address all the aspects of NTFPs and forest livelihoods, before devising any precise NTFP policy to improve the status of forest livelihoods through the sustainable harvesting of forest products.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Jewitt, S.L.
Watkins, C.
Keywords: West Bengal, forest conservation, non-timber forest products, NTFPs, indigenous knowledge, government policy
Subjects: H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Geography
Item ID: 11429
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 27 Aug 2010 12:43
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2017 11:47

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