The power of stories: Poverty Reduction Through NTFPs

A new book in the Sustainable Development Goals series narrates personal stories of people from around the world who have used non-timber forest products as a means of poverty alleviation.

Gira Ben, a member of the Kotwalia tribe in Gujarat, India, uses traditional knowledge to craft a bamboo chair. Photo: Ann-Cathrin Jöst.

Stories can amplify the voices of people or groups who are not often heard, and make their experiences relatable to people in wildly different contexts. Deepa Pullanikkatil and Charlie M. Shackleton’s new book, “Poverty Reduction Through Non-Timber Forest Products: Personal Stories” harnesses the power of stories to show how non-timber forest products (NTFP) can contribute to livelihoods, and play an important role in poverty alleviation around the world.

Using a unique, story-based methodology, the editors emphasise that “NTFPs need to be recognised and valued for how they can transform lives and reduce poverty at an individual level beyond just monetary aspects.” In fact, the book uses stories to address broad-reaching issues on NTFPs, providing both a global perspective of the role they can play in poverty alleviation, as well as covering debates and tensions within the NTFP sphere like nature, scale, gender, and monetary vs non-monetary benefits.

The book brings together 22 case studies that focus on a wide array of global NTFPs and the people who harvest, use, and sell them: from truffles in Italy, and pine needles in Nicaragua, to honey in Cameroon, and basket weavers in Portugal. The cases are rich and diverse examples of the many different types of NTFPs, their value chains, and how they can contribute to livelihoods and poverty alleviation in both developing and developed country settings. They span six continents and 18 countries.

The distribution and subject of the case studies from six continents and 18 countries.

Each case study was coordinated with the support of local experts and institutions engaged in the study or production of NTFPs. However, the book is novel in its treatment of NTFP users and their stories: for each case study, the NTFP user is the first author, and the interviewers and experts who supported the case are co-authors.

Manuel António Nogueira Frutuoso, chapter author and the last chestnut basket weaver in the São Mamede area, Portugal.

The editors explain that this approach “was intended to provide a voice for the people involved in NTFP work and to narrate their story from their perspective.” In its concluding sections, the book aims to synthesise the outcomes of the case studies, analyse the insights gained from the stories, and catalogue the lessons learned that could be used in poverty reduction policies and strategies.

The book is meant for academics, development practitioners and the general public who may be interested in NTFPs and poverty alleviation. It urges that we must not neglect solutions that have worked for some, even while we also seek broad-scale solutions to the global poverty problem. Through its storytelling and narratives, this book provides evidence of people who have lifted themselves out of poverty through trade in NTFPs. These stories “provide a wealth of insight about people and their experiences rather than aggregated classifications, categories and characteristics of poverty.” While quantitative analyses are useful – and prevalent – in valuing the impact of NTFPs on poverty alleviation, the editors contend that there are “valuable lessons to be learned from [the] experiences and perspectives” of people who have been lifted out of poverty thanks to NTFPS “that cannot be revealed from the dominant quantitative studies and analyses to date.”

This book, and its novel methodology, are poised to provide new insights and inspire readers to consider elevating traditional knowledge, highlight oft-overlooked stories and experiences, and harness NTFPs as a promising poverty reduction mechanism.

Full reference

Pullanikkatil D and Shackleton CM 2019. Poverty Reduction Through Non-Timber Forest Products: Personal Stories. Sustainable Development Goals Series, Springer.

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Sarah Feder
Sarah Feder, based at EFI's Mediterranean Facility, has a particular focus on the socioeconomic dimensions of wildfires in Mediterranean forests. Sarah is also a member of the EFIMED Communications team, contributing articles to this platform and the EFI website. She has a Master of Science in Human Geography from Lund University in Sweden.