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The management of tree genetic resources and the livelihoods

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Forest Ecology and Management

Volume 333, 1 December 2014, Pages 9–21

Global Forest Genetic Resources: Taking Stock

Edited By Judy Loo, Oudara Souvannavong and Ian Dawson

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The management of tree genetic resources and the livelihoods of rural communities in the tropics: Non-timber forest products, smallholder agroforestry practices and tree commodity cropsAvailable online 12 February 2014

Highlights

The benefits from trees and their genetic resources are often not well quantified.

We review what is known about value and management for tropical rural communities.

Challenges to ‘conventional wisdom’ on tree resource use and management are presented.

Constraints and opportunities to maintain and enhance value are described.

Abstract

Products and services provided by trees in forests and farmland support the needs and promote the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people in the tropics. Value depends on managing both the diversity of tree species present in landscapes and the genetic variation within these species. The benefits from trees and their genetic resources are, however, often not well quantified because trade is frequently outside formal markets, there is a multiplicity of species and ways in which trees are used and managed, and genetic diversity within species is frequently not given proper consideration. We review here what is known about the value of trees to rural communities through considering three production categories: non-timber products harvested from trees in natural and managed forests and woodlands; the various products and services obtained from a wide range of trees planted and/or retained in smallholders’ agroforestry systems; and the commercial products harvested from cultivated tree commodity crops. Where possible, we focus on the role of intra-specific genetic variation in providing support to livelihoods, and for each of the three production categories we also consider wider conservation and sustainability issues, including the linkages between categories in terms of management. Challenges to ‘conventional wisdom’ on tree resource use, value and management – such as in the posited links between commercialisation, cultivation and conservation – are highlighted, and constraints and opportunities to maintain and enhance value are described.

Keywords1. Introduction

The elemental role played by trees in the lives of rural people in the tropics appears obvious through the many uses made of tree products, in construction, fencing, furniture, foods, medicines, fibres, fuels and in livestock feed, and in their cultural value. Indeed, in a World Bank report published a few years ago, forests and trees-outside-forests were reported to contribute to the livelihoods of more than 1.6 billion people worldwide (). Just how trees contribute – and the varying level of dependency of different communities on tree products and services and how this changes over time – is, however, often not well described or adequately acknowledged in the compilation of such figures (). Partly, this reflects the ubiquity of tree products and services and the complex inter-connecting pathways by which trees influence livelihoods, which are often hard to delineate (e.g., ). It also reflects the different sources – from inside and outside forests – of tree products and services. Since forest and farmland sources are assessed differently by government forestry and agriculture departments, a proper synthesis of the overall value of tree products and services across these sources is hard to achieve (). Complexities in quantification and a lack of proper appreciation of benefits help explain why the roles (and limitations) of trees in supporting local peoples’ livelihoods have frequently been neglected by policy makers, and why rural development interventions concerned with managing trees in forests and farms have sometimes been poorly targeted ( and ).

From a genetic perspective, the value of intra-specific variation in tree species and the importance of managing this variation to support rural livelihoods have also received relatively little attention from policy makers (), despite the benefits that rural communities can gain when proper consideration is given (). Tree genetic resources exist at different levels of domestication of both populations and species, while the landscapes within which they are located are themselves domesticated to a greater or lesser extent (). A few forest landscapes can be considered completely natural, but generally some degree of human management has taken place ( and ). Indeed, some trees that provide foods valued by humans have been subject to domestication in forest environments for millennia in processes of ‘co-domestication’ (sensu ) of the forest and the tree. The level of domestication of the tree itself – from incipiently- to fully-domesticated (i.e., from being only unconsciously managed and selected to being dependent on humans for its continued existence; ) – and of the landscape in which it is found are both crucial in understanding how rural communities currently benefit from trees, and how to optimise future value through improved management.

This review, which is derived from an analysis supporting the publication of FAO’s recent global synthesis on the State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources (the SOW-FGR, as described by , this special issue; ), provides information on what we know about the value of trees to rural communities in the context of both the level of tree domestication that has taken place and the management setting. Our review supports the SOW-FGR by providing an insight into livelihood issues that goes beyond the limited quantitative data available in the Country Reports used to compile the global synthesis (see ). We restrict our review to the tropics, where devising appropriate interventions to manage trees and tree genetic resources is important to meet international development goals of poverty alleviation and community resilience ( and ).



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