First comparative study in northern boreal and temperate forests shows important role of declining forest resources
Despite the availability of natural gas and commercial groceries, a new study shows many Eastern European communities still depend on what they can collect from forests and nature to meet a significant portion of their household needs, and even for their survival.
In the summer of 2014, IUCN, as part of its work with the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance Program (FLEG II), completed forest dependency surveys of over 1250 households in forest communities in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine. While similar studies have assessed forest dependency in tropical regions, this study was one of the first of its kind in Eastern Europe and in northern boreal and temperate forests. “Forest and wild products are vital to the livelihoods of many rural people in Eastern Europe,” said Riyong Kim Bakkegaard, the consultant hired by IUCN to oversee the study. “Forests are important for subsistence and cash income at the household level, particularly in areas where poverty and a lack of jobs are forcing many people to move away.” Across the region, survey respondents cited over one hundred different products they collected from the forests, with the majority being various foods and fuel wood. On average, forest-derived income made up between five and 17 percent of total income in each country, with forest income comprising higher shares of total incomes of certain, especially poorer, households. While the study found food resources, such as berries, nuts and mushrooms, for both cash and subsistence use comprise over half of the total household income from forests, almost all country samples identified fuelwood as a central forest product. According to the study, fuelwood accounts for 17 percent of all forest income and is collected mainly for subsistence heating and cooking. However, study authors warn that the numbers likely understate fuelwood’s true value to rural households, which can lead to underestimations of overall forest dependence. This is a result of complex regulations around fuelwood collection which can discourage respondents from revealing their true level of fuelwood consumption. Fuelwood is the main source of heating and energy for cooking in most forest communities and is essential to household survival in winter months. Across the countries, national government fuelwood provisions vary and are often not sufficient to meet the energy needs of rural households. In areas with available natural gas, it is often too expensive for poor households to make a total switch to gas for heating and cooking. As a result, much fuelwood is illegally cut and therefore unreported. Communities also noted that forest resources were becoming less available. They cited reduced forest cover from both legal and illegal logging, overharvesting, especially from outsiders coming to the forest to “cash in” on lucrative berries and mushrooms, and destructive harvesting techniques that increase short-term harvests but hinder regrowth. They also blamed climate change for reducing forest cover, drying marshes, increasing disease and changing the distributions of forest products like mushrooms and cranberries. “This study brings to light a significant reliance on forests that has gone unmeasured until now and which is at risk,” said Richard Aishton, FLEG II Program Coordinator for IUCN. “It also highlights the importance of incorporating the needs of people most dependent on forests into the policies which govern natural resources.” These studies in Eastern Europe and Russia build on the extensive work IUCN performed through its Livelihoods and Landscapes (LLS) program. The methodology utilized both the Poverty and Environment Network (PEN) and lessons from the Forest Poverty Toolkit which was developed by IUCN, ODI, CIFOR, PROFOR and Winrock International prior to LLS. The authors presented initial Eastern European results late last year and are continuing a more detailed analysis now, including using GIS and satellite imagery to define the differences and similarities between forest dependent communities. IUCN is using the data from the study and the GIS work to develop and test a forest dependent community fingerprint that will be used to compare forest dependent communities with each other in order to highlight the attributes that lead to more stable and sustainable communities. The FLEG II Program is funded by the European Union and implemented by the World Bank, WWF, and IUCN to support Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine in improving forest governance. The Program aims to implement the 2005 St. Petersburg FLEG Ministerial Declaration by working with countries and sub-national authorities to review and revise forest sector policies and legal and administrative structures and to test and demonstrate best practices for sustainable forest management and the feasibility of improved forest governance practices at the field-level. IUCN was an implementing organization, along with WWF and the World Bank, for the first EU-funded FLEG Program in the Eastern European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument-East countries (ENPI-FLEG I) from its inception in 2008 through its conclusion in 2012. The FLEG II Program began in 2012 and builds on the first ENPI FLEG I Program to support good forest governance, sustainable forest management and forest protection in the ENPI East region. It is scheduled to run through 2016.