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Ecological Sustainability for Non-timber Forest Products--Dynamics and Case Studies of Harvesting.

Ecological Sustainability for Non-timber Forest Products--Dynamics and Case Studies of Harvesting

C.M. Shackleton, A.K. Pandey and T. Ticktin (eds.)

2015. Earthscan, 2015, 280 pages, ISBN: 978-0-415-72859-1. 85 [pounds sterling]

Concerns over ecological sustainability are a key driver of environmental governance. Accordingly, assumptions about ecological sustainability of use and management of the environment have political and social ramifications. The impetus for this book is an observation that assumptions of unsustainable harvesting of Non-timber Forest Products (NTFP) are the norm.

The book responds by providing valuable guidance on how ecological sustainability of NTFP use and management can be assessed. It includes nine case studies exemplifying sustainable harvesting and management of very different NTFPs, thereby questioning the default assumption of unsustainable harvesting. The contributions illustrate that assessment of ecological sustainability of NTFPs is indeed challenging. Yet, the editors argue that it is a challenge we must meet to re-examine assumptions of unsustainable NTFP utilization and to develop a knowledge basis for adaptive management of NTFPs that allows for their use within bounds of ecological sustainability.

The main contribution of the book is the guidance provided--mainly in chapters 3 and 4--on how to approach a study of ecological sustainability in the context of NTFP harvesting. Such guidance is sorely needed as there are few good existing resources (Cunningham 2001 is an example of an existing book). Chapter 3 illustrates how studies of the ecological sustainability of NTFP use and management must build on knowledge about the specific use and ecology of the plant or animal species as well as about other stresses than NTFP harvesting to the species and ecological system. Other stresses may include larger scale fluctuations brought on by climate variation or inherent to the autecology of the species in question. Chapter 3 also cautions that some effects of NTFP harvesting may only materialize over a period of time longer than what is permitted by most research projects, underscoring the risk of making premature conclusions about resource sustainability. This issue of scale--temporal and spatial--in assessments of ecological sustainability is further emphasized in chapter 4, which illustrates the value of an environmental historical approach to the study of ecological sustainability.

The following nine case studies of harvesting and management of widely differing NTFPs illustrate clearly that to assess ecological sustainability we need studies that seriously address the specifics of the harvesting of NTFPs and the ecological system that supports its production, and that this may require long-term and resource-intensive studies.

In view of this, it is somewhat surprising that the editors in the concluding chapter maintain that the challenges associated with developing a scientific knowledge base for adaptive management of NTFPs can be solved if only more financial resources are committed towards inventories and autecological studies. The belief in science expressed here appears optimistic given the financial resources and expertise demanded. Further, the notion that adaptive management must be based on detailed, scientific knowledge could provide a convenient excuse for maintaining restrictions and centralized oversight of NTFP use until such knowledge is available and, thereby, a continuation of the status quo. Another curiosity in the concluding chapter is the editors' argument that assessments of ecological sustainability may rely on a general rule of thumb 'rate of harvest less than rate of renewal'. The editors are careful to mention the caveats that such an approach would entail. Yet, it appears a retreat back to the equilibrium ecological model that has been thoroughly debunked in the preceding chapters in the book.

The major contribution of this book is the nuts and bolts of how to understand and examine ecological sustainability of NTFP use and management and the nine exemplifications that also serve to challenge default assumptions of unsustainable harvesting. The editors' call for adaptive management of NTFPs is well supported by these nine case studies that demonstrate a variation in time and space that would be difficult to predict and plan for in a rigid, top-down manner. Thereby, the book offers lessons of relevance to the management of ecosystems such as forests, rangelands and wetlands, which often relies on rules of thumb derived from equilibrium ecology, such as carrying capacity in rangeland management and sustained yield in forestry that have been shown to produce regressive ecological and social consequences. The illustration of the complexities encountered and knowledge requirements to understand and manage one NTFP is indicative of the challenges facing anyone seeking to understand, model and plan for the management of entire ecosystems. Thus, this book comprises a valuable resource for a wider audience than those interested in NTFPs. Any scholar of natural resources management, political ecology and environmental policy who wishes to integrate the issue of ecological sustainability into wider studies of the social and political consequences of environmental governance and who aims to question the narratives of sustainability or degradation that surround such governance would benefit from picking it up.


CUNNINGHAM, T. 2001. Applied Ethnobotany: People, Wild Plant Use and Conservation. New York, Earthscan.

Jens Friis Lund

Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen
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Author:Lund, Jens Friis
Publication:International Forestry Review
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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