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Use of a Bayesian Belief Network to Predict the Impacts of Commercializing Non-timber Forest Products on Livelihoods

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Written by Dirk Willem te Velde

Commercialization of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) has been widely promoted as a means of sustainably developing tropical forest resources, in a way that promotes forest conservation while supporting rural livelihoods. However, in practice, NTFP commercialization has often failed to deliver the expected benefits. Progress in analyzing the causes of such failure has been hindered by the lack of a suitable framework for the analysis of NTFP case studies, and by the lack of predictive theory. We address these needs by developing a probabilistic model based on a livelihood framework, enabling the impact of NTFP commercialization on livelihoods to be predicted. The framework considers five types of capital asset needed to support livelihoods: natural, human, social, physical, and financial. Commercialization of NTFPs is represented in the model as the conversion of one form of capital asset into another, which is influenced by a variety of socio-economic, environmental, and political factors. Impacts on livelihoods are determined by the availability of the five types of assets following commercialization. The model, implemented as a Bayesian Belief Network, was tested using data from participatory research into 19 NTFP case studies undertaken in Mexico and Bolivia. The model provides a novel tool for diagnosing the causes of success and failure in NTFP commercialization, and can be used to explore the potential impacts of policy options and other interventions on livelihoods. The potential value of this approach for the development of NTFP theory is discussed.

Newton, A. C., E. Marshall, Kate Schreckenberg, D. Golicher, D. W. Te Velde, F. Edouard and E. Arancibia