Economic valuation of non-timber forest products and recreational benefits from Mabira Central Forest Reserve, Uganda
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Forest-based benefits are often undervalued or not quantified in monetary terms, hence ignored when making development decisions. Valuation of forest products and services is vital in averting forest loss due to undervaluation. The study evaluated the importance of non timber forest products (NTFP) extraction and forest recreation for income generation and sustenance at local level. Specifically, plant species used by communities adjacent the Mabira central forest reserve (CFR) were identified and documented and their contribution to cash and non cash income assessed. It further assessed factors that influence dependence on NTFP. Also the recreational value of Mabira CFR was determined. The study followed qualitative and quantitative approaches in surveys of NTFP involved users, traders and recreational visitors. Data was collected using a questionnaire, field observations and key informant interviews. 342 NTFP users identified through snowball sampling provided information on NTFP used, their quantities, price and availability. A total of 36 key informants were interviewed about medicinal plants used. One hundred ninety species were identified as used to treat 58 health conditions. Vernonia amygdalina was highly ranked and the most important in treatment of malaria. One hundred sixty nine species were identified as used for food, fodder, energy, construction, skewers and social cultural activities. The annual value of NTFP was $ 801,782 of which $58,688 was home consumption and $801,782 cash income. Charcoal was valued at $ 327,686. About 40% of the households depended on NTFP income. The rich obtained the highest absolute value from NTFP ($ 1,225) compared to the poor ($ 665). The poor, youth, women and uneducated were most dependent on the forest (LR chi2 = 155.55, P =0.000). All the marketed NTFP were profitable and the per capita value was highest for drums ($3,101) and lowest for winnowing trays ($ 3). The level of trade, product traded, market and season significantly influenced NTFP income (LR chi2 = 89.35, P =0.000). Trade in value added products from permanent premises was more beneficial to traders than trade in raw materials. The annual recreational value of Mabira CFR using the Zonal travel Cost method was $ 577,443 and it was credited to the rich biodiversity of the forest by 60% of the visitors. The study demonstrates the preferential use of NTFP which has implications of faster depletion of multipurpose species. This calls for effective management and protection of the forest reserve. Forest management and conservation policies should target the poor, youth and women to reduce their dependence on the forest by providing alternative livelihood options. The study further shows that forest recreation as a non market good has its own economic value and considerable economic benefits. The newly introduced recreational activity of canopy super skyway should be promoted in other forests in Uganda since it was the most popular. NTFP and recreation have considerable value and should therefore not be ignored when making resource allocation and development decisions.