Measuring Medicinal Nontimber Forest Product Output in Eastern Deciduous Forests

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Virginia Tech

Nontimber forest products (NTFPs) play an important role in the lives of people who rely on forests. An absence of data on the size of harvests, their location, and the economic value of NTFPs prevents effective management and full utilization by all stakeholder groups. We set out to measure one important NTFP sector -- the medicinal plant trade in the diverse deciduous forests of the eastern United States, by surveying licensed buyers of ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) in 15 states about purchasing of other untracked species. To combat potential coverage and non-response bias we created a place-based model that predicted the probability of purchasing non-ginseng medicinals based on buyer location and used this to build more robust estimates. This viable method for estimating NTFP output is a replicable system that can be applied in other regions and for other products.

We reviewed the literature and hypothesized biophysical and socioeconomic factors that might contribute to the prevalence of non-ginseng purchasing, and tested them on the respondents using multinomial logistic regression. The significant variables were used in two-step cluster analysis to categorize respondents and non-respondents in high or low production areas. Volume was assigned to non-respondents based on respondent behavior within each cluster. Both were then summed to estimate total output. The results depict trade volume and prices paid to harvesters for 11 medicinal NTFP species. There was significant variation between products. Two species, black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), accounted for 72 percent of trade volume and 77 percent of the value paid to harvesters. The total first-order value for all species estimated was 4.3 million $USD. The discrepancy between point-of-sale and retail value implies room for increasing value for all stakeholders at the base of the supply chain. Harvests for most species were concentrated in the central Appalachian coalfields.

We also sought to understand what motivated or deterred participation by conducting qualitative interviews with buyers and other stakeholders. Buyers were interested in knowing the size and value of the trade, but had concerns about losing access to the resource, which was rooted in past experience with land managers and policy-makers, and conflicting discourse between stakeholders about the state of the trade and of wild populations. Many institutional deliverables are not well matched with the realities or priorities of the traditional trade. We describe potential avenues for collaboration and reciprocity, including providing market research and certifying or providing technical support for sustainably wild harvested material in addition to ongoing support for cultivation.

Agroforestry, Nontimber Forest Products, Informal Economies, Forest Inventory and Analysis