The social, economic, and ecological role of woodlands forests in dry and lowland areas are more imperative than anywhere else. Most of the dry lands of Ethiopia host woodlands that produce various commercial gum-resin products. The objective of this study was to investigate the social and economic importance of commercial gum-resin products focusing on their roles in the local livelihoods. Four kebeles, namely, Luka and Enchete from Bena-Tsemay district, and Erbore and Asele from Hamer district of South Omo Zone, were purposively selected for the collection of socioeconomic data. Semistructured questionnaire and checklists were used for households and key informant interviews and focus group discussions, respectively. In addition, market assessments and field observation were conducted to collect the primary data and supplemented with secondary data. A total of 80 households were randomly selected for one-to-one interviews from the total number of 425 households in the selected kebeles. A total of 10 key informant interviews with elders, forestry experts, local merchants, and enterprise members involved in gum-resins marketing and 4 focus group discussions with 12 members including men, women, and youth were conducted. Simple descriptive statistical tools were used for the data analysis. The results of the study showed that the mean annual income earned from the sale of gum-resins was 5670 and 4571 ETB per household at Bena-Tsemay and Hamer study sites, respectively. About 84% of the respondents indicated that gum-resin collection was the simplest and fastest means to earn income for school children and women. Gum and resin collection was the third most important livelihood option in the study area following animal husbandry and crop and honey production. The majority (84%) of respondents recognized the income made from gum-resin products as a safety net during recurring famine eras. Moreover, respondents recognized the benefit of gum arabic as food during famine time, as chewing gum, and as nutritious fodder. It was also used as folk medicine for both human and livestock diseases. Communities used this resource as a constituent to treat eye and skin infections, bleeding, wounds, ulcers, stomachache, gastrointestinal infections, etc. In addition, 88.33% of shrubs/trees were used as source of cash income for local communities and 11.67% as fodder for animal husbandry. Despite this significance, various constraints hindered the utilization of the resource in the study area, and these included lack of appropriate tapping techniques, market access, market information, cooperatives, infrastructure facilities, and appropriate institutions as well as poor local communities’ awareness of land management. The present investigation has provided valuable information for overcoming the major constraints by devising strategies to maximize gum-resin production and commercialization in the study area.
Woodlands and forest’s social, economic, and biological role in both dry and lowland areas are more imperative than in any rangelands. Agroforestry parklands and trees/shrubs outside forests play decisive roles in the livelihood of societies in Africa’s woodlands . For Ethiopia, there are many social, economic, ecological, and political details to enact sustainable management of its woodland forests. For example, processed and/or value-added commercialization of gum-resins produced from woodland forests would give access to extra income for the arid and/or woodland prone communities, in addition to the regional and national economy at large . Discussion on the significance of woodlands and dry forests is highly dependent on lessons from the moist tropics, with scanty information on woodlands that cover large areas and host hundreds of millions of Africans [1, 3, 4]. Current studies reveal that development towards combination of woodland forests has been hindered partly by a lack of practically based information on their socioeconomic significance [1, 5].
About 75% of the Ethiopian total land mass was represented by dryland forests , which host woodlands that produce various commercial gum-resin products . An annual production potential of 270,000 tons of gum-resins from more than 3.5 million hectares of woodlands and bushlands was estimated in Ethiopia . Gum-resins are the most widely used and traded nontimber forest products (NTFPs) other than items consumed directly as food, fodder, and medicine . They are important for various purposes in consumer goods such as detergents, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, perfumes, sweet food products, soft drinks, hard drinks, and insecticides .
In addition, as stated by , gum-resins are used in indigenous medicines for the management of different ailments such as wounds, arthritis, fractures, obesity, parasitic infection, and gastrointestinal diseases. Income at household level is significant. For example, the estimated income from gum-resin business is threefold higher than the contributions of crops . Consequently, the economic importance of these resources as a government source of valuable foreign currency has been widely realized in Ethiopia . Employment opportunities have also been generated throughout the year; for instance, Boswellia products subsector recruits several employees for activities such as tapping and collection, transportation, processing, marketing, and guarding of storage facilities . Additionally, production of NTFPs helps to promote a better consolidation of dry woodlands and, thus, improves economic enhancement along with ecological maintenance .
Despite the increasing realization of the social, economic, cultural, environmental, and other roles of gum-resin products worldwide, their critical significance has not been yet recognized and acknowledged generally in the country and specifically in South Omo Zone, South Ethiopia. This is due to, as stated by , the absence of information on the social, economic, and cultural importance. Communities in the study area pursue a pastoralist style of life strategy, whose sources of income are mainly relying on livestock rearing and crop and natural honey production . Drought is one of the major reasons for natural resource degradation. For example, as stated by , compositions of gum-resin bearing species are facing challenges of degradation due to recurrent droughts, thereby leading to a decline in productivity. In addition, fuel wood collection and charcoal making are considered as alternative income sources especially for those who live around rural towns. This action led to minimizing the gum-resin productivity and loss of genetic diversity of the species . Thus, the development of sustainable management options for this dry land resource is required for the benefit of local communities in particular and national and international communities in general.
The socioeconomic significance through value-added commercialization of gum-resins is considered as the basis for sustainable production and marketing of the products. Therefore, this study aims to assess the social and economic role of gum-resin products and identify main constraints on the production, marketing, and/or commercialization of gum-resin products in the woodlands of South Omo Zone, Southern Ethiopia.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Study Area Description
This study was carried out in semiarid woodlands of Bena-Tsemay and Hamer districts of South Omo Zone, located in Southwestern parts of Ethiopia. The zone is unique in that it comprises 16 distinct ethnic groups within 8 districts of the zone in the country and is known as the heart of cultural diversity. The study area is geographically located between 36°09′25″E and 37°04′12″E longitude and 4°30′18″N and 5°44′06″N latitude (Figure 1). The total population of the study districts is 62,362 and 59,572, inhabiting 3754 km² and 5742 km² of total area of Bena-Tsemay and Hamer districts, respectively. The elevation of the area ranges between 371 and 2084 m.a.s.l in Bena-Tsemay and Hamer districts, respectively [14, 17]. The districts have a bimodal rainfall pattern with an average annual rainfall of 1400 mm and 764 mm in Bena-Tsemay and Hamer districts, respectively [17, 18]. The annual average minimum and maximum temperatures are in the range of 16°C–27°C and 40°C-41°C for Bena-Tsemay and Hamer districts, respectively . Eutric Fluvisols are the dominant soil types in grasslands while Eutric and Chromic Cambisols are dominant in mountains areas .