The Safety-Net Role of Forest in Forest-Based Livelihoods in West Bengal

Promita Mukherjee

Ph.D. Research Scholar, Department of Economics, University of Calcutta. Email:

 Volume 4, Number 1 I Full Text PDF


Do forest incomes matter in rural livelihoods as a safety net? In other words, do forest dependent households use forest resources to cope with a shock? If so, what type of shocks matter more? Is forest resource extraction a viable coping strategy? To address these queries, we draw on the safety net dimension of rural livelihoods and studied 372 households located in seven forest areas of West Bengal, India between December 2013 and December 2014 in different phases. Interestingly, we find that the poor households extract forest resources based more on necessity than on choice and consequently they are benefited more in relative terms while the non-poor derive forest benefits more in absolute sense. More importantly, we find that forest serves as a natural insurance. In time of crises, local people significantly increased forest resource extraction especially after a community-level shock. Further, we noticed that households that are (a) asset-poor, (b) young, (c) male-headed, (d) live far away from market, and (e) located close to forest tend to use forest resources more to cope with a shock. Moreover, households turn to forest more if they face community-level or co-variate shocks rather than idiosyncratic or personal shocks. Local forest user households also believe that extraction of forest resources is a low-cost coping strategy compared to the other major strategies (such as reduction in consumption, asset depletion, reallocation of labour and outside help). The implication is that conservation of forest is important for sustaining rural forest dependent households as forest serves as a shock absorber.

Keywords: West Bengal; forest resource use; safety nets