1. Diversity of woody species used in curving
Twenty-three plant species were recorded as used in carving confirming that wood carvers have an extensive knowledge about the quality of woods and their utilization. The range of species used suggests that their exploitation can increase environmental pressure,contributing to forest fragmentation and local species loss all over the country. Trees are, most of the time, uprooted for wood collection so, although wood carving provides anincome to workers, it constitutes a threat to species conservation. Wood carving was reported as a threat to forest diversity in Ghana because of exploitation of endangered species (Okrah,2002). Kayode et al. (2016) recorded 39 plant species belonging to 23 families used in carving in Nigeria. Similarly, the wood carving industry in Kenya is highly dependent on indigenous tree species (Mutinda, 2014).
2. Types of woods recorded
The diversity of type of wood used confirms that the choice depends on items to be carved (Kayode et al., 2016). Woods, in addition to their colour also vary from soft to hard and this influences the items for which they are used. A relatively high number of species was recorded as giving red wood followed by species having yellow wood. This confirms the various attractive aspects searched for in wood by carvers and the assertion that the components of art include colour, patterns and the reproduction of visual likeness (Morris-Kay, 2010).
3. Sources of recorded woody species
The purchase of wood in industrial markets was recorded as the main source for carversfollowed by direct purchase from plantation and tree owners. A very low proportion of carvers ownedtheir own plantations from which woods may be collected. These aspects confirm that harvesting of wood for carving threatens the conservation of forests throughout Benin. The majority of wood traded in industrial markets comes from the central and northern parts of the country. So, natural forests and sometimesplantations are cut down to satisfy a growing demand forwood. Even customers who provided their own woods for carving are destroying individual trees that are expected to protect theenvironment. No informant mentioned the purchase of wood from public plantations meaning a lack of public forestry areas, plantations or agroforestry parks,wherein carvers couldget woods whenever they want provided they are able toafford its cost.
4. Ranking of woods used for carving
Diospyros mespiliformis ranked as the most used wood and informants who selected it were mostly those working in Cotonou. Carvers insisted that this wood is the most appreciated by tourists. The black colour may attract people and it is easy to sell art made with this wood even if the customers are local. Carvers using this wood targeted the international market by exporting their arts. The genus Diospyros is widely recognized for its black wood. Furthermore, informants highlightedits durability, hardness and ability to take a high polish. The collection of D. mespiliformis wood from natural forests to satisfy the increasing demand is clearly a threat to the species conservation. Chlorophora excelsa is widely used in Benin as its wood serves to make sacred objects in addition to ornamental art. Similarly to the present findings, Okonkwo et al. (2016) reported the use of C. excelsa (Iroko) in carving sacred objects in Nigeria. In addition to the exploitation of this species in carving, it is widelyused in carpentry and as medicine in Benin (Ouinsavi et al., 2005). Several years ago, the pressure placed on populations of C. excelsaof its exploitation in Benin was stated (Sokpon et al., 2003) and its exploitation in carving no doubt increases its extinction rate. Alternativesshould be found to help carversmaintain their livelihoods without compromising the sustainability of the species. Tectona grandis and G. arborea are two plantation species that have been grown in Benin fordecades. They were recorded among the most used in carving. Similarly to the present findings, T. grandis has also been reported in wood carving in Ghana (Appiah-Kubi et al., 2014). Tectona grandis and G.arborea woods were purchased from tree and plantation owners which confirms a high pressure on these species as they are also highly demanded forcarpentry throughout the country. Carvers justified the use of G.arborea wood by the fact that its white colour gave an attractive aspect for arts.In addition, they argued that woods of G.arborea and T. grandisaresometimesmore availablethan other woods. Similarly, G.arborea and T.grandis were mostly preferred forwood carving in India (Sharma et al., 2013). Tectona grandis has been identified as the species with most potential for the establishment ofhigh-quality tropical hardwood plantationsunder sustainable forest management (Thulasidas and Baillères, 2017)
5. The Use Value of the most used woods
The results confirmed that the frequency of use of a species wood can sometimes contrast with its relative importance. Gmelina arborea and C. excelsa both had greater Use Value than D. mespiliformis despite the more frequent use of this species.These findings confirmed the importance of the Use Value to assess the relative importance of plant species in ethnobotanical studies.
6. Availability of woods according to carvers
The scarcity of woods recorded in this research confirmed the high environmental pressure placed on tree species used in carving. Forests are fragmented to satisfy wood demands for carving and many other purposes. Thishas negative impacts on biodiversity conservation all over the country. Reforestation programs taking into account woody species used in carving are necessary throughout the country. Priority species can be C. excelsa and D. mespiliformis. As T. grandisand G. arboreahavealready been grown in plantations throughout the country for manydecades,leaders are encouraged to promote these speciesin plantations. It has been stated that, in Benin, farmers specialized in pole-wood production to supply urban demand for cheap construction timber (Aoudji et al., 2014). Largeindividual trees of T. grandis and G. arborea are needed to ensure a long-term wood carving activity in Benin because art made by carvers plays a great role in tourism and in the cultural identity of the country.
7. Willingness to contribute to recorded species conservation
Only a small proportion of wood carvers had their own plantations which confirmed that the wood supply for this activity contributes to the fragmentation of natural forests and existing plantations throughout the country. All carvers confirmed their willingness to establishplantationsif it was economically possible,and the majority of them would prefer plantations of G. arborea and T. grandis. They argued that G. arborea is a rapid growth species that can produce wood for sale and personal use in a short period of time and T. grandis,according to carvers, is a resistant and good quality wood. They also mentioned the trade of T. grandis wood for income generation as the species is highly demanded in carpentry in Benin and more widely in region.Similarly to the present findings, carvers in Ghana indicated their willingness to use any type of wood provided the tools and equipment for processing them work well (Appiah-Kubi et al., 2014). The present findings also confirmed the results of McEwan et al. (2020) who stated that the factors influencing the form of plantation include the type and nature of the plantation owner, and the change in demand for different and new forest products.Forestry advisers and political leaders needto takesuchfindings into account to promote plantations and ensure a sustainable wood carving industry throughout the country.In addition, carvers should be provided with tools for plantation management.