Cash crop cultivation and harvesting of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are both important parts of rural livelihood portfolios worldwide. In mountainous areas of the Greater Mekong Subregion, government programs, scholars, and private-sector interests have promoted both as strategies for rural economic development. NTFPs are also often championed as an incentive for rural communities to protect forests. However, little is known about how cash crops and NTFPs interact in the daily lives and economic decisions of rural people in this region, or how they may differentially encourage forest conservation practices and values. With a focus on mushrooms as an NTFP and maca, rubber, and tea as cash crops, we conducted household surveys and key informant interviews in 2 prefectures of Yunnan, China, and 1 province in northern Thailand. Based on the results of this research, we make 4 key arguments. First, although cash crops are generally perceived to diminish the importance of NTFPs such as mushrooms in rural livelihoods, the potential also exists for complementarity between these 2 livelihood strategies. Second, while some species of wild edible mushroom incentivize forest conservation, others may incentivize practices that have a negative impact on forest ecosystems. Third, even in households where NTFPs make little or no contribution to livelihoods, people are likely to value forests for supporting, regulating, and cultural ecosystem services. Fourth, even households that rely primarily on cash crops may value NTFP collection as a leisure activity. The latter phenomenon is previously unreported in NTFP research, and we suggest that it also reflects a blind spot in ecosystem services research. Mushrooms and cash crops can coexist in mountain livelihoods; wild mushrooms are both economic and recreational resources in the Greater Mekong.
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