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Scope of the study

In most tropical countries, non-wood forest products (NWFP) play an important role in the daily lives and well being of the local population. In particular rural and poor people depend on NWFP inter alia as sources of food, fodder, medicines, gums, resins and construction material. In addition to local consumption, NWFP are also important traded commodities on local, regional, national as well as international markets. Traded NWFP contribute to the fulfilment of daily needs and provide employment as well as income. Internationally traded NWFP, such as aromatic oils and medicinal plants, can achieve high prices in comparison with NWFP traded on national markets and thus contribute to the economic development of the respective country.

However, very limited statistical data are available on the exploitation, management, consumption and trade of NWFP. Unlike timber and agricultural products, no regular monitoring and evaluation of the resources and socio-economic contribution of NWFP at the national level are being carried out. In the FAO yearbook of forest products, for example, statistical data on NWFP such as cork, tannins, bamboo and various oils are only available from 1954 to 1971 (Chandrasekheran 1995) Consequently information is limited today to selected NWFP of national importance. But even for several of these major NWFP, data are often incomplete and cannot be extrapolated to the national level or compared among countries.

FAO assists national governments and institutions to improve the availability of national qualitative and quantitative data related to NWFP. This activity is carried out within the framework of the EC-FAO Partnership Programme "Information and Analysis for Sustainable Forest Management: Linking National and International Efforts in South Asia and South East Asia" (Project GCP/RAS/173/EC), a four-year programme funded by the European Commission (Directorate-General Development). The overall aim of this programme is to strengthen national capacity to collect and compile reliable information on forestry and analyse the forest sector.

This report contains the NWFP country profiles compiled for 15 Asian countries at the national level. These country profiles include a standardized text providing the available qualitative and quantitative data on NWFP and a standardized table showing quantitative information. Furthermore, the report includes an analysis of regional data.


Under the EC-FAO Partnership Programme, the available information on NWFP was reviewed and compiled at the national level, in each country, to assess the socio-economic significance and ecological impact of its utilization. Existing data gaps and constraints related to data collection were identified for each country to elaborate practical proposals for improved monitoring of NWFP. In particular, desk studies were carried out to compile draft "country profiles" on NWFP, including information available at FAO headquarters. A standard format for the presentation of information was elaborated showing key information requirements for the evaluation of NWFP.

During a regional workshop for data validation, held in January 2002, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the draft country profiles were discussed with country representatives to validate available information and add missing data.

Kind of information collected

To evaluate the socio-economic importance and ecological impact of NWFP exploitation, key information on the products, resources and their economic value has been collected.

(a) Product information

A standard classification of NWFP does not exist yet. NWFP can be classified in many different ways according to their end use (medicine, drinks, utensils, etc.) or the plant-parts used (roots, leaves, bark, etc.). For further information see Chandrasekehran (1995), Cook (1995), FAO (1992) and Shiva and Mathur (1996) Chandrasekharan (1995) developed a classification of NWFP in accordance with the major international classification systems, such as the Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System, the Standard International Trade Classification Rev. 3 and the Provisional Central Product Classifications.

To simplify the classification, NWFP were categorized according to their end use, as described in Table 1.

Table 1. Main categories of NWFP

Plant products

Animals and animal products






Vegetal foodstuff and beverages provided by fruits, nuts, seeds, roots, mushrooms, etc.

Living animals

Mainly vertebrates such as mammals, birds, reptiles kept/bought as pets


Animal and bee fodder provided by leaves, fruits, etc.

Honey and beeswax

Products provided by bees


Medicinal plants (e.g. leaves, bark, roots) used in traditional medicine or by pharmaceutical companies


Meat provided by vertebrates, mainly mammals

Perfumes and cosmetics

Aromatic plants providing essential (volatile) oils and other products used for cosmetic purposes

Other edible animal products

Mainly edible invertebrates such as insects (e.g. caterpillars) and other "secondary" products of animals (e.g. eggs, nests)

Dyeing and tanning

Plant material (mainly bark and leaves) providing tannins and other plant parts (especially leaves and fruits) used as dyes

Hides and skins

Hides and skins of animals used for various purposes

Utensils, handicrafts and construction materials

Heterogeneous group of products including thatch, bamboo, rattan, wrapping leaves, fibres


Entire animals or parts of animals such as various organs used for medicinal purposes


Entire plants (e.g. orchids) and parts of the plants (e.g. pots made from roots) used for ornamental purposes


Entire animals or parts of animals such as various organs used as dyes


Substances such as gums (water soluble), resins (water insoluble) and latex (milky or clear juice), released from plants by exudation

Other non-edible animal products

For example, bones that are used as tools


For example, insecticides, fungicides



Monitoring of the resources and evaluation of the economic value of all NWFP in a given country is neither feasible nor desirable. Therefore, only NWFP of national relevance for which monitoring and evaluation are needed strongly were identified. Exported or widely used products in national markets should be well identified as opposed to NWFP of minor importance, or limited significance. Selecting relevant NWFP initially should help the country to focus its efforts on improving data collection on major NWFP. A further step would be to include other NWFP.

(b) Resource information

Evaluation and monitoring of the resources providing NWFP are important to estimate the actual and potential socio-economic and ecological value of these products at the national level. The first step in this process is the identification of the plant or animal species. In some cases, this identification can be difficult because the same commercial product can be extracted from more than one species and, vice versa, several different NWFP can be taken from a single species. For example, the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) provides several products, such as edible leaves, seeds, fodder, bark and fuel. On the other hand, bamboo or rattan canes can be obtained from many different species.

Another important element worth knowing is which part of the plant is harvested (e.g. roots, bark, exudates). In fact, the harvesting of different plant parts has a different impact on the sustainability of the species considered.

Knowledge of the habitat (or production system) and the source (management system) of the exploited species are also important factors. Harvesting of NWFP might cause degradation of the habitat if the exploitation is carried out in an unsustainable way (e.g. utilization of fire for bee hunting). On the other hand, habitat degradation (e.g. through shifting cultivation) might also have a negative influence on the availability of NWFP (e.g. forest fires reduce honey harvests).

Furthermore, resource information on whether the species used is cultivated or gathered from wild sources is important. The exploitation of wild species versus cultivated species (generally integrated in a man-made management system) has direct implications on choices at the management level and can have far reaching ecological and socio-economic effects. For example, once most valued NWFP have become popular and commercialized on markets, usually they are transferred into a more intensive cultivation system (see Homa 1994), largely depriving the forest dweller from their socio-economic benefits that could be generated otherwise. In some cases, classifying a species according to a specific habitat or management system can prove to be difficult, since some products may be produced simultaneously by gathering and through cultivation (e.g. bamboo).

(c) Socio-economic information

To evaluate the socio-economic importance of NWFP, quantitative data on resources, product consumption and trade are required. Figures should indicate quantity (tonnes, m, etc.), product status (dried, graded, semi-processed, etc.) and value (US$) for a given period (year).

It is important to know if the product is used mainly for subsistence or commerce. Therefore, it is better to distinguish between utilization at the national level (including subsistence and trade on a local, regional or national market) and the international level.

Besides this quantifiable information, qualitative information is important regarding the cultural and socio-economic context of the NWFP utilization (for example, access to the resources, the main social categories of the harvesters, etc.).

Lessons learned

In the framework of the EC-FAO Partnership Programme, efforts have been undertaken, for the first time, to collect and collate qualitative and quantitative data on the socio-economic importance and ecological impact of the use of NWFP at the national and regional levels. Due to the scarcity and unreliability of available information, most of the presented data must still be regarded as "tentative" and "preliminary", and only as a reflection of the "tip of the iceberg" of the large and heterogeneous group of NWFP.

The following key problems related to the collection and analysis of statistical data on NWFP have been identified during the implementation of the programme:

Insufficient collaboration and networking: Institutions involved in NWFP statistical collection and analysis do not collaborate sufficiently. Therefore, data remain fragmented and sometimes duplicated.

Lack of lead institutions for NWFP statistics: In most countries, various institutions are involved in data collection and analysis. An official national focal point on NWFP statistics does not exist.

Weak capacities: Most institutions involved in data collection have limited human and financial resources.

Poor stakeholder involvement: Statistical data are gathered mainly by national organizations. Industry and local communities are not involved in data collection and analysis, although they may possess relevant information.

Inadequate research: Little research has been carried out to improve the availability of NWFP statistics.

Incomplete data: Statistical data only cover a limited number of NWFP and their aspects (e.g. on trade, self-consumption, exploitation). In particular, information on resources and on products used for subsistence purposes is lacking. Furthermore, existing information is often based on case studies, which cannot be extrapolated at the national level.

Poor quality of data: Available information is often unclear, inconsistent and contradictory, for example regarding the state of the described product (raw material, processed, semi-processed, graded, etc.), production figures (different units used) and export values.

Weak data storage/process facilities: Most of the statistical data on NWFP has yet to be stored and analysed in specific electronic databases.

Inadequate methodologies: Appropriate methodologies to collect and analyse viable key information on NWFP are still under development.

Taking into consideration the limitations of the availability of NWFP statistical data in Asia, this first version of country profiles and regional synthesis is considered to be the starting point of the process during which additional and more complete information on the socio-economic importance and the ecological implications of NWFP in Asia will be added.

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