The non-wood forest products (NWFPs) and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are the most widely used terminologies internationally to describe the range of forest resources other than wood or timber. NWFPs are referred to those defined as goods of biological origin, other than wood derived from forests and allied land uses excluding those ones from domesticated plants. It covers a number of well known plant origin products as well as wild animal origin and insect products in Namibia.
NWFP of plant origin may be categorised into three parts: food products, medicinal plants and leaves for weaving and decorating.
All plant species which provide NWFP are growing naturally in the veld. Trees such as Manketti, grow in the open to dense savannah to dry forest of the Kalahari sands in the north east of Namibia. Although naturally most of these trees grow in the forest, most of them are now found in the cultivated field for millet because when local communities are opening up the land they do not destroy fruit trees at all. Also because they are using fruits, such as marula and Berchemia discolor, seeds happen to be near the human settlement areas. As a result there is a considerable number of these fruit trees. The fact is they are found at both natural forests and fields for millet but not propagated by people intentionally. Either they found them there when they open up the field or they grow after people brought seeds around and by chance they grow on their own.
African people utilize various wild plants. Plant food products are significant components of many rural communities' diet. Erkkila and Siiskonen (1992) reported that the San people are said to know as many as 150 edible plants. They include fruits, leaves, seeds and nuts, tubes and roots among others. Fungi also play a major role during the rainy season. In general, the role of these different categories can be discussed as follows:
Most of the tree species and their roles are reasonably well documented. Le Rouxe (1972), DED (1998), Rodin (1985), Kreike (1995), Palgrave, Fox et al (1982), Giess (1965/66), indicated a variety of fruit tree species that provide edible fruits. Most importantly, the economical contribution of individual fruit types has not been looked at properly, although it is well-known that wild fruits play a significant role in many peoples' daily diets. Few individual tree species were looked at to determine the nutritional values. Fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals (Becker, 1986).
With the exception of a few fruit tree species such as Marula, fruits generally ripen at the end of the rains. In most cases they are ready just after people have finished with agricultural harvest. This gives chances for many farmers to be able to collect their fruits. Fruits may be consumed fresh just when they are collected from the trees in raw form. They are also eaten after they are dried. They may be also processed further to produce secondary products. They can be ground into powder or paste which is then cooked and consumed as the main daily meal (see omwandi and eembe below). Dried fruits may be fermented to produce strong liquor known as "Ombike or Katshipembe" (see a number of species below). Fresh fruits may be squeezed and produce different categories of wine or beer (see Marula).
A number of the forests plant species leaves are edible and can be consumed fresh or cooked. These local or natural vegetables are consumed with staple grain dishes. Staple foods, like millet porridge or maize, are eaten with meat, milk or vegetables. The first two are not always available due to the monetary cost involved. It is estimated that about 70% of an average family's main meal is consumed with these uncultivated vegetables. There are some plants which are very much utilised by the local communities.
They are also used in side dishes and sauces. In many cases, they contribute significantly to the nutritional quality of diets, adding calories, oil, protein and minerals (FAO 1989). This is particularly true in northern Namibia where marula oil for example, is mainly reserved for highly respected guests. Some nuts are used to produce oil for ointment, e.g. Oshipeke Xmelina africana. It has been noticed that a considerable number of African ladies do use such oil for their hair. The oil is found to be effective as modern factory - made oils. They do not cause any breakage of hair, as a result, hair treated with such oil grows longer like those of "Caucasians". The same oils are also mixed with red powder made from the heart wood of Pterocarpus angolensis used in traditional dresses or body ointment. Other seeds used to produce the oil for the same purpose, are the seeds from wild melons (Eenhanga).
A big variety of plants (climbers) in forests have edible tubers and roots; some of the roots, such as omambibo, are used as water containers. In the absence of water, people do eat these roots and may survive for a number of hours, if not days, before they reach a place for drinking water. Many roots and tubers provide energy, carbohydrates and minerals. There are climber plants used as a source of drinking water. During prolonged droughts or in the areas of low and erratic rainfall, it can be difficult to obtain enough drinking water to sustain life, especially when the weather is hot. In such circumstances, the water content of plants can play a most important role (Fox and Norwood Young, 1982). This is particularly true among the Bushman communities.
The Nara plant (Acanthosicyos horridus) is a cucurbit plant endemic to the Namib desert. It is an important source of food and water for the San community along the rivers on the coastal side of Namibia. It may not be of economic value at National or International level.
There are other melons which produce oils that are used for both cosmetics and are edible. They can be procured in large volumes, processed with both the Mini 50 screw press and the hydraulic cage and plate press developed by Trial Marula Oil Production Project.
There are few tree species that produce edible gums in Namibia. For example Combretum imberbe secretes gum during September, is eaten as a delicacy, especially in Ohangwena/Oshana region where they are found in a large numbers in the seasonal water courses locally known as oshanas. Acacia senegal and Terminalia cericea are among a few well known tree species that produce edible gums. In Namibia, gums are not collected in large quantities; usually they are eaten by livestock headers to sustain them while they are in the veld. There is a potential to collect gums in large quantity for export.
A variety of edible fungi are also found in Namibia. They occur during the rainy season. Termite hill-mushrooms (Species of Termitomyces) are the most well-known in Namibia. They occur in large quantities between Oshivelo and Tsumeb in Oshikoto region, to the east of Etoshapan. Farm workers do collect them and bring them to the roadside for sale. Although the price is not a fixed one, it varies between N$5 - 10 per kg. Another mushroom species found in Namibia is Kalahari truffle. Both of these species are delicious and are served in formal restaurants. In rural areas, people collect these mushrooms which replace meat in many meals.
Medicinal plants are used greatly by rural people. Chikamai (1998) reported that up to 80% of people in Africa are believed to consult traditional medical practitioners for health care. This is true in rural areas where modern medicinal facilities are not available.
In Namibian rural areas, people have to travel from 30 to more than 100 km to obtain modern doctors' services. In one study, Leger (1998) identified more than 80 medicinal plant species used to treat about 30 medical ailments in the Tsumkwe District (formerly Bushman land) alone of Namibia's Otjozondjupa region. Preparation methods involve pounding and grating as pre-processing followed either by soaking or boiling to make a concoction or decoction respectively. Even though some information is available on traditional medicinal practices, it is believed that a lot more knowledge is still confined to the practitioners themselves.
Under the biodiversity programme at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, there is a subcommittee on indigenous knowledge of traditional practitioners and plant species used to treat different ailments. Already a number of different plant species have been given by the traditional healers. Usually traditional healers always view other people enquiring about plant species, from which they make medicine for a specific illness, with suspicion. Whether or not they have given the information to the best of their knowledge, is still to be established. It is suspected that as time goes by trust will be built between conventional scientists and the traditional healers so that traditional healers may be able to release necessary information.
With the exception of the Devil's Claw which is discussed below, other medicinal plant species are still to be tested scientifically to determine their chemical contents and their uses. Most medicinal plant species play an economic role in different local communities. People pay a significant price when visiting traditional healers and it can range from a few tens to some thousands of Namibian dollars per visit. Some are only expected to pay in livestock units. Medicinal plants play an economic role for the practitioners. It also helps patients to save their money on transport to reach conventional doctors.
There are two species of Devils' Claw growing in Namibia. In addition to Harpagophytum procumbens, the "real" Devils' Claw, there is also Harpagophytum zeyheri. The former grows exclusively in the regions bordering the Kalahari, whereas the other one grows in the northern part of the country (Schmidt et all 1998). Although it is difficult to distinguish between the two species, it has been established that the real devils' Claw contains good quality chemicals required for the use as a medicinal plant. For this reason in this paper more emphasis is put on the real Devils Claw.
Description: This is a herbaceous, perennial plant of the family of the Pedaliaceae. As it has been said above, the plant is mainly limited to the region bordering the Kalahari, and the main of its repartition area is within Namibia.
Uses: From the pharmacological/therapeutical examinations, it has been established that the plant is effective to treat degenerative rheumatic disorders. Pharmacologically, the secondary roots are used exclusively. According to Schmidt et al 1998 (as they refer to different authors such as Carle 1988; Rausa et al 1984; Chrubasik & Ziegler 1996)these roots contain iriod glycosides in relatively high concentration, with harpagosides as the dominating leading compound.
Economic roles: In the recent past (5-years ago) traders used to collect 100 - 200 tonnes per year which brought up to five hundred thousands of Namibian dollars (N$500 000). In 1998, dried root materials of Devils' Claw were exported from Namibia, which brought an amount of eight to eleven million Namibian dollars (N$ 8 - 11 mil). Today in Omaheke Region, community members who harvest and sell the dried products to exporters, (community members) receive N$12.00 per kilogram. Sometimes traders are not certain with the market. When the market reaches a good price, they are prepared to harvest as much as possible in order to sell. In the future, a stable market can influence the sustainable harvesting of the product. The plant plays an important role both in local and international markets. Sustainable management will ensure income for poor people living in the areas where the plant grows and they have no other means of getting cash.
From the ecological point of view, the plant is an extremely endangered species. It has been reported that as early as 1975 the then government tried to put some measures in place to protect this species in the country. Caused by excessive collections, numbers fell from 1000-2000 plants per ha under favourable circumstances in some areas in 1970s to less than 10 plants per ha in 1986 in other areas. Proper control measures can improve the situation.
Currently, an NGO called CRIAA is undertaking trials at a farm known as Vergenoeg which have indicated that with proper methods of collection and management the plant can easily recover and multiply both vegetatively and from the seeds. At this place, harvesters are given quotas for a year. In 1998 each harvester was given a quota of 1.9 tonnes for a season and this year 1999, each person is given 3.45 tonnes. This is an indication that, with care plants can be harvested sustainably. The plant can also be grown under cultivation which has been done to some extent in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. While different interested parties are busy with research on the species, an interim action is required to safeguard the plant. This is particularly true in the communal land where traders harvest the quantity they can and collect it in an obviously unsustainable manner. The way forward to save the plant is to clearly define roles of different stake holders and permit systems should be properly implemented.