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(Palmae: Calamoideae) Terry C.H. Sunderland and John Dransfield

1. Introduction

Rattans are climbing palms exploited for their flexible stems that form the basis of a significant market for cane and cane products. The thriving international and domestic trade in rattan and rattan products has led to substantial over-exploitation of the wild rattan resource. This exploitation, coupled with the loss of forest cover through logging and subsequent agricultural activities, is threatening the long-term survival of the rattan industry, particularly in Southeast Asia (Dransfield, 1988). The detrimental impact of the decline of wild rattan resources on local rattan collectors who harvest the majority of the traded cane, is often over-shadowed by the more publicised concerns of the rattan industry itself. In many areas, the sustainable exploitation of the rattan resource is hindered by the lack of a sound taxonomic base in order that meaningful inventories and studies of population dynamics can be carried out. In addition, lack of resource tenure also precludes any attempts at long-term and sustainable harvesting; the fact that rattan is considered an "open-access" resource throughout much of its range hinders any effective attempts at long-term management of rattan in the wild.

2. What are rattans?

The word rattan is derived from the Malay "rotan", the local name for climbing palms. Rattans are spiny palms found in the old world tropics and subtropics and are the source of cane for the well-developed rattan industry, currently worth some US$6.5 billion per annum (ITTO, 1997). Most of the cane entering the world trade originates from Southeast Asia and is collected, in the main, from wild populations, although considerable efforts have recently been focused on the future provision of raw cane from cultivated sources (Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993).

As well as forming the basis of a thriving export market, rattans contribute significantly to the subsistence economies of forest-based communities throughout their range. Many of these people utilise the cane resource as a means of direct cash income, especially during periods when other products are seasonally unavailable. Rattan harvesting is often a secondary activity for many farmers, who rely on the cash sale of rattan canes to invest in developing their agricultural base or during times when immediate cash is needed for household support, such as the payment of school fees or medical expenses.

3. Rattan Taxonomy and Distribution

Rattans are climbing palms belonging to the Palm family (Palmae or Arecaceae). There are around 600 different species of rattan belonging to 13 genera and these are concentrated solely in the old world tropics; there are no true rattans in the new world1. Rattans belong to the Calamoideae, a large sub-family of palms. All of the species within the Calamoideae are characterized by overlapping reflexed scales on the fruit and all of these climbing palms are spiny, a necessary pre-adaptation to the climbing habit (Dransfield, 1992b).

Of the 13 genera of rattan, three are endemic to Africa: Laccosperma (syn. Ancistrophyllum), Eremospatha and Oncocalamus. Although some species within these genera are utilised locally and form the base of a thriving cottage industry, they have not, until recently, attracted much attention from commercial concerns (Dransfield, 1992b; Sunderland, 1999).

The largest rattan genus is Calamus, with ca. 370 species; it is represented in Africa by one, very variable species, C. deërratus. Calamus is predominantly an Asian genus and ranges from the Indian subcontinent and south China southwards and east through the Malaysian region to Fiji, Vanuatu and tropical and sub-tropical parts of eastern Australia. Most of the best commercial species of rattan are members of this genus. The remaining rattan genera, Daemonorops, Ceratolobus, Korthalsia, Plectocomia, Plectocomiopsis, Myrialepis, Calospatha, Pogonotium and Retispatha, are centred in Southeast Asia and have outliers further eastwards and northwards (Uhl and Dransfield, 1987; Dransfield, 1992a).

Table 1. The rattan genera: number of species and their distribution

(Modified from Uhl and Dransfield, 1987)


Number of species


Calamus L.

ca. 370-400

Tropical Africa, India and Sri Lanka, China, south and east to Fiji, Vanuatu and eastern Australia

Calospatha Becc.


Endemic to Peninsular Malaysia

Ceratolobus Bl.


Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, Java

Daemonorops Bl.

ca. 115

India and China to westernmost New Guinea

Eremospatha (Mann & Wendl.) Wendl.


Humid tropical Africa

Korthalsia Bl.

ca. 26

Indo-China and Burma to New Guinea

Laccosperma (Mann & Wendl.) Drude


Humid tropical Africa

Myrialepis Becc.


Indo-China, Thailand, Burma, Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra

Oncocalamus (Wendl.) Wendl.


Humid tropical Africa

Plectocomia Mart.

ca. 16

Himalayas and south China to western Malaysia

Plectocomiopsis Becc.

ca. 5

Laos, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra

Pogonotium J. Dransf.


Two species endemic to Borneo, one species in both Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo

Retispatha J. Dransf.


Endemic to Borneo

Despite the commercial importance of rattan, basic knowledge of the resource is somewhat limited and the rattan flora of Africa and much of Southeast Asia and Malaysia remains poorly known. Taxonomic work of this sort is not purely an academic exercise; it is an essential basis for the development of the rattan resource and under-pins the conservation and sustainable development objectives much advocated for rattans. It is essential that species delimitation be clearly understood; we need to know which species are of commercial importance and how they may be distinguished from other species. This knowledge is essential in order to undertake meaningful inventories of commercially important taxa and to be able to assess the silvicultural potential of each species, based on sound ecological knowledge. Reference to a structured systematic framework also ensures that any experimental work undertaken is replicable.

Table 2. Available rattan floras by region to date



Peninsular Malaysia

Dransfield, 1979


Dransfield, 1984


Dransfield, 1992a


Dransfield, 1998

Sri Lanka

de Zoysa & Vivekanandan, 1994

India (general)

Basu, 1992

India (Western Ghats)

Renuka, 1992

India (south)

Lakshmana, 1993

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Renuka, 1995


Alam, 1990

Papua New Guinea

Johns & Taurereko, 1989a, 1989b (preliminary notes only)

Irian Jaya

Currently under study at Kew (Baker & Dransfield)


Dransfield and Mogea [in prep.]; more field work needed


Currently in prep. (Evans)


Hodel, 1998


Currently in prep. (Sunderland)

4. The Uses of Rattan

The most important product of rattan palms is cane; this is the rattan stem stripped of its leaf sheaths. This stem is solid, strong and uniform, yet is highly flexible. The canes are used either in whole or round form, especially for furniture frames, or split, peeled or cored for matting and basketry.

Other plant parts of some species of rattan are also utilised and contribute to the indigenous survival strategies of many forest-based communities. A summary of these uses is listed in Table 3 below.

However, it is for their cane that rattans are most utilised and rattan canes are used extensively across their range by local communities and play an important role in subsistence strategies for many rural populations (Burkill, 1935; Corner, 1966; Dransfield, 1992d; Sunderland, 1998). The range of indigenous uses of rattan canes is vast; from bridges to baskets; from fish traps to furniture; from crossbow strings to yam ties. Despite these many uses, there is a common misconception that all rattans are useful, and therefore all have potential commercial applications. However, whilst there may indeed be substantial spontaneous use for many species (Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993; Johnson, 1997; Sunderland, 1998) it is estimated that only 20% of the known rattan species are of any commercial value (Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993) with the remaining species not being utilised due to inflexibility and being prone to breakage or possessing other poor mechanical properties, or due to biological rarity.

Table 3. Some traditional uses of rattans, excluding cane

Product / Use


Fruit eaten

Calamus conirostris;; C. longisetus; C. manillensis; C. merrillii; C. ornatus; C. paspalanthus;; C. subinermis; C. viminalis; Calospatha scortechinii; Daemonoropsingens; D. periacantha; D. ruptilis

Palm heart eaten

Calamus deerratus; C. egregius; C. javensis; C. muricatus; C. paspalanthus;; C. siamensis; C. simplicifolius; C. subinermis; C. tenuis; C. viminalis; Daemonorops fissa; D. longispatha; D. margaritae; D. melanochaetes; D. periacantha; D. scapigera; D. schmidtiana; D. sparsiflora; Laccosperma secundiflorum; Plectocompiopsis geminiflora


Fruit used in traditional medicine

Calamus castaneus; C. longispathus; Daemonorops didymophylla

Palm heart in traditional medicine

Calamus exilis; C. javensis; C. ornatus; Daemonorops grandis; Korthalsia rigida

Fruit as source of red resin exuded between scales, used medicinally and as a dye (one source of "dragon's blood")

Daemonorops didymophylla; D. draco; D. maculata; D. micrantha; D. propinqua; D. rubra

Leaves for thatching

Calamus andamanicus; C. castaneus;; C. longisetus; Daemonorops calicarpa; D. elongata; D. grandis; D. ingens; D. manii

Leaflet as cigarette paper

Calamus longispathus; Daemonorops leptopus

Leaves chewed as vermifuge

Laccosperma secundiflorum

Roots used as treatment for syphilis

Eremospatha macrocarpa

Leaf sheath used as toothbrush

Eremospatha wendlandiana; Oncocalamus sp.

Leaf sheath/petiole as grater

Calamus sp (undescribed, from Bali);

Rachis for fishing pole

Daemonorops grandis; Laccosperma secundiflorum

Table 4. The major commercial species of rattan as identified for Asia by Dransfield

and Manokaran (1993) and for Africa, by Tuley (1995) and Sunderland (1999)



Conservation status

Calamus caesius Bl.

Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo, Philippines and Thailand. Also introduced to China and south Pacific for planting


Calamus egregius Burr.

Endemic to Hainan island, China, but introduced to southern China for cultivation


Calamus exilis Griffith

Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra

Not threatened

Calamus javensis Bl.

Widespread in Southeast Asia

Not threatened

Calamus manan Miq.

Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra


Calamus merrillii Becc.



Calamus mindorensis Becc.



Calamus optimus Becc.

Borneo and Sumatra. Cultivated in Kalimantan


Calamus ornatus Bl.

Thailand, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi, to the Philippines


Calamus ovoideus Thwaites ex Trimen

Western Sri Lanka


Calamus palustris Griffith

Burma, southern China, to Malaysia and the Andaman Islands


Calamus pogonacanthus Becc. ex Winkler



Calamus scipionum Loureiro

Burma, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo to Palawan


Calamus simplicifolius Wei

Endemic to Hainan island, China, but introduced to southern China for cultivation


Calamus subinermis (eddl. ex Becc.

Sabah, Sarawak, East Kalimantan and Palawan


Calamus tetradactylus Hance

Southern China. Introduced to Malaysia


Calamus trachycoleus Becc.

South and Central Kalimantan. Introduced into Malaysia for cultivation

Not threatened

Calamus tumidus Furtado

Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra


Calamus wailong Pei & Chen

Southern China


Calamus zollingeri Becc.

Sulawesi and the Moluccas


Daemonorops jenkinsiana (Hance) Becc.

Southern China


Daemonorops robusta Warb.

Indonesia, Sulawesi and the Moluccas


Daemonorops sabut Becc.

Peninsula Malaysia and Borneo


Eremospatha macrocarpa (Mann & Wendl.) Mann & Wendl.

Tropical Africa from Sierra Leone to Angola

Not threatened

Eremospatha haullevilleana de Wild.

Congo Basin to East Africa


Laccosperma robustum (Burr.) J. Dransf.

Cameroon to Congo Basin


Laccosperma secundiflorum (P. Beauv.) Mann & Wendl.

Tropical Africa from Sierra Leone to Angola

Not threatened

5. A Word about Local Classification

The development of extensive indigenous classification systems for rattans often reflects the social significance of rattan, and these taxonomies have developed to reflect rattan as it grows in the forest, as well as how it is used. For example, a widespread species may be referred to by many names, as its range encompasses a number of dialect groups. Often, one species can be given many names reflecting the different uses of the plant or the various stages of development (from juvenile to adult with very distinct morphological differences between the two). Commonly, blanket names for "cane" are given to a wide range of species.

Some species that have no use are often classified according to their "relationship" to those that are utilised. These are often along kinship lines and species may be referred to as "uncle of..." or "small brother of..." reflecting their perceived relationship and similarity to species that are widely utilised. In the past, serious confusion has arisen from the uncritical use of vernacular names and has contributed to the misconception that all species are of commercial potential. Local names should be used in conjunction with classical Linnean taxonomic methods and not on a mutually exclusive basis.

6. The Commercial Rattan Trade

6.1 Introduction

The international trade in rattan dates from the mid-19th century (Corner, 1996) and this trade is now currently worth some US$6.5 billion a year (ITTO, 1997). A conservative estimate of the domestic markets of Southeast Asia by Manokaran (1990) suggested a net worth of US$2.5 billion. This latter market includes the value of goods in urban markets and rural trade, as well as the value of the rural usage of the material and products. Dransfield and Manokaran (1993) estimate that 0.7 billion of the world's population use, or are involved in the trade of rattan and rattan products.

6.2 Southeast Asia

The majority of the international rattan trade is dominated by countries of Southeast Asia. By the early 20th century, Singapore, despite having a very small rattan resource itself, became the clearing-house for nearly the whole of Southeast Asia and the western Pacific. Between 1922 and 1927, up to 27,500 tonnes of cane and cane products were exported mainly to Hong Kong, the United States and France from there. During this same period, exports from Kalimantan and Sulawesi increased dramatically: from 9,400 to 19,300 tonnes and from 10,300 to 21,800 tonnes respectively, with much of this also being re-exported through Singapore (Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993).

By the 1970s, Indonesia had become the supplier of about 90% of the world's cane, with the majority of this going to Singapore for processing and conversion (from which Singapore earned more than US$21 million per annum). Thus, in 1977, Hong Kong imported some US$26 million of rattan and rattan products which, after conversion, was worth over US$68 million in export value. By comparison, Indonesia's share of the trade, mainly of unprocessed canes, was a mere US$15 million (ibid.).

In the last twenty years, the international trade in rattan and rattan products has undergone rapid expansion. The increases in the value of exports from the major producing countries are indeed staggering 250-fold for Indonesia over 17 years; 75-fold in the Philippines over 15 years; 23-fold over 9 years in Thailand and 12-fold over 8 years in Malaysia (Manokaran, 1990). By the late 1980s, the combined value of exports of these four countries alone had risen to an annual figure of almost US$400 million, with Indonesia accounting for 50% of this trade. The net revenues derived from the sale of rattan goods by Taiwan and Hong Kong, where raw and partially finished products were imported and then processed, together totalled around US$200 million per annum by the late 1980s.

During this same period, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia banned the export of rattan, except as finished products. These bans were imposed to stimulate the development of rattan-based industries in each country and ensuring that the value of the raw product was increased, and (theoretically) to protect the wild resource. Recently, however, given the recession that has hit many countries in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has lifted the ban on the export of raw cane and is currently flooding the market with relatively cheap supplies of cane, negatively impacting the cultivation industry of Malaysia in particular (Sunderland and Nkefor, 1999a).

6.3 Africa

The restrictions in the trade of raw cane by some of the larger supply countries outlined above has encouraged some rattan dealers and gross users to investigate non-traditional sources of rattans, predominantly Indo-China, Papua New Guinea and more recently, Africa. Some raw cane has recently been exported from Ghana and Nigeria to Southeast Asia and there is a flourishing export trade of finished rattan products from Nigeria to Korea (Morakinyo, pers. comm.). In addition, trade within and between countries is reported to be growing significantly across West and Central Africa (Falconer, 1994; Morakinyo, 1995; Sunderland, 1999).

Historically, there has been a significant trade in African rattans. Cameroon and Gabon supplied France and its colonies (Hedin, 1929), and Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) supplied a significant proportion of the large United Kingdom market during the inter-war period (Anon, 1934). The export industry was not restricted to raw cane and in 1928 alone over 25,000 FF worth of finished cane furniture was exported from Cameroon to Senegal for the expatriate community there (Hedin, 1929). More recently, an initiative promoted by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Senegal was exploiting wild cane for a large-scale production and export (Douglas, 1974), although this enterprise folded not long after its establishment due to problems securing a regular supply of raw material.

7. Rattan Ecology and Natural History

7.1 Introduction

The large number of rattan species and their wide geographic range is matched by great ecological diversity. The majority of admittedly crude ecological preferences for rattan species have been generally made during taxonomic inventory work, yet these broad ecological summaries are invaluable as a basis for establishing cultivation procedures. A major gap in the knowledge of rattans, even of the commercial species, is an understanding of population dynamics and demography. The knowledge of the population structure, distribution, rate of regeneration, the number of harvestable stems per hectare etc. of each species is essential and forms the basis of an understanding of potential sustainability.

7.2 Forest Type and Light Requirements

Throughout their natural range, rattan species are found in a wide range of forest and soil types. Some species are common components of the forest understorey, whilst some rely on good light penetration for their development; hence several species are found in gap vegetation and respond very well to canopy manipulation, particularly that caused by selective logging. Other species grow in swamps and seasonally inundated forest whilst others are more common on dry ridge tops.

Despite this wide range of ecological conditions, the majority of rattans need adequate light for their development. Cultivation trials on many of the Southeast Asia species, as well as recent germination trials of the African taxa, have indicated that seeds will germinate under a wide range of light conditions. The resultant seedlings will remain for long periods on the forest floor awaiting sufficient light for them to develop, such as a tree fall. This seedling bank is a common feature of the regeneration of most species and is a well-recognised component of forests where rattans occur.

7.3 Life Form

Rattans can be clustering (clump-forming) or solitary; some species, such as Calamus subinermis, can be both. Other species are acaulescent, having no discernible stem at all. Clustering species sometimes possess up to 50 stems of varying ages in each clump and produce suckers that continually replace those stems lost through natural senescence, or through harvesting. Some clumps can be harvested many times on a defined cycle if the light conditions are conducive to the remaining suckers being able to develop and elongate. Ensuring that stem removal through harvesting does not exceed that of stem replacement is the crux of rattan sustainability.

An even more crucial component of sustainability is the monitoring of the exploitation of solitary species. Calamus manan, one of the most commonly exploited rattan species, is single-stemmed; thus the impacts of harvesting of this species are much greater than harvesting from clustering rattans. Sustainability of such species relies on recruitment through sexual means, rather than through vegetative means.

7.4 Flowering

Another ecological feature of palms that is extremely important in terms of management is that rattans display two main modes of flowering: hapaxanthy and pleonanthy. In hapaxanthy, a period of vegetative growth is followed by the simultaneous production of inflorescence units from the axils of the uppermost leaves. Although often described as a terminal inflorescence, which it undoubtedly resembles, morphologically this is not the case. Flowering and fruiting is followed by the death of the stem itself. In single-stemmed palms species, the whole organism dies after the reproductive event. However, in clustering species of rattan the organism continues to regenerate from the base and it is only the individual stem that dies. In pleonanthic species, axillary inflorescences are produced continually and flowering and fruiting does not result in the death of the stem. All the species of Korthalsia, Laccosperma, Plectocomia, Plectocomiopsis and Myrialepis and a few species of Daemonorops are hapaxanthic. All other rattan species are pleonanthic. In terms of silviculture, the mode of flowering will affect the cutting regime and stem selection for harvest, particularly if the cultivated resource is to supply seed for further trials. Furthermore, in many hapaxanthic species, stems tend to be of low quality due to the presence of a soft pith which results in poor bending properties. These stems are also more prone to subsequent insect attack due to increased starch deposition.

7.5 Fruit and Seed

Rattan fruits are often brightly coloured (white, yellow, orange or red) and the sarcotesta is also attractive to birds and mammals. Birds (e.g. hornbills) and primates are the main dispersers of rattan seeds in both Southeast Asia and Africa with primates and elephants also sharing a preference for the ripe fruit. Fruits are often ingested whole, where they pass through the intestinal tract of the agent concerned, or are sucked and spat out, with the seed intact.

In the Asian taxa, the seed is often covered with a sarcotesta (a fleshy seed coat). Incomplete removal of this sarcotesta often results in delayed germination suggesting that it contains some chemical germination inhibitors. However, once this outer layer is fully removed, the germination of commercial species such as Calamus manan and C. caesius, is both rapid and uniform. In contrast, propagation trials on the commercially-important species in Africa have noted a physically-induced dormancy resulting from the presence of a relatively robust seed coat surrounding the endosperm and experiments have shown that, because of the barrier to imbibition, the germination times of some African rattan species can be rather prolonged and it may take between 9-12 months before germination commences. This physical dormancy has provided some difficulties in the cultivation of some species and numerous trials have been undertaken to reduce these germination times (Sunderland and Nkefor, 1999b). Physical seed treatments, such as scarification or chitting, somewhat effective means of reducing the germination times for some of the species, however, soaking the seeds in water for at least 24 hours prior to sowing is probably the most effective means of inducing early germination (ibid.).

7.6 Rattan Relationships

Several species of rattan (Laccosperma, Eremospatha, Korthalsia, Calamus and Daemonorops) have developed morphological adaptations that provide nesting sites for ants. These adaptations include the hollowing out of acanthophylls, interlocking spines that form galleries or recurved proximal leaflets that tightly clasp the stem, or inflated leaf sheath extensions (ocreas). This relationship is extremely complex and has yet to be fully investigated. The "farming" of scale insects by ants is also a common relationship. The scale insects feed on the rattan phloem cells, secreting a sweet honeydew that the ants then feed on and the ants, in turn, protect the rattan from other predators (unfortunately also including rattan harvesters and unwitting botanists).

8. Harvest and Management

8.1 Growth Rates

Rattans are vigorous climbers with relatively high growth rates, and are thus able to be harvested on a short cycle. For the majority of rattans, stem production from the rosette stage (and the seedling bank) is initiated by exposure to adequate light. Stem elongation is also affected by light and, whilst continuous, varies, usually on a seasonal basis. Whilst no data on the growth rates of rattans in the wild exists, long-term studies have been undertaken in cultivation.

Table 5. The growth rates of some commercial rattans in cultivation

(Modifed from Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993)


Growth rates (m / year)

Calamus caesius


Calamus egregius


Calamus hainanensis


Calamus manan


Calamus scipionum


Calamus tetradactylus


Calamus trachycoleus


Daemonorops jenkinsiana


(Figures in brackets are estimates)

8.2 Management and Harvesting

Examples of long-term in situ management of rattans in the wild are rare (Belcher, 1999). However, based on experimental work in Southeast Asia, four production systems of rattan exploitation can be identified:

ˇ Natural regeneration in high forest. This level of management requires the development and implementation of management plans based on sound inventory data and an understanding of the population dynamics of the species concerned. This is particularly appropriate for forest reserves, community forests and other low-level protected areas. These "extractive reserve" models are highly appropriate for rattan: a high value, high yielding product that relies on the forest milieu for its survival.

ˇ Enhanced natural regeneration, through enrichment planting and canopy manipulation, in natural forest. This is especially appropriate where forest has been selectively logged. Management inputs are fairly high, with the clearance of competing undergrowth vegetation and subsequent selective felling to create "artificial" gaps has been practised in India, with some success for the rattan resource. Rattan planting in forest in East Kalimantan has also proved successful. The Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) suggests that enrichment planting is perhaps the most beneficial form of cultivation, both in terms of productivity and the maintenance of ecological integrity (Manokaran, 1985; Supardi, pers. comm.).

ˇ Rattan cultivation as part of shifting cultivation or in formal agroforestry systems. The incorporation of rattan into traditional swidden fallow systems in some areas of Southeast Asia is well known (Connelly, 1985; Siebert and Belsky, 1985; Peluso, 1992; Weinstock, 1983; Kiew, 1991). The general principle is that, on harvesting ephemeral or annual crops, rattan is planted and the land is then left fallow. When the rotation is repeated, usually on a 7-15 year cycle, the farmer first harvests the rattan and then clears the plot again to plant food crops. The income generated from the harvesting of rattan in this way is significant.

ˇ Silvicultural trials have concentrated on the incorporation of rattan into tree-based plantation-type systems. The need for a framework for the rattan to grow on is imperative and the planting of rattan in association with tree cash crops was begun in the 1980s. In particular, planting under rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) and other fast-growing tree crops has proven relatively successful and both silvicultural trials and commercial operations are commonly encountered throughout Southeast Asia.

The harvesting techniques employed in the extraction of rattan have an impact on potential sustainability, particularly for clustering species. The mature stems selected for harvesting are those without lower leaves (i.e. where the leaf sheaths have sloughed off) and usually only the basal 10-20m is harvested; the upper "green" part of the cane is too soft and inflexible for transformation and is often left in the canopy. In many instances, all the stems in a clustering species may be cut in order to obtain access to the mature stems, even those that are not yet mature enough for exploitation and sale. This is particularly an issue where resource tenure is weak.

In general, two simple interventions can be implemented to improve upon rattan harvesting practices:

For clustering species:

ˇ Younger stems, often indiscriminately cut during harvesting should be left to regenerate and provide future sources of cane. Rotational harvesting systems could be increased if this was the case. However, better "stool management" relies on adequate resource tenure.

For all species:

ˇ Harvest intensity and rotation should be based on long-term assessments of growth rates and recruitment.

8.3 Inventory

Rattan inventory has proved to be a somewhat imperfect science. Initial attempts to determine stocking and yield have often been thwarted by a poor taxonomic base from which to begin; it is essential to know which species are being enumerated. Furthermore, lack of sampling the correct parameters also led to much inventory information being simply discarded. When planning a rattan inventory, it is essential to:

ˇ Know the species concerned (collect herbarium specimens when in doubt).

ˇ Measure the correct parameters. These include:

ˇ Establish a protocol for measuring over time to determine growth rates and recruitment; this will determine the potential harvest and hence sustainable extraction rates.

8.4 Land Tenure and Socio-Economic Issues

Rattan management of whatever kind will only be a success if those involved have clear access to the forest, and/or long, and easily renewable resource rights on it (de Fretas, 1992). Currently, rattan collectors rationally maximise their income by harvesting the best and most accessible canes, because they are paid on a per item basis. Larger canes bring the best prices and it is also important to minimise the opportunity costs of collection (i.e. the rattans closer to the community will be harvested first, and probably more intensively).

Traditionally, many communities in Southeast Asia and Africa have benefited from the harvesting of their rattan resource. Many of these groups are dependent on high-value forest products, such as rattan, for access to the cash economy. However, local scarcity caused by uncontrolled harvesting is denying many local people access to this traditional means of income, let alone access to the resource for their own subsistence needs.

8.5 Cultivation

Many examples exist of rattans being cultivated in agroforestry systems in forest lands controlled by local communities (Weinstock, 1983; Connelly, 1985; Siebert and Belsky, 1985; Peluso, 1992) and a small proportion of cane from such systems supplies the formal markets. When it first became clear that rattans were becoming scarce, the associated market implications (scarcity = price increases), during the post-war period in particular, considerable attempts were made to include rattans into commercial-scale cultivation and silvicultural systems. Across Southeast Asia, many plantations and trials were established. However, many of these plantations and cultivated sources of cane are owned and managed by sovereign forestry departments or private companies. Hence, the revenues accrued do not often find their way to local communities as it would if they were harvesting directly from their own agroforestry systems. In many ways, commercial cultivation leads to the removal of a resource from the informal forest economy and into the formal forestry sector; a system renowned for its inequity in terms of ensuring that benefits accrue to local people (Belcher, 1999). However, as discussed above, the attractiveness of these intensive cultivation systems has now been questioned and many are being converted to oil palm plantations.

Table 6. Commercial-scale rattan trials and plantations

(Modified from Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993 )




Trials of Daemonorops jenkinsiana established in early 1980s


1 ha trial plot of Laccosperma secundiflorum under obsolete rubber near Limbe.


1970s - 30,000 ha of enrichment planting of forest on Hainan Island with Calamus tetradactylus and Daemonorops jenkinsiana (as D. margaritae);

Plantations of C. egregius & C. simplicifolius in Guangdong Province;

Cultivation trials of many species have been initiated since 1985.


Trials of C. manan begun in the 1980s in Java;

1988-1993 several thousand hectares of C. caesius planted by forestry department, and to a lesser extent C. trachycoleus, in Java and East Kalimantan.


Trial plot C. latifolius under Gmelina arborea near Lake Victoria


1960 - C. manan planted in Ulu Langat Forest Reserve;

1972 - Cultivation trial of C. manan initiated in Pehang

1975 - FRIM cultivation trials of C. scipionum and C. caesius planted under rubber, 1,100 ha in total;

1980-81, Sandakan area - 4,000 ha plantation in logged forest planted with C. caesius and C. trachycoleus and 2,000 ha of abandoned rubber, Acacia mangium and logged forest planted with C. manan, C. caesius and C. merrillii;

1982-1983 - Two trial plots of C. optimus established in Sarawak;

1990 - large scale planting in Sarawak with C. manan, C. caesius, C. optimus and C. trachycoleus.

The Philippines

Cultivation trials of C. merrillii and C. ornatus var. philippinensis established in Quezon in 1977;

5,000 ha plantation of C. merrillii established in Mindanao;

Early 1990, 500 ha of C. merrillii and C. ornatus var. philippinensis planted under Endospermum peltatum (matchwood tree plantation) in Mindanao

Sri Lanka

C. ovoideus and C. thwaitesii trials established in recent years


213 ha of C. caesius in Narathiwat Province, established by 1978;

C. caesius trials established in 1979 in Ranong, Surathani and Chuporn Provinces;

1980-1987, C. caesius and C. manan trials established - 930 ha in Narathiwat Province

9. Rattans - Potential for Certification

The ecology and nature of rattans make them one of the few products that can be sustainably harvested, given the availability of crucial baseline information, the implementation of an appropriate management regime and adequate land and resource tenure. Rattan exploitation, be it in natural forest or in agroforestry systems, relies on an intricate and multi-layered ecological balance between the rattan resource and the trees that it needs to support it. Rattan cannot be grown outside of this system and therefore its management lends itself to the ecological and management criteria for sustainability set by certifiers (Viana et al., 1996).

Rattan is relatively fast growing and high yielding and can be harvested on relatively short rotations. This allows for relatively short to medium scale returns for those involved in its management, be they local communities or companies. However, limited ecological data on growth rates and estimates of recruitment necessary to set harvesting levels and quotas will continue to hinder field assessments of sustainability, and more basic ecological and applied research is urgently needed before management regimes for species of commercial interest can be drawn up and implemented. In this respect it should be noted that the ecological sustainability of managed high forest and/or agroforestry systems are more easily monitored than intensively managed natural forest systems.

Chain of custody (or "production-to consumption") issues are complex for rattans harvested from the wild (Belcher, 1999), and in many areas collectors are small-scale and widely dispersed, meaning that the trade is dominated by a series of middlemen. In areas where rattan is more intensively managed by communities, such as in east Kalimantan, however, the chain of custody of material should be more straightforward as there are very clear, long-established links between these communities and the markets they supply.

Managed high forest and/or agroforestry systems also offer potentially great social rewards. By re-enforcing traditional tenure and management systems, certification can promote rights over resources and lands not commonly held by communities managing rattan. However, technical issues remain important and there are currently few documented traditional cultivation models for rattan and little research has been undertaken on small-scale cultivation of rattans.

Commercial rattan plantations, albeit under a parent crop, do not usually reflect the diversity and complexity of traditionally managed crops. In addition, the fact that the majority of commercial plantations are government or privately-owned means that such systems offer only limited benefits to communities (de Fretas, 1992). However, when designed and maintained efficiently, commercial plantations can be both productive and highly profitable and should necessarily be excluded from potential certification.

On a final note, and most importantly, the vigorous international and domestic markets for cane and cane products suggests that the additional costs incurred from certification, including better management practices and the equitable distribution of benefits, can be easily absorbed by consumers paying a "green premium" for certified products.


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1 In the new world two other groups of palms have climbing representatives and are often mistaken as being closely-related to true rattans. Chamaedorea (sub-family Ceroxyloxideae; tribe Hyophorbeae) and Desmoncus (sub-family Arecoideae; tribe Cocoeae) climb through the means of reflexed terminal leaflets. Indeed, Desmoncus is often exploited for its cane-like qualities and is used in the same way as the true rattans (Henderson and Chávez, 1993). A climbing palm (Dypsis scandens) (subfamily Arecoideae; tribe Areceae) has also been discovered in Madagascar (Dransfield & Beentje 1995); it too is not related to the true rattans.

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