Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


John Dransfield

1. Introduction

Rattans are old world climbing palms belonging to subfamily Calamoideae that also includes tree palms such as Raphia (Raffia) and Metroxylon (Sago palm) and shrub palms such as Salacca (Salak) (Uhl & Dransfield, 1987). There are 13 different genera of rattans that include in all some 600 species. Some of these species in fact do not climb, being shrubby palms of the forest undergrowth; nevertheless reproductive features link them with other species that are climbers and they are hence included in the rattan genera. The climbing habit in palms is not restricted to Calamoideae, but has also evolved in three other evolutionary lines - Tribes Cocoeae (Desmoncus with c. 7-10 species in the New World tropics, all climbers) and Areceae (one species of the large genus Dypsis in Madagascar) in subfamily Arecoideae, and Tribe Hyophorbeae (one species of the large genus Chamaedorea in Central America) in Subfamily Ceroxyloideae. Of these only Desmoncus spp furnish stems of sufficiently good quality to be used as rattan substitutes. Rattan genera, their size and distribution have been discussed in detail elsewhere (Uhl & Dransfield, 1987, Dransfield & Manokaran, 1993) where a great deal of basic introductory information is also available.

In the absence of rattans, local communities throughout the tropics use a variety of plant resources for purposes similar to those for which rattan is used - basketry, matting, binding, etc., but few products other than true rattan have the strength and flexibility to be utilised for furniture production. Where a variety of plant resources including rattan are available, rattan is almost always regarded as the preferred resource for basketry and binding. In terms of furniture production, very few resources can be substituted for rattan - where resources other than rattan are used, then this normally involves significant changes to the design and construction of the furniture. Bamboo, Raphia (petioles) and buri (Corypha utan - petioles) are used locally for some sorts of furniture but in the international market they do not command prices comparable to those of rattan furniture. While rattan substitutes may be locally significant and socially important, there is no doubt that rattan is pre-eminent.

Rattans are predominantly plants of primary rain and monsoon forest (Dransfield & Manokaran, 1993). Some species may be adapted to growing in secondary habitats, but these are the exception. Furthermore, rattan entering world trade is, overwhelmingly, collected in the wild, with only a very small proportion coming from cultivated sources. Not all rattans are equally useful. Stem diameter varies enormously from 2-3 mm diameter among the smallest species to 10 cm in exceptionally large species. Species of different diameters are used for different purposes. Furthermore, within a size class, not all species are of equal quality, some being brittle, others of poor external appearance. Ranging from sea level to over 3000 m elevation, from equatorial rain forests to monsoon savannahs and the foothills of the Himalayas, there is a huge range of ecological adaptation. In discussing rattan in broad terms, it is essential that we know which species we are dealing with. For this an accurate taxonomic framework is crucial.

2. History of Rattan Research

The history of research into rattans and their utilisation in the southeast Asian region over the last thirty years is convoluted. Research in the region has not always delivered products of value to the rattan industry; indeed, some research may never have been intended to do so.

There is a long history of rattan exploitation in Asia and Malaysia. Rattans were pulled from the forest and traded down rivers to coastal entrepreneurs who marketed them on to traders in Singapore and Hong Kong who in turn exported raw cane to Europe and North America for manufacture into furniture. Almost all this rattan was from wild stocks. Independently in several places in the region, local villagers planted rattan to provide a local supply of high quality cane for their domestic needs of basketry and matting. A good example is the First Division of Sarawak, where up to twelve different species of rattan have been cultivated, supplying a variety of cane colours and texture that are incorporated into the elegant baskets of the Bidayuh people (Dransfield, 1992). In one area of Central Kalimantan rattan was planted since the latter part of the nineteenth century on a rather extensive scale and was harvested as a cash crop (Dransfield & Manokaran, 1993). Periodically in the twentieth century there were perceived shortages of rattan that stimulated forest departments to pay some attention to the wild stocks of rattan. By the late 1950s forest departments in Malaysia had established small trials in various places, but these without exception were soon forgotten as the stocks of wild rattan recovered and the need for planting seemed to disappear. Then in the early 1970s it became apparent that in parts of the region shortages were genuine and were beginning to affect the market of rattan. The Forest Research Centre at Gunung Batu in Bogor, Indonesia, mounted an expedition in 1973, which I joined, to investigate the long-standing cultivation of rattan (Calamus caesius and C. trachycoleus) in Barito Selatan. Although this excursion was fraught with problems and little time was spent in the rattan gardens, it was nevertheless extremely important for me, as I learned at first hand that cultivation of small diameter rattan could be successful, at least on a smallholding basis, and it provided me with basic information on the silviculture of such species (Dransfield, 1977a). Shortly after this, the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) realised the importance of an integrated approach to rattan shortages in Peninsular Malaysia and started a rattan research programme with assistance from the United Kingdom government via the Colombo Plan. I joined this project as a rattan taxonomist and ecologist, with the remit to survey the wild rattans of Peninsular Malaysia, to provide a manual for their identification, to select good quality species of silvicultural potential and to establish small scale trials in various forest types, both natural and man-made. We have to remember that the rattan flora of Peninsular Malaysia consists of over 100 species, so a guide to the identification of the wild resource was seen as an essential basis for rattan research (Dransfield, 1979). As a plant taxonomist I still feel of course that this is the case with any floristic region.

During the period that we conducted the research in Peninsular Malaysia two important events occurred that would have significant effects on the development of rattan research. Both of them involved visits to the Forest Research Institute to my counterpart, Dr. Manokaran, and myself to discuss rattans. The first was a visit by a representative from the International Development Research Center (IDRC) in Canada to FRIM to discuss the potential role of rattan in the alleviation of rural poverty in Southeast Asia. This visit, by Giles Lessard, was the start of a major involvement by IDRC in rattan in the region and led, ultimately, to the founding of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR). The other event was the visit of a group of Malaysian Chinese economists from a small company called Markiras Corporation to FRIM to discuss the potential of rattan as a cash crop to alleviate the poverty of a group of Murut tribes-people in Sabah, people who had been moved from their traditional homelands on the border with Indonesia to an administratively easier-to-control area nearer to the local administrative centre. These two visits, with such similar aims, resulted in two major strands of research - the former became the politicised research programme involving many nations in the region, the latter became the tightly-managed economically-driven research that resulted in the establishment of the first commercial-sized rattan plantations in the region and the reorganisation of the rattan trade in Sabah.

As I have mentioned above, Murut people had been moved away from a sensitive border area into an area in the centre of Sabah, an area of poor soils, where the people had, not surprisingly, not prospered. The Sabah government, concerned with the need to improve the lot of these villagers, hired Markiras Corporation to come up with suggestions for poverty alleviation and Markiras suggested rattan cultivation. With expertise from FRIM and Kew, the Sabah Forest Development Authority (SAFODA) and the Sabah Forest Department then started a rattan project, once again cataloguing the known rattan diversity (resulting in the publication of a rattan manual (Dransfield, 1984) and, incidentally, the identification and selection of one of the most promising of the large diameter canes - Calamus subinermis) and the selection of species suitable for cultivation). A major event was the importation by SAFODA of seeds of Calamus trachycoleus from Indonesia. At the time this was not strictly banned - now such a seed export would be prohibited. Calamus trachycoleus, the elite small diameter species for alluvial soils prone to flooding, freed SAFODA to develop a rattan plantation on an area of land with reasonably good soils not used for any major perennial agricultural activity.

This aggressive, rapidly growing species (the stems of which will grow as fast as 7 m a year) produces a good quality cane and rapidly establishes itself under the right conditions. Although the initial impetus for this research was the need to find a source of income for rural poor people, the project developed as a commercial forestry rather than a social forestry project. Now, over 20 years on, the first estate has been ploughed up and planted with oil palm, the rattan having succumbed to poor management, inefficient harvesting techniques and the ravages of the wild fires that affected Sabah in the 1980s and 1990s. Undoubtedly, the estate was also affected by the considerable effects of the fluctuations in rattan prices in Indonesia, the country that dominates world supply of rattan. Perhaps the whole scale of the enterprise was too large - had the same effort been put into agricultural extension for rattan planting to the very people for whom the project was originally conceived - smallholders - the result may have been more lasting.

However, in the early days of the SAFODA estates, it seemed that rattan was the answer for everyone, for growing in forest in marginal areas. New estates, both government and private, sprang up all over Malaysia and, increasingly, elsewhere in the region. Eventually the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) together with a Malaysian private company, established an estate in Sarawak in the mid 1980s. This, the most tightly managed estate in the region, is still extant, but its days are probably numbered. If any commercial estate was to have been economically successful it was this one - but there are many problems, such as how to harvest rattan successfully and not leave significant amounts of cane in the forest canopy. This problem has yet to be solved. The most serious problem, however, is the recent economic instability of the whole rattan growing region, that has resulted in a major fall in rattan prices to the extent that rattan in the Keresa Estate is now no longer economically viable.

With so much interest in rattans in the 1980s, rattan research started to burgeon in the region, rattan workshops and international rattan seminars were held. The research seemed to explode in all directions, from taxonomy, ecology, tissue culture, anatomy to mechanical properties. A major rattan bibliography was published (Kong-Ong & Manokaran, 1986) and a newsletter begun by the Rattan Information Centre in Kepong, with funding from the IDRC.

In what follows I have tried to provide broad summaries of the more important results of this research.

3. State of Taxonomic Knowledge of Rattan

Every time I speak on rattan, I emphasise the importance of taxonomy to the development of rattan. With 600 different species to choose from, it is essential that we know what we are dealing with. A good taxonomy provides the means for reliable transfer of information and for predicting the properties of rattan.

Lest it be thought that taxonomic surveys are of mere academic interest, it is worth remembering that until 1979, Calamus subinermis was known as a single herbarium collection in the Kew Herbarium, collected by Hugh Low in the early 1900s. Yet, once this species was taxonomically properly circumscribed and understood, it has proven to be one of the most important large-diameter canes with excellent silvicultural potential. Another example is provided by Calamus poilanei. It was known for some time that the most important high quality large diameter cane in Laos was a species called locally Wai toon. So little was known about this species, the mainstay of the cane furniture industry in Laos, and the target of many Vietnamese rattan collectors when they came over the border from Vietnam, that when herbarium material became available, it was not at first identifiable and we wondered whether it might be a new species. Eventually it was matched up with Calamus poilanei, also known from Vietnam.

Most taxonomic studies have been country based. This is not surprising as with 600 species to deal with the taxonomists have to devise achievable short-term goals, usually provided by funding agencies that specify particular countries or parts of countries. Such an approach allows the building up of an intimate knowledge of local variation and ecology of the rattan species but in concentrating on a defined political area, there is a tendency for unidentified species to be described as new local endemics when they may well be species described and well known in neighbouring areas. Problems occur, for example in Indochina, where species distributions transgress political boundaries, particularly where diverse early European influence occurred. This is an area of complex inter-digitation of vegetation types dependent on different climatic influences and superimposed on this are the political boundaries of Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Cambodia. Ex colonial powers Britain and France are involved along with two countries that have remained independent throughout (Thailand and China). At the end of last century and the early part of this century, palms from the entire region were described mostly by the great Italian botanist Beccari, who had material from throughout the region at his disposal. Not only was he able to resolve political over-description, but also tended not to describe the same thing twice. After his death, no one continued this overall approach and Burmese, Bangladeshi and Indian plants tended to be described by British botanists, whereas those of Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR were described by French botanists. The account of the rattans in the Flora of China (Pei & Chen, 1991) illustrates the problem further.

There has been a tendency for the description of new taxa from China without sufficient comparison with material from over the borders in neighbouring Asian countries to see if the species have not already been described. This has been coupled with what I regard as a rather narrow species concept, perhaps influenced also by chauvinism, so there has been a proliferation of new names. Resolving some of the taxonomic and nomenclatural problems related to this has been difficult, given language barriers and the difficulty of exchanging material. In particular there are several rattans where new Chinese varieties of extra-Chinese taxa have been described. Calamus giganteus Becc.(Malayan) is now regarded as a synonym of C. manan Miq. (Dransfield, 1977b) that is not known further north than the Isthmus of Kra in Thailand. What then is Calamus giganteus var. robustus Pei & Chen, recently described (Pei & Chen, 1991) Tom Evans, taking a regional approach, has been able to resolve this and several other problems of over-description, in his joint project on the rattans of Laos. So little was known of Lao rattans at the beginning of the Darwin Initiative funded rattan project that he had perforce to look at the rattans of the neighbouring countries. Painstaking work in regional and European herbaria has allowed him to resolve almost all the major taxonomic problems of Indochinese rattans.

Another example of a regional approach is provided by Terry Sunderland's African project. The rattans of Africa consist of four genera, one of which, Calamus, is represented by a single variable species, while the other three genera are endemic to Africa and represent a separate evolutionary line within the Calamoideae. Rattan taxonomies developed in anglophone West Africa seemed different from those in Francophone West Africa and differed further from those in Central Africa. Could we be certain that the rattan referred to as Laccosperma secundiflorum in Ghana was the same as the rattan with the same name in Cameroon? The only way to solve this was to take a regional approach - and this is exactly what Terry Sunderland did in his study of African rattan taxonomy. In fact, what he found was that three large rattans with different ecology and different cane quality had at some time all been referred to as Laccosperma secundiflorum. Sorting out this basic taxonomy is essential if research results are to be successfully applied.

The state of rattan taxonomic knowledge is summarized in Table 1.

That there are major gaps in our knowledge is obvious from the table. Priorities for future survey work are Myanmar, Sulawesi, Maluku and Papouasia. For Sumatra and Thailand, accounts could easily be prepared based on available herbarium material.

Underlying the global taxonomic effort on rattans is a nomenclatural database held at Kew compiled in the ALICE database program (Dransfield, 1999).

Table 1. State of rattan taxonomic knowledge


Genera/approx. no. of species

Representation in herbaria

State of taxonomic knowledge

Identification Aids





Manual (in press) CD-ROM (in preparation)

India - Subcontinent





India - Andamans & Nicobars



Good - There is a possibility of further new records


Sri Lanka



Very good



2/7 (likely to be several more)


Poor - There are likely to be many more taxa than the 7 recorded




Very poor

Very poor

No recent account


3/45 (but probably fewer)


Good, but there will be many name changes as the taxonomies of the different parts of Indochina and China are integrated



3/21 (probably more)


Quite good, but there will be name changes and new records as the taxonomies of the different parts of Indochina and China are integrated

Field guide and interactive CD-ROM




Very good

Field guide and interactive CD-ROM





Field guide and interactive CD-ROM




Very good

Popular palm book (but several major flaws and missing species)

Malay Peninsula


Very good

Very good


Borneo (whole)




Interactive CD-ROM in preparation

Brunei Darussalam


Very good

Very good

Manual, interactive CD-ROM



Very good

Very good










Quite good

None available




Quite good

None available

Java and Bali


Very good

Very good

Flora (but several major flaws and missing species)







3/33 (but likely to be more)



None available





None available

New Guinea

3/55 (but likely to be more)


Poor, but currently under intensive study

Field guide and full monograph in preparation

Western Pacific




Palm field guide



Very good

Very good

Popular local floras

4. Phylogeny

Studies on the phylogeny of rattans and other members of the Calamoideae using molecular and morphological datasets have been carried out at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew by Bill Baker and J. Dransfield and produced results of particular significance in understanding the evolution of rattans (Baker et al., 2000a, 2000b). The results seem to indicate that the large genus Calamus is probably unnatural and includes elements of several evolutionary lines. This diversity could either be expressed in the taxonomy by including all members of Calaminae in a single genus, Calamus, with over 500 species, or the further division of Calamus into several further genera. Currently we do not feel that we have sufficient data to produce a stable taxonomy but whichever approach is eventually taken, there will be name changes that cause problems for the users of rattan taxonomies. Another interesting result of the study has been to suggest that the climbing habit - the rattan habit - has evolved at least three different times.

5. Anatomy

Cane anatomy was exhaustively studied by Weiner and Liese (e.g., 1989) who were able to show significant differences between genera, groups of species within genera, and even in some cases, differences between closely related species. These studies also showed the anatomical basis for differing qualities of cane. Work on the anatomical basis for cane maturation is not yet complete. Going beyond the characterisation of anatomical detail, Jack Fisher and Barry Tomlinson have recently investigated the vasculature of rattans from a functional perspective. As also shown in the molecular phylogeny work, rattans display diversity of construction - in fact there are at least two different vascular architectures, again suggesting that the rattan habit has evolved more than once (Tomlinson, pers. comm.). Incidental to this, Fisher and Tomlinson have discovered the longest recorded xylem vessels in any vascular plant - in a species of Calamus, with vessel length over 7 m, an astonishing record (Tomlinson, pers. comm.). Work is currently underway at Harvard University and in the field in Malaysia, by Alex Cobb to investigate the physiology and natural history of water movement in rattan stems.

6. Pollination

Pollination studies were pioneered by Lee Ying Fah in Sabah (Lee et al., 1995) who established that Calamus subinermis was primarily pollinated by nocturnal microlepidoptera. Anders Bøgh (1996a), working in southern Thailand, failed to find microlepidoptera and concluded that pollination in the four species of Calamus he studied was primarily by diurnal hymenoptera. Both studies have indicated that there is almost certainly a diversity of pollination syndromes in the rattans and that individual genera, and perhaps even individual species, may be pollinated by different organisms in parts of their geographical range.

7. Demography

Demographic studies of wild rattan populations are essential to the development of models for sustainable use. Far too few data are available on this vital subject. Examples of recent demographic work are as follows. Anders Bøgh (1996b) studied the demography of four different sympatric species of rattan in southern Thailand. His results show surprisingly low growth rates and recruitment in natural forest, rates that provide a very pessimistic outlook for the sustainable harvesting of rattan from natural forest. Nur Supardi studied palms as part of the large project sponsored by the Malaysian Forest Department and the Overseas Development Administration (ODA) in London conducted at Pasoh forest reserve into the effects of logging on biodiversity. Supardi showed that rattans represent a major component of palm diversity and within rattan species most individuals are seedlings. Supardi's study also showed that even after 40 years the palm flora has not recovered to what it was likely to have been before the logging took place and that overall there is a significant loss in rattan diversity. Perhaps surprisingly, there was little increase in the species, which appear to be adapted to seral habitats in the Malaysian lowland forest (Supardi et al., 1999).

8. Genetic Diversity

The intraspecific variability of rattans remains a poorly known area of research, much in need of further study. Provenance and progeny trials have been carried out in Sabah on Calamus subinermis, C. manan and some other species (Lee, 1999). As part of the EU-funded rattan project, Bon and associates (1997) investigated genetic variability in Calamus subinermis. She demonstrated considerable variability in wild populations of this species in Sabah and also showed that the variability had some correlation with geographical distribution, with populations occurring near to each other being more closely related genetically than those occurring further afield.

9. Seed Physiology

Several attempts have been made to develop methods for long-term storage of rattan seed. Pritchard and Davies (1999) in screening a range of rattan and other calamoid palm seed, confirmed that the seed is recalcitrant but also demonstrated the possibility of short term hydrated storage of rattan seed for periods of up to 6 months.

All these and other studies not mentioned have contributed significantly to our understanding of the natural history of rattans and provide a wealth of data that can be applied in the management of wild rattan stands and in the development of rattan cultivation.

10. State of Knowledge of Cultivation

Although trial plots of rattans have been established by forestry departments from time to time since the 1920s, research on rattan cultivation did not begin in earnest until the mid 1970s when local shortages of cane and growing awareness of the social significance of rattan alerted forest departments in Southeast Asia to the need for action to safeguard the future of the resource. Since then a wide range of studies have been conducted on various aspects of the growing of rattan. Studies have covered growth of rattan in primary forest, in logged forest, in secondary habitats, and intercropping with plantation crops. Both large and small-scale cultivation have been investigated. The heyday of rattan research was the decade of the 1980s when the local investment climate and general optimism concerning the future of rattan led to the establishment of several large estates, estates established before rattan cultivation trials had matured and could provide recommendations. Nevertheless, these large scale plantations themselves provided a huge amount of valuable data. The results, both final and interim, of numerous trials were summarised in the Guide to the Cultivation of Rattan (Wan Razali et al., 1992) that I worked on under the sponsorship of FAO between 1988 and 1989. This publication aimed to draw together the great wealth of data that had accumulated from trials and to make concrete recommendations for the cultivation of rattan. The studies on which this book was based were largely carried out in the perhumid areas of Southeast Asia rather than in monsoon areas, so there are limitations to their applicability. Shortly after the publication of this book, a new project was started, based in Sabah and funded by the European Union (EU), aimed at increasing productivity of rattan in plantation by improving the genetic resource of rattan available for planting and by improving plantation practices. Seriously blighted by increased protectionism governing the movement of rattan seed within and outside the region, the study nevertheless was able to carry out provenance trials within Malaysia, investigating genetic variability, investigating seed physiology for improved seed storage, and carrying out carefully based cultivation trials. As adjuncts there were also studies of pollination, and biodiversity of rattan in Papuasia.

Now in year 2000 we have a firm if incomplete base of knowledge for the cultivation of about 10 species of rattan, both within the perhumid area of Southeast Asia and further to the north in monsoon areas, with detailed knowledge of the cultivation of three species - Calamus manan, C. trachycoleus and C. caesius - sufficient for the establishment of plantations under various systems. There are of course many aspects of rattan growth that require further study, but nevertheless a great deal is now known. We also know that under optimal conditions in plantations rattan can grow at astonishingly fast rates, rates that provide forecasts of excellent productivity. We should therefore ask, given the wealth of research on rattan and the breadth of the research results, why no new plantations have been established in the last decade and why the remaining large scale commercial plantation in Sarawak is in the final throes of being converted into an oil palm plantation?

Major problems that have been faced by all estates are maintenance of the optimal light regime within plantations to give maximum growth rates, control of pests and diseases and problems of harvesting. This last is a particularly serious problem and can have disastrous results on the final productivity of the plantations - if significant amounts of cane are not harvestable because they cannot be pulled and if pulling damages remaining canes and support canopy, then the overall production is reduced. However, even more important has been the effects of major economic crises and political change within the region. Indonesia, as supplier of 85-90 % of all rattan entering world trade plays a proportional role in affecting rattan prices. When the `rupiah' lost much of its value, cheap rattan flooded the international market, undermining the investment climate for rattan cultivation elsewhere. Furthermore, controls over access to the resource appear to have weakened, further adding to the flood of cheap rattan on the market. Another factor has been the strength in value of palm oil and refinement of cultivation practices that have resulted in oil palm cultivation being feasible and more attractive than rattans on the very marginal lands that might have been suitable for large-scale rattan cultivation. All this has created an environment inimical to long-term investment in rattan plantation. Yet when we look at growth rates, estimates of returns, etc., all looks excellent for both small and large diameter canes in large-scale cultivation. One has only to look at the huge stands of Calamus manan growing excellently in Inhutani plantations of rattan in Sukabumi Selatan and elsewhere in West Java to realise how spectacular growth can be. The problem is, of course, that the economics of the rattan trade mean that at present such excellent "green" large diameter rattan just cannot compete with wild-harvested canes from other areas.

Figure 1: Calamus pilosellus in natural forests of Kalimantan (van Valkenburg)

Yet we know that cultivation is possible - the rattan gardens of Central Kalimantan provide sufficient proof, as do the trials conducted at Kepong over the 1970s and 1980s. If the rattan resource is to be safeguarded for the future of the industry then an important part of its future must, therefore, surely be in cultivation on a small scale, by smallholders, rather than in large estates. Sustainable management of the wild resource presents great challenges. All studies of wild rattan populations so far suggest much lower growth rates than those achieved for the same species in cultivation - rattan harvesting on a sustainable basis form natural forest would require great restraint, long gaps between harvests and will be to all intents and purposes very difficult to achieve.

11. Conservation of the Resource

The threats to rattan come from several sources: (1) Decreasing natural forest cover leading to loss of habitat (although rattans are frequently regarded as weedy, few of them seem capable of rapid colonisation of secondary habitats - for the most part they are plants of primary forest habitats). (2) Selective exploitation of stems for the furniture industry. (3) More encompassing exploitation for handicrafts. (4) Exploitation for palm hearts (one of the most damaging of all threats, but currently largely restricted to Laos). (5) Biotic factors such as the increase of wild pig populations (due to clearing of land for agriculture, and loss of predators) in certain parts of Peninsular Malaysia that result in churning of forest soils and removal of seedlings (Supardi et al., 1998).

Of the approximately 600 species of rattan, 117 are recorded as being threatened to some degree (Walter & Gillet, 1998); of these, 21 are Endangered, 38 are regarded as Vulnerable, 28 as being Rare and 30 as Indeterminate (IUCN Red List Categories). While this listing may give some indication of the global threats to rattan species, very few of the listed species known in any detail. The assigning of species names to these categories is based on crude estimates of distribution and threat rather than on the sort of detailed studies that allow us to say that, for example, the Giant Panda is an endangered species. At one level we know a little about the precise distribution and conservation status of a very few species such as Ceratolobus glaucescens - species that are restricted geographically and edaphically and because remaining forest is so restricted we can actually estimate the degree of threat. At the other end of the scale there are highly exploited species such as Calamus poilanei that are widespread in their natural range, but over-exploitation throughout their range means that we cannot use factors such as remaining forest cover and distribution of soils to estimate the remaining population and the degree of threat. We can monitor the amount of cane emerging from the forest and, from on the ground surveys in the forest we can suggest that the population is severely threatened but we can do little more than this. Conserving highly sought after top quality canes will require properly controlled and policed reserves, where rattan harvesting is strictly forbidden and this enforced - yet this has in all reserves in Southeast Asia proved virtually impossible.

Reviews of rattan utilisation and conservation status have been published in Palms for Human Needs in Asia (Johnson, 1991) and the IUCN Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Palms (Johnson, 1996).

12. Rattan Research - A Personal Perspective

In the 1980s, rattan research started to burgeon in the Southeast Asian region and rattan workshops and international rattan seminars were held. The research seemed to explode in all directions, from taxonomy, ecology, tissue culture, anatomy to mechanical properties. All too often, I believe, this research ended up being research for its own sake and contributed little to our understanding of how to provide a sustainable source of rattan for the future, surely the real aim of focused research.

As an example I cite the effort that was expended on research into the tissue culture of rattan. All the really significant commercially important canes in the region are species of Calamus, a genus we all know to be dioecious; that is, there are separate male and female plants and the species are thus obligatory out-crossing. In Peninsular Malaysia in the early 1980s there was a perception that there was an extreme shortage of seeds of the elite species Calamus manan, this despite the fact that whenever the financial incentive was sufficient and the season right, the Malay Aborigine plant collectors at FRIM were always able to find plenty of seeds wild in the forest. Research was started to produce planting stock from tissue culture. Palms are usually difficult to propagate in tissue culture and a few years elapsed before a successful technique was developed. Although successful, the time required to produce the plantlets and then acclimatise them to growth, first in the nursery and then in the plantation, exceeded the normal time for seeds to germinate and grow to the point they can be planted out - and, of course, such seedlings do not require the same sort of acclimatisation that a propagule raised in a test tube requires. Added to this, by the time the research had reached the point where large-scale production of plantlets could be achieved, rattans in many of the trials and even commercial plantings of Calamus manan had reached sexual maturity and were producing so many fruits that there was a plentiful supply of planting material. Currently, I can envisage only one major potential use for the tissue culture techniques, that is in the propagation of selected provenances of elite rattans, material that cannot be achieved by conventional techniques of seed production, because of out-breeding, and at the moment there seems not be a demand for major expansion of rattan planting.

Some of the research on rattans in the region that has at least been focussed on issues important for an understanding of sustainable management of rattan, has failed because it was conducted in way that was simply unscientific and cannot be reproduced. The reliance on vernacular names has had a particularly blighting effect on certain aspects of rattan research in Southeast Asia - if rattan research is to be scientific then it is essential that we know which species we are using for the research. For that we need to establish the scientific identity of the species and voucher our research with specimens that can be checked against the type specimens that provide the essential reference points for plant taxonomy.

Finally, I come back to the problem of the scale of research, and its application. I believe we have seen in southeast Asia that the large scale cultivation of rattan - the big rattan estates - are fraught with problems and that many of these problems do not affect the small scale planting of rattan by small-holders. Given ownership of land and the rattans growing on it, villagers have a vested interest in how the rattans perform, they make every effort to harvest canes carefully and in a mixed village economy where rattan represents only one potential source of income, they do not need to harvest canes if the price is too low - the canes can be left until the price is more favourable.


Alam, M.K., 1990. Rattans of Bangladesh. Bulletin 7. Bangladesh Forest Research Institute, Chittagong.

Backer, C.A. & Bakhuizen van den Brink, R.C., 1968. Flora of Java Vol. 3. 761 pp. Wolters-Noordhoff, Groningen.

Baker, W.J., Dransfield, J. & Hedderson, T., 2000. Phylogeny, character evolution and a new classification of Calamoid palms. Sys. Bot. 25: 297-322.

Baker, W.J., Dransfield, J. & Hedderson, T., 2000. Molecular phylogenetics of subfamily Calamoideae (Palmae) based on nrDNA ITS and cpDNA rps16 intron sequence data. Molecular phylogenetics and Evolution 14: 195-217.

Basu, S.K., 1992. Rattans (canes) in India; a monographic revision. 141 pp. RIC, Kepong, Kuala Lumpur.

Bøgh, A., 1996a. The reproductive phenology and pollination biology if four Calamus (Arecaceae) species in Thailand. Principes 40: 5-15.

Bøgh, A., 1996b. Abundance and growth of rattans in Khao Chong National Park, Thailand. Forest Ecol. and Management 84: 71-80.

Bon, M.C., 1997. Ex situ conservation and evaluation of rattan resources. pp. 165 - 172. In Rao, A.N. & Rao, V.M. (eds.). Rattan - Taxonomy, Ecology, Silviculture, Conservation, Genetic Improvement and Biotechnology. IPGRI, INBAR.

De Zoysa & Vivekanandan, K., 1995. Rattans of Sri Lanka: an illustrated guide. 82 pp. Sri Lanka Forest Department.

Dowe, J., 1989. Palms of the Southwest Pacific. Publication Fund, PACSOA. Milton, Australia. 198 pp.

Dransfield, J., 1977a. Calamus caesius and Calamus trachycoleus compared. Gdns' Bull. Singapore 30: 75-78.

Dransfield, J., 1977b. The identity of "rotan manau" in the Malay Peninsula. Malay. For. 40(4): 197-199.

Dransfield, J., 1979. A manual of the rattans of the Malay Peninsula. Mal. For. Records 29. 270pp. Forest Dept. Malaysia.

Dransfield, J., 1984. The rattans of Sabah. Sabah Forest Records 13. pp182. Sabah Forest Department.

Dransfield, J., 1992. The rattans of Sarawak. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew & Sarawak Forest Department. pp 213.

Dransfield, J. & Manokaran, N. (eds), 1993. Rattans. PROSEA volume 6. Pudoc, Wageningen. pp137.

Dransfield, J., 1997. The rattans of Brunei Darussalam. 217 pp. Forestry Dept.Brunei Darussalam and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

Dransfield, J., 1999. Rattan biodiversity issues. Pp 2-12. In Bacilieri, R. & Appanah, S. (eds) Rattan cultivation: achievements, problems and prospects. CIRAD, Malaysia.

Fernando, E.S., 1990. A preliminary analysis of the Palm flora of the Philippine Islands. Principes 34: 28-45.

Johnson, D. (ed.), 1991. Palms for human needs in Asia. Balkema, Rotterdam. 258 pp.

Johnson, D., 1996. Palms: their conservation and sustained utilization. IUCN/SSC Palm Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland and Cambridge. 116 pp.

Jones, D.A., 1984. Palms in Australia. 279 pp. Reed Books, NSW.

Kirkup, D., Dransfield, J. & Sanderson, H., 1999. The rattans of Brunei Darussalam interactive key on CD-ROM. Forestry Department, Brunei Darussalam and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kong-Ong, H.K. & Manokaran, N., 1986. Rattan: a bibliography. RIC, Kepong, Malaysia. 109 pp.

Lee, Y.F., Jong, K., Swaine, V.K. Chey, V.K. & Chung, A.Y.C., 1995. Pollination in the rattans Calamus subinermis and Calamus caesius. Sandakania 6: 15-39.

Lee, Y.F., 1999. Morphology and genetics of the rattan Calamus subinermis in a provenance cum progeny trial. Pp 38-50. In Bacilieri, R. & Appanah, S. (eds) Rattan cultivation: achievements, problems and prospects. CIRAD, Malaysia.

Pei, S.J. & Chen, S.Y., 1991. Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae. Tomus 13(1). Science Press, Beijiung. 172 pp.

Pritchard, H.W. & Davies, R.I. ,1999. Biodiversity and conservation of rattan seeds. pp. 51-60. In Bacilieri, R. & Appanah, S. (eds) Rattan cultivation: achievements, problems and prospects. CIRAD, Malaysia.

Renuka, C., 1995. A manual of the rattans of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 72 pp. Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi.

Supardi, N., Dransfield, J. & Pickersgill, B., 1998. Preliminary observations on the species diversity of palms in Pasoh Forest Reserve, Negri Sembilan. pp. 105-114. In Lee, S.S. et al. (eds.). Conservation, Management and Development of Forest Resources, Forest Deparrtment, Malaysia.

Supardi, N., Dransfield, J. & Pickersgill, B., 1999. The species diversity of rattans and other palms in the unlogged lowland forest of Pasoh Forest Reserve, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. pp 22-37. In Bacilieri, R. & Appanah, S. (eds) Rattan cultivation: achievements, problems and prospects. CIRAD, Malaysia.

Uhl, N.W. & Dransfield, J., 1987. Genera palmarum: a classification of palms based on the work of H.E.Moore Jr. pp 610. The International Palm Society & the Bailey Hortorium, Kansas.

Walter, K.S. & Gillett, H.J., (eds). 1998. 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. IUCN, Gland and Cambridge.

Wan Razali, Dransfield, J. & Manokaran, N. (eds), 1992. A guide to rattan planting. Forest Research Institute Malaysia. pp 293.

Weiner, G. & Liese, W., 1989. Anatomical structures and differences of rattan genera from Southeast Asia. J. Trop. Forest Science 1: 122-132.

1. Introduction

Since the first Workshop on Rattan in Singapore in 1979, a large number of national, regional and international conferences, seminars and training courses have been held with many presentations and well-formulated recommendations, the last one just three weeks ago at FRIM. In addition, an impressive series of case studies have been undertaken, just to mention the numerous comprehensive INBAR Working Papers on " Production-to-Consumption Systems" (PCS), which have resulted in many valuable recommendations (Belcher, 1999). In all the various contributions the challenges and constraints for further improvement of rattan processing and utilization were elaborated, and it is hardly possible for anyone to read all of them. It has always been emphasized that processing is a key issue for any further development and utilization. A task of this consultation will be to review critically the progress obtained during the last 20 years since the first conference in Singapore and to highlight the gaps still existing.

Since the audience includes really knowledgeable persons from the producing countries, I can only summarize well-known facts and conclusions. They are supplemented by some observations and results from laboratory work on structural characteristics of rattan as a material, although it is realized that this review is perforce limited.

2. Major Characteristics of Rattan Processing

A comprehensive overview of the major and minor rattans was compiled by Dransfield and Manokaran (1993) with detailed descriptions of their properties and utilization.

The various stages in the preparation of rattan stems have recently been outlined by Gnanaharan and Mosteiro (1997). They include primary processing of deglazing to remove the silicified epidermis, fumigation, bleaching, oil curing and drying. A major problem faced by rattan processors is wastage during harvesting, cutting to size and infections by staining fungi and beetle attack. The loss due to wastage is estimated to be at least 30 percent. The cane quality and the product value on the local and international markets determine the choice of processing methods. Post-harvest treatments are necessary to avoid defects and to increase processing possibilities and market value.

3. Defects by Staining and Insect Attack

Defects occur as discoloration by fungi, pinholes or worm holes by beetles and also as scars or bruises. Rattan is much liable to be infested by fungi and insects due to its high starch content. Fungal invasion can occur within one day after cutting. The required prophylactic treatment within 24 hours or drying is seldom possible or applied due to the harvesting procedure, storage and transport. Canes arriving at the processing site for air seasoning are often pre-infested. It is estimated that about 20 percent of the harvested canes become stained. The most common cause is blue stain fungi that penetrate with their hyphae deep inside the stem, utilizing starch and sugar. Stained canes are often coloured during processing to hide the defect. Due to intensive marketing, furniture in various colours has become fashionable. Heavily fungi-stained material cannot be used for furniture because of reduction in bending strength; it is often utilized for baskets and other perishable products, or even as mere fuel material. Stain control can be achieved by spraying or soaking in preservative solution, mainly done rather late at the depot due to the transportation time. Preservation is often a neglected area of cane utilization. The danger of environmental pollution and regulations against the use of chemicals (if existing) restrict its application. Under the limit of 20 percent moisture content poles can be discoloured by surface moulds, if stored under humid conditions, but also during transport in containers. Contrary to blue stain, this discoloration is only superficial and can be wiped off. Nevertheless, the surface shine is reduced (Kumar, 1993; Mohanan, 1993).

At a higher moisture level also decay fungi can attack the stem, which is often noticed only at a later stage, when the fruiting bodies appear. The resulting structural degradation of rattan in service is most serious.

Seasoned poles with moisture content of 50-100 percent are liable to insect attack, mostly by the powder-post beetle. The beetles deposit their eggs into the big pores at the ends of the poles and the larvae are nourished from the starch content. The occurrence of light-yellowish powder beneath the poles is an indication of an ongoing infestation, so that the material has to be sterilized or burnt. For protection an insecticide has to be applied very early, mostly by dipping or soaking, considering again the consequences of pollution. The availability and legal acceptance of suitable preservatives are different among countries. Sterilization of goods for export can be done in containers at the harbour side by an approved agency. Slightly infested materials may be fumigated or disposed of by burning at the discretion of the authorities and the buyer.

4. Seasoning

Harvesting and drying should preferably be done during the dry months to reduce the initial moisture and to speed up air seasoning. The moisture content of fresh stems varies between 160 and 130 percent with an increase from the base to the top. Seasoning has to start in the forest. Traditionally bundles of 20-30 cane pieces are kept in erect position against a tree for about a week to drain off the sap/water. They are then spread out on the ground in an open yard before delivery to the processing site. If curing is not foreseen the poles are placed in a wigwam fashion for about two-three weeks, so that the moisture content is reduced below 20 percent before further processing. During the drying process curved parts can be straightened by placing weights over horizontally stacked poles.

A high demand for furniture may lead to improperly dried canes, which results in lower quality products.

5. Curing

Curing means the immersion of canes in a hot oil bath to prevent deterioration. It is often an integral part of the processing line. Many reports have dealt with the methods and their effects, e.g. Bhat and Dhamodran (1993) and Silitonga (1989).

Fresh stems cut to desired length and bundled are soaked for a given time in an oil bath within one-two days after harvesting. The oil penetrates the cane axially, while the radial penetration through the skin is almost nil due to its refractory anatomical structure. This process reduces the moisture content so that bio-deterioration is prevented. The rattan skin attains an ivory white colour, which is much desired.

There are many investigations on the best methods for curing. Different combinations of diesel oil, kerosene, palm oil, coconut oil are used, depending on availability and cost, and are applied at varying temperatures between 80oC and 150oC for a duration of 10 to 60 minutes. Whereas the cane diameter determines the latter parameter, the influence of species has apparently not been established. In general, a treatment with kerosene oil at a temperature of 100-105oC for 20-45 minutes, depending on the stem diameter, appears to be best for enhancing the skin colour. After curing the stems are drained of excess oil and rubbed with sawdust, core or waste cloth to remove the waxy substances and silica deposits on the skin. During the subsequent sun drying, often in a wigwam-like fashion, the colour changes from green into ivory white. After one-three weeks, depending on species and weather conditions, the canes are stored under cover.

6. Grading

The grading of rattan stems is a most important step in processing, albeit still quite controversially applied. It is a crucial step in trading and will affect the producers, processors, exporters, importers and also the end user. Grading stages and rules are discussed in many papers and were explicitly outlined by Bhat (1996). Although the situation is quite different in the various countries, a certain amount of simplification and unification is necessary for internal and external trade.

At the harvesting site hardly any grading is done, exceptionally according to the species collected. The bundled canes are brought in small quantities either to the villagers for local processing or in larger quantities to the middlemen or trade centres.

The first stage in grading criteria is dimensions, such as thickness, length of cane and internodes, hardness and defects. According to stem thickness, the categories large- and small-diameter canes are widely applied, with 18 mm being the most widely used criterion and a corresponding length classification.

Hardness is tested by bending the stem by hand. Hard stems regain their original form either quickly or slowly, soft ones break. These differences are related to anatomical characteristics, differences among species or due to thinner fibre walls in younger stem parts.

A further grading is done after processing on the basis of surface colour, mainly to improve the aesthetic value. Since surface appearance is the main criterion for marketing, several measures can be applied to improve quality.

Grey-brown canes can be bleached with hydrogen peroxide or other chemicals for a better finish. Artificial colouring is often applied to discoloured canes with a large range of colours. The uptake of the colouring liquid by the outer stem layer is quite good. Also melamine coating is used for a smooth finish. Fumigation with sulphur dioxide does not only sterilize the canes, but it also improves surface quality.

In most producing countries the rattan grading rules are not precisely formulated. Often they present a confusing terminology, non-standard grading practices and, consequently, a production of sub-standard rattan goods. On the basis of his extended survey, Bhat (1996) proposed model rattan grading rules with a standardized terminology (containing 20 terms), defects (9 terms), methods for clarification, nomenclature of commercial rattan species, as well as grading rules for large-diameter and small-diameter canes and split rattan.

The application of general grading rules would lead to advantages in the trade, in market standardization and less material wastage.

7. Secondary Processing

Secondary processing involves steaming, bending, splitting, dyeing, sanding and finishing, details of which are not to be outlined here.

Peeling and splitting are often done by hand with simple traditional tools or by simple machines. To obtain the inner core, the outer layers, called peel, are removed. Especially some Calamus species possess a highly silicified epidermis, which is taken off in different ways (deglazing), whereby the silica layer snaps off in flakes. The shaped components are sanded, scraping is required to remove the burn marks of blowtorch, which is used by the villagers to soften the respective portion of a stem for bending. Bending at processing plants can also cause damage, when the necessary facilities are missing, such as steam chambers to soften the stems.

Rattan processing is done at various levels of competence and intensity: as a cottage-type, at small and medium-sized factories and at larger companies.

8. Some Technological Constraints

8.1 Structural properties

The processing and utilization of the rattans are determined to a great extent by the structural composition of the stem, which exhibits considerable differences along the stem length and between species.

A major constraint consists in the limited utilization of the many rattan species. Out of a total of about 600 species only about 50 are said to be utilized commercially. In the Philippines, 12 out of 68 belong to this category (Tesoro, 1988). IPGRI and INBAR (1998) list 21 Calamus species in order of their priority using as criteria cane size, commercial potential and use for rural industries. This selection relates partly to the quantities available, partly to unsuitable dimensions, and partly to inferior properties for processing and utilization.

Anatomical investigations have explored the structural details and changes within the stem from base to top, as well as the differences between species and genera. In addition, the characteristics of commercial species versus non-commercial ones have been analysed and considered for quality improvement (Bhat, 1992a and 1992b; Bhat et al., 1990 and 1993; Abd. Latif and Siti Noralakmam, 1993; Liese, 1994; Renuka et al., 1987; Weiner, 1992; Weiner and Liese, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993; Weiner et al., 1996).

From our previous work some examples are presented of factors which influence processing and utilization.

A cross-sectional view of a rattan stem reveals its principal architecture, consisting of two zones - the periphery with epidermis and cortex; and the central cylinder with vascular bundles with fibrous sheaths embedded in thin-walled parenchymatous ground tissue. The outer part, the epidermis, is often heavily encrusted with amorphous silica, which hinders processing and is therefore removed. The silica content varies considerably among species (0.9-2.7%). For specific products, such as ropes, binds and splits, species with low silica content should be selected. Skin colour is an important criterion, thus Calamus caesius is desirable for high-valued products because of its yellowish-cream colour with good lustre, but the anatomical base for such appearance is still unknown. The fibre sheath surrounding the phloem and metaxylem vessel(s) consists of thick-walled fibres with a polylamellate wall structure. Fibre length varies between 0.9 and 2.9 mm with an average of 1.3-1.8 mm. Density varies between. 0.3 and 0.6 g/ cm³.

There is a definite structural pattern within the stem and between species. The general structures change not only along the stem from the periphery to the centre of a given internode but also from the basal to the top internodes: fibre percentage and fibre cell wall thickness decrease, whereas vessel diameter increases. This increase with age is caused by a fibre wall thickening within the individual lamellae by secondary processes, as well as by an additional deposition of further wall lamellae. Contrary to softwoods and hardwoods, the fibres in rattans are still alive. The increase of wall thickness with age is more pronounced in fibres than in parenchyma cells.

These structural changes result in a higher density at the lower stem parts, whereas the upper part exhibits a higher moisture content and higher volumetric shrinkage. This appears to impart stiffness and determines the breaking behaviour of rattan both within a stem and among the species. The early harvesting of immature stems or the use of the upper portion leads to high shrinkage and warping. If the top portion of a stem is integrated as furniture component, it may break more easily due to its smaller fibre walls, whereas the base is stronger than the middle positions. On a species level Calamus metzianus may be mentioned; it breaks easily due to its exceptional low fibre content, thinner-walled fibres and relatively wide xylem vessels.

Figure 2: A solitary cane growing in a degraded forest patch (Sastry)

In the general stem structure, there are distinct differences in the composition of the central part among the 13 genera and even among some species of one genus. Of special significance is the number of vessels and phloem fields per vascular bundles, the type of ground parenchyma, fibre rows in the cortex and special features, such as fibre sclereids ("yellow caps"), ducts, raphids (calcium oxalate) and SiO2 particles in small parenchyma cells, called stegmata. The differences in the anatomical make-up are so typical that a dichotomic identification key has been developed for all 13 genera on the basis of 284 species investigated. This diversification between genera is of practical value especially for the identification of processed material and can be helpful in trade disputes.

The basic information on rattan anatomy obtained in recent years has been used in the study of 433 rattan species to clarify if certain structural features are characteristic for a "commercial" cane since, of the total of around 600 species, only a small portion is utilized. It became clearly evident that a commercial cane is characterized by definite criteria such as:

· even distribution of vascular bundles over the stem, cross-sectional composition of about 20-25 percent fibres, 45 percent conducting cells and 30-35 percent ground parenchyma;

· fibre caps of equal size, equal fibre length, walls with polylamellate structure;

· ground parenchyma of small cells with thick polylamellate walls.

Thus, anatomical features can help to predict physical and mechanical properties. Especially, vascular bundle distribution and fibre dimensions, such as wall thickness, correlate with shear, compression parallel to grain and static bending.

This characterization can serve to analyse also hitherto unused species regarding their processing potential. Studies on anatomical properties of Papua New Guinea rattans have shown their market potential (Chung and Chen, 1994). Sample investigations of the rattans of West Africa have shown that the three endemic genera (Eremospatha, Laccosperma, Oncocalamus), with about 25 species, have the same basic structures as the well-used Asian rattans. This indicates a possible usage of these rattan genera, which have so far not been adequately processed for furniture (Weiner et al., 1994). For Ghana, the five economic rattan species have recently been differentiated on characteristic anatomical features (Oteng-Amoako and Ebanyenle, 2000).

8.2 Further constraints

Major problems in rattan utilization relate to the availability of raw material, production technology, financing and marketing. There are a large number of small rattan processors at the village level, who work with very simple tools, old-fashioned designs and limited skills. Their market access is restricted by the poor quality of their products, so that the value-added by the processing industry is rather low (Belcher, 1999).

In many reports and discussions, the availability of raw material, especially of the valued Calamus manan, is defined as the most pressing problem for the furniture industry in the countries of origin, as well as in the main European furniture producers, such as France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain. As the rattan ban has affected the development of the furniture industry within non rattan-producing countries, other countries such as Myanmar, Viet Nam, Lao DPR and Papua New Guinea have increased harvesting of canes of varied quality. Furniture is now designed to require only smaller diameter poles. Factories cope by using low-grade poles, often stained and to be coloured. A major rattan company in Germany with large furniture factories in Java describes the shortfall, combined with the market price, as a decisive factor for further production so that, for example, early grading is neglected to obtain all possible canes at a reasonable price. For primary processing in the field, improved technologies for preservation and seasoning would reduce losses and improve the quality of the canes. Often labour-intensive methods and simple low-cost procedures are applied for peeling, splitting and bending. Technical improvements in the processing industry could increase the value of the products and thus also raw material prices. In reports on the rattan industry in Peninsular Malaysia with nearly 500 mills, the constraints of the industry and needs for further research and development have been discussed (Abd. Latif and Salleh, 1994; Abd. Latif and Shukri, 1989; Abd. Latif, 2000).

The shortage of rattan has also led to partial or even total replacement of rattan components for furniture by other materials such as plastic. "Original imitation" rattan is on the market, which is colourful, more economic in price and use with an attractive design.

9. Further needs and research expansion

In 1991, a study team headed by J.T. Williams on behalf of the International Fund for Agricultural Research, submitted to the IDRC their report on Research needs for bamboo and rattan to the year 2000. The general message in that report has hardly changed over the last decade, but certain developments have become obvious. It is therefore of interest to cite the relevant points on rattan in this presentation in order to realize some progress and to consider the areas where further activities are still needed. While a more detailed exploration on the gaps in utilization research for rattan is given in the above-mentioned report, the following priority needs were listed:

· Investigations on the properties of commercial and some neglected species are urgently required to assess more readily the utilization potential of the current "non-commercial" species.

· Since rattan products are susceptible to biological deterioration, protection with environmentally acceptable preservatives will widen the market.

· Improved processing technologies would lead to a greater diversity of products of better quality.

Of special importance is the development of better surface finishes for a pleasing visual appearance and greater wear resistance.

· Diversification of products according to species properties.
· Methods of colouring rattan for furniture.
· Development of panel and walling products.
· Waste utilization studies.
· Development of cost-effective designs appropriate to contemporary style.
· Development of hand tools and hardware.


Abd. Latif Mohmod, 2000. Production and utilization of bamboo, rattan and related species: Management and research considerations. XXI IUFRO World Congress, Kuala Lumpur, 2000, Proc. Subplenary Papers and Abstracts. pp. 393-406.

Abd. Latif Mohmod & Salleh Mohmod Nor, 1994. Priority areas of research on rattan and bamboo in Peninsular Malaysia. FRIM Rep. No. 62. pp. 9-12.

Abd. Latif Mohmod & Shukri Mohamad, 1998, Distribution and current status of rattan manufactures in Peninsular Malaysia. In The rattan industries in Peninsular Malaysia. Rattan Inf. Centre, Occ. Paper No. 6. Kepong, FRIM. pp. 1-14.

Abd. Latif Mohmod & Siti Norralakmam Yahaya, 1993. Anatomical characteristics of five Malaysian canes and their relationships with physical and mechanical properties. In Rattan management and utilization. Proc. Rattan Sem. 1992, Kerala. pp. 207-213

Belcher, B., 1999. The bamboo and rattan sectors in Asia: An analysis of production-to-consumption systems. INBAR Working Paper No. 22, Beijing.

Bhat, K.M., 1992a. Structure and properties of South Indian rattans. Peechi, Kerala Forest Research Institute. 33 pp.

Bhat, K.M., 1992b Classification of canes (rattans) according to properties and potential end-uses. J. Timb. Dev. Ass. (India) 38: 23-32.

Bhat, K.M., 1996. Grading rules for rattan - A survey of existing rules and proposals for standardization. INBAR Working Paper No. 6, New Delhi. 44 pp.

Bhat, K.M. & Dhamodran, T.K., 1993. Rattan harvesting and processing technology in India: Present and future. In Rattan management and utilization. Proc. Rattan Sem. 1992, Kerala. pp. 233-243.

Bhat, K.M., Liese, W. & Schmitt, U., 1990. Structural variability of vascular bundles and cell wall in rattan stem. Wood Sci. Technol. 24: 211-224.

Bhat, K.M., Nasser, Mohamed & Thulasidas, P.K., 1993. Anatomy and identification of South Indian rattans (Calamus species). IAWA Journ. (14): 63-76.

Bhat, K.M. & Verghese, M., 1991. Anatomical basis for density and shrinkage behaviour of rattan stems. J. Inst. Wood Sci. 12(3): 123-130.

Chung, H.-H. & Chen, Y.-S., 1994. Anatomical properties of Papua New Guinea rattans. Taiwan Forest Res. Inst. 83 pp.

Dransfield, J. & Manokaran. N., eds., 1993. Rattans - Plant resources of South-East Asia. No. 6 Pudoc Sc. Publ. Wageningen. 137 pp.

Gnanaharan, R. & Mosteiro, A.P., 1997. Local tools, equipment and technologies for processing bamboo and rattan. INBAR Techn. Rep. No. 9. Beijing. 83 pp.

IPGRI & INBAR, 1998. Priority species of bamboo and rattan, by A.N. Rao, Ramanatha Rao & J.T. Williams, eds. Serdang, Malaysia. 95 pp.

Kumar, S., 1993. Protection of canes. Proc. Rattan Management and Utilization, Trichur, India, 1992. Kerala For. Res. Inst. pp. 304-308.

Liese, W., 1994. Biological aspects of bamboo and rattan for quality improvement by polymer impregnation. Folia For. Pol. Ser. B. 25: 43-56.

Mohanan, C., 1993. Biodeterioration of post-harvest rattans. Proc. Rattan Management and Utilization, Trichur India, 1992. Kerala For. Res. Inst. pp. 266-280.

Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Ebanyenle, E., In press. The anatomy of five economic rattan species from Ghana. Proc. Intern. Rattan Workshop held in Limbe, Cameroon Bot. Garden in 2000.

Renuka, C., Bhat, K.M. & Nambiar, V.P.K., 1987. Morphological, anatomical and physical properties of Calamus species of Kerala Forests. KFRI Res. Rep. No. 46. Peechi, India. 58 pp.

Silitonga, T., 1989. The effect of several cooking oil compositions on manau (Calamus manan Miq.) canes. In Recent Research on Rattans. Proc. Intern. Rattan Seminar 1987, Chiangmai. Bangkok, Kasetsart Univ. pp. 187-181.

Tesoro, F., 1988. Rattan processing and utilization research in the Philippines. In Proc. National Symposium on Rattan, Cebu, Philippines. Laguna. pp. 41-54.

Weiner, G. & Liese, W., 1988. Anatomical structures and differences of rattan genera from Southeast Asia. J. Trop. For. Sci.: 122-132.

Weiner, G., 1992. Zur Stammanatomie der Rattanpalmen. Diss. Univ. Hamburg, 131 pp. + app.

Weiner, G. & Liese, W., 1990. Rattan stem anatomy and taxonomic implications. IAWA Bull. No. 11, pp. 61-70.

Weiner, G. & Liese, W., 1991. Anatomical comparison of commercial and non-commercial rattans. In Proc. Oil Palm Trunk and Other Palmwood Utilization, Kuala Lumpur. pp. 360-367.

Weiner, G. & Liese, W., 1992. Zellarten und Faserlängen innerhalb des Stammes verschiedener Rattangattungen. Holz Roh- Werkstoff 50. pp. 457-464.

Weiner, G. & Liese, W., 1993. Generic identification key to rattan palms based on stem anatomical characters. IAWA J. 14: 55-61.

Weiner, G. & Liese, W., 1994. Anatomische Untersuchungen an westafrikanischen Rattanpalmen (Calamoidae). FLORA 198: 51-61.

Weiner, G., Liese, W. & Schmitt, U., 1996. Cell wall thickening in fibres of the palms Rhaphis excelsa (Thunb.) Henry and Calamus axillaris Becc. In Recent Advances in Wood Anatomy. Rotorua, New Zealand, FRI. pp. 191-197.

Williams, J.T., Dransfield, J., Ganapathy, P.M., Liese, W., Salleh M. Nor & Sastry, C.B., 1991 Research needs for bamboo and rattan to the year 2000. Washington, DC, Intern. Fund Agric. Res.. 81 pp.

1. Introduction

INBAR is a networking organisation. It has a very small staff in its Beijing Headquarters. It works mainly by providing seed money, partial finance or matching finance to enable activities in national programmes that meet its strategic vision, to come to fruition. Thus it is very difficult to draw a boundary around what is and what is not INBAR's programme. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that INBAR has assisted or contributed to several of the activities to be described in these sessions and repetition is best avoided. What we have chosen to do in this


paper was therefore to extract several key aspects of the work we have facilitated in order to inform later discussions. We have ordered the material along the lines of INBAR's programme activities, considering ecological, developmental and industrial implications in turn.

2. Background

After timber, rattan is the second most important source of export earnings from tropical forests accounting for somewhere in the region of US$7,000 million annually. However, the way rattan moves in international trade means that such an estimate is only approximate and needs to be under-pinned by better and more thoroughly researched trade data. One of INBAR's ongoing research projects addresses just this.

Figure 1: Value of world exports of wood products

Moreover, we need to keep this figure in perspective. As Figure 1 shows (drawn from European Forest Institute Trade databases and published on the World Forests and Society website, trade in rattan is a rather trivial portion of world trade in forest products and only reaches 30% of wood exports from the Asia-Pacific region alone (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Wood exports from the Asia-Pacific Region

3. Rattan as a Plant

The distribution of rattan species around the world is relatively well described (See Table 1 taken from an Internet paper by T.C.H. Sunderland []). INBAR assisted the work of the Africa Rattan Research Programme and so can perhaps, lay claim to part of this output. Flora exists for much of the distribution. However Sunderland is of the opinion that "despite the commercial importance of rattan, basic knowledge of the resource is somewhat limited and the flora of Africa and much of Southeast Asia and Malaysia remains poorly known". Sunderland is correct to observe, "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".

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


Number of



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 Western-most New Guinea

*Eremospatha (Mann & Wendl.) Wendl.

ca. 13

Humid tropical Africa

Korthalsia Bl.

ca. 26

Indo-China and Burma to New Guinea

*Laccosperma (Mann & Wendl.) Drude

ca. 6

Humid tropical Africa

Myrialepis Becc.


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

*Oncocalamus (Mann & Wendl.) Mann & Wendl

ca. 4

Humid tropical Africa

Plectocomia Mart.

ca. 16

Himalayas and south China to western Malaysia

Plectocomiopsis Becc.

ca. 5

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

Rattan does not occur in the new world, yet there are many potential sites for it there. In a recently concluded experiment, INBAR introduced two rattan species to Cuba (Calamus tetradactylus and Daemonorops), where they established and grew satisfactorily (if not at a particularly exciting rate - the maximum height after four years being just over 2m).

Approximately 90% of rattan used commercially comes from the wild. Rattan, in the wild, occupies a position rather similar to ebony, greenheart or rose-wood. It is a relatively rare plant, preferentially sought and extracted. As with other similar plants, the degree of extraction exceeds the local regenerative capacity and resources as well as biodiversity are lost. Table 2 (drawn from T.C.H. Sunderland's Internet paper) summarises the situation for 20 commercial species and concludes that while three are threatened, for only five can it be clearly said that they are not threatened. In another estimate (Claire Coote - NRI, pers. comm.) it was thought that of the 200 plus species found in Malaysia over 98 are threatened or endangered.

Table 2. The major commercial species of rattan



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.

Peninsula Malaysia and Sumatra


Calamus merrillii Becc.



Calamus mindorensis Becc.



Calamus optimus Becc.

Borneo. 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 pogonocanthus 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 Kalimamtan 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 (Griff.) Mart.

Southern China


Daemonorops robusta Warb.

Indonesia, Sulawesi and the Moluccas


Daemonorops sabut Becc.

Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo


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

Tropical Africa from Sierra Leone to Angola

Not threatened

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

Tropical Africa from Sierra Leone to Angola

Not threatened

Some of the main issues concerning rattan are accessibility of supplies, declining availability of secondary quality large diameter species and the different ways in which countries have reacted to this. Most producing countries have banned the export of poles and semi-processed rattan. This has led to the development of local processing capacity and also to smuggling of rattan poles.

Inventory of rattan, as with any rare plant, is a very difficult matter. Not only is it difficult to adapt normal forestry inventory methods to the estimation of infrequent plants, but the natural frequency is affected by man's activities, disturbing the estimate and requiring a further layer of stratification in the estimate. Resource quantification needs to be improved. Nevertheless in recent years INBAR has published a report that addresses these difficulties (Nur Supardi Md. Noor, Khali Aziz Hamzah, Wan Razali Mohd, 1998).

INBAR's programme in this resource area has therefore concentrated on ways to improve the size of the resource, in partnership with local peoples. For example, one of INBAR's Transfer of Technology Models (TOTEMS) describes the methods that are used by local communities in the Philippines to raise rattan seedlings. Local people either collect fresh seed from the canes or they collect naturally fallen seed that has germinated. Local knowledge of the phenology of the species is important to make this exercise efficient. They prefer not to collect ungerminated fallen seed because experience has taught them that subsequent germination is unpredictable and often low. Pre-germination treatment varies. Some have learnt that heating the seeds in the seedbed by burning weeds on the surface speeds germination. Others utilise orthodox seed scarification techniques. There is a market in recently germinated seedlings and also in more mature seedlings. The work of raising the seedlings is simple, provided adequate knowledge is available, profitable and can be fitted into other work. This TOTEM shows that, if a seed source is available, raising seedlings need not be a serious constraint.

Since the natural resource is under considerable pressure, amplification of resources, by planting, is essential. Another of INBAR's TOTEMS relates Malaysian experience in rattan planting. The TOTEM report stresses the importance of site selection. The mean annual temperature for rattan should be between 25 and 27 degrees centigrade. There should be over 2,000 mm of well-distributed rainfall and a high relative humidity. Deep and/or alluvial soils are preferred but waterlogged or shallow soils should be avoided. The report lists the 25 species that are considered potentially suitable in Malaysia.

Rattan seedlings of many of the commercial species do best in semi-shade. Thus logged-over forest and old plantations (rubber, oil palm or failed tree plantations) are ideal locations. Most tree species provide good support provided their lowest branches are not too high and provided they are strong enough. Inter-cropping with rubber can be an attractive option for small-holders. However, there is interruption to rubber tapping and sometimes a reduced rubber yield.

4. Rattan in Development

INBAR has analysed the market in two reports of production to consumption. In Java, which has a strong manufacturing base, INBAR found that the country has benefited from the policy of the Indonesian government which imposed prohibitive export taxes on raw and semi-finished rattan (Hariyatno Dwiprabowo, Setiasih Irawanti, Rahayu Supriadi, B.D. Nasendi, 1998). It has emerged as the main exporting region for finished rattan products. However, as Javanese forests are poor in rattan resources, this has created the island to be dependent on other islands for raw material. The Javanese rattan sector is important in terms of employment and cash income generation, and has made significant contributions to the national economy. A study shows that Indonesian rattan sector (Boen M. Purnama, Hendro Prahasto, B.D. Nasendi, 1998) is important because of two aspects: first, rattan plays a substantial role in the socio-economics of Indonesia; second, as the world's topmost rattan producer, Indonesia's policies on the sector have consequences that extend much beyond the country's border. Rattan is abundant in Indonesia, and about 90% of the rattan utilized comes from Indonesian forests. Rattan is also planted in Kalimantan, which is the first region in the world to establish commercial rattan plantations. It may, hence, seem paradoxical that the plant's utilization is yet to be optimized. To achieve optimum and sustainable utilization of rattan, the involvement of government and other related institutions is essential, points out this case study on the rattan sector of East and South Kalimantan. Efforts aimed at the development and improvement of rattan production-to-consumption system must involve financial and other types of incentives to the system participants, technical assistance and technology transfer, and improvement of trading and marketing practices.

INBAR has been funding a rattan project in Nepal since 1998 aiming at species identification and development of conservation and management methods. According to a research report and evaluation, after a new harvesting system - extraction of rattans at a five-year rotation basis were introduced and demonstrated - it shows that one block at a time is a good management practice for rattan brakes. In terms of the data from local communities, the yearly yield of harvested rattan has been doubled and the quality of rattan canes was improved. As a result, yearly incomes for the local people from the same area have been much raised.

INBAR has been active in a GTZ-financed development project in Hainan Island in China. The project has the overall aim of protecting the remaining forest on the island and seeks to achieve this by, inter alia, fostering alternative livelihoods. Hainan is one of the few parts of China that is warm enough for rattan. China is also a major importer of rattan that is processed into furniture for further export. Thus INBAR is assisting with the transfer of technology and with training to enable a rattan (and larger bamboo) industry to develop in the forest margins.

5. Rattan as a Product

Rattan fabrication typically occurs in two stages - cane extraction and then final product fabrication. The two stages are often conducted in different countries and the scale of activity differs. Rattan fabrication can be undertaken by small craft industries and can significantly supplement local incomes. Finished products, however, include composite furniture products, which tend to be combined in generalised categories in world trade data and bedevil efforts to get a clean and clear picture of world trade in rattan-based products.

An Internet report of "Japanese Market News" gives an interesting perspective on changes in and problems with the trade. "In Japan, the traditional distribution route going from importer to wholesaler, retailer then end user has been thrown into disarray by the practice of buying directly by mail order or from supermarkets. Retail prices have also fallen, and the scope for wholesalers, retailers and importers to step in is shrinking. Department stores have ceased stocking rattan products. In addition, there are frequently complaints that rattan products is mouldy or contains bugs, and as it is expensive to wipe mould off and storing due to its bulk, low unit prices and the high cost of storage, trading in the products is now no longer a very attractive proposition. Following a peak in the latter half of 1980, trade in rattan products has fallen off and looks most unlikely to improve in the future. The number of companies that have dropped out of its trade and changed businesses or started importing other products is now increasing, and the fact that the product itself is a seasonal one is encouraging this trend."

Difficulties with the supply chain; value/storage ratio and quality issues are all highlighted.

Many small-scale industries are involved in production of rattan products and they clearly need the best information to be able to make high quality reliable products. For example the bending of rattan poles for furniture in craft industry is often done by heating the side designated to be concave with a blowtorch. This technique puts scorch or burn marks on the cane and reduces quality, strength and price. One of INBAR's TOTEMS describes a method developed in the Philippines for steam bending rattan whereby canes can be bent to a minimum radius of three to four times their diameter. Thus design of the final item (e.g. furniture) is important because the shaping cannot be forced beyond a certain point. To achieve high quality results, the canes must themselves be of good quality and the moisture content around 18-20%. If drier the canes need longer steaming; if wetter they need longer to set in the new shape. Steaming should be at 100°C for just under 1 minute per millimeter cane diameter. The steamed pole is then clamped for 24 hours. The steaming equipment may cost in the region of US$10,000 but the quality improvement allows a higher proportion of export material.

The market report from Japan referred to mould and bugs as problems. Another of INBAR's TOTEMS therefore describes the Malaysian practice of curing and preserving rattan in boiling diesel oil. The practice is to immerse canes in diesel at between 60-150°C for 10 to 30 minutes. Excess diesel is scrubbed off and the canes dried. This process does to some extent prevent mould and insect attacks. The boiling tanks to carry out this operation are relatively cheap (<US$ 2,000). As the Japanese Market Report also highlighted, it matters crucially what is made from rattan. The report referred to bulky, low value products, which today, have difficulty finding shelf-space in supermarkets. Another of INBAR's TOTEMS describes the layout and organisation of a modern rattan furniture factory. The report gives informative photographs of each stage of the process. While it is true, as the report contends, that rattan furniture should have no problem when it comes to marketing as there are always markets for quality rattan furniture, locally or abroad", the Japanese Market Report reveals some worrying trends. The bulkiness of pre-fabricated rattan furniture is a problem. The tendency for rattan furniture to be thought of as an outside or conservatory item could be a problem in the longer term, if life-styles change. It is not yet part of INBAR's programme to work on design, but it should be.


Hariyatno Dwiprabowo, Setiasih Irawanti, Rahayu Supriadi, B.D. Nasendi, 1998: Rattan in Java: A Case Study of the Production-to-Consumption Systems. INBAR Working Paper 13. 24 pages ISBN 81-86247-31-9

Boen M. Purnama, Hendro Prahasto, B.D. Nasendi, 1998: Rattan in East and South Kalimantan, Indonesia: A Case Study of the Production-to-Consumption Systems. INBAR Working Paper 20. ISBN 81-86247-42-4

Nur Supardi Md. Noor, Khali Aziz Hamzah, Wan Razali Mohd; 1998: Considerations in Rattan Inventory Practices in the Tropics. INBAR Technical Report Number 14. 50 pages ISBN 81-86247-24-6

Informal references

INBAR TOTEMS are currently in preparation and in press and will be released at the beginning of 2001.

The Japanese Market Report can be found at

The Articles by T.C. H. Sunderland can be found at 

The graphs of world trade in forest products can be found at the World Forests and Society web-site at



The Forest Products and People programme (FPP) of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) undertakes research to better understand the true role and potential of non-timber forest products as tools to achieve development and conservation goals. Two main research thrusts are followed. First, the programme is undertaking an international comparative analysis of cases of forest product development. The project uses a systems focus, documenting the key elements of the product and the context under which it is produced, processed, and marketed. The second major thrust is a series of thematic case-based research projects designed to answer specific questions. An example is provided from a case study in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, where a traditional rattan cultivation system has been severely stressed by a combination of policy and economic factors. Government policies designed to encourage the domestic processing industry and monopsonistic manufacturing association have sharply depressed demand and prices. New developments in the region, in the form of roads, industrial plantations, mining, and other new economic activities, have both actively displaced existing rattan gardens (« push » factors) and offered attractive alternatives that have led some rattan farmers to shift to new activities (« pull » factors). And, recent widespread forest fires have destroyed large areas of rattan gardens, effectively forcing some rattan farmers out of business.

This set of conditions offers a good opportunity to study peoples' responses and to analyse whether and under what circumstances this particular intermediate forest product management system is a viable economic option now and in the future. Under current conditions, with low prevailing demand and prices, rattan gardens are a marginal activity in purely financial terms. However, rattan gardens remain important where competition for land is low because they fit well with the swidden cultivation system that is the economic mainstay in the region, because they have low establishment and maintenance costs, because they provide a mark of land « ownership », and because they still serve an important purpose in economic risk management, as a source of « savings ». As rattan remains an important commodity in Indonesia and internationally, and as the current farm-gate price for rattan appears to be artificially low, due in large part to the prevailing policy environment, the rattan garden system may remain viable, at least in the medium term. The paper concludes by briefly summarizing key points for consideration by the Expert Consultation.

1. Introduction

Over the past two decades there has been increased recognition of the many values of forests. This has led to new interest and effort to develop forest products (especially so-called "non-timber forest products or "NTFPs") as a means to achieve both development and conservation objectives. Governments, NGOs, community groups, and development agencies are actively seeking ways - through policy, investment, green marketing, and other interventions - to "develop" forest products. A new literature has emerged and significant investments have been made in numerous projects (see reviews such as Neuman and Hirsch, 2000; Townson, 1994, Ruiz-Perez and Arnold, 1996). Much of this interest is based on the premise that improving prices to producers, adding value locally through increasing post-harvest processing, and improving local organization, can lead to long-term economic and political gains for these groups. Some also argue that these kinds of interventions can lead to forest conservation. And yet, understanding of the true role and potential of forest-products development to contribute to human development or conservation, based as it is on untested theory and scattered and inconsistent case-based research, remains limited.

The Forest Products and People programme of CIFOR takes forest product management and use as its main point of departure in researching poverty alleviation, food security improvement, and environmental protection, especially in tropical forest areas. This programme has developed some questions and approaches that are relevant for this meeting; many issues and questions can be applied directly to the rattan sector. We also have some case-based research that involves an interesting system of rattan cultivation that has highlighted important policy lessons.

This paper will briefly summarize the key issues identified by the FPP programme. It will then present two research projects, highlighting issues that are considered relevant to this meeting. The first is an international comparison of cases of NTFP development. The second involves research on a rattan management system in Indonesia. A summary of the evolution of that system and its current state of development is provided, highlighting the policy lessons.

2. The Hope for NTFP-based Development

Over the past two decades, a growing number of people in development and conservation circles have been promoting NTFP-based development from different perspectives, based on three central propositions.

1. NTFPs, much more than timber, contribute to the livelihoods and welfare of people living in or near forests, offering them a variety of resources, employment and income, particularly in hard times.

2. Exploitation of NTFPs is ecologically more benign than timber harvesting and therefore provides a sounder basis for sustainable forest management.

3. Increased commercial harvest of NTFPs, and associated enterprise development, should add to the perceived value of tropical forests at both local and national levels, thereby increasing the incentive to retain forests rather than converting them to other land uses like agriculture or livestock.

Although these propositions remain largely untested, and have been strongly contested by some, they have attracted the interest of governments and other agents in tropical countries, and from a wide range of donor agencies, with associated increases in investment in forest product development. The experience to date has been mixed - various attempts at forest product development have produced conflicting results, and have triggered a debate over the viability of forest- (and especially NTFP-) based development and conservation.

We feel that investment of this kind needs a stronger rationale regarding both the development implications and the conservation implications of forest product development. There has been a tendency to overlook the fact that some of these products are important especially in situations where there are few or no alternative means of generating a minimum level of income. Indeed, some of the investments in developing and commercializing forest products may result from an exaggerated expectation of what they can contribute to growth in incomes and livelihood enhancement. Moreover, many NTFPs are produced in secondary forest, fallow land, or are cultivated in agricultural systems. Thus, the potential to create incentives for forest conservation may be over-estimated.

Another important weakness in the current debate is in the lack of recognition of dynamic aspects of forest product development. Interventions are intended to improve employment and income generating opportunities through enhancing the value and the capture of value at the community level without anticipating the possible social and economic impacts. But the process of increasing commercial links will bring many and often profound changes to communities, especially those that have been relatively isolated; increased incomes, improved market access, changing relative values of land and labour, and of the various products from the area. While it is common to ask questions about the potential for ecological sustainability, it is equally or more important to ask about economic sustainability of proposed interventions, and of the impacts they generate. Changing opportunities (through increased capital availability, access to markets, education, etc.) and changing tastes may mean that people quickly abandon low-yielding forest product production systems in favour of higher yielding alternatives. This may be highly desirable from the perspective of welfare improvement but it calls into question the conservation element. Indeed, the appropriate role for (some) forest products may be as stepping-stones to development rather than as the long-term integrated conservation and development options.

A well-focused research effort is required to improve understanding of the role and potential of forest products, and to articulate more clearly the kinds of interventions that are most likely to produce the desired outcomes in development and in conservation terms.

3. Research Needs Related to Problems and Trends

It is apparent that there is scope for the development of a wider range of products from forests, and also for new models of forestry management alongside industrial timber production. However, current understanding of the role, potential, and dynamics of forest products in development is insufficient. In order to realize the potential of forest products, work is needed to help target investments. Research is needed to advance understanding of:

· What kinds of forest products (characteristics) are suited to meeting development and conservation objectives?

· What conditions are needed to facilitate this development and, conversely, what conditions are likely to lead to failure?

· How does the role and potential of forest products change with economic development (dynamics)?

· What is the role of policy in determining sustainable and equitable use of forest products?

Such analyses would inform the formulation of policy options and guidelines for governments and development agencies that would in turn facilitate more effective investments in forest product conservation and development.

One of the key challenges facing us will be to develop a general framework within which to structure a comparison of numerous and diverse cases so as to use them effectively as an empirical basis for the advancement of forest-product-based development theory.

The FPP programme is organized into two main, inter-related, thrusts: (1) an international comparative analysis of a large number of cases of forest product development, and: (2) case-based research for detailed analysis of particular situations, in collaboration with national and international partners.

4. An International Comparative Analysis of Cases of Forest Product Development

CIFOR is working, with the support of the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, to improve understanding of the role and potential of NTFPs through a comparative analysis of a wide range of cases of forest products development. We aim to collate information from many cases that have already been studied, to document and describe the cases using a standardized set of descriptors, and to conduct a series of exploratory analyses.

The goal is to:

· create typologies of cases,

· identify conditions associated with particular kinds of development and conservation outcomes,

· develop and test hypotheses about forest product development.

This will provide guidance for action-oriented interventions based on forest products; that is, to identify conditions and "types' of cases that are amenable to development interventions, as well as to flag "types" of cases that may not be good investments.

There is a rich body of information on many aspects of commercial forest product development. This information includes numerous case-based studies of different elements of forest product systems, and results from development projects that have invested in forest product development. Many interventions have been tried at the project level, including various combinations of technical, institutional and financial support for forest product production, processing and marketing, with mixed success. As well, larger, crosscutting interventions have been attempted, including green markets, "fair trade" initiatives, and efforts to promote NTFP certification (Shanley et al, forthcoming).

However, it is difficult to build a theoretical framework from this basis. The information has been gathered using a range of methods, at different scales, and focusing on different elements of the forest product production, processing and marketing systems. Work is needed to document and compare cases using consistent terms and definitions for an appropriate range of variables.

This research will synthesize lessons from approximately 60 cases (20 each in Latin America, Africa and Asia) that have already been researched and analysed, applying a standard comparative analytical approach. A range of descriptors (variables) has been identified based on a review of the literature and the authors' experience. These variables have been recognized in the literature as being important in some aspect of forest product development. The following categories of information are addressed:

· Geographic setting
· Biological and physical characteristics of the product
· Characteristics of the raw material production system
· Ecological implications of production
· Socio-economic characteristics of the raw material production system
· Institutional characteristics of raw material producers
· Policies affecting raw material production
· Characteristics of the processing industry
· Characteristics of the trade and marketing system
· Outside interventions
· Outcomes of forest product commercialization

The objective is to find out which characteristics tend to be associated with which other characteristics, and so create a typology of cases. We also want to discover which sets of characteristics, or "types" of cases, tend to be associated with what kinds of human development and conservation outcomes. We are hopeful that this information will be a valuable addition to the management and policy debate.

The comparative methodology is based on that developed by Ruiz-Perez and Byron (1999). It uses exploratory statistical analyses (including multivariate analysis) to find patterns, to develop typologies, to identify key context variables and to analyze their relationship with observed outcomes. The goal is to develop a useful typology of cases, identify key variables (those with maximum explanatory power), and investigate relationships between particular classes of forest products production-to-consumption systems and their development and conservation outcomes.

In addition to the statistical analysis, the relatively large database of cases, characterized using a standard format, will offer a unique opportunity for qualitative analyses. It is intended to publish summaries of the case descriptions in three volumes (by region) for ease of use by other researchers.

In order to capture all of the relevant variability, the analysis will be based on a production-to-consumption systems approach. That is, the case descriptions and the comparative analysis will consider the whole system, from production of raw material through to final market, including social, economic, technological and ecological aspects of the production systems, of the products, and of the market (Belcher, 1997, 1998).

5. Thematic Case-based Research - An Example Focusing on Rattan

The FPP programme is also undertaking a series of case-based research projects. The approach is illustrated with an example from Kalimantan, Indonesia, where rattan is the key commercial NTFP.

As with most CIFOR research, the project involves collaboration with local partners (in this case, the Centre for Social Forestry at the University of Mulawarman, Samarinda) and two international partners (The Centre for Earth Observation Science, University of Manitoba, Canada2, and the EU-supported FORRESASIA project). The study focuses on the Pasir and Kutai Kabupaten (Districts) of the Indonesian Province of East Kalimantan. The people in the area are mainly indigenous people (Dayak tribes) who live in scattered villages accessible by river and, increasingly with road access, who practise swidden agriculture. Rice is the mainstay, with several other field crops grown, supplemented by hunting, fishing and collecting from the forest, and increasing integration in the cash economy. The area was selected because:

1. there is a high level of traditional forest use by people living in the area;

2. the traditional rattan gardens of the area represent an interesting and important intermediate-intensity forest product production system;

3. the area is currently undergoing rapid externally-generated changes (new roads, large-scale establishment of oil palm and pulpwood plantations), leading to new pressures and opportunities for people living in the area.

This combination of factors makes the area very interesting for a study of the changing role and importance of forest products.

The ongoing work includes village and household level socio-economic surveys, ecological surveys, economic research, and spatial and land cover analyses based on community mapping and time-series remote sensing (optical and radar satellite) imagery3.

The rattan cultivation system in Kalimantan has been described frequently in the literature (Weinstock, 1983; Mayer, 1989; Godoy, 1990; Peluso, 1992; Fried and Mustafa, 1992; Boen et al., 1996; Belcher, 1997; Eghenter and Sellato, 1999). Farmers start the swidden cycle in May by slashing undergrowth vegetation, followed by felling the trees in a selected area of primary or secondary forest. In August, after a drying period of a month or so, the field is burned and by September farmers start planting the hill rice that will be harvested in February. Rattan seeds or seedlings are planted either after slashing or at the same time as rice. After two years of rice production most of the agricultural activities cease (except for harvesting of longer-maturing root-crops and fruits) and the rattan grows up with the regenerating forest. The rattan can be harvested seven to ten years after planting, and regularly after that.

The origins of the rattan cultivation system in Kalimantan are not well documented. It probably dates back to the mid-19th century (Van Tuil 1929; Tan, C. F. 1992). Rattan was originally used mainly for subsistence purposes, but over time gained commercial importance. We can only speculate about the domestication process, but it is a relatively small step from wild gathering to planting within a `ladang' (rice-swidden system). Rattan seeds or seedlings can be established simultaneously with the rice crop at very low extra cost. Our studies show that it requires and extra 7 or 8 man-days in the first year, and small inputs for weeding and protecting the young rattan plants afterwards. Once they are established, the rattan plants can be harvested periodically, using simple technology, over a long period of time, for just the cost of the harvesting labour (cutting and carrying). Most likely an intensification of the system to the current situation occurred with the entrance of rattan in the international trade in mid-19th century.

The details of the current approach vary from farmer to farmer and place to place, but the basic elements are consistent. Farmers plant rattan seeds, wildings or seedlings, in a newly created agricultural field (or "ladang") as part of a shifting cultivation system. The main agricultural crop is upland rice, along with maize, cassava and banana among other food crops. The main rattan species used is Calamus caesius (known locally as "rotan sega"), with several other species also grown. The young rattan plants are protected in the ladang and, when the farmer shifts to a new swidden plot one to two years later, the rattan left to grow up with the secondary forest vegetation, to create a "kebun rotan" or rattan garden. The average size of a rattan garden is 1.4 ha. Density of rattan clumps ranges from about 50/ha up to 350/ha, with a mean of around 170/ha (García-Fernández, forthcoming).

Harvesting of C. caesius typically commences eight to ten years after planting. Some of the others mature more quickly. C. caesius, and most of the other cultivated species, has multiple stems and can sustain repeated harvests. Thus, the rattan gardens can be harvested periodically over time. Farmers report that production peaks between 24 to 30 years and begins to decline between 37 and 43 years after planting (García-Fernández, forthcoming).

The rattan stems are cut, and cleaned and dried for sale through a network of traders. The main market for the primary cultivated species has been the `lampit' (rattan mat) industry in South Kalimantan (though this industry has largely collapsed - discussed below) and the furniture and handicrafts industry, primarily located in Java. A substantial portion has also been smuggled to Malaysia (Haury and Seragih, 1996, 1997) and on to other countries with large rattan furniture manufacturing industries (especially the Philippines and China).

The village elders report that rattan cultivation gained importance after independence, when rattan prices reached high levels. Rattan became a main economic crop at the end of the 1960's with the increased motorization of river transportation and an increasing number of traders and exporters. The main driving force was the regular increase in prices of rattan. At the same time, alternative sources of income were lost as forest products that had been important, such as resins and gums, became less valuable. The rapid development in Malaysia and Indonesia of hevea rubber plantations in the 1920's and 1930's meant reduced importance for the gums. Resins followed the same path with the development of synthetic substitutes around the time of the Second World War. Locally, village elders lay the blame on logging companies, who removed the big resin producing dipterocarps. By the end of the 1970's, rattan became the main source of income of most villages of the study area (the exceptions being a few villages in the very south of Pasir), with many farmers concentrating on rattan cultivation and purchasing rice to meet their requirements.

The economic role of rattan was exaggerated in the 1980s with the rapid development of the `lampit' (rattan mat) industry in South Kalimantan. In 1984 there were just 21 `lampit' manufacturing enterprises in Amuntai, the centre of the industry, making 64,000 m² of lampit. By 1987 the industry was at its peak, having swollen to 435 units producing over 1 million m² (Figure 1). The industry used cultivated C. ceasius, and demand and prices reached unprecedented highs (Figure 2). Farmers report that competition from buyers was very high. Traders would come to the villages, offering advances of cash and consumer goods to secure rattan supplies. But, good things do not last, and this boom was short-lived.

There has been a tradition in Indonesia of heavy government intervention in resource industries, often in collusion with powerful private interests (de Jong et al, forthcoming). The boom in the rattan sector in the 1980s attracted the attention of some of these people, and a series of regulations (Box 1) was swiftly put in place to try to capture some of the profits being generated.

Box 1: Policy instruments affecting rattan in Indonesia

· a ban on the export of unprocessed (raw) rattan in October 1986

· a ban on the export of semi-finished rattan in January 1989 (replaced in 1992 with a prohibitive export tax )

· the reclassification of rattan webbing as a semi-finished product (from finished product) in 1992, further reducing demand for cultivated rattan species used for this product

· regulation of the rattan processing industry, with restrictions on the investment in the area. For example, in 1989 all foreign and domestic investment in raw rattan processing and semi-finished rattan production was closed, and foreign investment in finished products manufacturing was also closed. Later this restriction was relaxed to allow investment in rattan processing outside of Java. This policy was finally fully relaxed in 1995, but in the meantime it has probably kept rattan-processing capacity below what it would otherwise have been.

· establishment of a Joint Marketing Board (ASMINDO), an approved exporters system, and an export quota system for lampit, by a Ministry of Trade Decree.

These measures were ostensibly aimed at protecting the resource and encouraging the domestic processing industry. The ban on the export of unprocessed rattan and on semi-processed rattan acted as a subsidy for domestic processors by artificially reducing demand for raw material (NRMP, 1996). In this respect the policy was successful; the rattan processing industry in Indonesia has grown substantially. However, the bans had a strong depressing effect on raw material prices, at great cost to the people involved in raw material extraction and cultivation.

One of the most important changes for the rattan growers of Kalimantan was the move to establish the Association of Furniture and Handicraft Industry (Indonesia) (ASMINDO). This was done to "prevent unhealthy competition" among lampit exporters, following the same approach used by the Asosiasi Panel Kayu Indonesia (Indonesian Wood Panel Association) (APKINDO) to control the plywood industry. Indeed, ASMINDO was effectively controlled by the same man who controlled APKINDO. ASMINDO imposed export restrictions on its membership in order to manage supply, in an effort to control quality and to increase unit prices. This strategy was based on the reasoning that, as the main supplier of lampit, Indonesia could control the market. Individual manufacturers reported that the quota was assigned based on political connections and payments.

These measures led to severe reductions in manufacturing and export of `lampit' (Fig. 2). There were also big fluctuations in value-added, as the unit price changed (in nominal terms) from US$6.38 down to as low as US$1.22 and back up to US$8.39 in 1987, 1990, and 1995 respectively. The total number of enterprises had dropped to 20, and now, according to anecdotal evidence, the industry is almost completely destroyed, with only one `lampit' factory and a number of home-based manufacturers producing for the domestic market. ASMINDO officials lay the blame for this situation on changing tastes and decreased demand in the main importing country, Japan. In fact, Chinese manufacturers developed a substitute for rattan `lampit', made from bamboo. This product was exported to Japan, beginning in the early 1980s, but exports expanded dramatically in 1995 to fill the gap created when the Indonesian prices increased and quantities decreased.

The drastic reduction in output has likewise reduced demand, and prices, for raw material. Raw material prices have changed little in nominal terms since 1987, and have decreased in real terms. Researchers in other rattan farming areas in Kalimantan report similar though more pronounced trends. In more remote areas, with higher transport and other transactions costs, there have been no buyers for several years.

The price slump following the introduction of restrictions on exports was a hard blow to all rattan farmers. Most farmers were not aware of the reasons for the price slump. They had already experienced ups and downs in prices of rattan, so they were waiting for the good times to come back. As the situation did not improve over time, more and more farmers have begun to seek alternative sources of cash income. Villages with better access to alternative opportunities started to set themselves apart from the dominant rattan based model. These villages were mainly located in the eastern part of our survey area in Kutai and in Pasir as a whole.

A series of events have brought major changes to the region, with tremendous impact on the rattan farmers in the area.

6. Oil Palm

First and perhaps most important has been the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations in the province. Industrial oil palm plantations typically cover several thousand hectares, often in rattan growing areas. By 1998, an estimated 70,000 ha were planted to oil palm in East Kalimantan (with substantially larger areas in neighboring provinces). Nearly 4 million ha have been designated for conversion in East Kalimantan and applications had been approved for more than 450,000 ha to be released by 1999 (Casson, 2000). In many cases there is direct competition for land, with oil palm concessions given on land that has been used and

managed by indigenous people for swidden agriculture, including rattan gardens. In one of the study villages, Modang, the establishment of a large oil palm plantation in the early 1980s resulted in many people being displaced, and large areas of productive rattan gardens being destroyed. More recent attempts to establish oil palm plantations have led to severe, sometimes armed, conflict between villagers and company employees. For example, in Lempunah village there is a severe conflict currently underway between the company, P.T. London Sumatra, and villagers, that has involved malicious destruction of rattan gardens and forest on the one side, and burning of vehicles and buildings, and up-rooting newly planted oil palm plants on the other (C. Gonner, pers. com.).

But oil palm also has a "pull' effect. Oil palm growing is seen as an interesting new opportunity by local people who appreciate benefits such as regular cash income (palm kernels can be harvested every week), guaranteed market, and a more "modern" lifestyle. Indeed, the main reasons for people's resistance seems to be the lack of adequate compensation for land that they consider to belong to them, and the wish to maintain a broad portfolio of economic activities. People do not want to limit their options. The oil palm companies, in contrast, want to encourage (or force) people to concentrate their efforts on oil palm growing, partly to ensure more efficient production and to ensure sufficient raw material to run their processing factories at capacity and partly, no doubt, to foster a dependence among growers. These issues notwithstanding, there is a strong desire among people in the area to get involved in oil palm growing for several reasons.

7. Pulpwood Plantations (HTI)

The other big land-use change has been large-scale planting of pulpwood plantations (known by the Indonesian acronym HTI). Many of these have been situated on "degraded lands". Under the definition of degraded lands that has been used by the government of Indonesia, this applies to rattan gardens, which are seen as degraded forests. Indeed, our spatial analysis showed a very high correlation of rattan growing areas with HTI.

8. Forest Fires

The other major impact on the rattan gardens was the fires of 1997. During a period of prolonged drought associated with an El niño event, several million hectares of Kalimantan were burned by wildfires. The hardest hit areas were logged over forests and areas of new plantation (oil palm, HTI) establishment; these often coincide. In many places, fire was used as a weapon in land conflicts. For example, in Lempunah, where P.T. London Sumatra was trying to establish an oil palm plantation and where local people have been resisting having their land taken from them, large areas of rattan gardens were burned (C. Gonner, pers. com.).

The fires did not affect all the villages of the area with the same intensity. The Eastern-most villages of Kutai and Pasir as a whole were the hardest hit. As these villages were also the ones with the best access to other opportunities, the trend towards change was reinforced.

In some villages, fires destroyed up to 90% of the rattan gardens. Beyond the physical damage, this event had a very traumatic effect on local people. Rattan gardens had been seen as a source of security. While prices might fluctuate, the rattan could always be sold for cash if and when it was needed. The rattan kept growing, and in many ways people used their rattan gardens like a savings account. Many respondents use the analogy themselves, saying that a rattan garden is like having money in the bank. All of a sudden, with the widespread burning of rattan gardens, the sense of security was replaced by the recognition that rattan gardens too are vulnerable. This new reality, combined with the low prevailing prices, had a determining effect in many villages to abandon rattan cultivation.

In other areas the response was different. In the west part of Kutai, some villages were spared the fires, while others were as severely hit as Pasir villages. People from villages in both categories seem to retain a high interest in rattan growing. Some have decided to convert from "sega" cultivation to "pulut merah" cultivation. This small-diameter species is relatively fast growing (compared to "sega") and current prices are high. Farmers are able to harvest quicker and to reduce the risks of total loss by fire. Furthermore "pulut merah" thrives in wetter areas along rivers, which are less prone to fires. The shift to this new species is so popular that "pulut merah" seeds are in high demand all over the area.

Other villages, especially those dominated by Benuaq and Bentian ethnic groups, still maintain their interest in rattan gardens, even after the price slump and the destructive fires. They still hope that the prices will soar again. But this may be due to their limited choice. In these remote villages the only source of cash is rattan. No other commodity is traded in the area. Even with very low prices they need to sell rattan, if they are lucky enough to have a buyer. But they no longer invest in establishing large rattan gardens. They only cut small amounts on a regular basis, in order to meet their basic subsistence needs. In villages closer to the primary forest, farmers look for wild rattans still in high demand by traders for the furniture industry. Provided that there are traders willing to buy timber, illegal logging is a favourite occupation for local people in need of cash all over the area.

9. Krismon

One other important factor came into play with the Krismon (from Krisis moniter) or monetary crisis associated with the Asian financial collapse. With a massive devaluation in the local currency, the relative value of export commodities soared. In Indonesia, agricultural commodities such as coffee, cocoa, pepper, rubber and palm oil, and mineral resources (oil, coal, gold) appreciated in value, as did any labour-intensive industry. In our study area the impact was seen in Pasir along the trans-Kalimantan road, where numerous immigrants from South-Kalimantan started gold panning on a large scale with motorized equipment, and in a trend toward increased coffee growing. Though not directly linked to the slump in rattan prices, the development of gold panning (with very high returns to labour) had a large impact by increasing the opportunity cost of labour. There was also a short-lived boom in the rattan furniture industry, but the raw material demands did not result in much price increase for the small diameter canes grown in the study area.

Figure 3: Stem of Deamonorops cristata, East Kalimantan (van Valkenburg)

10. The Future for Rattan Cultivation

This is a very interesting case to consider when evaluating ideas to develop intensified rattan management systems, or other NTFPs. This system was developed to fit with the traditional « ladang » (swidden) system. It offers the advantage of low cost establishment and maintenance with relatively high yields. The traditional system is highly diversified, and the rattan element fits well. Harvesting is very flexible - the rattan continues to grow for years, so there is no penalty for delaying harvesting to coincide with labour availability or higher prices. Many people note that it functions like a bank account - rattan can be harvested to respond to urgent needs for cash, to respond to medical emergencies, for example, or for ceremonial requirements. However, it has been seriously stressed by several factors, including:

· Low prices, in this case driven by the policy environment

· Fires and competing land uses leading to reduced rattan garden area

· New, financially superior alternative opportunities for land use (oil palm) and labour (wage jobs, gold panning).

In fact, the rattan gardens in East Kalimantan tend to be resilient, especially in areas where there are limited other opportunities. While this may seem obvious, there are some important lessons in the reasons for their resilience. These systems:

· Offer a valuable risk management tool in which the rattan is available as long-lived, low-maintenance source of savings/income. This is especially important in systems without other, well-developed risk management institutions (people do not have bank accounts, let alone insurance policies).

· Play an important "marker" function for property "ownership". Within the traditional system, rattan gardens are respected as a sign of occupation. Under the present circumstances, with large-scale state-sanctioned land appropriation by oil palm, HTI and mining companies, rattan gardens have been used successfully to demonstrate ownership and claim financial compensation from the company (however meagre).

· Provide a source of cash income in areas where there are few other opportunities to earn cash.

· Provide other valuable forest products and services as the rattan gardens function as secondary forests, giving habitat for medicinal plants, ritual plants, and plants and animals valued for food.

· Retain important cultural values; rattan gardens represent important traditions and provide links to ancestors (many rattan gardens have been inherited from fathers and grandfathers).

· Live long, with little input required. Thus they have a high degree of inertia.

Many of these benefits will be true of other intermediate systems, in other places.

The question arises as to whether this system should be subsidized or otherwise supported, and if so, how? Clearly, as discussed above, the rattan gardens are very important to significant number of, as an integral part of their livelihood systems. The stresses placed on the system have been, for the most part, generated from outside. Rattan trade policies have been designed to keep raw material prices low. Large-scale plantation agriculture has been pursued at the expense of people already living in the area. And the fires were largely human induced, many deliberately targeted to rattan gardens, even if they were facilitated by a natural period of drought. On this count, it seems that the system could be economically competitive if provided with a level playing field.

There are also other benefits to be considered. The rattan garden system offers important ecological benefits, in terms of biodiversity, forest cover, carbon sink, climate. Essentially, the financial value of the rattan makes a long fallow period feasible. During the long fallow, the forest can regenerate and increasingly provide these ecological services.

From a national perspective, the strongest argument for removing barriers and even for actively supporting the rattan cultivation system is that it supplies a valuable export industry.

There are several policy options that could be pursued simultaneously. Simple measures include reducing trade barriers that depress domestic raw material prices (including internal barriers, such as the ubiquitous illegal fees charged to traders, and official export taxes). Industry has resisted this, fearing that higher raw material prices would threaten their competitiveness. Additional measures then would be needed to assist industry to become more competitive. This could be achieved through more efficient raw material production (through research and extension to improve the cultivation system) and trade (especially through improved market information) and through improved design, quality, efficiency and marketing of manufactured products. Combined with these measures, there is a strong case in favour of more careful land-use planning to ensure that important rattan growing areas are not planted to industrial estate crops.

Under the current circumstances, the young people interviewed in our surveys place their hopes on plantation crops. They acknowledge that their low level of education and know-how prevents them from being hired as salaried workers by large companies and even from migrating. Condemned to stay in the village, they long for the regular incomes from plantation crops: oil palm or rubber. Rattan is seen as a thing from the past, something rather backwards, inherited from their forefathers. But such negative perception may easily be overridden if prices go up and if returns to labour become favourable again.

11. Conclusion

In many ways, rattan is a quintessential NTFP. It is typically produced under extensive conditions - the bulk of the world's supply still comes from wild resources - by people with relatively low economic and political power (though in the case described here it is cultivated under relatively extensive conditions). Individual producers tend to harvest small quantities in remote and highly dispersed production areas, often under open access property regimes. Product quality varies enormously. All of these things lead to high transactions costs for trade and relatively low bargaining power for producers, low commodity prices, and low incentives for sustainable management (Belcher, 1997). As a result, resource depletion is widespread. And yet, rattan (and many other NTFPs) offers great potential as a point of entry to improve opportunities for poor people to improve their livelihoods and at the same time to support an industry that creates many jobs and earns valuable foreign exchange for the producing countries.

This paper has raised a number of questions/issues that, it is hoped, will help focus efforts to achieve this potential. One of the main messages is that it is important to consider whole systems in order to identify the real problems. While rattan resources (both wild and managed) may be depleting, the underlying cause are social, economic and political, not technical. The case in East Kalimantan is of course unique in that the rattan is cultivated. But the same forces that have led people to abandon their rattan gardens in this case have also led to unsustainable management (insecure property rights; low raw material prices) and resource depletion (deforestation; wide-spread land use change) elsewhere.

Research and development for rattan must consider these issues. Sustainable management of NTFPs generally, and rattan specifically, will require improved institutional mechanisms - secure property rights for rattan managers/producers, transparent markets and reduced transaction costs to reduce the risk and increase the efficiency of the trade. People can only be expected to manage a resource sustainably if they are able to capture sufficient benefits now and have a reasonable expectation that they will continue to do so in the future. The case in Kalimantan demonstrates that, even with a system that can (technically) be managed sustainably can be seriously undermined by outside forces (and, not least, misguided policies). While there will be a need for some technical research (improved treatment to prevent post-harvest losses, for example), such research should take place in the context of an understanding of the system and the real constraints and opportunities.


Belcher, B.M., and M. Ruiz-Perez, forthcoming. An International Comparison of Cases of Forest Product Development: Overview, Description and Data Requirements. CIFOR Working Paper.

Belcher, B.M., P. Levang; C. García-Fernández, S. Dewi, R. Achdiawan, J. Tarigan, W. F. Riva, I. Kurniawan, S. Sitorus, and R.Mustikasari, forthcoming. Resilience and Evolution in a Managed NTFP System: Evidence from the Rattan Gardens of Kalimantan. Paper presented at the workshop "Cultivating Forests: Intermediate Systems for NTFP Production, Lofoten Islands, Norway, June 2000.

Belcher, B.M., 1998 A production-to-consumption systems approach: lessons from the bamboo and rattan sectors in Asia. In: Wollenberg, E. and Ingles, A. (eds.). Incomes from the forest: methods for the development and conservation of forest products for local communities, 57-84. Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor, Indonesia.

Belcher, B.M., 1997. Commercialization of Forest Products as a Tool for Sustainable Development: Lesson from the Asian Rattan Sector. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota.

Boen, P.M., P. Hendro, and A. Satria, 1996. Study on the Socio-Economic Aspects of the Rattan Production to Consumption System in Indonesia: A Case Study in Kalimantan. Draft Report.

Casson, A., 2000. The Hesitant Boom: Indonesia's oil palm sub-sector in an era of economic crisis and political change. CIFOR Occasional paper No. 29, Bogor, Indonesia.

Haury, D. and B. Saragih, 1996. Processing and Marketing Rattan. Ministry of Forestry in Cooperation with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ). SFMP Document No. 6a.

Eghenter, C. and B. Sellato, 1999. Kebudayaan dan Pelestarian Alam: Penelitian Interdisipliner di Pedalaman Kalimantan. WWF Indonesia, Jakarta.

Tan, C. F., 1992. The History of Rattan Cultivation. Malayan Forest Record no. 35, pp 51-55.

Fried, S.T. and Mustofa Agung Sardjono, 1992. Social and Economic Aspects of Rattan Production, Middle Mahakam Region: A Preliminary Survey. GFG Report No. 21, pp. 63-72.

de Jong, W., D. Rohadi, R. Mustikasari, B. Belcher and P. Levang, forthcoming. The Political Economy of Forest Products in Indonesia: A History of Changing Adversaries. Centre for International Forestry Research. Bogor, Indonesia.

García-Fernández, C., Title to be announced. Forthcoming Ph.D. thesis.

Godoy, R.A., 1990. The Economics of Traditional Rattan Cultivation. Agroforestry System, Vol. 12, pp. 163-172.

Haury, D. and B. Saragih, 1996. Processing and Marketing Rattan. Ministry of Forestry in Cooperation with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ). SFMP Document No. 6a.

Haury, D. and B. Saragih, 1997. Low Rattan Farmgate Prices in East Kalimantan. Causes and Implications. Ministry of Forestry in Cooperation with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ). SFMP Document No. 12.

Mayer, J., 1989. Rattan Cultivation, Family Economy and Land Use: A Case from Pasir, East Kalimantan. German Forestry Group (GFG) Report no. 13, pp 39-53.

McNeely, J.A., 1988. Economics and Biological Diversity. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Gland, Switzerland.

Neumann, R.P. and Hirsch, E., 2000. Commercialization of non-timber forest products: review and analysis of research. Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor, Indonesia.

Peluso, N.L., 1992. The Rattan Trade in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. In Nepstad, D.C., and S. Schartzman (eds.), 1992. Non-Timber Products from Tropical Forest: Evaluation of a Conservation and Development Strategy. Volume 9, Advances in Economic Botany, The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York, USA, pp. 115-127

Pompa, A.G. and A. Kaus, 1999. From Pre-Hispanic to Future Conservation Alternatives: Lessons from Mexico. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA Vol 96, pp. 5982-5986.

Ruiz-Perez, M. and N. Byron, 1999. A methodology to Analyze Divergent Case Studies of Non-Timber Forest Products and Their Development Potential. Forest Science 45(1) pp. 1-14.

Ruiz-Perez, M. and Arnold, M., (eds.). 1997 Current issues in non-timber forest products. Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor, Indonesia.

Shanley, P., Pierce, A.R., Laird, S.A. and Guillen, A., forthcoming. Tapping the green market. Earthscan Press.

Townson, I.M., 1994. Forest products and household incomes: a review and annotated bibliography. Oxford Forestry Institute.

Van Tuil, J.H., 1929. Handel en Cultuur van Rotan in de Zuideren Oosterafdeeling van Borneo (Trade and Cultivation of Rattan in the Southern and Eastern Divisions of Borneo). Tectona 22, pp 695-717. In Dutch.

Weinstock, J. A., 1983. Rattan: Ecological Balance in a Borneo Rainforest Swidden. Economic Botany, Vol. 37(1) pp 58-68.

Wiersum, K.F., 1997. Indigenous Exploitation and Management of Tropical Forest Resources: An Evolutionary Continuum in Forest-People Interactions. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 63, pp 1-16.

2 With support from the Canadian International Development Agency

3 Detailed accounts of the research are available in Belcher et al, forthcoming.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page