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L.T. Hong, V. Ramanatha Rao and W. Amaral

1. Introduction

The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) is one of 16 centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). IPGRI's mission is to encourage, support and undertake activities to improve the management of genetic resources worldwide so as to help eradicate poverty, increase food security and protect the environment. IPGRI focuses on the conservation and use of plant genetic resources important to developing countries and has an explicit commitment to specific crops. IPGRI works in partnership with other organizations, undertakes research and training, and provides scientific and technical advice and information. IPGRI operates in five geographical areas: Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, Central and West Asia and North Africa, and Asia, the Pacific and Oceania.

Prior to 1993 there was little concerted effort by organizations in focusing on biodiversity or genetic resources conservation and genetic improvement of bamboo or rattan even though the International Network on Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) was working tirelessly on various aspects of bamboo and rattan research. The urgent need to generate information for the effective conservation and sustainable use of rattan (and bamboo) was then recognised. At that time, INBAR had requested IPGRI to take the lead in activities related to research on the genetic resources conservation of rattan (and bamboo). Thus the INBAR-IPGRI Biodiversity and Conservation Working Group was constituted in 1993 to address these issues. It was opportune that Japan then provided the financial assistance to IPGRI to initiate the programme (Ramanatha Rao et al). The planning and implementation of the research activities on rattan (and bamboo) are conducted from the Asia-Pacific Regional Office of IPGRI, which is located in the vicinity of the campus of Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang, Malaysia.

The objective of this information paper is to provide a synopsis on IPGRI's role and a sample of its activities in rattan genetic resources conservation for use.

2. Rattan

Rattan palms are found only in the old world distributed in equatorial Africa, south Asia, southern China, the Malay Archipelago, Australia, the western Pacific as far as Fiji. The greatest diversity of rattan genera and species is found in the Southeast Asian region. In Africa three of the four genera recorded are endemic. Calamus, with 370-400 species is the largest genus and is distributed throughout the geographical range of rattans (Dransfield & Manokaran, 1993).

A unique feature of rattans is the abundance and diversity of species, sometimes as many as 30 which occur in one locality in what is apparently rather uniform vegetation. However there could be habitat differences and subtle breeding barriers between species that are not yet understood. In addition, knowledge in the genetic diversity within and between species is still scarce for rattan. With the fast depletion of the tropical forests it is imperative to obtain this knowledge for the sustainable management of the remaining rattan resources. For the commercially more popular species like Calamus manan, the problem is more acute as the rate of "regeneration" is dependent on seedling survival as compared to other canes like C. caesius.

3. The Objectives

IPGRI does not carry out research on genetic resources conservation for use by itself. It works in partnership with national research institutes and universities to execute the research. The genetic variability and diversity of rattans are two areas of research with little inputs. However, there is a need to have a focus for research in the conservation of rattan genetic resources and this calls for a strategy to maximise financial and manpower resources. The objectives formulated by IPGRI for rattan (and bamboo) activities include: to identify priority bamboo and rattan species for conservation and use; to assess diversity of selected bamboo and rattan genetic resources; to develop complementary conservation and sustainable use strategies for these resources; and to establish information base in the region and to strengthen capacity of national programmes through research and training.

In the last few years significant amount of information have been generated, compiled and distributed through IPGRI activities on rattan. Nevertheless there is still a substantial gap in information needed for effective conservation of the resource in many countries. Results from a number of rattan activities in the region that IPGRI has supported have benefited the countries concerned and have also improved national capacity to address the conservation of genetic resources of rattan.

4. The Strategy

The work accomplished so far on identification and diversity of the genetic resources of rattan in various countries is expected to assist in maximising the utilization of the species and thus enhancing conservation for sustainable management. The results obtained are already creating awareness among the national research institutes not only in Asia, but also in Africa and Central and South America.

The need to focus on specific priority areas necessitated IPGRI to formulate a strategy to ensure effective conservation of rattan genetic resources for use (Ramanatha Rao et al, undated). Activities identified and executed under this strategy would direct efforts of national research organisations to achieve the set objectives. However, it is noted here that not all of the areas identified are of equal importance for countries in the region. Activities are being developed according to the priority and needs of each country. The areas of focus have been grouped under four headings and these are:

1. Assessment and inventory - In situ conservation actions are required and will take priority while complementary conservation strategies are being developed for the rattan resources. Therefore the assessment on the current status of rattan resources is a vital activity for successful in-situ (and ex-situ) conservation efforts. Activities to be undertaken under this area will include assessment and inventories, distribution patterns and size of populations, rates of extraction etc.;

2. Development and implementation of conservation procedures - There is a need to implement different procedures for conservation to ensure sustainable management of the rattan genetic resources for use. This will include development of in situ and ex situ conservation plans, assessment of seed viability and seed storage and in vitro conservation protocols, establishment and management of field genebanks and guidelines for safe movement of germplasm;

3. Rates of extraction and human impact - The long-term (detrimental) impact of over exploitation on natural rattan resources in some countries has been felt. There is still a lack of information on the natural regeneration and socioeconomic impact of exploitation and conservation. This information is needed to establish proper in situ (and ex situ) measures, for sustainable utilization of the resource to ensure the socio-economic benefits are maintained; and

4. Development of methods for sustainable conservation and use - It must be recognized that many rural poor are dependent on non-timber forest products such as rattan. Efforts to conserve should not interfere with extraction and use of this resource for their daily needs as well as the income generation activities of these people and other forest dwellers. Understanding the preference for extraction by the forest and forest-fringe dwellers, especially when alternative means of livelihood become available, is of significance to sustainable conservation of the rattan in the natural habitats. Activities would include, assessment of economic gains through extraction of rattan, identification and selection of rattan material that performs well under different environment and ecosystems, and identification and selection of species suitable for cultivation to reduce pressure on naturally occurring stands.

5. Highlights of Some Achievements

IPGRI has undertaken rattan projects with partners in a number of countries in the region stretching from Nepal to China. Some achievements generated through IPGRI's activities on rattan are highlighted here for information (Appendix 1).

5.1 Prioritization of species for genetic resources conservation

The importance of correct identification of rattans when establishing priorities for conservation and use strategies cannot be over emphasized. A good taxonomy also provides the means for reliable transfer of information and for predicting the properties of rattan (Dransfield, 2000). The taxonomic identification of some of the commercial species is still uncertain. In view of the large number of species and their diverse geographical ranges and ecologies, focus has to be directed to the conservation of genepools of more useful species. This is also relevant in that only a small number of the total species is used or have a commercial value. IPGRI together with INBAR published a list of priority species based on a broad criteria (Williams & Ramanatha Rao, 1994). Criteria used for selection included information on: utilization, cultivation, products and processing; germplasm and genetic resources and agro-ecology. Nine species were identified as priority. Acceding to the needs and feedback of the countries in the region this priority list was later expanded to include 21 species (Rao et al., 1998). The priority list is a useful guide for countries in focusing their research on rattan (Appendix 2).

5.2 Assessment and inventory

Studies have been carried out on rattan genetic resources and identification of commercially important species in countries such as Bangladesh, China, the Western Ghats in India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam (Rao & Ramanatha Rao, 1999; Vivekanandan et al., 1998; Xu et al., 2000). The surveys carried out in the collection of data have also helped countries to quantify the extent of depletion of rattan resources and have assisted in identifying most suitable areas for conservation. For example the studies in Vietnam have shown that taxonomic descriptions and species identification are incomplete for most rattans, especially those in the Central and Southern regions. Calamus platyacanthus, a big sized cane similar to the C. manan of Southeast Asia, was found to extend from Yunnan province in China to various provinces in Vietnam.

5.3 Patterns of genetic variation

This area of rattan research has just begun to generate interest among researchers. Therefore only a few studies are available to come to an understanding of genetic diversity within and between populations.

The population and genetic diversity of three Calamus spp. each in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Malaysia that were studied showed significant phenotypic variation. The study of 13 populations from seven provinces of Calamus palustris in Thailand showed that approximately 18% of the total diversity was due to differences among populations. Work in comparing random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) and isozyme methods for identifying diversity in C. palustris in Thailand revealed highly polymorphic isozyme gene loci in this species. This meant that isozyme analysis alone was sufficient to assess genetic diversity of C. palustris. A study to evaluate the status of genetic diversity of rattan to construct spatial and temporal patterns of loss of their populations in the Western Ghats in India has identified the presence of 27 species of rattan. Population genetic variability assessed using C. thwaitesii has shown a lack of population differentiation. Another related research on the identification of genetic markers for gender-determination in two dioecious species of Calamus has just been initiated by the National University of Singapore.

5.4 Processes regulating genetic diversity

A study on socioeconomic aspects of loss of rattan resources in Karnataka, India, was carried out. The objectives were to determine the degree of extraction of and economic reliance on the resource at the local and state level, to identify the social and economic factors responsible for the decline in the resource and to examine the social and economic consequences of the decline of the resource. This project has just been completed and results are being analysed and suggestions on how to mitigate the impacts of extraction and land use changes are being proposed.

5.5 Human resource development

One of the constraints in executing research is availability of skilled manpower. This has been a concern of IPGRI since the rattan research project was started. Over the past few years, efforts were made by IPGRI to promote and assist in the training for conservation and use of rattan resources on a sustainable basis. Collaboration with INBAR and other organisations has increased the skills of partners to carry out work in this area. Various courses on taxonomy, conservation, ecology, silviculture, molecular approaches in plant population genetics have been held, and relevant workshops have been conducted for this purpose.

6. The Future Ahead

For sustainable conservation and use of rattan resources, it is imperative that the practice of uncontrolled exploitation should be abandoned and replaced by effective measures of conservation, cultivation and sustainable management that would also help the rural poor in the long term. The work done so far on the identification of available genetic resources in various countries would assist in the optimum utilization of rattan, including the expansion of the number of species to be brought under cultivation. IPGRI would continue to support studies on the conservation of rattan genetic resources for use under the four strategic areas identified. Its efforts will be focussed on specific areas where information is still lacking to ensure effective conservation of the species for sustainable management. It has been and will always be the policy of IPGRI to collaborate with organisations (at national and international levels) concerned with the conservation and use of rattan to bring about more effective sustainable management of these resources for improving the economic status (especially) of the rural population.

Figure 4: A rattan harvester in East Kalimantan (van Valkenburg)


Dransfield, J., 2000. General introduction to rattan - The biological background to exploitation and the history of rattan research. FAO Expert Consultation on Rattan Development. 5-7December 2000, Rome, Italy. 12pp.

Dransfield, J. and Manokaran, N. eds., 1993. Plant Resources of South-East Asia, No. 6. Rattans. Pudoc Scientific Publ., Wageningen, the Netherlands. 137 pp.

Ramanatha Rao,V., Rao, A.N. and Ouedrago, A.S. (undated). Sustainable conservation and use of bamboo and rattan resources: Elements of a strategy.

Rao, A.N., Ramanatha Rao, V. and Williams, J.T. eds., 1998. Priority species of bamboo and rattan. IPGRI-APO, Serdang, Malaysia. 95 pp.

Rao, A.N. and Ramanatha Rao, V., eds. 1999. Bamboo and rattan genetic resources and use. Proceedings of the 3rd INBAR-IPGRI biodiversity, genetic resources and conservation working group meeting. 24-27 August 1997. IPGRI-APO, Serdang., Malaysia. 203 pp.

Sastry, C.B., 2000. Rattan in the twenty-first century - An outlook. FAO Expert Consultation on Rattan Development. 5-7 December 2000, Rome, Italy.

Vivekanandan, K., Rao, A.N. and Ramanatha Rao, V., eds., 1998. Bamboo and rattan genetic resources in certain Asian countries. IPGRI-APO, Serdang, Malaysia. 229 pp.

Williams, J.T. and Ramanatha Rao, V., eds., 1994. Priority sspecies of bamboo and rattan. INBAR Technical Report No. 1. INBAR and IBPGR, New Delhi.

Xu, H.C., Rao, A.N., Zeng, B.S. and Yin, G.T., eds. 2000. Research on rattans in China. Conservation, cultivation, distribution, ecology, growth, phenology, silviculture, systematic anatomy and tissue culture. IPGRI-APO, Serdang, Malaysia. 148 pp.

Annex 1

Current rattan projects supported by IPGRI





Distribution and status of rattan in Bardiya district of Nepal

Institute of Foresters, Nepal


Distribution, population status and genetic diversity of Calamus manan in Sumatra

Indonesian Institute of Sciences, R&D Centre for Biotechnology, Indonesia


Studies on rattans of Dakshina, Kannada and Kodagn districts of Karnataka with particular reference to species diversity, density of population, seed viability and germination

Mangalore University,






Herbarium survey to determine the distribution of certain rattan species in China

Research Institute of Tropical Forestry, Guangzhou, China


Evaluation of ex situ and in situ conservation of rattan germplasm in China

Research Institute of Tropical Forestry, Guangzhou, China


Genetic assessment of three rattan species

FRIM, Malaysia


Identification of patterns of genetic variation among three selected rattans

Universiti Malaya, Malaysia


The distribution and conservation of bamboo and rattan species in Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai University, Thailand


Genetic diversity of Calamus species

Royal Forest Department, Thailand


Mapping genetic diversity of rattan in Western Ghats of India

ATREE, India


Genetic diversity and conservation of certain rattan species in Andaman Nicobar Islands and Western Ghats, South India

Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi, India


Estimation of nuclear DNA content of various rattan species

National University of Singapore


Distribution, phenology and conditions suitable for seed germination of certain rattans in Vietnam

Forest Science Institute of Vietnam


Ecogeographic survey and phenology of rattan in Nepal

Forest Research Centre, Nepal


Annex 2

List of priority rattan species for R & D
(Rao et al., 1998)

Calamus manan
Calamus caesius
Calamus trachycoleus
Calamus sect. Podocephalus
Calamus andamanicus
Calamus burckianus
Calanus erinaceus
Calamus foxworthyi
Calamus merrillii
Calamus nagbettai
Calamus ovoideus
Calamus polystachys
Calamus warburghii
Calamus zeylanicus
Calamus zollingeri
Calamus palustris and relatives
Calamus inermis
Calamus nambariensis
Calamuc deeratus
Calamus tetradactylus
Calamus hollrungii and relatives

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