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A. Oteng-Amoako and B. Obiri-Darko


Rattans have enormous potential to rural economies in Africa, however, this sector has long been neglected. Consequently, African's share of the world's US$6.5 billion annual trade in rattan does not exist. The industry is threatened by over-harvesting, poor quality raw rattan stems, inconsistent quality of rattan products and national policies which appear to stifle the industry and dampen the aspirations of collectors, weavers and traders alike. A call is made for effective and adaptable technologies in the areas of rattan management, plantation development, primary processing, product development and competitive marketing. Primary stakeholders should be empowered to take up the challenge and advocate for positive changes to outmoded policies in the sector.

1. Introduction

The consequences of rapid depletion of tropical forest resources are quite enormous: global warming, soil erosion, endangered biodiversity and shortage of timber trees are but some of the many problems. Non-timber forest products such as rattan and bamboo have a potential role in solving some of these environmental and developmental concerns. Rattan, sustainably developed, can be a supplement for timber revenues and have potential to alleviate poverty among marginalised groups and serve as a source of income for rural people.

In spite of its enormous potential, the development of rattan sector in tropical Africa seems to have been neglected, a situation in contrast to many countries in Southeast Asia. There is therefore an urgent need for appropriate technologies to develop the sector and fulfil its economic potential.

This paper gives a brief account of the current rattan production to consumption system in Africa, examplified by a baseline study in Ghana by Oteng-Amoako and Obiri-Darko (2000a) and a review of similar studies in other countries by Sunderland in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea (1998a, 1998b), Morakinyo (1995a, 1995b) in Nigeria, and Defo (1997) in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo. The problems and constraints are highlighted and recommendation is made on development interventions to sustain the sector and bring economic prosperity to collectors, processors, weavers and traders of raw rattan and rattan products.

2. Overview of Rattan Production to Consumption System in Africa

The rattan production to consumption system in most producing countries of Africa is a low input and labour intensive system, characterised by extraction of rattan from the natural forest, processing them into different products at village and urban centres using simple tools. The products are then sold in urban and rural domestic markets with very few quantities being exported to neighbouring and European countries (Fig. 1).

Rattans are extracted with simple tools from forests and cleared of spines and leaves and then bundled in groups of 10 to 100 sticks of 10 metres long for sale at rural and urban markets. They are processed manually by rural and urban weavers using simple tools and technology. Furniture, shopping and laundry baskets and serving trays are major products from urban areas in Ghana and Nigeria while carrier and storage baskets are the main products at the rural level in many countries. The quality of finished products varies widely. In general, products from Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon are of better quality than other producing countries like Equatorial Guinea where the industry is very much rudimentary (Sunderland, 1988b).

The urban products are sold in the open by roadsides and very rarely from display centres. Consumers are both the poor, middle class locals and expatriate tourists. However, rattan products are very much a poor man's furniture in many countries and a considerable part of the urban market is geared towards local, low level consumption. Only a small quantity is exported to Europe and other countries. At the rural level, carrier and storage baskets are sold to farmers and market traders.

A review of various studies on rattan sector in Africa by Oteng-Amoako and Obiri-Darko (2000a; 2000b), Morakinyo (1995a; 1995b), Sunderland and Nkefor (1999), Sunderland (1999), Defo (1998) and Falconer (1994) identifies problems in the sector which may be summarised into four areas as follows:

· Lack of inventory data on rattan resource;

· Inadequate supply of quality rattan cane;

· Inefficient processing and poor quality of rattan raw materials and finished products;

· Lack of adequate overseas markets for rattan cane and finished products especially in Ghana.

To address these constrains in Ghana, the following development interventions which are also applicable to other countries in Africa have been suggested by Oteng-Amoako and Obiri-Darko (2000b):

· Increasing the quantity and quality of rattan resource base;

· Improved processing efficiency for quality raw rattan and rattan products;

· Enhanced marketing of raw rattan and rattan products in an enhanced local and international competitive market;

· Empowerment of primary rattan stakeholders for financial, social and political enhancement (to reflect changes in forestry legislation to include community forest management);

· Effective policy to promote sustainable industry.

3. A Sustainable Resource Base - How?

The transfer of technology needed to sustain the rattan resource should be undertaken with the involvement of primary stakeholders in the planning and execution of the interventions. This approach is likely to increase security of introduced technology and demonstrate its effectiveness to the stakeholders who will ultimately have to determine which interventions to be implemented. For example, Stockdale (1994) has reviewed research methodologies for the sustainable management of natural rattan stands which include the need for adequate inventory, the determination of sustainable harvesting levels and appropriate management practices.

3.1 Distribution

Rattan occurs in the tropical forest of Africa and Asia (Fig.2). In Africa, rattan occurs predominantly in lowland equatorial rainforests and are distributed from Senegambia in the Northwest to Angola and Zambia in South-Central Africa Tanzania in the East. Calamus deerratus is the most widespread rattan species extending from Senegal to Tanzania but the most commercially utilised species are reported to be Laccosperma secundiflorum, L.robustum and Eremospatha macrocarpa. However, thorough assessment of the rattan resource is needed in the rattan-producing countries of Africa.

Fig. 2: Distribution of rattan in the world

(from Wiener and Liese, 1993)

3.2 Inventory

Little is known about the stocking level and the quality of rattans in the forests of Africa. Recent work by the Cross River Forestry Project in Nigeria (CRFP, 1994), the Tropenbos programme in Cameroon (Van-Dijk, 1995) and in Ghana (Wong, 1998) have attempted to address the inventory problem with little success. Therefore, the first means to attain a sustainable resource base is the development of a reliable cost effective inventory method to assess the stocking of the commercial species of African rattans. Stockdale (1994) suggests random stratified method using rectangular 0,1 ha plots perpendicular to the slope as the most cost effective means of gathering quantitative information on wild rattan resource. The measurement of stem length is a crucial parameter in undertaking rattan inventories. Therefore, common inventory systems of measuring stem length should be used to allow for comparison of results between countries. Inventory of rattans should be accompanied by a thorough understanding of rattan taxonomy which is essential in determining the resource base of an area. Without reference to an adequate taxonomy and defining the resource base, inventories are of little or no use in providing information for management decisions.

3.3 Taxonomy and Anatomical Identification

There are conflicting reports as to the number of rattan species found in Africa. Morakinyo (1995b) recognizes 13 "good" species, 17 by Sunderland (1997a) while Wiener and Liese (1993) report of 25 species. However, a new taxonomy on African rattans was presented at the "International Expert Workshop on African Rattans", held in Limbe in February 2000, in which 20 species from Africa, including two new taxa, are described, listed and illustrated by Sunderland (2000).

In spite of the above differences, all experts agree to four genera including three endemic genera of Laccosperma, Eremospatha and Oncocalamus, each consisting of at least two species. Calamus which is represented by only one variable species in Africa, has many species in Southeast Asia. Sunderland (1997a) has recently provided a field guide for taxonomic identification of mature and immature rattans at species level. Likewise, identification of Africa rattan stems to species level using anatomical features initiated by Wiener and Liese (1994) and now being pursued by Oteng-Amoako and Ebanyenle (2000) should be supported. Correct identification of rattans will enhance their effective processing and utilisation. Knowledge on anatomical features could assist to predict physical properties of the species, including density, strength and other working properties.

3.4 Sustainable Harvesting

Harvesting of rattan in Africa is undertaken manually and it can be a very difficult activity particularly when rattans become entangled with each other and in the canopies of adjacent trees. It often results in various forms of injury to collectors and calls for a better and efficient method of harvesting such as the use of simple but effective tools (manual harvesting is still practised throughout Southeast Asia as well) and wearing of adequate protective clothing.

In spite of the above problems, over-harvesting and poor management of rattans in their natural habitat have contributed to acute shortage of raw rattan species (especially Eremospatha) in some producing countries of Africa, including Ghana (Oteng-Amoako and Obiri-Darko 2000a, 2000b; Falconer, 1994) and Nigeria (Morakinyo 1995a, 1995b). As a consequence, village collectors in Ghana for example, have to walk a distance of about ten kilometres to and from their village to collect rattans (Oteng-Amoako and Obiri-Darko, 2000). This shortage of raw material should be addressed expeditiously through implementation of sustainable management practices with the involvement of rattan collectors and weavers to avoid risks of over-harvesting, aggravating even more the local scarcity of the species.

Inefficient harvesting methods may influence the survival, growth and vegetative or sexual reproduction of other stems in a cluster. Rattans may regenerate naturally if judicious harvesting methods are implemented. Many variables which have to be investigated for suitable harvesting methods include the number of mature stems removed from a cluster (i.e. harvesting intensity), the height at which a rattan cane is cut at the stump, the harvesting cycle, the maturity of the stem, the removal of entangled stems to create gaps and the length of harvested stem. Indicators for stem maturity are: the peeling of the dry leaf sheaths, the yellowish or green colour of the basal portion and stems free of thorns (Sunderland and Nkefor, 1999). Intervention to these research needs could assist in making judicious decisions on the required management regimes and silvicultural intervention for both cultivated rattan plantation and for rattan management in natural forests, and on planting distance, harvest period and intensity and rotation cycle, for formulation of a sustainable yield model.

3.5 Seed Technology and Nursery Practices

In Africa, raw material for artificial or natural regeneration of rattan will have to be met from seed source in the foreseeable future until the science of biotechnology including tissue culture for production of rattan seedlings is considerably developed. There is therefore a need to improve upon stakeholders' knowledge of seed collection, storage and raising of seedlings through nursery establishment. This should be followed by technology for transplanting seedlings in the field. Research should aim at seedling establishment and at reducing dormancy period and increasing the percentage of seed germination (this work is currently being undertaken in Cameroon). Nursery and planting methods of rattans in gardens and plantations are summarised by K. Awang (1994), and K. Awang, J. Dransfield and N. Manokaran (eds) (1992).

3.6 Enrichment Planting

Enrichment planting, which involves planting and cultivation of rattans in gaps in natural forest stands, should be encouraged because the technology is relatively simple with limited capital input. Enrichment planting using nursery seedlings or wildings should be undertaken in gaps using line planting techniques in logged-over forests, fallow or degraded lands by bushfire, shifting cultivation or mining. A success story of enrichment planting in Malaysia where more than 17,000 hectares of logged over forest has been successfully planted with Calamus species can serve as a guide (Manokaran, 1987). The shortfalls of rattan cultivation have recently been reviewed by Bacilieri & Appanah (eds.), 1999. Research needs should include studies on microhabitat preferences as advanced by Dransfield (1979), Aminuddin (1990) and Siebert (1993).

3.7 Silviculture

There is no record on silvicultural practices of natural rattan stands in Africa. Consequently, silvicultural practices of weeding, fertilising, peeling of dried sheaths off the stem to prevent attack by insects which also opens up the forest canopy for increased light can be considered (although it will entail high labour costs) to access their effect on yield and stem quality. Previous studies in Southeast Asia by Tan (1992), Aminuddin and Nur Supardi (1992), Manokaran (1985, 1987) and Bacilieri and Appanah (1999) could provide useful background for the study.

3.8 Plantation Establishment

Establishment of rattan plantation is another option for which technology is urgently needed in Africa. Rattan plantation has been successfully developed in association with rubber trees (Hevea brasilensis) in Malaysia since the 1980's for Calamus manan, a solitary cane. Sunderland et al (1999) have recently established a one-hectare trial plantation of Laccosperma secundiflorum under an obsolete rubber plantation in Cameroon. Caution should however be exercised in selection of planting distance for our clustering rattan species to avoid possible hindrance of access to established trees (in case they might be tapped for rubber). The establishment of community rattan plantations will also serve as a source for collection of (superior) seeds material and as a demonstration farm for prospective growers.

Provenance trials of different rattan species on degraded lands should follow once the basic technology for plantation establishment has been established and adopted by small-holders. An estimated harvest yield of 4,000 and 7,000 sticks per hectare for large and small diameter cane respectively, has been recorded in Southeast Asia which makes rattan plantation a possible profitable venture (Sunderland and Nkefor, 1999). A long-term possibility of introducing exotic rattan species into plantations of Africa should not be overlooked. (This is not possible for all species, as for example there is currently a ban on the export of Calamus manan seeds from all Asian producer countries as a mean to protect their domestic industry.)

3.9 Rattans in Agroforestry

Agroforestry can offer a rattan farmer the benefit to inter-crop trees with seasonal crops so that the farmer can reap the crops while he waits for trees to mature. Inter-cropping rattans with seasonal crops will enable the rattan farmer to secure additional income from the same land until the rattans are harvested after 7 to 10 years. Alternatively, rattans planted with timber trees will give income for the farmer after 7 to 10 years when species are matured and before the trees mature in 30 plus years. Although the concept of agroforestry has long been introduced in Africa, there is a need to know what crop types should be planted with what rattan species or which tree and rattan species should be inter planted. For example, can the practice of inter-cropping rattans with rice practised in some part of Indonesia (Weinstock, 1983) be used in Africa?

4. Efficient Processing for Quality Raw Materials and Finished Products

The quality of rattan products depend mostly on the quality of raw materials used, the ingenuity of the weaver, the efficiency of tools and equipment used and other inputs such as finishes and varnishes.

4.1 Quality of Raw Material

Transformation of primary processed rattan stems into quality finished rattan products depends mostly on the quality of rattan stems. For quality finished products, rattan weavers prefer matured stem with long internodes, devoid of discolouration, scorch marks, splits fungi and insect and damage and seasoning defects such as abnormal shrinkages, cracks, splits (Oteng-Amoako and Obiri-Darko, 2000b). Other quality indicators identified by Sunderland and Nkefor (1999) include non-tapered or uniform stem diameter and stems with glossy or bright colour.

4.2 Primary Processing

Processing of raw rattan in African is manually done using simple domestic knives to remove the skin (epidermis), followed by drying in the open air with little or no preservative treatment (Oteng-Amoako and Obiri-Darko, 2000a; Sunderland and Nkefor, 1999). This labour intensive activity results in inferior quality of raw materials often infested with fungi and borer insects. Therefore, the technology needed in processing is the adoption of simple but efficient scrapping tools and effective preservative methods to prevent raw rattan from attack by biological hazards before they are used. The Southeast Asian method of boiling green rattan in diesel or coconut oil which gives superior raw material (Latif, 1991) should be investigated alongside other innovative methods for possible adoption in Africa.

4.3 Transformation (Weaving) of Rattan

Research into desired physical properties such as ease of bending, sanding, glue bonding, drying and bleaching are essential for the production of quality finished products. Furthermore, the use of steam instead of blow gun (fire) to bend rattan which avoids scorch marks; the use of staples and dowels instead of nails and proper application of varnish on finished products need further evaluation on our indigenous species. Transfer of technology on product designs and use of modern processing machines from Southeast Asia may be appropriate. To facilitate technology transfer, there will be a need to improve upon the few existing training centres in African countries and establish new ones at selected processing sites. These training centres should be manned by master craftsmen who will be capable of organising periodic workshops to introduce innovative designs to weavers. Equally important is the establishment of rattan processing centres where weavers can share at affordable cost the use of modern and efficient machines to boost quality and quantity of rattan products.

5. Product Promotion and Marketing

As previously noted, the international trade in rattan is currently worth some US$ 6.5 billion a year (ITTO, 1997) while the annual domestic market in Southeast Asia is conservatively estimated by Manokaran (1984) to be worth US$ 2.5 billion. Furthermore, an estimated US$ 0.7 billion of the world's populations are reportedly involved in rattan processing and trade (Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993). International trade of rattan is dominated by countries of Southeast Asia and considerable efforts should be made to improve Africa's share of international market.

Very limited data are available on rattan exports from countries in Africa. Komolafe (1992) reports of a limited export of finished products from West Africa to Europe and raw rattans to Asia, including China and Korea. Recently, Sunderland (1999) has reported export of raw cane from Ghana and Nigeria to Southeast Asia, and Morakinyo, (1995) has reported of a flourishing export trade from Nigeria to Korea. According to Defo (1997), Trefon and Defo (1998) and Morakinyo (1995), demand for rattan products has increased significantly in West and Central Africa. Notwithstanding, many processors have complained of poor price for finished products. For example, 50% of weavers in Ghana complain about poor price and irregular demand for finished products as one of the most important constraints in marketing of rattan products (Oteng-Amoako and Obiri-Darko, 2000a; 2000b)

The need to increase Africa's share of international trade in raw and finished rattan products calls for effective promotion of raw rattan and rattan products through better processing and transformation. Appropriate grading and standardisation of raw rattans and rattan products should be introduced and private capability developed to improve the quality of rattan products. Better packaging of graded products is also essential, as is bulk freight of goods to reduce the cost of transportation. Display or promotion centres to sell raw rattan and exhibit finished products are equally important. Special promotional fairs and advertisements should be organised by national rattan associations in collaboration with export promotion councils and small-scale industries of rattan producing countries to increase public awareness. Francophone and anglophone countries of Africa should take advantage of their historical trade links with France and United Kingdom respectively to increase export to these countries. In addition, trade within and between countries of West and Central Africa reported by Falconer (1994), Morakinyo (1999) and Sunderland (1995) should be improved.

Trade restrictions and export levies should be relaxed to serve as incentives for primary stakeholders to boost their market supply. Rattan entrepreneurs should be encouraged by way of sponsorship by national governments to attend international trade fairs to exhibit their products. Market intelligence for rattan products should be conducted periodically to ensure fair and equitable prices for the commodity on the international market. It may be necessary to establish direct links between producers in Africa countries and foreign buyers to eliminate middlemen. The upsurge of hotels, restaurants and other service centres, the increasing number of expatriate community and foreign businesses in emerging economies in the region could increase possible demand provided quality finished products are produced and promoted.

6. Effective Policy and Legislation

In most countries of tropical Africa, past forest policies and legislations have emphasised the supply of timber for wood industry with little or no recognition of non-timber forest products including rattans and bamboo. Consequently, non-timber forest products were not considered in forest management plans. However, current forest policies in some countries of Africa encourage involvement of private particularly rural people in forestry decision making. They encourage rural people living on the fringes of the forest, organisations and communities, to grow, protect, manage and utilise their own forest resources. Notwithstanding these new initiatives, rattan collectors in some countries, like Ghana, still have to pay permit and other fees for collection (Oteng-Amoako and Obir-Darko, 2000a; 2000b). Local collectors should be allowed to collect rattan on a sustainable harvesting basis provided it can be demonstrated to decision-makers that appropriate management regimes are developed and implemented by communities which recognized access rights to the resource. Involvement of the local people in decision making and management of the reserves will motivate them to see themselves as part owners of the forest reserves. They will then harbour no apprehension to manage, protect and cultivate it through enrichment planting or plantation establishment. Therefore, all stakeholders should be allowed to participate in all policy formulations that affect them.

7. Empowerment of Primary Stakeholders

The production to consumption study of Ghana and Cameroon indicate that only few of rattan collectors, primary processors and weavers belong to some form of rattan associations. Although most of these associations were formed to address the financial, political and social needs of their members, these in most cases have not been achieved. Therefore, an urgent intervention is to empower the primary stakeholders by organising them into formidable and dynamic associations. The associations will promote sustainable harvesting, enrichment planting and plantation establishment among rattan workers in response to the much needed technological interventions where applicable, they will seek loans, grants and subsidies for their members and lobby for flexible permits, lower royalties and conveyance fees for harvesting of rattan. The associations will co-ordinate technical interventions in processing, marketing and establishment of more training and product display centres. A well-organised association could rally resources from members for acquisition of inputs such as machines and other equipment for proposed processing centres and financial institutions for use by its members. It will promote bulk haulage of rattan and rattan products to reduce high cost of transportation which accounts for about 50 percent of the selling price of rattan products in Ghana (Oteng-Amoako and Obiri-Darko, 2000a and 2000b). The task of empowerment could be taken up by a non-governmental organisation with a mandate to promote non-timber forest products to alleviate rural poverty (Fig. 3).

8. Conclusions and Recommendations

The rattan industry sector of Africa, in spite of its economic potential, has long been neglected. Consequently, Africa's share of the international trade in rattan, worth some US$6.5 billion a year, is negligible. The following recommendations are needed to address the situation and hopefully realise Africa's economic potential in the sector:

· Development interventions to sustain the resource base, improve upon the quality of rattan products and effectively market them in local and international markets;

· Transfer of adaptable and effective technologies to stakeholders of Africa in the areas of resource management, efficient and innovative processing and competitive marketing of products;

· Empowerment of primary stakeholders of collectors, weavers and traders for access to loans and grants and advocacy for positive policy changes to accelerate developmental needs of the sector.

These interventions need the cooperation of all stakeholders. While the task ahead may look daunting it is not insurmountable.


Figure 3: Technology Needs for Rattans: Which Way in Africa?


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