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Cherla B. Sastry

1. Introduction

This gathering is well aware that rattans are the most important group of forest species after timber, especially in Asia. Humans have used rattan for livelihood and subsistence for many centuries throughout the documented history of mankind (Anon, 1983 and 1991; Abd. Latif, 2000; Johnson, 1997; Manokaran, 1990; Pabuayon, 2000; Sarma, 1989; Sastry, 2000; Tomba, Lapis et al., 1993). Although rattan is confined mainly to Asia, the material found its way to many other parts of the world, such as ancient Egypt, Europe during the Renaissance period, and France during the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XV of France (Anon, 1983).

This Expert Consultation on Rattan Development has already discussed the nature of the resource, the versatility, importance, multiple uses and the ongoing national and international R&D activities to develop the resource. This consultation has been organized at an appropriate time when rattan, a multi-billion dollar commodity, is in short supply and a general decline has affected the growth of the industry. Southeast Asia is by far the largest producer and exporter of rattan and rattan products globally. The purpose of this meeting is to assess the current situation, identify the major issues facing the rattan industry, and formulate a set of recommendations and an action plan towards economic and technical cooperation among the concerned countries for the development of rattan globally.

Rattan is by far the most important Non-Wood Forest Product (NWFP) in international trading. Yet, until recently, this group of plants received only benign attention from all but a small band of enthusiasts. Worldwide, over 700 million people trade in or use rattan for a variety of purposes, such as the beautiful furniture for which the material is universally known. There are, however, no quantitative estimates of the true economic/social value of rattan (Anon, 1998; Abd. Latif, 2000; Belcher, 1999; Manokaran, 1990; Pabuayon, 2000).

The global trade (domestic and export) and subsistence value of rattan and its products is estimated at over US$7,000 million per annum (Anon, 1991; Abd. Latif, 2000; Belcher; 1999; Manokaran, 1990; Pabuayon, 2000; Sastry, 2000; Soedarto, 1999). Undoubtedly, furniture is the most popular rattan product. Besides furniture, other products include carpet beaters, walking sticks, umbrella handles, sporting goods, hats, ropes, cordage, bird cages, matting, baskets, panelling, hoops, ammunition boxes and a host of other utility products.

Although rattan's ecological role is much less studied than that of bamboo, it is likely that rattan species with subterranean stems or those with widely radiating, horizontally growing roots could have a significant role in preventing soil displacement (Lakshmana, 1993; Nur Supardi, Hamzah and Wan Razali, 1999; Wan Razali, Fransfield and Manokaran, 1992).

Unlike bamboo, rattan is an integral part of the tropical forest ecosystem owing to its climbing habit. The innumerable pinnate leaves, which extend up to 7 m or more in length in many large species with their mosaic arrangement, play a major role in intercepting the splash effect of rain. The species also play a vital role in enriching the soil by their leaf litter, which adds to the organic content of the soil (Lakshmana, 1993). These ecological and other economic benefits of rattan as noted above, raise the value of standing forest (Anon, 1998; Lakshmana, 1993; Rawat and Khanduri, 1999).

The forests of the world provide an essential renewable resource, but they are nonetheless a finite resource. Predictions for this century are that the demand for the timber by the various wood-based industries in Asia and elsewhere will exceed existing supply. The problem of supplying forest products and other essentials to an ever-increasing population would become more acute with each passing year. What we do as we go on from here is more critical than ever before (Sastry, 2000).

2. Overview

Rattans, spiny climbing palms with some 600 species, are strictly Old World in origin. Its distribution is limited to tropical and subtropical Asia, where ten of the l3 known genera are endemic to equatorial Africa. True rattans are not known in Latin America. The greatest diversity is in the Malay Peninsula and Borneo. There is a secondary centre of diversity in New Guinea (Anon, 1991; Wan Razali, Dransfield and Manokaran, 1992).

In recent years, rattan and other NWFPs, e.g. bamboo and medicinal plants, have been accorded international priority in contrast to their previous categorization as "minor forest products". This heightened attention results from the recognition of their increasing economic, ecological and socio-cultural importance and the consequent need for sustainable use of the resource (Anon, 1991; Johnson, 1997).

The full socio-economic potential of rattan is yet to be realized and no quantitative estimates of the true value are available. Domestic trade and subsistence use of rattan create benefits estimated at US$3 billion per annum and another US$4 billion are generated through global exports. Additional benefits may accrue from the intervention in the sector to systematize resource use, management, marketing and processing (Anon, 1991; Manokaran, 1990; Wan Razali, Dransfield and Manokaran, 1992). Furthermore, today only a small portion of the approximately 600 species of rattan found is used for commercial purposes. If more of the presently under-utilized and lesser-known species are added to this list, the benefits could be wide ranging.

Rattan is almost entirely collected from natural forests and rattan gardens. In recent years, uncontrolled harvesting and deforestation have led to resource exhaustion of the desired species in many rattan-producing countries in Asia. The rattan sector cannot be discussed without first mentioning Indonesia and its dominance over world rattan trade. Indonesia has a clear advantage over other countries with its overwhelming supply of wild and cultivated rattan (80 percent of the world raw materials)10. The estimated production capacity for all species is about l2.4 million tonnes from the 11.5 million ha of the country's forested areas rich in rattan. The annual allowable cut is estimated at 700,000 tonnes. Indonesia's actions, therefore, will have a large impact on the global rattan market (Anon, 1998; Soedarto, 1999). The Philippines, Malaysia, China, Thailand and other countries of Indochina are also important contributors to global rattan trade, despite dependence of some of these countries on supplies of raw materials from Indonesia to augment domestic supplies.

Although Asia is the dominant player, it accounts for only about 58 percent of the world trade in rattan activity, the remaining 42 percent being held by industrialized countries, importing Southeast Asian rattan (Anon, 1999). Compared with world trade of all furniture (US$80-100 billion), rattan furniture trade represents less than 4 percent. However, in Asia the output of the rattan furniture industry represents well over 25 percent of all furniture industry output, and it is growing (Anon, 1983; Johnson, 1997).

The rattan industry is highly fragmented with over 90 percent of all factories employing less than 50 people, i.e. cottage and small-scale enterprises. In general, rattan furniture manufacturing is highly labour-intensive, employing well over one million people in Asia, of whom about 500,000 work in the manufacturing sector and another 700,000 are involved in the collection (and primary processing) and transportation of raw material (a majority on a seasonal basis). The average investment per worker in a modern rattan factory is about US$2,000, whereas it is ten times that much in a conventional furniture plant (Anon, 1983, 1991 and 1999).

In the 1970s and 1980s, the rattan industry in Southeast Asia and China grew at rates between 20 percent and 50 percent per year. The mid-1990s saw a significant downturn in most of Asia, especially in resource-poor countries, owing to shortage of raw material, restrictive government policies and the economic crisis (Anon, 1998 and 1999).

There are several forest research institutes, National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS), and regional and international organizations carrying out (or involved in) R&D on rattan. The latter category includes the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO), FAO and other United Nations agencies, CGIAR institutions, ITTO and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). A recent entrant into international forestry R&D, in particular NWFP, is the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR). Regional Networks like the Forestry Research Support Programme for Asia and the Pacific (FORSPA) and the Asia-Pacific Association of Forestry Research Institutions (APAFRI) and the African Rattan Network are also actively involved in rattan development. A Rattan Information Centre (RIC), financed by IDRC Canada, was set up in Malaysia in 1982 for disseminating information on all aspects of rattan (Anon, 1991; Abd. Latif, 2000; Sastry, 2000; Rawat and Khanduri, 1999)

3. Major Issues

3.1 Resource Base

As a result of the rapid growth of the industry from the 1970s until the early 1990s, there was overexploitation and wasteful utilization of the resource and consequent depletion of the stock, especially of the desired species. Since the mid-1990s, the dwindling supplies of rattan owing to overexploitation and steady loss of forest habitat are posing a serious threat to the rattan industry. As a result, many Asian countries have experienced declining exports and closing of several operations. The hardest hit are the Philippines and China (Anon 1998 and 1999; Abd. Latif, 2000; Pabuayon, 2000; Soedarto, 1999).

To avoid further depletion of resources, governments of major rattan-producing countries in Asia embraced a ban on export of raw cane and/or heavy duties on export of semi-processed products. While there was an initial glut of raw material supplies in resource-rich countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, the shift from the traditional practice of exporting the raw rattan to semi-processed and finished product has promoted local industries (Anon, 1999). Abd. Latif reports a significant increase (almost 200%) in the export value of finished products (mainly furniture) from Malaysia in the 1990s as a result of the export ban. The exports are expected to reach US$ 40 million over the next decade (Abd. Latif, 2000). Indonesia reported similar experiences although much slower growth, given their already leading role in world trade, i.e. US$200 million in l987 (effective date) to an average of over US$300 in the 1990s (Soedarto, 1999).

To cope with the increasing global demand for rattan, there is an urgent need for sustainable management of the resources. A first step is to determine accurately the extent of the resource, both for establishing plantations of the desired species and for improved management of the existing stock in their natural habitats. Figures for most countries are approximate or absent (Anon, 1998). However, a step in the right direction has been taken recently through the joint efforts of FRIM, INBAR and DFID-UK in developing techniques for the inventory of rattan (Nur Supardi, Hamzah and Wan Razali, 1999).

Forest departments manage rattan stocks by:

Licensing rules vary between countries in eligibility and cost, but the aim of all is to limit overexploitation. In practice, license holders rarely adhere to harvesting guidelines, since there is neither uniformity nor strict enforcement by the field officers. This is a major reason for the depletion of stock, wasteful harvesting practices and the loss of royalties to governments. To promote sustainable resource management, some countries are exploring long-term tenure control through community-based forestry management institutions (Anon, 1998; Pabuayon, 2000).

3.1.1 Technology issues

Rattan passes through many hands that perform one or several levels of processing before it reaches its final state. In most developing countries, rattan processing is still at a craft level carried out in a great number of tiny "workshops" (Aguilar and Miralao, 1985; Anon, 1983, 1991 and 1999). Because of the high labour intensity of the work (i.e. scraping, drying, splitting, sizing, bending, cording and chemical treatments), even when mechanized, it is essential to ensure application of good designs and modern technologies to meet the standards for export. It is assumed that raw materials are not a limiting factor.

In recent years, many technical developments have taken place in the manufacture of rattan products. However, skilled workers and good supervisors are in short supply for higher-end processing. Also, for a majority of the small-scale processors, lack of credit availability and technical assistance limit adoption of modern/efficient technology (Anon, 1983 and 1999; Abd. Latif, 2000). Large manufacturers dominate the sector with better/sophisticated machinery, by adapting more contemporary designs and quality control measures to produce high-quality products that can fetch higher prices. In Indonesia and the Philippines, they have also found ways to reduce the cost of production by farming out to smaller firms specific tasks, mainly in the primary processing area, thus benefiting the sector as a whole (Anon, 1998 and 1999; Abd. Latif, 2000; Pabuayon, 2000).

Given rattan's potential as an industrial material, several countries in Southeast Asia have adapted low-cost automation and mechanization to improve the productivity of their factories. Some governments provided incentives by way of supportive policies, soft loans and tax breaks to the domestic industry. In addition, a few like Malaysia have set up service centres at the district level to provide training, technology transfer and other support. A Small-Scale Entrepreneurs Development Unit (SSEDV) was also created, with financial support from the World Bank and the Government, to provide technical backstopping and related training support to the industry. An Agro-forestry Unit established at FRIM, the Government's Forestry Research Institute, provided training and planting material for planting rattan in rubber plantations by smallholders. The results of all these efforts are increased foreign exchange earnings and employment opportunities in both the rural and urban sectors (Abd. Latif, 2000; Anon, 1998; Pabuayon, 2000;).

3.1.2. Plantation development

Plantations of rattan, either in logged-over forest areas or as an agroforestry crop in rubber or other tree plantations, are needed in order to relieve pressure on overexploited natural forests and to ensure stable supplies of desirable species for the industry. Although significant advances have been made in our understanding of rattan as a potential plantation crop, there is still much that is unknown. As noted earlier, even the basic data on the wild resources is lacking. Rattan plantation development is, with a few exceptions, well behind schedule owing to technical or financial problems (Anon, 1998; Abd. Latif, 2000; Pabuayon, 2000; Salleh, 2000; Soedarto, 1999; Wan Razali, Dransfied and Manokaran, 1992).

To date, more than 3l,000 ha have been planted in Malaysia with the large diameter Calamus manan. Out of this, 7,000 ha have been planted in rubber plantations throughout the country. Other large plantations, amounting to 10 000 ha, have been established mainly with C. caesius and C. trachycoleus. Other rattan species that have been looked into include C. scipionum, C. palustris and C. subinermis (Abd. Latif, 2000).

Private sector cultivation of rattan, from both large and small-scale plantations, has fallen below expectations and failed to respond to local raw material scarcities. Although an estimated 37,000 ha of mostly high-value rattan species are grown in Indonesia, a paltry 6,000 ha is found in the Philippines, where scarcity is more pronounced (Anon, 1998). China has established over 20 000 ha of rattan plantations in public domain, employing both domestic and imported species.

Policy initiatives (incentives and regulations) to increase small-scale rattan cultivation have had limited impact as government policies and resulting economic conditions make investment in other resources more attractive. In addition to economic constraints, there are other factors that hinder small farmers and pose high risk for many large investors:

Though both large and small-scale plantations in Asia (Indonesian and Malaysian experience) are returning profits, other land uses are becoming more lucrative. Nevertheless, more appropriate government interventions in enhancing rattan cultivation are seen in several countries, justified by the economic benefits accrued to the rural households in Indonesia and smallholder rubber plantations in Malaysia (Anon, 1998).

Thus, domestic policies must support rattan plantation development by improving the incentive structure. This involves providing tenurial security to rattan gatherers and planters, credit and technical assistance for plantation development, and favourable harvesting and marketing arrangements. Basic infrastructure like transport and effective mechanism to link sellers with local and foreign buyers is also needed to improve profitability of rattan production, processing and manufacturing activities (Pabuayon, 2000).

In addition, incorporation of plantations into community-based forest management schemes, with or without vertical integration in processing, could be an important policy direction. Some lessons can be learned here from the success of the rattan plantations established in Kalimantan a century and a half ago (Anon, 1991 and 1998; Belcher, 1999).

While the true rattans are not known in Latin America, interest has been building for cultivating Asian rattans in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Trinidad and Cuba. In recent years, Cuba has successfully introduced rattan from Vietnam, Malaysia and China in a 2,000 ha plantation, with the help of IDRC and INBAR (Anon, 1991).

It may be too early for Africa to be planning large-scale rattan plantations. Rattan is confined to the equatorial rainforests, and is of little economic importance at the present although it has gained recognition as an underexploited crop in West Africa. Kenya and Zambia have received financial and technical support from IDRC for research and introduction of rattan species from Asia. DFID-UK and IFAD, through INBAR, have recently initiated systematic taxonomic and socio-economic research, respectively, on rattan in Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda (Anon, 1991).

3.1.3. R&D and information exchange

As mentioned earlier, there are several forest research institutes, NARS and regional and international organizations involved in the research or development of rattan. National research on rattan is at an advanced level in Asia, with several active projects funded by international agencies. Some progress has been achieved in the past two decades on rattan silviculture and ecology, plantation technology and development of innovative technologies for low-cost mechanization and automation, grading, and inventory methods. However, continued effort is needed from all concerned, i.e. government, industry and international agencies, to maintain the gains achieved. Particular emphasis should be given on resource assessment and conservation, socio-economics and marketing and design aspects for furniture. Networking between institutions is vital to share knowledge and to benefit the countries less privileged in R&D capabilities.

A Rattan Information Centre (RIC) of regional coverage was established in FRIM in l982 with financial support from IDRC. It acts as a comprehensive depository of rattan literature, document and retrieval system, publishing regular news bulletins and disseminating information to interested parties. Continued support is strongly recommended to enhance its regional and international role.

There is a felt need for a Regional Rattan Research Centre in Asia to better serve the interests of rattan. Indonesia is a logical location, given its pre-eminent position in global rattan trade. This was also the recommendation by experts (hired by IFAD) who evaluated both the informal and the formal INBAR networks. There is also a need to establish a rattan seed bank to ensure good-quality seeds of good progenies in order to improve plantation quality and yield (Anon, 1991 and 1999; Salleh, 2000).

4. Outlook

It is difficult to gaze through the crystal ball and make predictions on the future of rattan in the twenty-first century, when the basic data needed for the forecast is utterly lacking. There also remain many problems about the trade and cultivation of cane, i.e. uncertainty about the future patterns of supply and demand, about the shifts in global rattan trade, about the economics of cultivation and yields and the lack of uniform policies that affect the sector. There are, thus, more questions rather than answers on the future of rattan. The following generalizations are based mostly on the Asian situation, since the region is the dominant force and a major contributor to global rattan trade.

By all counts, shortage of cane is definitely felt in the region and the problem of resource supply is more glaring than ever before (Manokaran, 2000; Salleh, 2000). There seems to be a decline in the planting of rattan by national forest departments despite the need to increase the supplies. Under these circumstances, do we look at a regional approach to planting, or is it not possible? In Peninsular Malaysia, manufacturers claim that rattan from 10-year old C. manan plantings is of poor quality. This did not appear to be the case for rattan from l5-year old plantings. We still need answers to these and other characteristics of the species. Some growers have also reported problems in harvesting of small-diameter plantation cane (Salleh, 2000).

Given the glut of supply in the country, Indonesia has since lifted its ban on the export of raw cane to increase its foreign exchange earnings (Manokaran, 2000; Pabuayon, 2000). The Philippines is sourcing rattan again from Indonesia to feed its starving industry and to revive sagging exports. Canes are being smuggled from some parts of Indo-China to China and Thailand to keep up their industry and exports. While these countries are trying to revive their operations to the pre-1990s level, the Malaysian industry seems to be suffering from a large number of closings of unprofitable mills either because of stiff competition from neighbouring countries and/or raw material supply problems. The market is thus experiencing some uncertainties.

Figure 11: Rattan bundles in the Philippines (Belcher)

The markets in the consumer countries in Europe, North America, Japan and other industrialized nations seem to be steadily growing for rattan. However, there is an urgent need for a marketing study and future prospects of rattan in those countries.

It is evident that, in view of the state of uncertainty, there is a need to review the ground situation and markets more thoroughly through field visits, to chart a course for rattans in the new millennium. Nevertheless, there is a future for rattan and it is closely tied to the health and wellbeing of the tropical forests.

5. Strategic Directions

Rattans were once abundant in the tropical forests of Asia but have become a scarce produce today. This is primarily because of two reasons - overexploitation and a shrinking forest area where they grow. Natural regeneration seems to be inadequate, and there is a general decline in the planting of rattan for various reasons - economic, technical and policy-related. There is an urgent need to rectify this situation and ensure the future for rattan, given its economic, ecological and socio-cultural importance to nearly a billion people in the developing world. Some strategic directions towards that end include:

ˇ Sustainable management of the resource through actions that include the development of rattan plantations (both in agroforestry situations and in degraded forest areas, including shifting cultivation) and home gardens. Serious efforts are needed to address the problems of reckless harvesting, loss of productivity and poor management.

ˇ Suitable conservation measures must be implemented urgently (De Zoysa and Vivekanandan, 1994; Rao and Rao, 1996). A number of Asian rattans are under serious threat from loss of habitat and over-exploitation. This will require an initial survey of available stock, hot spot areas, distribution of populations and current levels of exploitation.

ˇ Continuous product and market development and formation of effective business partnerships.

ˇ Strengthening of institutional support structures and government-private sector coordination, including financing schemes for small and medium enterprises. There is also an urgent need for policy interventions/support for macro economic and sectoral policies affecting the rattan sector.

ˇ International tie-ups with furniture makers in the consumer countries to promote rattan products in the green market.

ˇ Enhancing technology adoption and commercialization, and strengthening institutional networking to share knowledge.

ˇ Continuing R&D in response to dynamic changes in markets and to address medium and long- term objectives.


Abd. Latif, M., 2000. Production and utilization of bamboo, rattan and related species: management and research considerations. XXI IUFRO World Congress 2000. Sub-Plenary Papers and Abstracts. Vol. 1. pp. 393-406.

Aguilar, F.M. Jr. & Miralao, V.A., 1985. Rattan furniture manufacturing in Metro Cebu. A case study of an export industry. Ramón Magsaysay Award Foundation. Philippines. Handicraft Project Paper Series No. 6. 227 pp.

Anon. 1983. Manual on the production of rattan furniture. UNIDO. 108 pp.

Anon. l99l. Research needs for bamboo and rattan to the year 2000. Tropical Tree Crops Programme, International Fund for Agricultural Research. 81 pp.

Anon. 1998. Assessment of socio-economic issues and constraints in the bamboo and rattan sectors. INBAR Unpublished report. 22 pp.

Anon. 1999. A report of the workshop on the expansion of trade in rattan and rubber wood furniture. Unpublished Report. ESCAP. 14 pp.

Belcher, B., 1999. The bamboo and rattan sectors in Asia: An analysis of production-to-consumption systems. INBAR Working Paper No. 22. 84 pp.

De Zoysa, N. & Vivekanandan, K.,1994. Rattans of Sri Lanka: An illustrated field guide. Sri Lanka Forest Department and International Development Research Centre. 82 pp.

FAO. l997. Non-wood forest products: Tropical palms, by D.V. Johnson. Bangkok, RAP Publication No.10. l66 pp.

Lakshmana, A.C., 1993. Rattans of south India. Bangalore, Evergreen Publishers. 180 pp.

Manokaran, N., 2000. Personal communication with the author.

Manokaran, N., l990. The state of the rattan and bamboo trade. RIC Occasional Paper. No. 7. FRIM, Malaysia.

Nur Supardi, M.N., Hamzah, KA. & Wan Razali, W.M., 1999. Considerations in rattan inventory practices in the tropics. INBAR Technical Report No. 14. 57 pp.

Pabuayon, I., 2000. Addressing rattan technology needs for Asia. Paper presented at the XXI IUFRO World Congress 2000, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Rao, R.& Rao, A.N., eds. 1996. Bamboo and rattan genetic resources and use. Proceedings of the Second INBAR-IPGRI Biodiversity, Genetic Resources, and Conservation. Working Group Meeting and Report on the Workshop on Rattan Resources and their Development in Indonesia held in Indonesia in 1995. 77 pp.

Rawat, J.K. & Khanduri, D.C., 1999. National report on the state of bamboo and rattan in India. Unpublished report. INBAR. 31 pp.

Salleh, M.N., 2000. Personal Communication with the author.

Sarma, S.S., 1989. Plants in Yajurveda.. Tirupathi (India), K.S. Vidya Peetha. 286 pp.

Sastry, C., 2000. Bamboo in the new millennium: Opportunities and challenges. Paper presented at the XXI IUFRO World Congress 2000. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Soedarto, K., 1999. The state of bamboo and rattan development in Indonesia. Unpublished report. INBAR. 33 pp.

Tombac, C.C., Lapis, A.B. et al., 1993. Indigenous people and rattan. FORSPA Publication No. 5. 12 pp.

Wan Razali, W.M., Dransfield, J. & Manokaran, N., 1992. A guide to the cultivation of rattan. Malayan Forest Record No. 35. 293 pp.

10 Note from the editors: this figure is an estimation and varies from paper to paper.

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