Rattan has been recognized as one of the most important non-timber products from the forest. Statistics abound to the fact that it is a unique plant with many excellent qualities. However, literature also abounds with statements that rattan is a depleting resource, that the natural forests are being depleted of their rattan populations. Natural regeneration appears limited, and rehabilitation by planting appears sporadic. This is reflected in the market by less rattan furniture, prices becoming more expensive and the quality declining. The author submits that this is a global problem and not a local or regional problem. As a result of the declining resource, the whole rattan industry is threatened. The result is the appearance in the market of substitutes, particularly in the form of plastics, and rattan furniture becoming beyond the reach of the common man. The danger is that, if rattan really disappears from the market, it is not only the furniture and related industries that would have lost a unique resource. Man would have lost a tradition that had developed over generations. The question that waits for an answer is, why are the rattan resources not managed on a sustainable basis?
2. Resource Depletion
The causes of depletion are straightforward, well known and well documented:
2.1 Loss of habitat
With the conversion of much of the tropical forests to other land uses, the habitat of rattan disappears as well, and so does the resource. The classic example is the disappearance of the lowland forests of Malaysia, mostly for conversion to industrial plantation crops of rubber and oil palm. While the author is unable to obtain statistics on actual loss of species, there would be definitely a loss of genetic diversity within the species that were endemic in these ecosystems.
There has been in the past an overexploitation of this resource from the wild. The author has not been able to obtain recent statistics, but literature does indicate that this is happening in all the regions of the world, with no exception.
2.3 Inadequate replenishment
The rate of regeneration and replenishment by artificial means is inadequate. Here again, the author is unable to obtain figures, but he is confident that other papers presented in this consultation will provide statistics on the status of the three above issues.
2.4 Inadequate knowledge
While there has been increasing attention to research on rattan in the past decades, there are still many technical issues and challenges that need to be overcome, if the rattan industry were to truly develop. Much of the research of the past has been in the documentation and observation arena. While the information and knowledge generated are useful, there is little "developmental" research to solve the critical problems that need to be overcome to develop a sustainable and viable industry.
The result of the loss of habitats, overexploitation and inadequate replenishment is of course a depleting resource and its unsustainable use.
3. Institutional Issues
The author has never come across a policy in any country that states that the country's policy is to deplete its rattan resources. Policies are always positive and very encouraging. While rattan is sometimes not referred to as a specific resource, it is usually acknowledged as an important non-timber resource that must be conserved and utilized on a sustainable basis.
However, as with other non-timber forest products, the policy on rattan is subsumed within a larger national or state forest policy. The author has not come across any specific national or state rattan policy. Is such a policy necessary, or have forest policies adequately addressed the issues of sustainable rattan development? The author submits that a policy is only a statement of intent or broad desire. As long as the forest policy adequately addresses the issues of sustainable development and use of rattan, then it is adequate. However, if rattan is an important non-timber resource in the southeast Asian countries, the author suggests that the forest policies be reviewed to ensure that rattan is mentioned specifically, and that sub
spolicies be developed specifically for rattan. These policies should not only state broad desires but also commit governments to undertake adequate and appropriate measures to protect and develop the resource on a sustainable basis.
3.2 Strategies and plans for action
What is important is the commitment for action through the presence of definite plans and strategies. States should develop such plans and strategies for the sustainable harvesting and development of rattan resources. This should include the allocation of adequate resources, including human and financial, on an extended period of at least five years. The commitment over a longer period is desirable and important due to the need for planning and for maintenance of the crop after planting. Unless there is that commitment for action, there is no way that sustainable use and development of the resource will take place.
This is similar to what has happened and will continue to happen in forestry in the exploitation of timber resources. The fact that the tropical forests are declining and being "managed" in an unsustainable manner is basically due to the fact that there is no long-term plan and commitment at regeneration and rehabilitation. We all know the importance of planning in forestry. Yet, in practice forest managers do not practise what they preach. Of course, beautiful plans are of little use if they are not adhered to and put into practice. In this regard, political support is critical.
Research on rattan needs to be changed from information generation to problem solving and new innovative initiatives, addressing the technical problems faced by past and potential investors in the rattan-growing business. Various authors have written on the need for research and fields suggested include species-site matching, light requirements, selection and breeding, development of genetic markers, genetic variation studies and manufacturing, processing and engineering.
While these areas are relevant and important, the author submits that one of the most important aspects of research is to reduce the period of the rosette stage of rattan. It has been reported that the rosette stage can last for more than two years, and yet even the Guide to the cultivation of rattan (FRIM MFR No. 35, 1991) has only one mention of the "rosette" in the whole book. Yet, the extended period of the rosette stage is very discouraging to the rattan grower as the rattan just "sits" there during that period without appearing to "grow". If the period of the rosette stage can be reduced, then the growth can be enhanced, and the frustration of the "stagnant" stage can be overcome.
Figure 12: Rotan factory in Jambi, Sumatra (Dransfield)
Problems arising from the climbing nature of rattan have been reported, such as breaking of the branches of the "host" trees and difficulty in harvesting. Can rattan be grown like sugar cane, growing straight up to a limited height and harvested before it starts climbing? If this can be done, it would revolutionize the growing of rattan. Problems of maturity of the cane, reducing taper and lengthening the inter-node length are issues that have to be addressed first. Research must be mobilized to maximize the use of modern biotechnology to solve these problems and others that may be related.
It is only a matter of time that all forests will have to be certified to get access to the international markets. The writing is on the wall. Non-wood products that reach the international market will soon feel the pressure of certification. Thus, it augurs well for the industry to look ahead and prepare itself for the day when certification is not an option but a necessity. Research must address the development of an appropriate certification scheme. The industry must be prepared, but in view of the current unsustainable situation, it would not be easy.
3.5 Financial incentives
If governments are serious about developing a sustainable rattan industry, they must provide adequate and appropriate financial incentives. What the form that these incentives should take would depend upon the resource to be developed, the characteristics of the industry and the location. Incentives for forestry in general have not been very effective, and a complete new look is necessary, if such incentives were to truly make an impact.
At the same time, there are international funding mechanisms that should be mobilized to address this issue of sustainable rattan management. The use of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is a possibility, as biodiversity is one of the areas eligible for funding support under the GEF.
There are now discussions on trading biodiversity similar to efforts at carbon trading under the Convention on Climate Change. This will not be as straightforward as carbon trading, but can rattan biodiversity be traded on the international market under the Convention on Biodiversity? If so, the funds raised can be utilized to promote the sustainable management and development of the rattan resource and industry.
3.6 A champion is needed
In order for all these ideas and many more that will be presented during this consultation to succeed, they need a champion, one that believes in the cause and will commit to pursue the vision to its successful end. Where can the champion be found? Can the International Network on Bamboo and Rattan play that role? If so, how can it play that role? If not, why not and what are the alternatives? The author admits that he does not have the answer, but this consultation should seriously discuss this. In any case, the champion should not be a government agency. Government agencies just do not have the institutional ability to undertake such "developmental" activities. Rattan planting and development must be viewed as a business, and the involvement of the private sector is critical. At worst, it should be a joint venture with the private sector or an independent international agency with the capacity and tenacity to pursue this effort to a successful end.
One of the main reasons for lack of success in rattan planting and development in the past is the fact that institutions undertaking such activities have other primary responsibilities, such as the forestry departments or rubber plantation owners. Rattan is a minor crop within the total agenda of the institution and never gets the priority that is necessary. A dedicated institution at the national or state level, which is formed solely for the promotion of rattan, may be the only answer. A Rattan Development Corporation with seed money from government and with the involvement of the private sector may be able to play the "champion's" role.
The problem of sustainable development of rattan globally is an area of concern. This was one of the reasons why INBAR was established. The fact that this consultation is being held augurs well for rattan and INBAR, as there is a group of concerned citizens of the world who are willing to contribute ideas to the global effort. We need to mobilize this team to assist in championing the cause.
The problems are many but not insurmountable. A "champion" is needed to champion the cause and a dedicated institution such as a Rattan Development Corporation with the involvement of the private sector may be the answer. We need a friendly country to try these ideas and the financial resources to pursue the idea to a successful completion. INBAR and the Forestry Department of FAO should join forces to take this idea forward.