We invited Mr Cherukat Chandrasekharan, who founded Non-Wood News in 1994, to write the editorial for this, the first issue of the new millennium. We would like to thank Mr Chandrasekharan for accepting our invitation.
I'm very happy to have the honour and privilege of writing this editorial.
It is gratifying that Non-Wood News has proved to be a great success. The reasons are clear. First, it has met a seriously felt need. Second, it came with a refreshing identity - not as old wine in a new bottle, but as new wine in a rather large barrel. Each issue of Non-Wood News is packed with so much useful and interesting material that it would probably be better to spread it out and produce at least two issues annually.
Non-Wood News also has a major mission: to help realize the potential that the future holds for non-wood forest products (NWFP). NWFPs had a colourful and glorious past. Subsequently, however, they suffered serious downfall and neglect. Some 5 000 years ago, the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung wrote (what is believed to be the earliest recorded use of plants as medicine) that chalmugra oil, an extract from the fruit of Hydnocarpus spp., was an efficient treatment against leprosy. It is estimated that 35 000 to 70 000 plant species have at one time or other been used, in some culture or other, for medicinal purposes. The geopolitics of today was influenced by the past trade in NWFPs - spices, cosmetics, food preservatives and silks. The influence of trade in NWFPs continued up to the industrial revolution in the West, when the economy of scale slowly eased out the small-scale production of NWFPs.
Continuous deforestation and forest degradation drastically affected the NWFP resources along with habitat changes and loss of biodiversity. The timber-orientation of the forestry profession, and the bias of planners in favour of large-scale enterprises, had left NWFPs at a disadvantage. Their production, at best, was considered incidental.
Thanks to publications such as Non-Wood News, we are made aware of the multiple contributions of NWFPs. The flora and fauna providing NWFPs are a complete resource base. Use of non-wood goods and services is often linked to local culture and there is considerable indigenous knowledge available about them. It has been prophesied that a healthy marriage of traditional and modern scientific knowledge can open up unlimited possibilities for NWFPs. New possibilities can also emerge, from developments in biotechnology, carbon trade and clean development mechanisms; and conceptually these can significantly alter the future outlook.
The overall trend in respect of NWFP resources, however, has been towards depletion. Their management now faces colliding trends of fall in supply and rise in demand. While many of the flora and fauna yielding NWFPs are amenable to be domesticated and cultivated, efforts in that direction have also been hesitant.
Many of the failures in NWFP programmes result from inattention to markets. Marketing helps to create better linkages among resource creation, management, processing and end use. Rational and transparent marketing transactions throughout the production and market chains are crucially needed. Some NWFPs have fully faded out of the market in the past, and in respect of others there has been an erosion of the international market share. However, experts observe an emerging "green consumerism" - particularly in favour of phytopharmaceuticals and aroma chemicals.
Medicinal and aromatic plants, thus, form an important group that has received considerable attention, nationally and globally; this is backed up by the simultaneous advances in chemistry, bacteriology, pathology and pharmacology. The number of plants at present forming the sources of modern medicine probably runs to thousands.
With all their multifaceted properties and contributions, NWFPs should normally be able to halt the ongoing assault on forests and the resulting deforestation and habitat degradation. But, the realistic assessment is that very little is happening at ground level to manage the NWFP resource properly. Overexploitation and unscientific harvesting of medicinal plants and the depredations by well-organized smuggling networks have led to the virtual decimation of several species in the wild. It is becoming difficult to get genuine and authenticated materials and adulteration is rampant.
The current situation of NWFPs presents several contradictions and anachronisms, and observers feel that something is amiss. Deficiencies and inadequacies seem to persist. The need has been stressed, over and over again, to manage the remaining NWFP resources scientifically, sustainably, rationally and equitably. In spite of the apparent awareness in that regard, nothing much seems to have happened to translate that awareness into effective action. So far, the spurts of enthusiasm have lacked coordination, consistency and survival capacity - leaving our own credibility under dark shadows.
This thumbnail sketch of the situation and diverse problems facing the various aspects of NWFPs will help to have a hard-nosed appreciation of the challenges we face and their social, economic, environmental and institutional implications.
While Non-Wood News has registered significant achievements during the last eight years, the task ahead - moving forward from the stage of awareness creation to promotion of organized action - appears more onerous. The special feature in this issue, "Plan of action towards the sustainable development of the rattan sector", is a clear indication that it has embarked on the new mission.
Non-wood News has miles after arduous miles to go on this mission and I wish it continued and resounding success in its untiring efforts to face the daunting challenges with fortitude.