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The forest resources in the region

The region, as defined for this study, includes 15 countries, namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Nepal, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.

These countries vary widely in size, population and economy. The areas of the countries range from 47 000 km2 (Bhutan) to 9 327 420 km2 (China). In 1999, the region supported a population of 2 954 300 000 (FAO 2001).

Forest cover and its annual rate of change also vary widely. The region is a reservoir of great biodiversity in and outside forests. Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea have a forest cover of between approximately 50 and 60 percent. The total annual reduction of forest cover is greatest in Nepal and Sri Lanka. The only countries with a positive forest cover change are China and Viet Nam. Plantation forestry is important in many countries of the region.

Table 2. Basic data and forest cover of the countries described


Land area, 2000
(1 000 ha)

Population, 1999


GNP per capita 1997 (US$)

Forest area, 2000

1 000 ha

% of land area


13 017

126 947


1 334



4 700

2 064


3 016



17 652

10 945


9 335



932 742

1 274 106


163 480



297 319

998 056


64 113



181 157

209 255

1 096

104 986



23 080

5 297


12 561



14 300

23 385


3 900



32 855

21 830

4 469

19 292



65 755

45 059


34 419



45 240

4 702


30 601



29 817

74 454

1 170

5 789


Sri Lanka

6 463

18 639


1 940



51 089

60 856

2 821

14 762


Viet Nam

32 549

78 705


9 819


Source: FAO (2001)

The main NWFP in Asia

The main NWFP in the region include edible plants (fruits, nuts, mushrooms and wild vegetables), exudates (resins, gums and oleoresins), medicinal and aromatic plants, perfumes and cosmetics (including essential oils and incenses), tans and dyes, honey and beeswax, fibre and floss-producing plants, fodder, rattan and bamboo for utensils, handicrafts and construction materials, wildlife products and lac produced by insects.

Asia is by far the world’s largest producer and consumer of NWFP, not only because of its population size but also and to a greater extent because of the traditional use of a vast variety of products for food, shelter and cultural needs. NWFP have been vital to forest-dwellers and rural communities for centuries. Local people collect, process and market bamboo, rattan, resins, fruits, honey, mushrooms, gums, nuts, tubers, edible leaves, bushmeat, lac, oil seeds, essential oils, medicinal herbs and tanning materials. Both rural and increasingly urban communities (both affluent and poor, but for different products) draw upon forests for a variety of needs.

Asia is unique in that most countries in the region have included data on production and trade of major NWFP in their national statistics for many decades and have developed their own nationally applicable definitions, terminology and classifications for their "minor forest produce". The types and the relative importance of the listed products change from country to country, but the most important products at the regional level are rattan, bamboo, medicinal and aromatic plants, spices, herbs, resins, mushrooms, forest fruits – nuts and vegetables, leaves and fodder. In addition, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia include assessments of NWFP resources in their national forest inventories. These NWFP resources include rattan, bamboo, resin and essential oil-providing species like sandalwood (Santalum spp.) and agarwood (Aquilaria spp.), as well as some palm species, such as Nypa fruticans, Oncosperma spp. and Metroxylon spp. (sago).

As for the rest of the world, the bulk of NWFP consumption in Asia is for subsistence needs or for local barter; there is no official data reporting in country statistics. However, compared with other regions, in Asia more NWFP are being entered on official national accounts and in international trade statistics. They contribute significantly to rural income generation and country export earnings, such as (in order of importance for the whole region): rattan and bamboo products, medicinal plants/preparations, essential oils, resins (copal), pine nuts, mushrooms, spices and herbs (mainly cardamom and cinnamon), fodder and animal products like bushmeat, trophies, wild honey and lac.

China and India are by far the world’s largest producers and consumers of NWFP. China produces and processes more wild products than any other country in the world. There is growing interest worldwide in its natural foodstuffs, traditional medicines and herbs, and in its handicrafts, made mainly from rattan and bamboo. Thus, China dominates world trade in NWFP (estimated at US$11 billion in 1994). It is followed closely by India, and then Indonesia, Viet Nam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

By subregion, medicinal plants are of major importance in continental Asia, particularly for the higher elevation regions of Nepal, Bhutan, northern India and Pakistan, and southwestern China. High-value medicinal plants include Nardostachys jatamansi, Dioscorea deltoidea and Swertia chiraita. In the drier regions in continental and South Asia, grazing of livestock in the forests and production of fodder (from fodder tree branches and leaves) are the main NWFP.

Traditionally, the rich forests of insular and Southeast Asia have been a major source of many NWFP; in terms of significant production and trade these include bamboo and rattan, medicines and herbs (Ephedra sp., Anamirta cocculus, Cinnamonum camphora) essential oils (Styrax spp., Pogostomon cabin, Cassia, Citronella), spices, sandalwood, fruits and resins (copal).

Globally, rattan is the most important NWFP that is traded internationally. At the local level, it is of critical importance as a primary, supplementary or emergency source of income in rural areas. There are approximately 600 species of rattan, of which some 10 percent are used commercially for industrial processing (mainly furniture making). Key genera are Calamus, Daemonorops, Korthalsia and Plectocomia. Indonesia hosts the bulk of the world rattan resources (by both volume and number of species) and is the largest supplier of cane, with an estimated annual production of 570 000 tonnes.

However, Asian rattan resources are being depleted through overexploitation and loss of forest habitats. Only Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, and, to a lesser extent, Lao PDR and Papua New Guinea, still have some significant rattan resources left. In the Philippines, the latest national forest inventory data of 1988 showed an available growing stock of approximately 4 500 million linear metres (lm) of rattan (all species combined) in the country. However, no follow-up rattan inventory has been made and it is presumed that most of the commercial species have been cut down already. The total area of rattan plantations in the Philippines is estimated to be between 6 000 and 11 000 ha.

In the Peninsular Malaysian Permanent Forest Reserves, the 1992 National Forest Inventory estimated a total of 32.7 million rattan plants (irrespective of age), of which the most abundant (about 37 percent) were the Korthalsia spp. Of Calamus spp., C. manan is the most abundant with around 5.9 million clumps. The rattan plantation area is estimated to be around 30 000 ha (depending on the definition of a "rattan plantation", which may range from rattan enrichment planting in logged-over forests to full-scale rattan planting under tree crops like rubberwood). In the case of some of the traditional rattan-producing countries, such as China, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Viet Nam and Cambodia, the long-term sustainability of their rattan-processing industries has been undermined by the depletion of rattan stocks in natural forests. Although some smallholder rattan gardens exist, presently, investment in industrial-scale rattan plantations is negligible resulting in an insecure future supply.

Bamboo is by far the most commonly used NWFP in Asia. There are more than 500 species. Although international trade in bamboo products is still less important than rattan or medicinal plants, it has increased dramatically in the last decade. Unlike rattan, bamboo is moving out of the crafts industry phase and now provides raw material for industrial products (shoots, construction poles, panelling and flooring products, pulp). This has important repercussions for the bamboo resource base. Increasingly, bamboo is becoming a domesticated crop grown by farmers. Harvesting of bamboo in forests is still important in countries like Myanmar, Lao PDR, and in remote mountain forests in northern India, central China and Viet Nam.

China has the largest area of bamboo forests with an estimated area of 7 to 17 million ha (depending on how a "bamboo forest" is defined – from dispersed bamboo in degraded natural forests to full-scale plantations), mostly of Phyllostachys and Dendrocalamus spp. Annual production of bamboo poles ranges from 6 to 7 million tonnes (one-third of total known world production). The estimated value of world trade in bambooware is approximately US$36.2 million. China (US$20 million in 1992) and Thailand are the main suppliers; Malaysia, Myanmar, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Viet Nam, the Philippines and Bangladesh are minor exporters. Bamboo shoots supply a rapidl y expanding and fashionable export market, with China being the major world producer and exporter (1.6 million tonnes of fresh shoots in 1999), followed by Thailand, with minor quantities from Indonesia, Viet Nam and Malaysia. Bamboo shoots are produced on farms.

For thousands of years, forest-gathered medicinal plants have been a key component of the traditional health systems of the region, and this is still the case today. Most countries maintain and have legalized a dual system of providing both "western medicine" and traditional health care (Aryuveda, Jamu and others). Traditional health-care systems in the region recognize a long list of about 4 000 medicinal plants of commercial importance. Some species have become active ingredients in western medicine, resulting in growing demand and trade. This demand has led to overharvesting of several species to the point that some species have been listed as endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It is estimated that three-quarters of the total production is still gathered from wild sources. However, domestication and production of medicinal plants in home gardens is increasing rapidly. Total world trade in medicinal plants in 1992 was about US$171 million. China is the biggest producer as well as exporter of medicinal plants, accounting for 30 percent of world trade (by value) in 1991, followed by the Republic of Korea, the United States, India and Chile. Singapore and Hong Kong are the main re-exporters in Asia.

The extensive pine forests in the region provide the resources for the collection of pine-related products such as resins, seeds and mushrooms. China and Indonesia dominate world production of oleoresins from all sources (largely Pinus spp.), which ranges between 1.1 and 1.2 million tonnes annually. China has emerged as the world's largest producer of rosin, with an annual production level of nearly 400 000 tonnes. Pine nuts (seeds of Pinus gerardiana, P. pinea, P. korainsis and P. cembra) are an important product with a growing and high-value market, particularly in developed countries. Seeds of the chilghoza pine (P. gerardiana) are produced and exported by India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. China is the world's largest producer and exporter of Pinus korainsis seeds – one of the larger-seeded species – as well as seeds of Pinus cembra, the Siberian equivalent of the edible seeds from the European Pinus pinea. Production levels vary greatly from year to year.

Wild edible mushrooms, particularly morels belonging to the genus Morchella, are another product of considerable economic and commercial significance. Morels are prized for culinary uses, particularly as a gourmet food. Morels grow naturally in the temperate forests of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Nepal and Bhutan. Total world production is estimated at 150 tonnes. Pakistan and India are the major producers, each producing and exporting about 50 tonnes of dry morels annually (equivalent to 500 tonnes of fresh morels). Total world trade in morels is approximately US$50 to 60 million. China is also a major producer and exporter of other wild mushroom species. The Chinese black auricular fungus (Auricularia auricula) is well known for its quality, and 1 000 tonnes are exported annually, earning US$8 million. The annual production of Tremella fuciformis often reaches 1 000 tonnes, a third of which is exported. The annual harvest of shiitake mushroom (Lentinus edodes) is about 120 000 tonnes, accounting for 38 percent of world production. China is the second largest producer in the world with annual exports of over 1 000 tonnes of dried shiitake mushrooms, valued at US$20 million.

Asia is also the world’s leading producer of several essential oils. Total world trade in raw essential oils exceeds US$1 billion, but the major share comes from cultivated sources. Major wild sources of essential oils in the region include sandalwood (Santalum spp.), agarwood (Aquilaria spp.), tung oil (Aleurites spp.) and eucalypt oils. China, Indonesia, Thailand, India and Viet Nam are the major suppliers of these oils.

Spices, condiments and culinary herbs are another important group of products (although most now comes from domesticated sources) that constitute a significant component of world trade. Indonesia is the largest world producer of nutmeg and mace and accounts for three-quarters of world production and export. Indonesia produced 15 800 tonnes of nutmeg during 1990. World trade in cinnamon is between 7 500 to 10 000 tonnes annually. Sri Lanka contributes 80 to 90 percent, most of the balance coming from the Seychelles and Madagascar. The world trade in cassia is about 20 000 to 25 000 tonnes annually, of which Indonesia accounts for two-thirds and China most of the remainder. Minor producers include Viet Nam and India. About 2 000 to 3 000 tonnes of cassia bark are exported from Viet Nam annually. The European Union, the United States and Japan are the major markets.

Products of lesser importance include sago, illipe nuts, bird nests, karaya gum, kapok and shellac. Sago is starch obtained from the stem of the sago palm (Metroxylon spp.). Indonesia is the major producer and exporter. During 1991, Indonesia exported 10 108 tonnes of sago flour and meal to Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, valued at US$2.32 million. Malaysia also produces small volumes.

Illipe nut is the commercial name for the winged fruits produced by about 20 different species of Shorea trees. The seeds from these fruits contain an oil whose chemical and physical properties are remarkably similar to cocoa butter. Large quantities of illipe nuts are collected and sold to be used in the manufacture of chocolate (as a cocoa butter improver), soap and cosmetics. Indonesia dominates world trade in illipe nuts, exporting about 15 000 tonnes annually, worth about US$8 million.

Salanganes or bird nests are built by two species of cave-dwelling swiftlets, Collocalia fuciphaga and C. maxima in Malaysia and Thailand. These are collected for sale to the Chinese market at home and abroad. Malaysia is the major producer and exporter of bird nests. Malaysian exports during 1991 totalled 18.6 tonnes, mainly to Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Taiwan, valued at around US$1 million.

Karaya gum, also known as Indian tragacanth, is obtained from tapping trees of the genus Sterculia. India is the only major producer. Total world production is about 5 500 tonnes per annum.

Kapok is a mass of silky fibres in the fruit of the ceiba tree (Ceiba pentandra), used as a filling for mattresses, life preservers, and sleeping bags and as insulation. The tree grows in many South Asian countries but also on the Pacific islands, in Africa and in Central America. Thailand and Indonesia are the main suppliers in the world trade. Japan, China, the European Union and the United States are the major markets. During 1992 the total value of world trade was approximately US$11 million, of which about 66 percent was contributed by Thailand and 16 percent by Indonesia.

Thailand and India dominate world trade in shellac, each exporting, on average, about 6 000 tonnes per annum. Shellac is an animal product. The basic material comes from the Coccus lacca, a scaly insect that feeds on certain trees in India and southern Asia. After feeding, the insect produces through its pores a gummy substance which hardens into a protective covering called lac. This lac is collected and then it is crushed, washed and dried. After further treatment, it is skillfully drawn into thin sheets of finished shellac. Vietnamese annual exports average around 300 tonnes. China produces about 3 000 tonnes.

At country and local levels, there are still many more NWFP that are important for subsistence and the income generation activities of rural people (such as bushmeat, wild honey, fodder). Descriptive and qualitative information on them is included in the specific country profiles, as well as information on ecotourism in forests, when available.

Forest services are also important in the region. Most of the countries of the study have established protected forest areas, developed both national parks and forest recreation services and are emphasizing the development of ecotourism as a means of income generation for the country. Sustainability has been taken into account in this development; for instance the Wildlife Institute of India has initiated studies and experiments in the high altitude forests in the Garhwal Himalayas to assess tourism impact on habitats and wildlife for the planning of sustainable tourism.

Governments have been prompted to support and promote an active conservation policy regarding natural resource areas. Protected areas (e.g. national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, reserves) provide ecotourism services while also playing a significant role in the preservation of biodiversity and the gene reserves of the region. Protected areas provide habitats for endangered animals, such as the Bengal tiger, spotted deer, crocodiles, jungle fowl, wild boar, lizards and rhesus monkeys in Bangladesh.

Outdoor recreation is in great demand for many people living in big cities. Other important non-wood services derived from forests are grazing and fishing. Forest wildlife also has a symbolic significance for local people. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, different clans have special relationships with particular species that serve as their totems and the wildlife contributes to the cultural identity of the villagers.


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