The importance of specific NWFP should be viewed in relation to time, location, demand and resource availability. Some products which were less important some years ago are now becoming more important (e.g. bamboo shoots). At the same time, others which were among the most important are now becoming scarce and as a result they are no longer considered at this moment to be important but continue to be mentioned on the list of recorded NWFP (e.g. dammar resin).
The ranking of NWFP is a difficult process. The importance of these products is very much dependent on their availability and accessibility in certain geographical areas, the attitude and preferences of the local population, market demand, the contribution they make to families and the national economy and also the categories of people involved in the ranking process. Unlike timber, NWFP have multistakeholders who directly benefit from NWFP through free access to the natural resources.
In some countries the interest and activity of local people in NWFP have increased. The private sector has started to invest in small-scale NWFP-processing industries and local people have started to domesticate some NWFP (e.g. medicinal plants in home gardens). Some communities have initiated sustainable-use systems, for example fish conservation zones, frog conservation schemes and other NWFP-use rules and multivillage agreements to conserve large blocks of forests.
NWFP contribute to food security by supplementing agricultural crops during seasonal shortages. They are also important for health care, materials for farm implements and construction, fodder and for fuelwood. In given cases, NWFP may yield higher economic returns than upland agriculture or timber forest products (e.g. mushrooms). It is also important to note that urbanization can increase the demand for NWFP, as people moving from rural areas maintain and disseminate their consumption patterns in the cities (e.g. consumption of wild honey).
The irregular and subsistence nature in consumption of these products makes it difficult to gather useful and reliable information on them, as the users keep no records. Sometimes users may neglect and undervalue these products as in most cases they do not earn any direct cash benefits from them and they gather these products largely free of charge utilizing only their labour and time inputs.
Currently the usage of NWFP is still quantified poorly and usually their value is not included in forest valuations. Some countries have attempted to compile statistics for (some of the major) NWFP used in national forest statistics. However, for most of the species used by local people, no reliable statistics exist.
Forest-use practices and patterns change with the increasing pressures of population growth and market economies. Where community land is poor, NWFP are used to generate income as raw materials for cottage industries. Only some NWFP are being managed properly as a business entity (e.g. bamboo plantations in China). Property rights or ownership of the NWFP resources have not been well defined in most of the countries. In some cases the collection of NWFP is entirely free and only very seldom is a collection licence needed; if one is required, it is seldom verified. This has led to the unregulated collection of most NWFP, such as rattan, wild honey and key medicinal plants.
Presently much support for NWFP collectors is being provided through (inter-)national support programmes, as they are the primary target groups for poverty alleviation programmes; mostly this is done by improving their marketing channels for commercialization of their NWFP. In the NWFP marketing chain, collectors suffer most when resource scarcity problems arise because of increased NWFP commercialization. Middlemen and contractors often take advantage of people’s ignorance regarding the actual market prices, as alternative marketing channels are not so easily available to the local collectors. Middlemen tend to exploit the ignorance of collectors and growers and offer insignificant returns to them.
The NWFP sector is a labour-intensive industry and faces various problems, such as minimal capital investment, a low percentage of skilled labour, a low technological level in product processing, poor quality control and lack of marketing skills. In addition, extraction, processing, production and marketing of most NWFP are carried out in traditional ways using worn-out equipment or obsolete methods. The potential of many NWFP is not being utilized fully because of insufficient knowledge and experience on modern processing techniques and lack of product development.
In order to reduce the pressure on remaining NWFP resources, and to utilize the full potential of NWFP to provide employment and increase the income levels of rural people, more attention should be given to domesticating important plants and promoting their cultivation by individuals, communities, private industries etc., (i.e. rattan, bamboo and some medicinal plants). Useful plants should be cultivated in home gardens and on other agricultural land, and their cultivation could be included and further promoted in agroforestry management systems.
The Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study, conducted by FAO in 1998, included a study on NWFP: "Non-Wood Forest Products Outlook Study for Asia and the Pacific". According to this study, major findings and the problems associated with the development of NWFP in the Asia-Pacific region included problems associated with the collection and analysis of statistical data on NWFP. In addition, countries are facing depletion of their NWFP resources because of, on the one hand inadequately regulated harvesting, and on the other hand the increasing market demand for commercially popular species (e.g. rattan, gaharu trees, various barks, roots, stems and leaves used as medicines). Also, the NWFP sector tends to be overlooked or discounted in national-level forest programmes and resource planning due to the lack of investment in research and development, institutional and policy neglect, and because of the small scale of the industry. The NWFP-dependent communities continue to be weak economically. Collectors are facing limited marketing options or negotiating power and are faced typically with only a single buyer. Inventory information is scarce and forest management is timber-oriented. The success of NWFP development in many places will depend on the ability to implement management systems which recognize and promote the production of both timber and non-timber resources.
NWFP have multiple uses and involve multistakeholders with conflicting needs; these are very difficult to deal with in terms of resource assessment, management and control, ownership, access rights and trade regulation. NWFP regulations are inadequate. In addition, NWFP resources have not been identified or mapped sufficiently to inform NWFP stakeholders about key species and zones for conservation, domestic consumption and commercial development for sector planning, research and development. In various countries, the concerned line ministry and its technical departments cannot cope with the huge demand for technical advice and support from the various stakeholders in the sector.
However, governments are now paying more attention and are becoming involved increasingly in the development of their NWFP sectors. Some are evincing strong interest and already have undertaken assessments of research and development needs and of the ways to improve the coordination of relevant activities and the collection and dissemination of information about NWFP.
The country reports in this document vary in depth of coverage and in their approaches. Some papers provide descriptive information complemented or not with statistical data and many others illustrate discrepancies among existing figures from various sources. Within the scope of this study no attempts could be made to analyse and explain these discrepancies. Also, the quality of bibliographies attached to the country reports is variable and often the statistical data is provided without quotation to the original source. In some papers either local or trade names are provided making the identification of the species providing the product difficult. All country reports expressed the need to assist further the development of their NWFP sectors.
Many of the country reports reveal the difficulties in obtaining data and information on potential sources and distribution, ecology, uses, harvesting and processing methods, trade prospects and the depletion rates of major NWFP. Therefore it was proposed to place major NWFP in the list of priorities of local and central governments. Also, the inventory of valuable NWFP resources is very important in order to understand their potential production, their location and distribution. The inventory of NWFP resources should involve the NWFP collectors with assistance from local governments, local scientists, forestry authorities and research institutions.
The constraints for the development of NWFP in the countries reviewed in this study can be summarized as follows:
Lack of coordination among the existing institutions and countries.
Insufficient research and development activities for the key NWFP.
Lack of conservation and management policies for sustainable production.
Few initiatives to involve and assist the private sector in NWFP development.
Since existing knowledge on NWFP is poor, there is a need to carry out research, field surveys and resource assessments in order to obtain the required data for the development of this resource.
The following are the major areas identified for further research and development work:
Resource inventories of key NWFP species.
Ethnobotanic studies to improve knowledge on utilization of NWFP.
Growth and yield studies and natural regeneration studies of key NWFP species.
Studies on propagation, domestication techniques and genetic improvement.
Improvements in processing, transport and storage techniques.
Income generation and market surveys.
Focused marketing studies on key NWFP for national and Asian markets.