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Main non-wood forest products

The most important NWFP of Papua New Guinea are food from plants (tubers/corms, fruits, nuts and vegetables), mushrooms, medicinal plants, rattan, bamboo and orchids. Other important NWFP include bushmeat, copal gum, vatica, massoy bark, tannins and insects (butterflies).

General information

Papua New Guinea has some of the richest flora and fauna in the world. There are about 9 000 species of higher plants including 1 500 trees. Nearly 90 percent of the population of 3.5 million lives in rural areas, where most basic needs are met through gathering and hunting in forests for food (fruits, roots, wild animals), fibres, medicines and culturally important products such as adornments like feathers of birds (Srivastava 1994). The utilization of NWFP has great potential but is very neglected (Saulei and Aruga 1994).



The staple food items of Papua New Guineans are mainly carbohydrate-rich sweet potato (Ipomea batatas), taro (Colocasia esculenta), yams (Dioscorea spp.), sago (Metroxylon sp.) and bananas (Musa sp.). Much of the supplementary food (green vegetables, fruits and nuts) is collected from the wild, like Hibiscus manilot, edible grasses (Setaria palmifolia, Saccharum edule), spinach (Amaranthus hybridis, A. tricolor, A. viridis), Oceanthe javanica, Solonum nigrum, Rungi klossii, sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum), breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), coconut (Cocos nucifera), Barringtonia spp., Pandanus spp., Canarium spp. and Terminalia spp. (Shrivastava 1995).

Powel (1976) (in Saulei and Aruga [1994]) listed some 251 species of food plants in Papua New Guinea of which 157 species (73 percent) were collected from savannahs, forests and grasslands; 51 species (20 percent) were both harvested from the wild and cultivated, and 43 (17 percent) were only cultivated. Seventy-six species were used as supplementary vegetables, the most important being Gnetum gnemon, Amaranthus spp., Colocasia esculenta, Setaria palmifolia (Koenig) Stapt., Cucumis spp. and ferns (Asplenium, Athyrium, Ctenitis, Cyathea and Dryopteris).

Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) is a mushroom that occurs naturally in Papua New Guinea. It is a very popular food in Southeast Asia, China and Japan and also in some other countries. Shiitake grows on the deadwood of oak and beech trees (both from the family Fagaceae). Cultivation of shiitake is very profitable and can increase the incomes of farmers remarkably. One cubic meter of log can produce five kilogrammes of dried mushroom annually for four to five years after initial inoculation; the annual income obtained ranges from K1 500 to 2 040 (when the export price is K10–12/kg) (Shrivastava 1995).

Sago palm (Metroxylon spp.) has very high contents of starch in its trunk and the sago flour is an important staple food for coastal communities. The species Metroxylon sagu and M. rumphii are the most important species. Riechert (1986) estimated that the annual consumption of sago starch in Papua New Guinea could be 15 000 tonnes (Shrivastava 1995). Sago leaves are used for thatching house roofs and walls, the fronds for wall cladding, the midribs for fish traps and the pith offers an excellent substrate for mushrooms and sago grubs (Saulei and Aruga 1994).

Powel (1976) (in Saulie and Aruga [1994]) has listed 48 species of plants that serve as fruits in Papua New Guinea. Important fruit plants include breadfruit, Syzygium malaccense L., S. aquem (Burm.f.) Alston., Paratocarpus venenosa (Zoll. & Mor.) Becc., Berckella spp., Diospyros spp., Garcinia spp., Gnetum gnemon L., Magnifera minor Bl., Morinda citrifolia L., Spondias dulcis Forst. and Pangium edule Reinw. Additionally, Mangifera indica L., Citrus spp., Ammona spp., Ananas spp., Carica papaya L., Psidium spp. and Cucumis spp. are cultivated and utilized by local people.

Saulei and Aruga (1994) have listed some 25 plant species that produce edible nuts which are used as seasonal supplementary food.


Powel (1976) (in Shrivastava 1995) has provided a list of 22 plant species and their medicinal uses in Papua New Guinea. Moreover, Nick et al. (1995) have provided a list of 17 species of medicinal plants used in the traditional medicine. Mebs (1999) studied the traditional use of plants to treat snake bites in northern Papua New Guinea and identified six species. Further, Saulei and Aruga (1994) have listed some 55 medicinal plant species.

Perfumes and cosmetics

The tree species of Massoy (Cryptocarya massoy) and Lawag (Cinnamomum spp.) yield essential oils (Shrivastava 1995) but there are no records on their production and trade.

Dyeing and tanning

A number of trees (e.g. Rhizophora, Brugueira and Acacia spp.) produce tannin but no tannin production occurs in the country (Shrivastava 1995). Traditionally tannins have been used for body decoration or personal effects (Saulei and Aruga 1994).

Utensils, handicrafts and construction materials

Papua New Guinea is famous for its artifacts. A number of plant species, especially ebony (Diospyros sp.) and Anthocephalus chinensis, are used for artifacts and musical instruments, which are exported too. Species commonly used for house construction, canoes and artifacts include Alstonia scholaris, Areca catechu, Artocarpus sp., Breynia racemosa, Burkella obovata, Capyphyllum inophyllum, Cissus sp., Duckera taitensis, Flagellaria indica, Maranthes corymbosa, Octomeles sumatrana, Pandanus conoideus, Pometica pinnata, Sterculia ampla, Sterculia shillinghawaii, Tarena paveta, Terminalia megalocarpa and Zanthoxyllum pluviatile (Shrivastava 1995).

Nipa palm (Nypa fructicans) is used for a variety of end-uses including construction, tying, fuel, drinks and food (Shrivastava 1995).

In 1994 a total of 27 bamboo species (from the genera Bambusa, Nastus, Recemobambus, Schizostachyum and Buergersiochloa) were reported. Bamboos are used by rural communities for housing, fencing, gardening, agricultural implements, musical instruments, fishing and hunting tools. Because of the lack of information on their properties, for instance, bamboo products have not been commercialized (Shrivastava 1995).

About 60 to 100 rattan species have been estimated to exist in Papua New Guinea. There are vast resources especially in the Sepik and Gulf provinces (Saulei and Aruga 1994). Calamus hollrungii, C. warburgii, C. schlechterianus and Korthalsia brasii have been identified as the most common species. Extraction of rattan in the forests is carried out mostly by the landowners. Rattan is used by rural communities for various articles and attempts have been made to develop small-scale industries. From 1985 to 1990 a number of initiatives to develop the rattan-based cottage industry took place (Shrivastava 1995). The boom in rattan exports is largely because of export bans on raw rattans from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines (Saulei and Aruga 1994).

Table 1. Exports of rattan, 1988 to 1992


Volume (MT)

















Source: Timber Digest (1988–1992) in Shrivastava (1995)


Kauri (Agathis labillardieri) is a source of copal (often called Manila copal in the market). Copal has been exported to Europe and Singapore for some time (Shrivastava 1995), but no recent records on production and trade exist.

Vatica papuana is the source of dammar hiru or vatica resin (Shivastava 1995). No current records are available on its production and trade.


Over 2 746 species of orchids belonging to 148 genera have been reported. According to some estimates Papua New Guinea may have about 65 percent of the world’s population of orchids and many of the genera and species still need to be identified. Two of the largest genera include Dendrobium and Bulbophyllum (Shrivastava 1995).

A total ban on the export of orchids collected from the wild was enforced in 1990 by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC); it permitted collection and export of cultivated orchids only. Some village farms were established in the late 1970s to attract tourists. Flowers on these farms were being sold at K2.00 whilst the National Capital District Botanic Garden (NCDBG) was exporting the flowers at K10.00 (Kabaru 1992). Although the village farms have not functioned as envisaged, tourism potential is often associated with orchid cultivation. The value of the domestic cut-flower trade has been evaluated at upwards of K50 000 annually (Shrivastava 1995).

No recent figures on trade on massoy (Cryptocarya spp.) bark exist although trade is supposed to exist (Saulei and Aruga 1994). The same applies to trade on sandalwood (Santalum magregorii F. Muell.).


Honey and beeswax

Shrivastava (1995) reported that beekeeping is becoming popular among smallholder cooperative projects in the highlands and the villagers involved have been provided with training and support.


Liem and Haines (1977) in Shrivastava (1995) have provided a list of 25 wildlife species utilized by the rural communities. Birds and animals are hunted for their meat. The hides and feathers of many animals are used for clothing and decoration and are valued highly in traditional exchanges. Wildlife has become an important source of cash for many villagers; a live cassowary is valued at US$1 620 (Saulei and Aruga 1994).

Other edible/non-edible animal products

According to Shrivastava (1995) there are good prospects for developing small village-based projects on insect farming. Papua New Guinea has a very rich insect population; for example, butterflies are amongst the most popular souvenirs from the country (Shrivastava 1995). Butterfly farming was started in 1974 in the Garaina area of Morobe Province and in 1994 there were around 500 farmers engaged in the industry over the whole country. The Insect Farming and Trading Agency, responsible for the exports, pays the collectors a rate of US$1 to US$20, depending on the rarity of the species (Saulei and Aruga 1994). Mercer (1989) (in Saulei and Aruga 1994) estimated the annual value of the butterfly trade to be US$250 000.



Saulei, S.M. & Aruga, J.A. 1994. The status and prospects of non-timber forest products evelopment in Papua New Guinea. Commonwealth Forestry Review 73.

Shrivastava, P.B.L. 1995. Non-wood forest products of Papua New Guinea. GCP/RAS/134/ASB. Forestry Research Support Programme for Asia and the Pacific (FORSPA). Bangkok, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.



This report has been realized within the framework of the EC-FAO Partnership Programme "Sustainable Forest Management in Asia". The contents are based on available information at FAO headquarters in Rome.

Additional information on NWFP in Papua New Guinea would be appreciated and duly acknowledged



Papua New Guinea Forest Research Institute, Lae MP, Papua New Guinea.


Wildlife has a symbolic significance, and plays an important role in villagers’ everyday lives. Different clans have special relationships with particular species which serve as their totems. Wildlife therefore contributes to the cultural identity of the villagers (Saulei Aruga 1994).




Economic value




Trade name

Generic term


Part used




Quantity, value




1, 2, 3


F, P, O

W, C

N, I


Plants and plant products




Lentilus edodes


F, P

W, C

N, I


Household income at K1 500–2 040 p/a when export price is K10–12

Shrivastava 1995



Metroxylum spp.



Consumption of sago starch p/a could be 15 000 MT

Shrivastava 1995

Utensils, handicrafts, construction materials



Calamus hollrungii

C. warburgii

C. schlechterianus

Korthalsia brasii



N, I

Export of 108.5 MT (FOB K758 000) in 1992


Shrivastava 1995




Dendrobium spp.

Bulbophyllum spp.


F, P

W, C

N, I

Value of cut-flower trade has been evaluated upwards of K50 000 p/a


Shrivastava 1995

Animals and animal products





A live cassowary is valued at US$1 620


Saulei and Aruga 1994

Other edible/ non-edible animal products




W, C


Estimated value of butterfly trade: US$250 000


Saulei and Aruga 1994

Importance: 1 – high importance at the national level; 2 – high importance at the local/regional level; 3 – low importance

Parts used: an – whole animal; ba – bark; bw – beeswax; le – leaves; nu – nuts; fi – fibres; fl – flowers; fr – fruits; gu – gums;

ho – honey; la – latex; oi – oil; pl – whole plant; re – resins; ro – roots; sa – sap; se – seeds; st – stem; ta – tannins

Habitat: F – natural forest or other wooded lands; P – plantation; O – trees outside forests (e.g. agroforestry, home gardens)

Source: W – wild, C – cultivated

Destination: N – national; I – international



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