For more than a decade, Non-Wood News has provided a forum to discuss themes that are influencing the environmentally friendly, economically viable and socially equitable use of non-wood forest products (NWFPs). This issue of Non-Wood News is no different and contains a multitude of interesting information on NWFPs – from bamboo to tamshi, and from Bangladesh to Zambia.
Having celebrated its tenth anniversary last year, this eleventh issue of Non-Wood News is looking ahead to a new decade of challenging activities promoting the sustainable use of NWFPs. What will be the challenges that will determine the debate in the coming years?
The original debate on NWFPs was initiated by some enthusiastic reports on the actual and potential value of a wide variety of forest products other than wood/timber, which resulted in the creation of new terms – “non-wood” or “non-timber” forest products (NWFP/NTFP) – describing different plant or animal products used for subsistence or commercialization. Over the years, these reports have been complemented by numerous case studies showing not only the important roles of NWFPs, but also the challenges these products and their users are facing.
Last year, during a side event to the XII World Forestry Congress on “Strengthening global partnerships to advance sustainable development of non-wood forest products” [See Special Features for more information], three major challenges for the NWFP sector were identified: the “profound lack of information to realize the full benefits of NWFPs”; the “lack of technical, financial, political and social capacity to influence policies and to generate information”; and the “lack of protected rights to access and benefit from NWFP resources”.
Data on NWFPs indeed remain rudimentary and are still not collected in a systematic way. Reports on NWFPs often focus on commercial products while the description of subsistence uses often remains anecdotal. Sound information is urgently needed in order to provide the necessary information for decision-makers at all levels, such as producers, traders and politicians.
However, the NWFP sector cannot be seen as a coherent one. A quick Internet search resulted in 11 100 entries being found on NWFPs, 30 000 on NTFPs, but 25 000 on bushmeat and even 279 000 on medicinal plants, two major NWFPs. It is important to keep in mind that most experts are working on their individual or institutional specialities without being involved in the entire NWFP sector or even without putting their work into an overall context. Interdisciplinary collaboration and partnerships, e.g. among research institutions, private companies and government and non-governmental organizations, still remain the exception rather than the norm. Therefore, more efforts are required from all of us to improve this interdisciplinary collaboration, which will lead to the sustainable use of NWFPs being promoted in a more effective way.
Better data on NWFPs are urgently needed, but these data need to be demand-driven and user-friendly. Priorities need to be set. What kind of information is required? For whom? When? These priorities should be decided together with the data users, who should be the stakeholders most closely involved in NWFP use. Their capacities need to be strengthened in order to help them to collect and analyse the information they require – be it on resources, markets or the legal framework.
However, the main driving force for the development of the NWFP sector will be the benefits they provide to producers, users and all the other stakeholders involved in the production, trade and use of NWFPs. Only by ensuring these benefits to the people involved will NWFPs be able to play an important role in the overall economic development and thus contribute to local livelihoods. The challenge for us will be to find appropriate mechanisms to balance these benefits in an adequate way among the different interest groups; e.g. rural populations without secured access to land, urban traders and multinational exporters and importers. All these, and many other stakeholders, are involved in the sector and only if their various, and often conflicting, views can be balanced will the sustainable use of NWFPs be ensured.
The FAO NWFP Programme will continue to promote the sustainable use of NWFPs by improving methodologies, supporting institutional capacities, strengthening global networks and promoting best practices. Non-Wood News will remain one of our prime vehicles to share information on all aspects covering NWFPs and to provide an open forum for its readers to exchange information and to discuss these and other emerging issues.