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3.1 The Trade in NWFP

The sale and exchange by people of wild plant and animal resources is an issue that lies at the very heart of the relationship between biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. The increase in demand for, and consumption of, natural resources is causing their depletion at an alarming rate and while not all of this is due to the trade in wild plants and animals, it remains one of the underlying causes of biodiversity loss (Broad et al., 2003).

The lack of information on trade in wild plants and animals, and their use in general, makes it very difficult to estimate total and relative levels of wild plant and animal use for domestic and commercial purposes (Burgess, 1992) and the dividing line between purely subsistence use and trade for commercial purposes is often blurred (Freese, 1998). The trade is certainly significant and the value of the international trade in NWFP has, in 2001, been estimated at US$11 billion per annum (Broad, 2001).

While the majority of wild animal and plant trade is legal, much of it is illegal and traders operating in both sectors adapt to market trends, regulatory changes – including the introduction of trade-related measures – and supply-side changes and challenges. The trade is complex, dynamic and continuously evolving and frequently poses a major challenge to the conservation of NWFP, either directly through over-exploitation or indirectly through impacts caused, for instance, by the introduction of invasive species (Broad et al, 2003).

Uses of internationally traded NWFP

Wild species are traded internationally in many forms – raw, semi-processed and processed – to produce a wide variety of products. An overview of a number of these uses is provided below while more detail is provided in Table 1.

• Medicines – many medicines, both traditional and ‘western’ are based on wild plants or the compounds extracted from them. Approximately 1 000 plant species have been identified in international trade in East Asia alone (Lee. in prep. In: Roe et al., 2002) and 700 imported for use within Europe. The global international trade in medicinal and aromatic plants exceeded 440 000 t in 1996 with a projected value of US$1.3 billion (Lange, 1998).

• Food - While the majority of wild pants and animals collected or hunted is used for subsistence purposes, there is a substantial international trade in a variety of non-timber forest products. NWFP examples include brazil nuts, palm hearts, pine nuts, spices and various mushroom species.

• Ornaments and furnishings – A wide variety of wild plant and animal products are used for decorative and ornamental purposes and are frequently traded as tourist items. For NWFP, these include elephant ivory, reptile and other skins, curios and feathers.

• Clothing – Skins, furs, feathers and fibres from numerous reptiles, birds and small mammals are traded internationally to make clothing and related products. Some are ultimately sold in their processed form as high value fashion items.

• Pets or hobbies – The increased availability of air transport around the world has broadened the variety and numbers of wild species that are traded for use as pets or hobbies. The international trade in related NWFP is dominated by reptiles and birds but also includes invertebrate species such as scorpions and spiders.

Table 1: List of Internationally Traded Non-Wood Forest Products.



Food products

Nuts. Brazil nuts, pine nuts, pignolia nuts, malva nut, walnuts and chestnuts.
. Jujube and Ginkgo.
Edible fungi
. Morels, truffles and pine mushrooms.
. Bamboo shoots and palm hearts.
. Sago.
Bird nests.
. Sheanuts, babacu oil, sal or tengkawang or illipe oil.
Maple sugar.

Spices and condiments

Nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cassia, cardamom.
Galanga, allspice, caraway

Industrial plant oils

Tung oil, Neem oil, Jojoba oil, Kemiri or candle or lumbang oil, akar wangi and kapok oils.

Plant gums

Gums for food uses. Gum arabic, tragacanth, karaya and carob gums.
Technological grade gums
. Talha and combretum gums.

Natural pigments

Annatto seeds, indigo.


Pine oleoresin, copal damar, gamboge, benzoin gum, dragon's blood (Benjamin) copaiba oil, amber

Fibres and flosses

Fibres. Bamboo, rattan, xate attap, aren, oster, raffia, toquilla straw products, cork, esparto, Erica and other broom grasses.
. Kapok or silk cotton.

Vegetable tanning materials

Quebracho, mimosa, chestnut and catha/cutch.


Natural rubber, gutta percha, jelutong, sorva and chicle.

Insect products

Natural honey, beeswax, lac, silk, mulberry and non mulberry silks, cochineal
aleppo galls.

Incense woods

Sandalwood, gharu or aloewood.

Essential oils


Plant insecticides

Pyrethrum, Derris, Medang and Peuak Bong.

Medicinal plants


Wild plants


Animals and animal products

Ivory, trophies, bones, feathers, maleo eggs, live animals and birds.

Miscellaneous products

Bidi leaves, soap berries (soap nut), Quillaia bark, cola nut, chewing sticks, lacquer, dom nuts or ivory nuts.

Source: Adapted from Iqbal, 1993.

Box 1: The value of some NWFPs

From Cameroon
The numerous NWFP found in Cameroon are traded at local, national, regional and international levels.  For instance, in a single market, New-Bell, Douala in the humid forest zone of Cameroon, the annual commercial value of a highly traded NWFP such as njansang nuts(Ricinodendron heudelotii) was estimated at US$248 700 in 1998 and US$464 235 in 1999 (Ngono and Ndoye, 2004).  The value of the African plum or safou fruit (Dacryodes edulis) market in Cameroon was estimated at over US$ 7 million in 1997 and exports from Central Africa and Nigeria to Belgium, France and the UK have been valued at over US$2.2 million in 1999.  The total commercial value of wild mango(Irvingia spp)trade in 2000 in ten major markets in the forest zone of Cameroon stood at over US$825 714.  The value of NWFP traded in local markets in the humid forest zone of Cameroon was estimated at US$1.6 million during the first six months of 1996.

At an international level, France and Belgium import annually over 100 t of Gnetum spp. (tree foliage eaten as leaf vegetable) worth 2.0 billion FCFA (USD3.07 million) in the French and Belgian markets (Tabuna, 1999).  In 1999, the value of African cherry bark (Prunus africana) used in the treatment of benign prostate hyperplasia in Europe and North America was estimated at over US$700 000 to Cameroon and US$ 200 million to pharmaceutical companies. 

From Bolivia
In 2004, the export of Bolivia’s two most important commercialised NWFPs namely, Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa) and Palm Heart (Euterpe precatoria) comprised a value of US$ 53 mln and US$ 4 mln respectively, consisting of 3% of the total value of all exported products that year (IBCE; INE; UDAPE, 2005).

From Papua New Guinea
In 2002, the total production of sandalwood (Santalum macgregorii) in Papua New Guinea concerned 54 tons of which 85% is exported to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan for the total value of US$ 40,358 (PNG FA, 2002). Another important NWFP in Papua New Guinea is Agarwood, an expensive incense produced by Acquilaria spp and Gyronops spp, which is mainly bought by rich sheiks in the Middle East.  The total value of the 4.1 ton of Agarwood exported in 2002 from Papua New Guinea to the transfer market in Indonesia was US$ 273,270 (IAC Proceedings, 2002; FAO, 2005).

From Namibia, Botswana and South Africa
Devils claw (Harpagophytum spp.) is a medicinal plant, which is both used in traditional medicine and traded on the international market. In 2001, total trade reached 700 ton, mainly supplied by Namibia (92% of world exports) as well as Botswana (5%) and South Africa (3%). The main importer is Germany (459 t imported from Namibia), followed by France and South Africa (CITES, 2002). Namibian exports of devil’s claw are estimated to be worth more than US$ 1.5 million and possibly as much as US$ 2.2 million in foreign exchange earnings per annum, which represents a significant contribution to the country’s economy (Cole & Du Plessis, 2001).

IBCE (2004) Statistic yearbook of Exports of Bolivia 2003

• Ornamental Plants – A significant percentage of what are now considered common garden and indoor plants are the product of international trade that has been taking place for hundreds of years. This includes many bulbous species, orchids, tree ferns, bromeliads, cycads, palms and cacti. While much of the trade is now in artificially propagated plants, there are still millions of wild collected plants traded internationally each year.

• Manufacturing and Construction – NWFP including rattan and bamboo, plant oils and gums, dyes, resins, latex and many other products are traded internationally in huge volumes.

Above adapted from Roe et al., (2002).

Key Countries Involved in the International Trade in Wild Plants and Animals

As a result of research undertaken by the FAO, China was identified as the exporter of the largest quantities of wild plants and animals. Other major suppliers are India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Brazil. In general, trade flows are from developing to developed countries with approximately 60 per cent of all NWFP in trade being imported by the US, EU and Japan (Iqbal, 1995). Amongst those countries for whom the trade in wild plants and animals is commercially significant, are included some of the poorest countries and some of the countries richest in biodiversity resources. The trade presents both threats (e.g. to species and habitats in countries rich in biodiversity such as Madagascar, Indonesia and Malaysia) and opportunities (in that the trade makes a significant contribution to household economies) to many countries.

The trade in medicinal and aromatic plants

It is difficult to assess how many medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) are commercially traded, either on a national or even an international level. The bulk of the plant material is exported from developing countries while major markets are in the developed countries. An analysis of UNCTAD trade figures for 1981–1998 (see Table 2) reflects this almost universal feature of MAP trade, and demonstrates that Europe is the dominant import region (Schipmann et al, 2002).

Table 2 The 12 leading countries of import and export of medicinal and aromatic plant material from 1991-1998

Country of import


[1000 US$]

Country of export


[1000 US$]

Hong Kong

73 650

    314 000


    139 750

    298 650


56 750

    146 650


    36 750

    57 400


56 000

    133 350


    15 050

    72 400


45 850

    113 900


    11 950

    114 450

Rep. Korea

31 400

    52 550


    11 850

    29 100


20 800

    50 400


    11 350

    13 700


12 400

    41 750


    11 250

    59 850


11 450

    42 250


    10 600

    10 050


11 350

    11 850


    10 150

    14 850


8 600

    27 450


    8 100

    5 300


    7 600

    25 550


    7 350

    14 050


    6 550

    55 500


    7 250

    13 200


342 550

1 015 200


281 550

    643 200

Source: UNCTAD COMTRADE database, United Nations Statistics Division, New York (Lange 2002).
Table adapted from Schipmann et al, 2002.

Box 2: Rattan and Aloe ferox

The importance of international markets to rural livelihoods is illustrated by the international trade in rattan, which is considered the most commercially and socio-economically important NWFP in Southeast Asia and the most important wildlife product in international trade in terms of its economic value, other than timber and fish (Fui and Noor, 1994). Rattan is used locally in Malaysia for both subsistence purposes (food, medicine, building material and fibre) and as a source of cash income. Forest-dwelling Malaysian aborigines traditionally undertake the collection of rattan and while the amount earned is not large, it is in many cases the only source of income for these communities, who are amongst the poorest in Asia (de Beer and McDermott, 1996).

In South Africa, the tapping of the aloe species Aloe ferox for the production of aloe bitters employs thousands of South Africans. In 1996, rural communities were estimated to earn approximately ZAR4 million (US$1,2 million) from harvest for trade in this species (Newton and Vaughan, 1996).

3.2 The Contribution of Wildlife Trade to Livelihoods

Numerous studies have noted the importance of wild plant and animal products, in particular for the poor, who frequently depend on such resources for sustaining their livelihoods. According to the World Bank, approximately 240 million people in the developing world depend partly or fully on forests for their livelihoods. For many of these people, forests provide a range of subsistence and commercial livelihood opportunities, which includes the use of and trade in NWFP (Anon., 2004a).

Understanding the role and potential of NWFP in livelihood strategies has been hindered by a lack of a clear theoretical framework and a functional typology of cases and conditions that characterize each of the groups. Belcher et al (2003) accordingly undertook a large comparative analysis of 61 cases of NWFP commercialization to help find patterns among divergent cases. The ways that forests are valued and managed and their role in alleviating rural poverty are being revisited and the case studies demonstrate the importance of NWFP as supplementary sources of income. The study shows that NWFP activities follow the same economic principles as other income-generating activities and also demonstrates that some of the best income earning opportunities lie in diversified systems that mark a transition from gathering to cultivating and that work to overcome the problem of resource depletion (Ruiz-Perez et al, 2004).

The study found that in poor remote areas, with open access resources, there is a tendency for resource overexploitation of marketed NWFP and a dissipation of rents. This trend is exacerbated where more households are getting involved in harvesting and trade in response to new opportunities (for instance, where a new market emerges or prices of existing NWFP increase), or need (e.g. where economies or communities are affected by contracting economies, drought or other factors that limit income-generating alternatives). Where households make some part of their living from these NWFP, harvesters and producers are at a disadvantage due to unstable markets, generally poor infrastructure, limited market access, and low bargaining power. In such situations, forestry (including NWFP use and trade) is often the default option.

Ruiz-Perez et al (2004) describe this research in a separate paper and report a number of regional processes and trends that affect the use and management of forest products. The research notes that in Asia, forest products are generally more intensively managed than in Africa and that there are accordingly more examples of cases with a stable resource base. Formal producers organizations are more common in Africa, and producers generally appear to have a better understanding of their legal rights. Both government interventions and private investment tend to be more common in the Asian cases than in those in Africa. The Latin American cases tend to have intermediate economic conditions and population trends, with more variability within the case set than in other regions and NWFP market trends in Latin America are more variable, with a higher frequency of unstable boom and bust situations. Producers have a medium level of organization, and they are generally knowledgeable about their rights and some support from government and NGOs exists, but little private sector investment.

It is important to note that the study does state that the various authors for this research could be more likely to stress different aspects of NWFP development. This is an important consideration in determining whether trade-related instruments have a role to play in regulating NWFP trade in these regions. For instance, in Africa, researchers often emphasize the safety net and subsistence functions of NWFP. In Asia, which has better-developed and more stable markets, research has focused more on market functioning and appropriation by elites. This is very different to Latin America, where markets tend to be more innovative and dynamic, and for this region researchers tend to stress the importance of the ‘green market’ and the use of certification and eco-labeling in NWFP conservation and development.

In a separate study, the Biodiversity Conservation Network assessed the hypothesis that ‘if people can benefit financially from enterprises that depend on nearby forests and other natural habitats, then they will take action to conserve and sustainably use them’. The study found that community-based enterprise strategies can lead to conservation, but only under limited conditions and never on their own (Salafsky, 2001). Lawrence (2003) notes that NWFP do not necessarily play a role in the livelihoods of the poor, that there still seem to be many doubts about the sustainability of use of NWFP and that it is the priorities of the poor which will determine whether NWFP use results in conservation.

Wild resources are often overlooked by policy-makers, whose focus is typically on key commodities such as timber and cash crops or else on products that are important for food security. As Tomich (1999) suggests, where there is policy intervention in wild markets, it is more likely to be driven by rent-seeking than by efforts to address market imperfections. The implication is that sustainable use initiatives are often introduced in policy contexts that work against their success.

Dependence on NWFP has also been described as a poverty trap (Dove, 1993). Rural people rely on NWFP because they are poor, but it is also possible that they are poor because they rely on NWFP and economic activities for which remuneration is low. Some characteristics of the forest environment and the NWFP economy make it difficult or impossible for those who depend on them to rise out of poverty. Natural forests are often inferior production environments with little infrastructure, high transport costs because of remoteness, few buyers and exploitive marketing chains. The net benefits of NWFP are often too low to justify articulating property rights, and as a result there is limited incentive to invest and increase yields. In the few cases where NWFP have high value, the poor are often excluded from access (Dove, 1993). Furthermore, a sustained increase in the demand for NWFP can lead to the collapse of the resource base, intensive production on plantations outside forests or the production of synthetics that are more competitive than NWFP (Homma, 1992).

Box 3: NWFP trade in Cameroon and Bolivia – a key factor in sustainable livelihoods


Forest-dwellers in Cameroon depend to a large extent on the trade in NWFP for their livelihoods. It is estimated that 70 per cent of the total populatioof the Takamanda Forest Reserve (TFR) area collects NWFP for consumption and sale which amounts to an estimated income of US$714 286 per annum to some 15 707 people living in 12 villages within and around the TFR (Sunderland et al., 2002). The harvesters of Prunus africana bark around the Mount Cameroon Area get approximately 70 per cent of their annual cash income from the activity (Ndam, 2004). Villagers adjoining the Campo Ma’an National Park in Cameroon earn a monthly income of US$45 for oil palm and raphia wine, US$60 from the manufacture of rattan chairs and US$45 for bush mango per household per season (Sonne, 2001). In the humid forest zone of Cameroon, the average monthly income to harvesters of edible palm weevil larvae is about US$71 and US$50 to retailers of roasted larvae. Such income is significantly higher than the monthly income earned by unskilled workers in urban areas or by the producers of cocoa (US$28) or coffee (US$50).


For the forest dwelling people in Bolivia, the most important commercial NWFPs are Brazil nut and Palm Heart. In the year 2002, 21,626 people were registered to be employed in the Brazil nut supply chain by an evaluation of INE/IPHAE. Wildlife plays a less important role as commercial NWFP. Of the traded wildlife, caiman (Caiman yacare) is the most important species for its leather production. The preliminary results of an evaluation realised by the National Program of Caiman Management in 2005, indicate that around 1750 people are employed in the commercialisation of caiman leathers.

The safety net and poverty-trap aspects of NWFP are linked, inasmuch as the features that make them attractive to the poor also limit their potential for generating increased income. The key issue is how to preserve the role of forests as safety nets in locations where they are more than dead-end poverty traps and where other forms of social insurance cannot take their place.

Ros-Tonen and Wiersum (2003) note that in remote areas, where forest extraction still prevails, NWFP provide subsistence goods like food, medicines and building materials and form a safety cushion in times of economic hardship. The increasing incorporation of rural areas into external commercial networks means there is some scope for improving livelihoods on the basis of NWFP production through the gradual domestication of NWFP species in anthropogenic forest types as well as through the creation of NWFP-related jobs. Such options appear to be promising, in particular in areas where forests perform essential environmental functions and farmers can develop multifunctional production systems and in areas near urban markets where more specialized forest-related activities are feasible.

Belcher et al (2003) conclude that commercial NWFP production is an important source of employment and income in a broad range of situations but that in most cases, NWFP production is not the main source of income. People use NWFP as a part of systems, and it is important to consider whole systems in development efforts. Further, they note that the potential for NWFP commercialization to be effective as a tool for biodiversity conservation is limited, partly because the main responses to increased market demand for NWFP are harmful to biodiversity conservation in many situations. There are, however, a number of promising management options. Ultimately, if NWFP are to play a role in poverty reduction, it will have to be through increased and/or more efficient commercial production and trade.

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