Assessment of Non-Timber Forest Products in Forest Areas

V. R. Khare[1] and Sudhir Kumar


Standard methods have been developed to assess the growing stock or the probable yield of various species in the forest. But nothing concrete seems to have been done to assess the status of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). Only a few statistical suggestions or participatory rural appraisal techniques have been suggested in some studies. With the sudden spurt in NTFP trade and the lack of reliable data, many species have been pushed to the point of extinction. In selected sites some attempts have been made by the State Minor Forest Produce Federation of Madhya Pradesh to assess the availability and other aspects of NTFPs. These efforts, coupled with other such approaches, may help in standardising methods for assessment of NTFPs in forest areas.

1. A Need for NTFP Assessment

India is a party to the Convention on Biodiversity(CBD) which was ratified by the Parliament in 1993. CBD is binding on all its members and specifies that the benefit generated by the use of biological resources is possible only with the consent of owner country on the basis of terms and conditions mutually agreed to by the transacting countries. It also states that knowledge and practices of indigenous communities need to be respected.

With the spurt in the trade of NTFPs especially medicinal plants and a revival of the traditional methods of healing there has been a great pressure on the biodiversity of natural ecosystems. At present there are more than 10000 licensed pharmacies practicing the India system of medicine, whose requirements have to be met. In addition there are thousands of local vaidyas, herbal healers, bone setters and tribal doctors who practice this system of medicine (Farooqi & Sreeramu, 2001). The majority of plants used in Ayurveda are procured from the wild, though around 10 per cent are cultivated on private lands (Subrat, Iyer & Prasad, 2002). With this scenario, there is always a possibility to exploit the NTFPs for immediate monetary gains without considering the sustainability aspects. Hence there is an urgent need to take up the assessment of NTFPs including medicinal and aromatic plants so that the local communities may become aware of the current NTFP status and sustainable & non-destructible harvesting may be ensured. Moreover with the coming up of the patent regime it will also help in curbing non-genuine patents and bio-piracy.

2. Attempts made so far

Some attempts have already been made for the assessment of non-wood forest produce. FAO in one of its publications has considered the biometrics of the approaches used to quantify NWFP resources in the forest (Wong, Thornber & Baker, 2001). It encompasses four elements of NWFP resource management -

(i) knowing when and how much of a resource is present in the area being managed
(ii) determining the growth or replenishment rate of the present resource levels.
(iii) Calculating a harvest level, and
(iv) Monitoring to determine if harvesting is indeed meeting objectives

A number of techniques have been discussed, but the approach is suitable only when a few species are under consideration.

Another approach has been in the form compilation of village level Biodiversity Registers (Nagrik Seva Trust, 2001). In this approach a listing of different life forms and knowledgeable persons is done with the help of the local community. Still another methodology is the Conservation Assessment of Medicinal Plants (CAMP) (Utkarsh, 2001). Here a series of workshops are held to assess and synthesize the first hand perception of informed users of medicinal plants. The issue of NWFP Assessment has also been addressed in the Criteria & Indicators developed by the Indian Institute of Forest Management (Prasad, 2001). Under the Criteria of Maintenance, Conservation and Enhancement of Biodiversity, the following indicators have been included-

- Level of species Richness and Diversity in Selected Areas
- Availability of medicinal and aromatic Plants in Various Forest Types
- Status of non-destructive harvest of NWFP

Recently the Forest Survey of India has also developed a methodology to inventorize the forest resources of the country. The proposed methodology is (Kumar, 2002) -

Country has been divided in 14 physiographic zones
Ten percent (60) districts will be considered for every cycle of two years
Depending upon the area of physiographic zone number of districts will be allocated
At least two districts will be considered in each physiographic zone
Desired number of districts will be randomly selected within each zone
In selected districts forest inventory will be conducted by laying out grids and quadrats
Data for tree, shrubs and herbs will be recorded

3. The Concept of PPA

Madhya Pradesh is a State of the Union of India with 95,000 sq. km. of forest area which is about 30% of the geographical area of the State. The State Minor Forest Produce Federation has been entrusted with the task of conservation, trade and development of NTFPs including medicinal and aromatic plants. The Federation is engaged in facilitating the non-destructible, sustainable harvesting and organic cultivation of medicinal plants and other NTFPs. To further integrate the issue of ecosystem conservation and livelihood, the concept of People’s Protected Areas (PPAs) has been mooted by the Federation. Such areas are akin to Category VI of the IUCN category of protected areas and are predominantly unmodified natural systems under management to ensure long time protection of biological diversity along with the sustainable natural products and services to the local communities (MP MFP Federation, 2000). PPAs have been established in every agro-climatic zones and about 10,000 ha is being treated every year for in-situ conservation, besides the ex-situ conservation efforts and other integrated development approaches.

4. Assessment of NTFP in PPA Areas

To assess the status of plant diversity in PPA Areas a mixed approach has been adopted:

On the basis of the above exercise the following parameters are developed using standard formulae-

Density of trees, saplings/shrubs and ground flora
Frequency of trees, saplings/shrubs and ground flora
Basal area of tree species
Abundance of ground flora
Importance value Index of tree species and ground flora
List of plant species and their common uses

5. Integration with other approaches and standardisation

The approach by the MFP federation is a mix of the statistical methods with the participatory approach. Learning on experiences this approach is further being refined into a stratified sampling approach so that the sampling intensity is increased and the plants in different edaphic and moisture conditions get due importance. The NTFP assessment was done by the State Forest Research Institute in consultation with the Federation. This year a more intensive assessment along with the compilation of digital herbaria is proposed to be taken up.

The efforts made so far need to be discussed at various platforms and a more or less standardized approach to be agreed upon, so that the assessment of NTFPs in different areas may be comparable.


1. Farooqi, A. A. & Sreeramu, B. S. (2001): Cultivation of medicinal and aromatic crops; University Press (India) Ltd., Hyderabad A.P.

2. MFP Federation, MP (2000): People’s Protected Area(PPA)-Sustainable livelihood Approach with Biodiversity Conservation (SLAB); MP MFP Federation, Bhopal M.P.

3. Kumar, Rajesh (2002): Proposed Methodology; Paper presented at the ‘Expert Consultation on Quantitaive Assesment of NWFP & Biodiversity in the Country’ 26-27th August, 2002, New Delhi.

4. Nagrik Seva Trust (2001): Peopleís Biodiversity Register, Koyyuru village; Nagrik Seva Trust, Belthangdi Karnataka.

5. Prasad, Ram (2001): Report of the National Task Force on SFM; IIFM, Bhopal M.P.

6. Subrat, Niraj Iyer, Meera & Prasad, Ram (2002): The ayurvedic medicine industry-current status and sustainability; Ecotech Services(India) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.

7. Utkarsha, G. (2001): “Conservation Assessment of Medicinal Plants” in AMRUTH, Dec. 2001, FRLHT, Bangalore Karnataka.

8. Wong, Jennifer L. G. Thornber, Kirsti & Baker, Nell (2001): Resource assessment of non-wood forest products; FAO Rome.

[1] Managing Director, State Minor Forest Produce Federation, Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal, India. Email: baaz_in@yahoo.com