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At the invitation of the Government of Indonesia, an International Expert Consultation on Non-Wood Forest Products was held in Yogyakarta from 17 to 27 January 1995. This was the first world-level meeting exclusively to draw attention on non-wood forest products (NWFPs).

The Consultation was inaugurated by Hon. Djamaloedin Soeryohadikoesoemo, Minister of Forestry, Government of Indonesia, at the opening ceremony on 17 January 1995.

In all, 102 participants attended the Consultation. These included 60 experts and 42 observers from 45 countries/organisations. There were 28 participants from international development organisations and NGOs and nine from international research institutions (see list of participants in Appendix 1). Participation reflected a wide range of expertise, from resource conservation to sociology, anthropology, ecology, bio-chemistry, pharmacology, nutrition, planning, economics, statistics, industrial development, trade and marketing and research management.


The use of NWFPs is as old as human existence. In subsistence and rural economies the role and contributions of NWFPs are crucial because of their richness of variety, as sources of food, fodder, fibre, fertilizers, herbal potions, construction materials and cosmetic and cultural products. They support village-level artisanal and craft activity. NWFPs provide raw material to support processing enterprises. They include internationally important commodities used in food products and beverages, confectionary, flavourings, perfumes, medicines, paints, polishes and more.

Some 80 percent of the population of the developing world depend on NWFPs for their primary health and nutritional needs. Several millions of tribal people all over the world depend on these products for meeting their subsistence consumption and income needs. In many countries NWFPs form an important component of forest products exports.

It is paradoxical that, in spite of their real and potential value, most NWFPs remain grouped as minor products of forests. These products rarely feature in statistics and are hardly studied or researched.

There are several constraints affecting their development.

Most NWFPs are often associated with traditional uses that are not widely known and/or they are linked to the problem of poverty and subsistence.

Transactions related to NWFPs largely take place in households and small-scale units, mostly outside the established marketing systems/channels, thus forming part of unorganized, informal sector. Operations are often seasonal. For these reasons, they are often overlooked by planners. Their local uses go unrecorded.

Timber-orientation of forestry profession, and the bias of planners in favour of large-scale enterprises, often leave NWFPs at a disadvantage. Their production, at best, was considered incidental or subsidiary. A wrong perception still exists that forests which do not produce timber are of low or no value. In timber forests, non-timber plants are often treated as weeds. This causes conflicts in resource use between wood and non-wood products, and also between the concerned user groups.

Sustainable management of NWFPs, especially of those occurring among the biological richness and ecological diversity of natural forests is extremely complex. This has resulted in its being left out from management prescriptions, and preference being given to comparatively easier timber management.

There is also overlapping of uses and sources. Same product can be produced from different non-wood raw materials; and same non-wood raw materials can provide different products. This adds to the complexity of managing and utilizing the resource.

All these constraints are capped by lack of knowledge about the potential of NWFPs to support sustainable and remunerative enterprises. Statistical information to underpin their importance is sorely lacking. There is only very limited information about their resource base. Being considered minor, there was hardly any attention paid to it in terms of inventory, management, conservation and related research. Nor has the necessary skill base been developed.

Some of these constraints, in one way or other, are related to the characteristics of the products. NWFPs as a group is extremely heterogenous, requiring a mix of different skills, technology and research support in their management. Resources of these products are often dispersed and vary considerably in their concentration. This, to some extent, leads to their localized importance. Knowledge on NWFPs to a significant extent is local, empirical and often linked to local culture. This makes information gathering or exchange more difficult.

Recently, however, the significant environmental and economic roles of NWFPs have come into focus through better understanding of their importance. The new market preference for natural products and emphasis on efficient and sustainable use of natural resources have helped this development. It has also become apparent that with responsible use and proper husbandry, the NWFPs hitherto largely confined to subsistence use can also support sustainable and remunerative enterprises and increase the contribution of forestry to development. Consequently, there has been an increasing interest on NWFPs. They received notable attention at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) 1992.

In most cases, this new interest is yet to be transformed into commensurate and consistent action. There is need to correct the technological and institutional inadequacies in order to increasingly realise the socio-economic potentials of NWFPs and to bring them into the main stream of modern economies, while retaining their accessibility of traditional societies.

The core of all issues affecting NWFPs is that it is considered as minor. It is a fallacy; and the central challenge is to remove that fallacy.

To help understand and realise the potentials of NWFP development and the challenges involved in this regard, FAO collaborated with other interested agencies and conducted regional expert consultations in Asia and the Pacific, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. These regional consultations strongly highlighted the need for: interregional exchange of information on NWFPs; a generally-accepted international definition and classification; national and international initiatives for resolving problems common to many countries; and broad guidelines and directions for post-UNCED actions in forestry related to NWFPs.

The International Expert Consultation on Non-Wood Forest Products, held in Yogyakarta, 17-27 January 1995, represented the culmination of a series of regional expert consultations. This meeting of experts facilitated interregional sharing of experiences and views on how the issues and needs of the NWFP sub-sector should be addressed.


The International Expert Consultation on Non-Wood Forest Products had the following objectives:

  • to gain better insight into the problems and issues to be addressed and the potentials for developing NWFPs in an environmentally sound manner;
  • to identify and propose priorities for action in promoting development of NWFPs, taking into consideration their socio-economic, technological, environmental and institutional dimensions;
  • to develop a broad strategy framework and guidelines for sustainable development of NWFPs;
  • to provide suggestions/recommendations for action at various levels to support national efforts on NWFPs.

    The opening ceremony of the Consultation was addressed by Hon. Djamaloedin Soeryohadikoesoemo, Indonesian Minister of Forestry; Prof. Dr. Sujudi, Minister of Health; Prof. Emil Salim, President of the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation; and Mr. K.H. Schmincke, Director of the FAO Forest Products Division. The Minister of Forestry indicated the increasing importance of NWFPs for Indonesia both from the socio-economic and environmental points of view. He underlined the significance of these products in supporting sound and sustainable management of forest resources for overall national benefit.

    The Minister of Health highlighted the important contributions of NWFPs towards improved nutrition and health of the rural population. He also stressed the need for scientifically managing the medicinal plant resources.

    Prof. Emil Salim outlined the principles to be considered in the management and utilisation of NWFP resources, in order to sustain the physical and socio-cultural environment: stability of the ecosystem and maintenance of bio-diversity; eco-efficiency to produce more with least drain on the resource; sustainability of the resource base by confining their use within the threshold of renewability; cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit balancing incorporating the benefits of NWFPs which are not currently captured in the calculus of benefits and costs; equity in distribution of socio-economic benefits, particularly for local people. To implement these principles, he called for a three-pronged approach through: appropriate government policy and regulations; economic incentives that use market mechanism to guide resource utilisation in a sustainable direction; and community participation.

    Speaking on behalf of FAO, the Director of the Forest Products Division welcomed the participants and thanked the Government of Indonesia for hosting this important meeting. He also expressed the wish of FAO to strengthen the cooperation with the Government of Indonesia in the many fields of forestry in which Indonesia is successfully engaged.


    The Consultation programme consisted of field visits and discussion sessions. Off-session programme of video shows and slide presentations were also organised (see Appendix 2).

    Field Visits

    The participants were taken on field visits, 18-20 January 1995, to observe activities related to the subject of the Consultation growing, managing, harvesting, processing and utilization of NWFPs. NWFPs included in the field visits were indigenous herbal medicine, rattan products, cayuput (Melaleuca leucadendron) oil, honey, cocoons/silk, rosin and turpentine (see Summary of Field Visits in Appendix 3).

    Discussion Sessions

    The Consultation discussed the problems and prospects of NWFPs under each of the following topics of concern: socio-economic benefits, processing and product refinement, marketing and trade, resource management, environmental aspects, institutional considerations, definition and classification.

    Socio-Economic Benefits

    A better understanding of NWFPs' overall socio-economic contributions to the subsistence and income of local communities and to national economies facilitates better programme response. NWFPs play an important role in food security, nutrition and community health. Their benefits are relatively more important for poorer households, women and disadvantaged groups; this has important consequences for planning NWFP activities. Interventions need to involve people's participation in the development process and the equitable distribution of benefits to different groups. Other issues to consider include changing patterns in local NWFP use and access to resources, and factors affecting the large informal sector of small NWFP enterprises.

    Processing and Product Refinement

    Often environmental and economic viability of NWFP activities depend on the nature of harvesting and processing techniques employed. NWFPs and their various markets involve a wide range of primary and downstream processing. More of an NWFP's value can be captured by producers through local processing or semi-processing. This involves knowledge about the requirements for consistent supply and quality of raw materials, energy needs and technology of processing. Improved pre- and post-harvest technology can help improve these gains, along with greater processing efficiency. Producers can effectively explore these options collectively and with technical and marketing support.

    Marketing and Trade

    Most failures of NWFP programmes result from inattention to markets. With increasing pressure on forest resources, well-informed NWFP marketing strategies could be crucial for maintaining the resource. Producers need better information on the nature and volume of existing NWFP trade, markets and product standards. With the increase in green consumerism, knowledge of international market concerns and quality standards of products is needed. More rational and transparent market transactions throughout the production/market chain are needed for producers to receive a more equitable share of the product value. In general, a greater appreciation of marketing and market information is needed by producers, NWFP-programme planners and NGOs.

    Resource Management

    Management of NWFP resources is critical to the future of remaining natural forests. A first step is better assessment of the resource and what represents a sustainable harvest level of different forest produces. NWFPs can play a role in more sustainable forestry through multiple use management for wood and non-wood products. Sustainable NWFP harvesting can also take place in forest reserves and buffer areas. Resource management needs to include mechanisms for resolving conflicts in land-use objectives. Domestication of species (e.g. through agroforestry) is one alternative for minimizing the impact of increasing NWFP demand. Research is needed to assess and learn from local knowledge and to improve management systems, and to improve harvesting and post-harvest technologies.

    Environmental Aspects

    Given the historic trends of undervaluing forest resources and products, it is especially important that planners understand the real value of NWFPs and find ways for framing economic aims within a context of environmental integrity. Issues that require study include: the amenability of NWFPs for sustainable management; contribution of NWFP resources to biological diversity; resource sustainability in NWFPs' transition from subsistence to market economy; improved valuation of environmental functions in environmental impact assessments; and the impacts of over-exploitation. Other measures to reduce adverse environmental impacts include reducing waste in processing industries and promotion of service benefits such as ecotourism.

    Institutional Considerations

    Success of programmes for development of NWFPs ultimately hinge on real commitment to addressing entrenched institutional blindspots. This requires greater awareness of issues on the part of policy-makers, to gain policy and legislative support. Institutional support for NWFP activities needs better coordination and emphasis on research, technology transfer, human resource development, and improved information systems. It is also necessary to ensure more flexible credit services for producers, support for local producers' organizations, and local participation in NWFP development. International agencies and networks can support national initiatives in these areas and suggest guidelines for national action.

    Definition and Classification

    Lack of clear definition and consistent classification for NWFPs has perpetuated the long-standing institutional neglect of NWFPs. To address this, nomenclature and definition need to be rationalised, first at the international level. A scheme for standard international classification of NWFPs can build on, and be harmonised with, the existing classification systems, such as the International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC) and Standard International Trade Classification (SITC). Acceptance of such a classification can help to build linkages for better statistical systems and databases on NWFPs and better recognition of their importance.

    Grouping of Theme Areas

    Based on their linkages, the seven topics were grouped into four interrelated theme areas, to facilitate discussion: socio-economic benefits; processing and marketing; resource management and environment and institutional considerations.

    Organisation of Discussions

    There were five days of discussion sessions (21, 23-26 January 1995). The first four days were devoted to the four theme areas, and the fifth day for considering the reports of the theme sessions and drawing up of recommendations. Seven theme papers and eleven satellite papers were presented in plenary sessions (see Appendix 4). Many additional reference materials related to the topics of discussion were also distributed (see Appendix 5).

    Each day's sessions had plenaries and group discussions. For each of the theme sessions, after introduction of the theme and general discussions at the first plenary, the participants were divided into five regional/organisational groups (Africa, Asia-Continental, Asia-Insular and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and donors/development assistance agencies), for in-depth discussion. These groups reported the outcome of their deliberations to a second plenary (see group reports in Appendix 6). On the fifth day subject matter groups were formed, each to revisit the four themes based on the regional/organisational group reports. This provided opportunities to examine issues under all possible points of view.


    The Consultation emphasized the importance and major role of NWFPs for: meeting the basic needs of indigenous and rural communities for a variety of goods (including foods) and services and providing them with income and employment, thereby contributing to household food security and nutrition; supporting environmentally-sound management of forest resources; contributing to value addition through downstream processing and foreign exchange earnings. It noted that the development of NWFPs is a challenging field, because it involves a fundamental change in approach to ecological, silvicultural, socio-economic and trade issues associated with forestry. In fact, NWFPs are not just a group of products. They comprise some of the vital elements of a concept of integrated and sustainable management of forest resources. There is need that they be given adequate recognition in the system of national accounts.

    The Consultation further noted that: NWFPs can prove to be an important key to the management of forest resources in a sustainable way; sustainable management of NWFPs, especially of those occurring among the biological richness and ecological diversity of natural forests, is extremely complex; harvesting of medicines, phytochemicals, edible products, honey, gums and resins, mushrooms, etc., and their post-harvest treatment involve complex technology; variation in the level of processing of NWFPs is considerable with corresponding variation in process technology; marketing of non-wood goods and services of forests calls for higher level of capabilities; quality standards for internationally-traded NWFPs tend to be rigid; sustainable management and utilization of NWFPs are highly demanding on scientific knowledge, statistical and other information, technology, skills and research support.

    The Consultation focused on concrete actions for realising the potentials of NWFPs and the outcome of the discussions offer guidelines for future action at international, regional and national levels.

    At international level, a number of issues and actions required were well highlighted regarding the various needs of international cooperation in the development of NWFPs including: (i) properly featuring NWFPs in the international agenda and including them as an important component of UNCED follow-up in forestry; (ii) encouraging policy measures that would heighten the status of NWFPs in national economies and specifically in forest economy of interested countries; (iii) integrating NWFPs in the research, education and extension programmes (the role of CGIAR was highlighted as well as the responsibility of regional intergovernmental organizations); (iv) generating funds for the development and promotion of NWFPs through appropriate mechanisms; regional banks have an important role to play in this.

    At regional level, it was generally thought that countries should endeavour to create regional or sub-regional clearing houses to promote collection, processing and dissemination of information and for transfer of technologies. Technical cooperation among developing countries came high under this. The discussions in regional groups did actually help in better identifying regional problems and issues. Some specific eco-regional/geographic needs were highlighted: the highlands and mountains especially by Asia and Latin American groups; the drylands by the African group. The relevance of special efforts for forest dwellers or local isolated communities came strongly in all groups.

    At national level, many problems were highlighted but some issues were referred to with special strength; these related to (i) an articulated policy for NWFPs; (ii) the promotion of income generation and contribution to food security by NWFPs; (iii) the significance of NWFPs for local communities and importance of the local/indigenous knowledge developed by these populations; (iv) the need to protect this local knowledge and technology from oblivion and/or "plunder"; and (v) the urgency to get national institutions organized and to be fully informed to cater for the related needs that encompass the protection of their biological riches, genetic resources and intellectual property of local people.

    Report by theme areas is given in the following pages. It is expected that this report will help to promote appropriate action by national and international agencies to promote development of NWFPs. It aims to serve the information needs of policy-makers and planners, and to help stimulate entrepreneurial interest. Although the formal study of NWFPs is still young, the informal base of experience is vast. This report aims to reflect this wealth with examples that illustrate discussion points, presented as text boxes.


    The meeting was declared closed by Dr. Toga Silitonga, Senior Advisor to the Minister of Forestry. The participants expressed appreciation and thanks to the Government of Indonesia and FAO for organising this important Consultation and specially commented the organisers for the efficient manner in which the meeting was conducted.

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