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Discussion on socio-economic benefits of NWFPs was based on one theme paper and three satellite papers (see Appendix 4.1). The resource person, Mr. Arnold, introduced the subject and presented his paper: "Socio-Economic Benefits and Issues in Non-Wood Forest Products Use".
Local Importance of NWFPs: Viet Nam

The Than and Tai ethnic groups in Viet Nam spend up to 235 days per year hunting and collecting forest products. In Viet Nam and Laos, NWFP often provide more income than agricultural products, such as rice.

In the Bat Xat district of Lai Chau province, Viet Nam, Speth (1991) recorded the following range of products:

Food: Vegetables collected in the forest supplement nearly every meal. Villagers collect wild honey for local consumption, and use the wax to make textiles shiny. They also hunt wild boar, deer, goat, monkeys and birds.

Medicines: A wide range of bark, resin, fruit, roots, and flowers from local trees and herbs provides local medicines.

Income: Local growers of the herb Tao qua (Amomum aromaticum) can obtain up to 300 kg/ha of fruits; 1 kg of dried fruit can fetch US$ 1.00-2.50 across the border in China, where the seeds are used as a spice and in medicines. Villagers also sell a very valuable mushroom (possibly Lentinus edodes) at roughly US$ 3.00-5.50/kg dry weight, and an unidentified herb called Co thom at roughly US$ 6.20, both for resale over the China border.

Jenne H. de Beer, 1993. Non-wood forest products in Indochina: focus ? Viet Nam. FAO, Rome.

The Consultation reviewed the socio-economic significance of NWFPs. These products play a crucial role in supporting community welfare as significant sources of edible product, fodder, fuel, fertiliser (mulch), fibres, medicines, gums and resins, oils and construction materials. Millions of people around the world living in the vicinity of forests, subsist on these products. They help to provide opportunities for additional employment and income. Activities related to the collection and primary processing of NWFPs lend themselves suitable for equitable participation of women and indigenous people.

While some of the NWFPs have entered national and international trade, they tend to have comparative advantage in supporting development of rural and backward areas.

The Consultation noted that planning for development of NWFPs should consider the trends and patterns in their use and their overall socio-economic contributions. In its discussion, the Consultation considered the pattern and dynamics of NWFP use from different angles.


NWFPs are important in household food security. They supplement household agricultural production (see Table 1). They are particularly important in reducing the shortages suffered during the "hunger periods" of the agricultural cycle. They help to even out seasonal fluctuations in availability of food. They often contribute essential inputs for household nutrition. They are also valued as components of social and cultural identity. However, these uses and values vary enormously from one area to the next.

Table 1: General contributions of forest foods to human nutrition

  Type of forest food Nutrient
Fruits and berries 

Young leaves, herbaceous plants
Gums and saps
Invertebrates (insects, snails)
Vertebrates (fish, birds, mammals)

Carbohydrates (fructose and soluble sugars), vitamins (especially C), minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium); some provide protein, fat or starch
Oils and carbohydrates
Vitamins (beta-carotene, C), calcium, iron
Proteins and minerals
Protein, fat, vitamins

Source: Food and Nutrition Division, FAO 1994.

 NWFPs and Human Nutrition: Parkia in Asia, Africa and South America

The seeds of Parkia species, a tree legume, provide food to rural communities of three continents.

In Southeast Asia, villagers in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia eat the whole pods of Parkia speciosa, which is popular either raw or cooked as a vegetable in other dishes.

In West Africa, the beans of the Savannah species are widely fermented, from Gambia to Cameroon, to a nutritious traditional food that provides protein and fat. Children eat the pericarp raw, and gain Vitamin C.

In the semi-arid Chaco region of South America, the fruit of the related carob tree is made into a flour or beverage with a high level of absorbable calcium.

With its deep roots that reach underground aquifers, Parkia provides a reliable crop even in drought years.

Source: Food and Nutrition Division, FAO, 1995. Non-Wood Forest Products and Nutrition (in this volume).

Fodder is an important requirement in the rural areas which indirectly is a protein source for rural households. Apart from the forest grazing, there are a large number of forest species which help to meet fodder requirement.

Medicinal plants are important in the primary health care systems particularly in rural areas. The indigenous people have developed interesting, and often sophisticated knowledge systems about the use of a vast variety of plants for medicinal purposes.

Apart from meeting the subsistence needs, the potential of NWFPs for poverty alleviation is particularly important. The weight of poverty falls heavily on certain groups ?among whom are tribal communities who depend on forests for employment and income derived through collection and processing of a range of NWFPs. Millions of rural workers process NWFPs at home or in local shop-floors to earn the incomes which enable them to survive.

NWFP-related activities can provide employment during slack periods of the agricultural cycle and provide buffer against risk and household emergencies. These activities, often, constitute only a part of the household activity. However, in several cases some of these activities such as rattan and bamboo harvesting, resin tapping, gum production and crocodile farming comprise the main source of income.


At the national level, NWFP production and use, both in the informal and formal sectors, involve large numbers of people in harvesting, collecting, processing, marketing and in some cases even exporting. The informal nature of NWFP-transactions often result in the rural producers not receiving an equitable share of the benefits/profits, especially in situations where exploitative trade relationships exist.

NWFP activities are in may situations perceived as a sponge, and their use transitional, giving way to other enterprises and products as economy improves. Much of the production and trade in NWFPs are local in nature. Rural markets for most NWFPs do not grow rapidly if it caters only to local needs. Generally, growth of rural markets for NWFPs depends on growth in urban demand, which often tend to grow faster. Urban markets for NWFPs tend to encompass a narrower range reflecting competition from alternative products and changing consumption patterns, even though there is increasing demand for some products like traditional medicines and some forest foods.

Products used as industrial raw materials are often subject to competition from cultivated supplies or substitutes. This partly explains the boom-bust cycle of many NWFPs that enter international markets. As domestic economies grow, markets for NWFPs are likely to shift from being supply driven (where producers influence the market with low quality products) to demand-driven (where demands are diversified and quality requirements are high).

These are some of the constraints to be faced in developing NWFPs. Their competitiveness in an emerging economic situation depends on continuously enhancing the quality and range of uses of the products through organized and sound approaches. And there are successful examples. The dynamics of NWFPs will be influenced by the dynamics of the type and nature of support they receive. The Consultation strongly felt that the potential of NWFPs for providing increased social benefits calls for support and attention.

Organised development of NWFPs as a people-oriented enterprise activity with emphasis on efficiency can go a long way in enhancing benefits including employment and income, and contributing to a better socio-economic situation.


The Consultation noted with concern that with depletion and degradation of forest resources supply of NWFPs both for direct consumption as well as raw material for processing would become scarce. Also, as NWFP resources become more valuable with commercialisation, the poorer sections would tend to get excluded due to increased competition for the resource, interference of influential middlemen and entry of new business interests. Through proper balancing of participation and providing secure access, it will be possible to improve the resilience of the NWFP sector. Rattan production and processing in Indonesia have proven to be relatively stable for these reasons. The Consultation stressed the need for, and importance of, appropriate policies and regulations in this regard.


The Consultation discussed the issue of people's participation in NWFP activities and in benefit sharing, as distinct from commercial development of the products. Women, rural poor and indigenous communities were identified as specific target groups to benefit from the socio-economic contributions of NWFPs.

Women tend to get more heavily involved than men in NWFP-related activities, including higher return activities, especially at the rural level. As market demand for a product increases and size of activity expands, men often displace women in certain aspect of the activity.

 Women in processing NWFPs: Brazil

In Acre, women have responsibility for processing all plants intended for human and animal consumption: foods, beverages, spices, medicines, and animal feed. Women in the area have refined skills in managing and exploiting some 150 species. Plants for food include wild and domesticated fruits and nuts, and field and garden crops. Processed products range from jams to chocolate, to cooking oil, to coffees and herbal teas. The women use over 50 plants for medicines. Pest repellents also come from the forest. In crafts, both men and women make baskets, brooms, and hats.

More than half of a group of women interviewed replied enthusiastically that if a market existed, they would make time to regularly prepare items for sale.

Karen A. Kainer and Mary L. Duryea, 1992. Tapping women's knowledge: plant resource use in extractive reserves, Acre, Brazil. Economic Botany 46(4):408-425.

Poor households and indigenous communities tend to be particularly dependent on NWFPs for subsistence and supplementary income. Even where they are involved in market-oriented production on NWFPs, it is often undertaken as a part-time activity. They tend to receive low return and are vulnerable to competition. One or more of the several issues such as access to resources, secure tenurial rights, access to market, remunerative prices for products, facility to upgrade skills of the workers and right to an equitable share of benefits/profits need to be adequately addressed to enhance the socio-economic contributions of NWFPs to an acceptable level. The Consultation noted some interesting cases in this regard, i.e., the system of extractive reserves in Brazil and Guatemala and joint forest management in India.

The Consultation emphasised that it is dangerous for planners to look only at the income-generating benefits of NWFPs. In order to assess long-term viability, it is necessary to look at the impact of NWFP activities on the entire socio-economic system in which they occur. Accordingly, the importance of safeguarding the interests fo the local community was stressed. It needs to be appreciated that communities sometimes value the social and cultural importance of certain NWFPs more highly than their economic value.


The Consultation recognised that strategies for developing NWFPs need to look at the ecosystem characteristics and the related management alternatives. Accordingly the nature and scope of socio-economic contributions of NWFPs would vary, for example, between mountain/upland ecosystems, lowland forests, mangroves, dry and arid lands, buffer zones and so on.

The Consultation heard the observations of participants on the potential role of NWFPs in the development of mountain regions, based on Nepal's experience. Mountain regions are often marginalised by mainstream development. Influenced by global and regional economic changes, Nepal's mountains have experienced population growth, depletion of common property resources, and disappearance of traditional institutions. Under these conditions, well-managed NWFP activities can offer the possibility of integrated mountain development through: more suitable use of renewable mountain resources; uses that do not compete with agriculture and that can conserve biodiversity; contribution to income generation and employment; providing a measure of bargaining control by mountain communities in valuing their resources; and help in developing participatory institutions that can ensure equitable distribution of benefits to mountain communities.

The case of Nepal's cross-border trade in high-value medicinal plants was mentioned as an example. Use of NWFPs for crop substitution for drug abuse control in the uplands of some Latin American countries and Thailand illustrates a different aspect of their contribution.

The Consultation also received a brief overview of a conceptual study on the socio-economic role of NWFPs in a logging concession in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, covering the socio-economic impacts on the people living in or near the concession (including indigenous communities, concession staff and their families, and recent settlers in the area), as well as the possibilities for downstream processing and marketing of the NWFPs from the area. In developing methods and framework for assessing the role of NWFPs in each specific eco-social system, research can help to ensure that important but economically invisible considerations (e.g. poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation) are factored into development programmes.

The Consultation was further appraised of a systems approach being promoted by the International Network on Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) for assessing the impact of developing these products using a "5 Es" (equity, employment, environmental harmony, enterprise and economic efficiency) methodology.

The Consultation also considered several related aspects such as rights and privileges of indigenous forest-dwelling communities, communal management of NWFP resources and the role of NGOs and extension agencies.


The Consultation proposed several strategic measures to improve the socio-economic benefits from NWFPs:

Raising Awareness of Policy-Makers

n order that policies and related legislation reflect the needs of sustainable management of NWFPs, policy-makers need to be made aware of their importance. This can be done by: quantifying, monetizing and valuing the NWFPs; estimating employment benefits derived from these products; assessing local market and export potentials; and documenting the contribution of NWFP development to forest and biodiversity conservation.

A danger is that in the effort to gain policy-makers' attention, commercial values of NWFPs are likely to be readily quantified than their environmental and local values. This would help to attract policy attention to NWFPs, but with an unbalanced picture of priorities between the commercial and non-commercial values of NWFPs, resulting in a bias towards large-scale market-oriented operations. This highlights the need for a holistic framework approach, rather than a strictly market-driven approach, which leads to pressure for unsustainable exploitation of the resource.

To guard against this danger, the Consultation urged that research and development emphasise the value of NWFPs to the rural communities closest to the forest.

R&D Support

Given the limited data on critical aspects of NWFP development, appropriate assumptions need to be developed as clearly as possible and tested using improved methodologies.

People will naturally shift to better options, when they appear. Researchers and development workers therefore have to investigate on how to determine the best NWFP interventions while keeping in mind the broader social values and needs of the people.

Legislative Protection

It is necessary to have adequate legal instruments to safeguard the rights of the people and to protect them from exploitation by commercial interests. Experience in several African countries shows that without explicit legislative protection, local communities are exploited by urban industries, which have more information about the high potential value of many NWFPs.

Support for NWFP Enterprises

In order that more of a product's value is retained near the source and to add to their economic benefits, it is necessary to develop local processing enterprises. This calls for increased local access to: the resource base; appropriate technology; markets; and information. Care must be taken to ensure that in promoting enterprises, rural producers are not exposed to unacceptable risks. This would require that these enterprises be of appropriate scale. Also, these enterprises would need policy support and protection if they are to survive the competition from larger and sophisticated units. A policy of upgrading the technology and scale of local NWFP enterprises by phases would appear rational.

A concern is often expressed that in most cases local NWFP enterprises are low-technology/low-return activities and do not facilitate development. It is to be noted that people depend on low-return activities only when better alternatives are lacking or remain unknown. What is important is to understand why people undertake low-level NWFP activities, and to identify and support opportunities with growth potential that are environmentally and economically sustainable. NWFPs can thus become a vehicle for developing rural/local entrepreneurship.

Risk Analysis

Production of NWFPs for urban markets and exports are subjected to risks such as market instability, discriminatory trade practices, entry of cheaper substitutes and so on. It is necessary that the risk involved are fully considered before embarking on such ventures.

Consideration of Social Objectives

Social objectives such as provision of employment opportunities, improvement of health and nutrition, equity in income distribution, respect for customary rights of local and indigenous people, provision of local needs for forest products, and promotion of local community participation are all important considerations in NWFP development. It will not be possible to achieve sustainable management of NWFP resources and their utilisation if social considerations are ignored. Physical and environmental sustainability depends on social stability.

Organised Participation of People

Organised and collective approach (e.g. cooperatives/cooperative networks) in developing NWFP enterprises involving collection/production of raw material, processing, and marketing will help to provide bargaining strength, acquire improved technology and information, generate local entrepreneurship and support empowerment of the people.

Exchange of Experiences

At higher planning and policy levels, knowledge about the experiences of other countries in developing NWFPs will be very helpful. Experiences of industrialised countries in NWFP resource conservation and utilisation will be particularly interesting, not because they provide models, but because they offer case histories of policy effects.

Change in Perception

Perception about NWFPs in many quarters is that they essentially are subsistence products valued only by poor people. This perception leads to inadequate attention and low priority for conserving and managing NWFP resources. The wrong perception has harmed the cause of NWFPs.

Both the poor and rich sections of society value NWFPs, even though the end-uses may vary. For the poor, the primary products for subsistence are more important. The rich tend to use the sophisticated secondary products derived from NWFPs (e.g. perfumes, flavours, pharmaceutical products, exotic foods, decorative items) and services which add to the quality and comforts of life. When all the sections of society benefit from NWFP resources and they are made aware of the real value involved, it will facilitate better recognition of the importance of managing and conserving these resources.


The Consultation made several recommendations aimed at enhancing the socio-economic benefits of NWFPs. These are included in the Summary of Recommendations given in Section 6 of this report.

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