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Discussion on this subject area was based on two theme papers and two satellite papers (see Appendix 4.3). The resource persons, Dr. Mauro Reis and Prof. Herman Haeruman, introduced the subject and presented their theme papers "Resource Development for Non-Wood Forest Products" and "Environmental Dimensions of Non-Wood Forest Products", respectively.

Socio-economic benefits, processing and product development for value addition and increased gains through marketing of NWFPs are all conditional to the availability, integrity and stability of forest resources as well as their sound and sustainable management. Plants and animals providing NWFPs to a great extent represent the biological wealth and variety of forests. Their conservation is part of a much wider and fundamental concern, and is an investment towards sustainable development.

More than 80 percent of the plant species providing NWFPs occur in the tropical forests of Asia, Africa and the Americas. Tropical forests are ecologically complex and biologically diverse ecosystems and provide for a variety of human needs. This fact has two implications:

The Consultation considered the various aspects of sustainably managing the flora and fauna of the different forest ecosystems.


Forest Resource Inventory

There is a general absence of inventory of NWFPs, and their planning often lacks scientific basis. The extent of variation in the nature, quality, characteristics and uses of the products compounds the problem. An assessment of resources by appropriate categories and a detailed prospecting for specific products (e.g. phytochemicals) in selected priority areas is an essential step. This will help to identify candidate species and suitable areas to be developed for specific products. This will in addition serve as a sound basis for planning.

Most flora and fauna, providing NWFPs are found in the primary forests. Some of them can only thrive within natural habitat and do not lend themselves to domestication. Those plant species that can be grown in plantations, or as pure or mixed corps, are heavily dependant on regular infusion of germplasm from wild gene reservoirs. Only the continued existence of species variability in the wild will afford plant breeders a better chance for creating new disease-resisting and high-yielding varieties for the future. Thus the genetic wealth and variability are crucial for future development of NWFPs.

From the management perspective, a sustainable system is one from which various products can be harvested on a predictable basis. This requires thorough knowledge of the forest resource.

The Consultation underlined the need to enlarge the scope of forest resources assessment and the need to develop appropriate methods. Inventories need to consider the dynamics of forest-human relationships, and not to be simple static gauges. This would involve, in addition to inventory of wood resources, detailed investigation and prospecting of non-wood forest resources for fibre, phytochemicals, aromatics, gums, resins, etc. Only a small percentage of species have been examined for their attributes and uses. Work involved in scientific screening of forest resources for valuable ingredients is enormous. These investigations have to consider the nature and extent of distribution of specific plant resources, their density of occurrence, their potential yield/supply from wild sources, their suitability to be grown under multi-species environment (e.g. enrichment planting under natural forest cover and agroforestry) or under monoculture. Traditional knowledge and ethno-biology can contribute to provide indications of how to proceed for developing NWFPs.

Full inventories are costly and require multidisciplinary field teams and research support. They can provide decision-makers with a valuable insight about the potentials of sustainable forest management. This is an area which deserves financial support from the Global Environmental Facility.
Inventorying forests with local practices: Nicaragua

In the Si-a-Paz, or International Peace Park, uniting Nicaragua and Costa Rica, researchers are studying two systems of natural forest management: varying extraction, involving controlled felling and extraction; and post-harvest silviculture. Within stratified random sub-subplots, all the useful plants are inventoried with the help of a knowledgeable local informant. Data includes utilization and plant community characteristics.

For comparison, local forest management practices are being studied using transects and subplots of the same size, with the same data taken.

The study to date shows that the variety of useful plant resources is greater in the locally managed areas than in secondary forest growth, confirming that local management can be an important resource in developing management guidelines.

Summarised from Jan Salick, 1992. The sustainable management of non-timber rain forest products in the Si-a-Paz Peace Park, Nicaragua, in Plotkin, Mark, and Famolare, Lisa, eds., Sustainable harvest and marketing of rain forest products. Conservation International, Washington, D.C.

Key questions that forest inventories should address include: What NWFP resources are available in the management area? What are their ecological, biological and chemical characteristics? What products can they produce? How abundant are they, and what is their capacity for regeneration? What are the social and cultural values associated with their use? The criteria and techniques for measuring these factors currently used in forestry are insufficient for NWFPs since conventional forestry methods were developed for assessing only timber.

Inventories are important not only for humid tropical forests, but also for other systems. In the fragile semi-arid and arid systems, gauging yield capacity is especially important and requires regular monitoring. Inventories in these systems need to include yield characteristics of the resource base in years of poor rainfall or drought.

Inventory to Include Fauna

Increasingly it must be recognised that forests consist of both flora and fauna. Wildlife is particularly important to communities in Africa.

The diversity of forest insect life as well as micro-organisms are gaining economic importance. The pharmaceutical industry is interested in forest insects as sources of molecular and chemical compounds.

The Consultation heard an account of the activities of INBio (National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica) on prospecting of biodiversity in collaboration with Merck, a pharmaceutical company, involving inventory and analysis of a number of forest plants, insects and micro-organisms for biologically active compounds.

Forest Resource Management

Sustainable use and management of forests has emerged as a high priority in the development agenda of nations. NWFPs are seen by many as an important key to the management of forest resources in a sustainable way. Historically, the focus of wood as the principal forest product is a development which was fostered by industrial revolution. Return to a more balanced view of the variety of products, wood and non-wood, which can sustainably be removed from well-managed forests will be a significant improvement.

Under natural conditions, non-wood products can be managed along with wood in an integrated manner, thus increasing overall productivity. Non-wood products can be sustainably harvested without causing damage to the ecosystem and they are therefore environmentally friendly. The Consultation noted that NWFPs often are of a higher value per unit weight or volume. It has been reported that in some Brazilian forests one tonne of non-wood products generates a monetary value equivalent to that of 25 tonnes of wood. Under appropriate management schemes they are compatible with the conservation of biological diversity. Overall, non-wood products have strong linkages and complementarities with component activities of environmentally sound and sustainable development.

Integrated multipurpose management of forest resources under a holistic ecosystem approach for wood and non-wood products and benefits is an essential strategy in many situations. Foresters have been developing and refining silvicultural techniques of managing tropical forests for over 100 years. These systems, however, have been specifically designed to maximize the production of commercial timber. Silvicultural systems for enhancing the growth of non-wood resources in forests such as wild fruits, edible nuts, mushrooms, gums and latex which can be harvested non-destructively and in combination with timber, have received much less attention. This is not to say that such systems are unknown or do not exist. Many indigenous or other local communities in the tropics have developed their own form of "silviculture" for managing their non-wood resources. Such systems of forest management have been little studied, largely because of the lack of economic interest in many non-wood resources, but also due to the relative "invisibility" of these indigenous practices. Both indigenous silvicultural practices and conventional forestry can contribute in designing or improving systems for managing non-wood forest resources on a sustainable basis.

The Consultation stressed that there is urgent need to develop proper scientific and situation-specific management systems. Another and equally important need is adequate institutional arrangements, considering that without such arrangements commodity-based natural resource management, if solely left to market forces, could lead to fast depletion of resources. It is necessary in this connection to understand that: trees and plants yielding wood and non-wood products can co-exist in the forests; many non-wood products are available from timber species; harvesting of wood and non-wood products is not mutually exclusive and needs to be carried out with great care; wood harvesting, if improperly done, can be deleterious to production of NWFPs; and, production of some non-wood products may substantially affect production of others. These suggest the need for appropriately balanced and integrated systems of forest management combining ecological and economic prudence. Planning in this regard should take into consideration the limits of sustainable supply of goods and services involved. Supply offered to the market can be so adjusted as to help the achievement of conservation objectives, including conservation of plant genetic resources.

In situ genetic conservation in areas with the greatest number of plant varieties of known economic value, as well as of those with potential, should be part of integrated forest management. The Consultation recognised that it may often be a compatible objective of management to allow controlled extraction of NWFPs from natural forests which are included as part of protected area systems, especially in the buffer zones of protected areas.

Harvesting, the Weak Link

Harvesting as a process in the production and utilisation chain was considered earlier under processing and marketing. It links resource management with resource utilisation, and impacts on both.

Harvesting of NWFPs, of both wild and cultivated sources, is different from wood harvest in terms of the use of tools and equipment, technology, pre-harvest preparations, post-harvest treatment and requirement of intermediate processing.

Harvesting is particularly a weak link in the utilization of NWFPs due to the variety of tools, techniques and situations involved. The existing systems do not have adequate technological and management back-up. Poor harvesting results in product wastages and resource damages. Efforts are also not made, usually, to harmonize harvest of wood and non-wood products. Its linkage to a chain of middlemen and traders is not conducive to sustainable resource use.

Some specific issues to be addressed in this regard are: compatibility of resource management systems for different products, and the need for compromises e.g. tapping of latex and the quality of timber from tapped trees; conflicts likely to arise in situations where rights are separately assigned for extracting wood and non-wood products; compatibility of certain harvests (e.g. extracting tubers/roots) and services such as conservation of genetic resources and watershed protection; and the minimum needs of forest-dependent communities for NWFPs vs. commercial harvest.

The Consultation emphasised the need to develop and publish guidelines for sustainable management and utilisation of NWFP resources. It further stressed that the socio-economic and environmental dimensions of NWFPs need to be included in the discussions defining the criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management.

Species Domestication

The Consultation discussed the impact of species domestication. Some of the plant species providing NWFPs can be grown as pure or mixed crops or under agro-forestry systems. Over the years, several of them have moved up to the status of intensively managed agricultural or horticultural corps (e.g. oil palm, rubber, cashew, coffee, cocoa, pepper, etc.).

The objectives of natural resource conservation and protection of biodiversity can be served at least partially by cultivation of species. Domestication of wild plants yielding non-wood products, involving their genetic improvement, and growing them under intensive cultivation practices is considered as a means of ensuring efficiency in production. It has been the experience that once a product achieves commercial importance, its supply from wild sources tends to be replaced by cultivated sources with a view to bringing production, quality and cost under control. Productivity of cultivated crops can be enhanced through improved agro-technology. This would indirectly help to support resource sustainability by facilitating conservation of genetic resources in the natural forests. And, the domesticated species are dependant on regular infusion of germplasm from wild genetic reservoirs for improving their performance. Agro-forestry systems are particularly suitable for certain NWFPs (e.g spices, aromatic plants) and for certain situations (such as land scarcity). Development of NWFPs in agro-forestry systems has the advantage of diversifying the economic base and enhancing the supply of products for household use, as well as for markets.

It may, however, be noted that many plant and animal species cannot be grown outside their forest habitat; and those grown in intensive crops will have increased susceptibility to pests and diseases.

The decision on when, where and to what extent the production of NWFPs could be linked to domesticated resource base would call for considerable research. The domestication programmes should also recognize the community needs, preferences and sensitivities.

Indigenous Knowledge

The Consultation pointed out that in respect of both natural and domesticated resources, some of the indigenous systems of management provide interesting possibilities. Study of several indigenous systems in Southeast Asia and South America reveals several common characteristics: low-intensity management for a variety of products; light canopy opening; enrichment planting of preferred species; and selective thinning. In these, they resemble the current scientific thinking on sustainable harvesting of NWFPs.

In some cases, indigenous groups have codified their land management systems. For example, the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA), which consists of more than 400 indigenous organisations representing some four million residents of the Amazon, has prepared a Plan for Amazon Conservation and Development based on local systems. This plan considers NWFPs as a main element in sustainable development.

Issues Relating to Sustainable Management of NWFP Resources

The Consultation discussed the various issues to be addressed in relation to sustainable management of NWFP resources. Among them:

The Consultation took cognisance of the ITTO Guidelines for Sustainable Forest Management, the briefing note on NWFPs prepared by FAO's Tropical Forests Action Programme and the draft Manual for Local Planning of NTFP Development prepared by Appropriate Technology International (ATI).

Collaboration agreement between INBio, Costa Rica and MERCK & Co., Inc.

Parties to this unique agreement which became effective on 1 October 1991 are:

1. Asociación Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, a non-profit organisation existing under the laws of Costa Rica ("INBio")

2. Merck & Co., Inc., a corporation organized under the laws of the State of New Jersey, USA ("Merck")

INBio is interested in collaborating with private industry to create mechanisms to help preserve Costa Rican conservation areas by making them economically viable.

Merck is interested in collaborating with INBio to obtain plant, insect and environmental samples for evaluation for pharmaceutical and agricultural applications.

On its part, INBio agrees to:

  • establish facilities for the collection and processing of plant, insect and environmental samples from Costa Rica;
  • hire and train an adequate staff to collect and process the samples;
  • provide training to INBio staff in Merck facilities;
  • supply Merck with a specified number of plant, insect and environmental samples per year over the initial two-year period of the Agreement as described in the workplan;
  • maintain appropriate financial records relating to the project and to allow Merck to review such documentation;
  • not to provide during an initial evaluation period of two years, to other parties for use in the field of human and animal health and agriculture, any samples that have been provided to Merck.
    On its part, Merck agrees to:
  • provide research funding of US$ 1.0 million during the first two years of the Agreement and to contribute to INBio laboratory equipment and materials needed to establish the processing laboratory at the University of Costa Rica.
  • evaluate the samples provided by INBio in proprietary assays for potential activity as human health, animal health and agricultural compounds; advise INBio of confirmed and reproducible activity that has been identified in any INBio samples;
  • assign unique identification numbers to all INBio samples and to maintain an identification system which will allow Merck and INBio to identify all products which may be subject to royalty under the Agreement;
  • pay a royalty to INBio on any human or animal pharmaceutical product or agricultural chemical compound which is isolated initially from or produced by a sample provided to Merck by INBio;
  • maintain accurate records which will allow Merck and INBio to identify all products subject to royalty and to enable INBio to confirm the accuracy of Merck's royalty reports;
  • indemnify INBio from any claims arising from the use of the samples, except for any claims resulting from the negligence or other wrongful act of INBio;
  • comply with all regulatory and other requirements which apply to the use of the samples;
  • provide additional funding in an agreed amount to support INBio's work during any extension period.

  • Note: This Agreement was renewed with appropriate modifications in mid-1994.
[For information of a non-confidential nature relating to the working of the agreement, contact: Rodrigo Gámez, Director General, INBio, AP 22-3100, Santo Domingo de Heredia, Costa Rica; Fax: +506 2362816 or Merck & Co. Inc., P.O. Box 2000, Rahway, NJ 07065, USA.]


The environmental dimensions of NWFPs cover a wide range of roles and aspects such as: generally non-destructive nature of NWFP harvests supporting sustainable management of forest resources and conservation of biodiversity; their contributions to the socio-economic welfare of communities living in uplands and watershed areas; their amenability to be integrated with the management of protected areas and buffer zones and compatibility of management objectives, allowing controlled extraction of NWFPs; eco-tourism and other services which are environmentally sound and safe and which can generate income especially in marginal areas and for local populations; intellectual property and heritage values as well as intrinsic values of several NWFPs to the communities and their cultural diversity; their intricate linkage to forest biogeochemical cycles and food systems; their ability to incorporate both economic and ecological objectives.

In order to take advantage of these environmental dimensions, it would require considerable planning, investment and infrastructural development. For example, potential for wildlife and nature-based tourism exists in most countries, but the development of the potential is hampered by lack of financial resources, skills and facilities.

It is the usual assumption that harvests of NWFPs are benign in environmental terms. This is not always true. Unplanned harvest of NWFPs without adequate knowledge about their resource base, appropriate tools and techniques to be used, the regenerative capacity of species and their silvicultural requirements, the seasonal variations in productivity, and the local subsistence demands, can result in severe environmental damages. The Consultation emphasised that capacity to determine optimum levels and methods of harvesting is very important.

The lack of compatible forest management systems, combining ecological and economic prudence, suited to the various situations encountered, do present serious problems. And, the situation poses many challenges as we still know only very little about the stand dynamics, ecology and silvicultural requirements of many of the forest ecosystems, especially in the tropics. There are also the traditional dilemmas encountered in balancing operational efficiency (cost of production) with considerations of conservation in order to achieve eco-efficiency. Apart from technological improvements, these it will call for new arrangements of access, ownership, control and management, and a clear understanding of the role of local people, management agencies, industry and governments.

Sustainability has become a catch-all word, with different meanings to different groups and in different situations. Ecological sustainability refers to the continuing functions of ecological life support systems, in this case the forest ecosystem. Economic sustainability, on the other hand, refers to continuing functions that support economic growth. Particularly in planning NWFP activities, these two forms of sustainability needs to be addressed and harmonised.

The Consultation underlined that institutionalising sustainable NWFPs development will require attention to: poverty alleviation, appropriate policies and strategies, generation of scientific skills, balancing of techno-economic systems with social value systems, and adequate financial instruments.

New Responses

New pressures on forest resources, and particularly those affecting NWFPs, call for new responses. We need to know more about the behaviour of both the ecosystems and social systems involved in NWFP activities; and we need to understand the viability of production of NWFPs.

In terms of the responses by both social and natural systems to increasing scarcity of forest resources, it is possible that increasing scarcity can lead to technological innovation for more efficient management and harvesting, or to substitution by other products. However, historical experience shows that the time lag between resource depletion and such technological innovation can be environmentally disastrous for complex systems like tropical forests. Likewise, scarcity does not necessarily lead to substitution, as evidenced by the case of rhinoceros horn, which, although extremely scarce, continue to be sought after, threatening the survival of the species. Better environmental impact assessment of existing technology and strategy will help to promote improvements and innovations covering: research, education and extension for the development of NWFPs; information gathering; statistical and accounting systems; community participation; involvement of private sector; multidisciplinary approach to resource management; exchange of experience and knowledge; regional and sub-regional mechanisms to create centres of excellence.


Recommendations made by the Consultation relating to management and conservation of NWFP resources and their larger environmental implications are included in the Summary of Recommendations given in Section 6 of this report.

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