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Appendix 4.4.1



El-Hadji M. Sène 1/
FAO Forestry Department


Although the importance and relevance of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) in the livelihood of rural populations and local economies, and more broadly for urban populations and national economies, are well-recognized, their long history and their limited coverage in economic statistics maintain NWFPs in some oblivion, especially in institutional measures and structures. The document reviews this situation and shows that in many cases, general policies of rural development and in particular the conservation and development of forests, include a number of dispositions favourable to NWFP development. The need is for actual implementation of these elements of policy, and of the organisation of inter-institutional cooperation. Education and research, use of local knowledge and expertise, awareness of local culture and values are stressed as important ingredients accompanying the development of policies, setting up organisations and promoting local groups.


NWFPs in this paper refer to "all tangible goods of biological origin, other than timber and firewood, from forests or land under similar use". By extension, included in this definition are all tree and shrub products left or introduced in cultivated land-and-fallow complexes that characterize village lands in developing countries.

NWFPs contribute substantially to the livelihood systems and local economies of rural and urban societies. Taken together, the social and economic services they provide may be far more important than timber. The paradox is that, despite this importance and the fact that a number of them have gained worldwide relevance in international trade, these products have been ignored by national economies and the institutional arrangements that concern all aspects of forestry, trade and industry.

Traditional societies and national economies have continuously taken these products for granted or simply ignored their status as economical goods. They have not, in most of cases, raised any awareness and attention from modern administrations to take them into account in measures relating to legislation, policy, valuation of their contribution in national economies and measures addressing needs in education, research, training, processing and marketing.

However, a number of trends and developments are changing the tide. There is a surge of interest in three main directions:

This paper introduces the discussion of the main institutional aspects concerning NWFPs, from the management of the resource base to their marketing. The paper will examine the institutional status of NWFPs and its evolution. In so doing, the major focus will be on: the knowledge and awareness of NWFPs; the institutional framework under which they are usually recognized, managed and developed; the institutional base needed to develop adequate knowledge on NWFPs; the organisations for conservation and management of NWFPs; and finally the need for building capacity and promoting involvement and various functions of all layers of society in the valorization of NWFPs. Considerations for the way ahead will then be developed and recommendations proposed.


The Institutional First Step: Defining and Recognizing NWFPs

Despite the definition used for this paper, institutional hesitation over NWFPs is in large part due to the difficulty in defining this group of products, and the lack of awareness about their contribution in the economy. Initiatives dealing with the institutional organisation of the use of these products have at best been opportunistic and dependent on the occasional fortune they have known at different periods.

Forest services worldwide, mainly oriented towards timber production, have given NWFPs a residual definition which in all the normative activities of man, denotes lack of knowledge, interest and perspective. They have been named secondary forest products, other forest products, accessory forest products, and non-wood forest products under the assumption that they are of far lower economic importance than timber and wood for fuel. Hammett and Messersschmidt (1993) propose alternative forest resources, claiming "these so-called minor products are often very major alternatives". Unfortunately, even countries in which a number of NWFPs have strong economic value and social relevance have stuck to these superficial denominations and scant recognizance. This situation has discouraged strong initiatives to look at these products from the point of view of their own value and socio-economic importance, except in a few cases in which the products had a definite strategic importance and such a strong social relevance that they could not safely be ignored by authorities.

In some prominent situations, regulatory measures have been taken to maintain a system in which the product fills a very important economic niche. From this important perspective, NWFPs have often played strategic roles in colonial economies. Forestry Administrations were thus prompted to take measures by the objective political importance of the product, and consequently by the need to conserve the resource base and secure the sustainability of the resources vis-à-vis harvesting practices.

The case of the gum arabic in colonial Francophone dry West Africa illustrates this point. Relatively early, the General Commissioner of this region (covering Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal) tried to codify the tapping of the gum arabic, intending to halt the devastating tapping practices that were tending to exhaust and kill the trees. The ultimate goal was to maintain the flow of goods in the colonial trading systems in which gum arabic formed an important link.

Given their social importance and sizeable domestic trade, the same move could have been expected for the shea butter tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) and the locust bean tree (Parkia biglobosa) further south in the African woodlands, but this did not happen as these products had no such strategic importance for the state economy and the products were neglected for a long time. Even today, notwithstanding their regional socio-economic relevance and in some cases their strong potential to support small-scale/family processing enterprises (in the case of shea butter), no institutional arrangement has been established to support the economic activities regarding these species. A number of authors have attributed this to the predominant European approach to forests, in which until recently the essential production of the tree is timber, and any other production is perceived as secondary (Bergeret and Ribot, 1990).

The gum arabic case offers the best example of good trading systems established with ad hoc regulations for harvesting, grading, trading and exportation under: the aegis of an hoc corporation (in Sudan), an entity dealing with other agricultural crops (e.g. Niger), or left in the hands of private organisations and enterprises (Senegal-Mauritania). In Ghana, a country with important forest resources, the Cocoa Marketing Board deals with the purchasing and marketing of the seeds of the very important shea butter tree.

In other cases, the non-wood forest commodity may have known temporary importance as long as it satisfied a specific need, but for lack of research and marketing support, it has not been able to changing demand, and has declined rapidly. In the West Indies, the collection, processing and trade of rosewood oil from Aniba rosae-odora and of the gum Balata/, which played an important role in the early 1900s, have progressively declined due to lack of interest in identifying alternative markets once the traditional use disappeared. These products, like many others, yielded to synthetic alternatives and disappeared rapidly from the international markets.

These examples from Africa and the West Indies could be repeated for Latin America (e.g. the various products of the Amazon have received careful study only in the last ten years, although they have long played important local socio-economic functions; or the many products of the cactae and Palmacae families recently so well developed in Mexico) and in Asia. They show the slow progress in recognizing the importance of various NWFPs, and as a consequence these products - and the resource management concerning them and their collection, processing and marketing - have been left in institutional oblivion.

Signs of Change

Due to new interest in the many aspects of their contribution to the life and well-being of local people and the international economy, the importance of these products is gaining recognition now.

At the national level, a number of developments are pushing towards greater recognition of these products, stemming from: (1) a strong move towards natural products from the demand side; (2) a call for equity for local and indigenous communities in the management of local resources and the distribution of benefits accruing from them; (3) in many parts of the world, economic and social adjustments have forced some strong re-orientations towards the use of local substitutes of a number of commodities, many of which are forest products. The institutional responses to these moves have been in the identification, classification of these products, the organisation of their collection and trade, and in some cases, policy definition.

China is an example worth mentioning for its efforts to promote collection, processing and sale of NWFPs. There, many products are extracted from the leaves, blossoms, wood and seed of a number of plant species, ranging from pines to the seeds of the Caragana shrub used in sand dune stabilization; and many small-scale extractive units have been established and contribute to the economy of local communities.

International programmes focusing on eco-development, integrated rural development and use of local resources, food security, poverty alleviation and more recently, the promotion and empowerment of local communities, have tended generally to promote the better use of all resources, and particularly forest resources and their non-wood products. The following paragraphs describe some examples.

Unesco's Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme has accorded great interest and importance to the use of forest and tree formations by local people. A number of studies of the various livelihood systems of forest dwellers and their complete dependence on non-timber forest products have been conducted, highlighting not only the use of wood for many local domestic needs but also the use of forest food items, material for clothing, garments and adornment, dyes and others. The need for income beyond subsistence has also been studied.

In FAO, efforts to move forest administrations towards local community development have been marked since the early 1970s by efforts to enlarge the field of forest resources and forestry beyond simply the production of wood. The search for establishing "areas of forest prosperity" for local communities has tended to promote diversified use of forest resources. The whole programme of forestry for local community development, and the present Forests, Trees and People Programme, have raised the awareness of foresters and forestry institutions on the potential of NWFPs and the need to include them in the management of forest resources. In the past 10 years, the Tropical Forests Action Programme (TFAP), which covers forestry policy and planning, has duly recognized the role and functions of NWFPs; the then proposed Action Programme on Forestry in Land Use highlighted the role of these products in "broad-based rural development with emphasis on diversification of rural economic activities" and in efforts to enhance "direct economic benefits for the local communities from forests and forest products and from the generation of employment" always linked to timber harvesting. Effectively, various national forest plans both in and outside the TFAP framework (especially after the revamping process), have progressively given special importance to planning and management for NWFPs, including medicinal plants, food from the forests, and wildlife products. Examples include Cameroon, Ghana, Sudan and Senegal in Africa; Indonesia in Asia; and Mexico and Panama in Latin America.

More recently, the Programme Committee of FAO recognized the importance of NWFPs and "endorsed the emphasis given to NWFP development and underlined the need to pursue the inventory and valorization of these resources. The Committee recognized the importance of a code of environmentally friendly harvesting techniques for all forest products and urged its timely publication" (FAO, 1994b). This is an important institutional backing that considers nearly equally the need for recognition and good harvesting practices for wood and NWFPs; it also confirms the direction taken by the FAO Medium- and Long-Term Programme, which mentions among others, two broad objectives very relevant to the development of NWFPs: (1) "realizing the full potential of forest production - both wood and non-wood - and increasing its value in order to meet the evolving demand for forest and tree products; (2) to support full participation and equitable sharing of benefits among all people dependent on forests activities, particularly as an off-farm source of livelihood for the most vulnerable groups".

Among non-governmental organisations (NGOs), recognition of NWFPs has been strong for a long time. The Conservation Strategies of the International Union for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IUCN) stresses the sound use of natural and especially forest resources for yielding various products, to cater to the multiple needs of local populations. Many NGOs have focused interest on the local products of village and community lands and provided alternatives that have helped fill institutional gaps in support of the assessment, management and use of these products. The assistance provided by NGOs in organising local producer groups has raised the awareness of these groups on the potential of local NWFPs and the income that can be obtained from their exploitation.

Many voices however, have cautioned against unrealistic optimism on the development of non-wood forest related markets and any sustainable livelihoods based on them. Mok (1991) notes that "the rediscovery of the major importance of minor or NWFPs in most developing countries led to euphoric conclusions on their economic values and future prospects. However, most of the conclusions are unsubstantiated and are therefore unwarranted and likely to be untenable". He went further in stressing the frequent changes over time in the supply and demand of NWFPs.

Talking about the rural people of the Amazon, Vantomme (1991) indicated that they were either falling back to subsistence agriculture, providing hired labour to nearby projects or heading to urban centres. He estimated that the recently created and highly advocated "forest extractive reserves, will not alter significantly these trends".

These voices of caution are necessary for a realistic view of NWFPs and hence the institutional measures their development would reasonably warrant.

Considerations on the Institutional Framework

NWFPs have a number of objective characteristics that make them difficult to support with a suitable institutional governance:

These elements should always be kept in mind when dealing with the institutional options and set-up for NWFP.

Economic Recognition of NWFPs

Except the hundred or so NWFPs that are internationally traded, national statistics offer hardly any reliable data to document their economic role. Information is scattered, anecdotic and irregular. Even data concerning these traded commodities are often not precise, at least at the production level. In the often remote producing areas, products circulate unrecorded from one region to another, and even across national borders. It is totally impossible to trace locally consumed products. In many countries, however, Forestry Department statistics based on figures provided by administrative arrangements for revenue collection (e.g. licensing practices and permits) allow some appreciation of the flow of products and related monetary circulation. This problem of the statistic survey of NWFPs is most difficult to solve, as harvesting areas are remote, harvesting and subsequent transactions on products are informal and elusive; but it is the most important step towards recognizing the role of these products in the economy of developing countries. The situation may be better in developed countries and countries in transition, in which more and more products are gaining national and international relevance and statistic services are getting more and more specific. Even in these countries, however, Parant (1991) notes the difficulty in properly assessing the economic circuit followed by NWFPs. Taking the case of mushrooms in France, he notes that part is commercialized and directly benefits the owner; another portion is fraudulently removed; a third part is directly consumed and a last portion is not harvested at all. Statistics, even well organised, can capture only a portion of the actual production.

In such a situation, good description of the potential remains useful and might be helpful; comparison of non-traded products with similar traded products may be a good alternative to sensitize producers, intermediaries and processors. The new efforts towards community management of resources and their integrated use will probably succeed in interested areas to reveal potential and opportunities and prod further development.

Organising the Harvesting of NWFPs

Harvesting is central to the sustainability of the resource and the economics of the product it sustains. It is essential to overall conservation of the producing ecosystem and to biological diversity. Yet only sporadic institutional support, if any, is currently provided to the harvesting of NWFPs. In many cases harvesting takes place in the realm of free and uncontrolled access, and with the pressure of urban markets has become destructive and turned to real plunder of resources. This is especially true in the case of edible products, the sale of which makes easy cash possible. In many cases, however, local groups have organised harvesting to minimize degradation of the resource and secure proper, balanced and equitable access.

The most publicized examples that come to mind are the ones of gatherers working in the Amazon region, especially the Amazonian seringueiros in their plea to get organised for a better use of the wealth of the Amazonian forest/. This plea includes elements of better education of gatherers, organisation for better practices and marketing conditions, and promotion of social prosperity.

In close connection with the above situation, the recent moves to establish extractive reserves translate, in terms of management, into the need for social equity, low impact and sustainable use of resources and conservation of biological diversity. These moves are a management alternative for NWFPs, with minimum intervention on the ecosystem; they involve "other important benefits, such as genetic resources conservation and ecosystem protection" (Kageyama, 1991). Kageyama maintains that "this proposition of land use is both socially fair to local communities, and ecologically compatible with the Amazonian ecosystem characteristics".

The present efforts for sustainable and participatory management of the forest hold strong promises for a new approach to forestry and forest management that: (1) takes account of the complete range of products and opportunities of the forest; (2) provides support for many non-timber uses of forests; and (3) helps local organisations to be full if not principal partners in the management, conservation and use of the forest resource. Many initiatives have been started in this vein, especially in management of dry forests, in which use of NWFPs is an unavoidable alternative.

New initiatives in the management of acacia stands in Sudan and Chad and management of sub-humid and dry woodlands in West and Southern Africa are examples worth mentioning. In these cases, the management schemes are participatory and multiple-use oriented, and also secure the conservation of local ecosystems and biological diversity.

In dryland Latin America, the ejido system of management of natural woodlands in Mexico, the Chilean type of mixed individual and communal (lluvia común) management of local natural resources are examples of land uses and resource management systems that promote common access and utilization of NWFPs and the conservation of the resource.

Many examples exist also in Asia, including the many documented indigenous forest management systems in Nepal, some of which are totally traditional and others supported by new development initiatives in which the local communities develop a set of simple rules that govern use and conservation of the resources. These rules include conditions of collection of dry fuelwood, collection of litter, and strict regulation (or prohibition) of live tree cutting.

Recognition of the need to develop new management approaches is a first step that will naturally pave the way to legislative, regulatory, educational and organisational measures that the state should take or facilitate for better use and development of NWFP resources.

However, one should not ignore the limitations facing all these extensive or moderately intensive management systems:

Legislation and Regulation

Forest legislation has been very limited in what concerns the extraction of NWFPs; most laws refer only to the indication that local populations could collect and use the secondary products, provided methods used would not harm natural regeneration and affect growing stock. In most advanced legislation, further developments and details may cover:

Most regulations have neglected the physiological status of the material to be harvested, and offer no indication of maturity of edible items, or tapping intensity in the case of gums and resins, or intervals between removal periods of rattan or bamboo. These regulatory gaps are not damaging as long as traditionally experienced people are using the resources. However, when alien users or less experienced persons intervene (as always happens when a product gains market importance or when drought and resulting poor crops increase the need for off-farm income), they introduce destructive harvesting methods that threaten the resource base.

Regulations regarding processing, transport and marketing of products exist for products generating important market demand. They have been often been introduced to:

Specifications dictated by international markets or processing units are often the source and base from which regulations are derived, leaving very slight possibility to the producer to intervene.

A balanced set of legal framework and regulation calls for the simultaneous intervention of national institutions, primary producers and marketing and processing circles. Such an approach has in some countries helped normalize practices. In the case of gum arabic in dry West Africa, producers, wholesale dealers and foreign processors are trying to establish linkages among themselves.

Marketing and Pricing

The characteristics mentioned in the section above, "Considerations on the institutional framework", should be taken into account in marketing NWFPs. Depending on a very variable source ranging widely in quality, they are not easily addressed by any marketing strategy. The primary producer has little leverage in shaping consumption patterns, and the market is largely dominated by demand. Questions to which a marketing strategy should respond are: how to know market needs; how to influence production to better respond to needs; how to secure sustained offer and capacity to respond to increase in demand; how to correct variability in quality of products often collected in natural systems. The producer needs information, contact, organisation and flexibility to respond.

The issues raised by proper marketing include local organisation of producers, information gathering and use, and organising assistance from the government or other public and collective entities.

To be able to influence the market, producers must get organised. Associations and cooperatives are indispensable to implement some of the educative, extension and training functions at the benefit of community. Such organisations may have many forms and be smooth or aggressive or politically oriented, depending on local and national situations. In many countries, it is likely that the move towards democratic approaches will give some political tones to local groups. These should be understood and proper assistance and suitable education and training facilitated. From the extreme cases of the Amazonian seringueiros, a number of gradations are possible; the best mix of concrete and objective needs and political expressions that serve the interest of the farmer or forest dweller should be promoted.

The knowledge of the demand itself, factors affecting it and its likely evolution are important elements for establishing a clear marketing strategy. The producers are not, in most cases in the position to gather such information. A number of facilitating linkages will be indispensable to the producer groups to secure credible market intelligence. The national economic services, development projects, NGOs and activist or humanitarian groups have often provided valuable assistance in such situations. In countries where national federations of cooperatives exist, they assist their member organisations in gathering relevant information on specific products; such services should be provided in a participatory way with a view to training beneficiaries to make them rapidly self-sufficient.

The pricing of products is an important issue. In many situations, it is an artificial process that goes from the imposed international market price and works out the farmgate price after deduction of taxes, intermediary benefits, transport costs and handling risks. The producer plays little role in this process. All efforts the producer-group level should aim to establish an objective value for the product and for the producer's labour.

The Forest Resources and the Forest Products divisions of the Forestry Department of FAO are developing a forestry paper on the marketing of agroforestry products. This document would provide extensionists with some principles in marketing so as to better assist producer groups in the subject.

Institutional Structures in the Management and Use of NWFP Resources

Due to their variety and to the large range of uses in which they are solicited, NWFPs interest a number of statal institutions whose interventions are needed in many areas: harvesting, processing and final utilization. The issues to be considered relate to identifying the administrative units that should be responsible for the sector and the local organisations that should be set up to assist in development activities. Some preliminary considerations include:

A short review of institutions usually involved in the development of NWFPs would include forestry departments, veterinary and livestock services, food crop services, health and medical services, industry services and the commerce services. The relative importance of each of these varies largely from one country to the next, and within countries from area to area, depending on the use and destination of the product considered. The multiplicity of interveners clearly demonstrates that this economic sector should be considered an area for cooperation and complementarity.

Forestry departments have of course played a central role in assessing and managing the resources. Within the forest estate, they have usually delivered the regulatory functions that govern access to resource and mode of harvesting. In many cases they have levied taxes and fees to legitimate the private use of the resources. The evolving roles of forestry administrations have de-emphasised taxation and sanctions and strengthened the development of community forestry and participatory management, creating a more relaxed interface between forest users and foresters. This situation is rapidly and positively evolving.

Veterinary and livestock services have been involved as users of fodder and browse, and managers of grasslands, but also in many countries as the institutional units in charge of beekeeping, and also involved in wildlife management. In dry regions, pastoral groups have developed an extensive body of indigenous knowledge on grazing practices, meat and dairy technologies and animal health. These have been collected in many areas by the veterinary and livestock services and their extension units.

Agricultural departments have been traditionally too focused on classic food production and, unless they have been in charge of livestock or forests, have not much contributed to the development of NWFPs. However, the conservation of traditional agricultural practices (broadly including trees, and to-day, the development of agroforestry) offers occasions in which NWFPs have been promoted. In rather rare occasions, agricultural marketing assistance to farmers has included the sale of NWFPs.

Health and medical services have been very much engaged in investigations on the use and efficiency of medicinal plants, and also on surveying traditional healing practices based on the use of plants. In many cases they have contributed to interesting first approximations of the medicinal uses of plants in many regions. Their role will remain important in assessing the value of medicinal plants.

Research services, especially anthropologists, other social scientists and ethnobotanists, have largely contributed to the existing knowledge on the various uses of forest vegetation. The immense role that research will retain for a long time in the proper development of NWFPs give them a pivotal position in future programmes for their promotion.

The economic and statistical services have the important role of calculating into the national, regional and local economies the economic contribution of forests in general and NWFPs in particular. This integration has been far from adequate and much effort is still needed; new orientations of national statistics in their endeavour to include most natural resources and their products in national accounts will probably improve the situation.

The NGOs have contributed in documenting local knowledge, collecting traditional technologies, promoting use of NWFPs and income-generation activities. They have organised local groups. Their role is central in the future development of NWFPs.

Instead of placing emphasis on the leadership among institutions involved with NWFPs, the orientation should be on clearly identifying the need for support and the major functions to be carried out, stressing inter-disciplinary cooperation. This need is strong for political recognition of and policy considerations about NWFPs, assessment and management of the resources, information on resources and technologies, identification of opportunities and appraisal of potential at the community level, support from research for technology generation and transfer and organisation of trade and marketing.

Promoting Policy Options for NWFP Development

Some key aspects of policies to develop NWFPs have been developed here and there but not always in a systematic way. A number of these aspects seem to converge towards a compact of policy options that could only support the development of NWFPs. The following are some of the most important aspects:

These elements that favour the development of NWFPs are featured in most national forestry policies. Their actual implementation is all that is presently needed to realize the potential of these products. Market conditions and forces should be investigated in each case to assess the economic wisdom of promoting specific products.

Research and Development

Research is essential at any step in the use of natural resources. As NWFPs are still to be better known, they need research on: better assessment of the resource and products; management and harvesting practices; processing technologies; and regeneration of individual species, either within the natural ecosystems or through establishment of plantations. The social and socio-economic background of the harvesting and overall economics of NWFPs need also to be better studied. Community involvement would command further investigation from the social sciences.

Forestry research institutions seem to have had the same problems of resources and priority setting in the area of NWFPs as forestry administrations. Although some forestry research institutions have been active very early in their identification and study, the general situation, especially in developing countries, has been of neglect or indifference. On the other hand, a number of non-forestry research organisations have been involved, especially in the study of potentials for production of oil seeds and medicinal plants.

National-Level Considerations

National research institutions: The mandate of national forestry research very clearly includes NWFP research . Research on the presence, use and management of the resources comes mainly under the aegis of forestry or agroforestry research, but also interests all national research institutions dealing with conservation. Whatever the institutional set-up for research, a clear agenda for non-wood products is needed that should back any policy initiative. The objectives of such an agenda should include: (1) the effective definition of a programme; (2) the identification of actors, as the interdisciplinary nature calls for shared responsibility; (3) the definition of the programme elements that would respond more rapidly to the needs and questions, including:

For wild fruit and other food trees, these last two elements are of special importance in the enhancement of the contribution of forest to food security.

Beyond the remit of the research institutions dealing with the primary resources and raw products, a number of research topics concern the final products and their various formulations and conditioning. This research, often in the areas of food technology, pharmacy and cosmetics, holds much promise for many species that are presently underutilized. Examples common to many tropical regions of limited resources includes Azadirachta indica, so much researched and still quite underused; Vitellaria paradoxa, which is just being explored for a promising cosmetics industry; Jatropha curcas for energy production; and many other promising food species.

Regional and International Considerations

Cooperation between countries needs to be further developed; a number of cooperative arrangements among research centres should be investigated. Lindell (1991) recognized the need for more cooperation between research institutions dealing with forest products. The programme he suggested is also valid for non-wood products, and includes the elements of: (1) twinning under the aegis of IUFRO; (2) supporting specific cooperative programmes in developing countries in a number of ways, such as through developing common projects, sponsoring training for researchers, and donating surplus library equipment; and (3) exchanging scientists.

Cooperation between developing countries in the region has the advantage of exchanging experiences valid under similar socio-economic conditions. A number of countries which have been very active could share their rich experience within the same region or among regions. This consultation and the interregional Nairobi Workshop on Agroforestry, co-organised in May 1994 by ICRAF and FAO, represent initiatives that promote this indispensable cooperation.

In Asia, the FAO programme developed for Forestry Research Support for Asia-Pacific (FORSPA) provides a regional institutional framework to promote an Asia-Pacific research agenda, at least on NWFP resources. Some national institutions already very strong in the study of NWFPs could be identified as centres of excellence on specific commodities.

Although there is no such programme in Latin America, a number of networks (agroforestry, dry land development, wildlife and protected areas) could identify areas for cooperation to be spearheaded by several strong institutions.

In Africa, the objectives of the programme being prepared to support forestry research and forest research networking in sub-Saharan Africa (FONESSA) have identified development of NWFP resources as a priority area.

The AFC/EFC/NEFC Committee on Mediterranean Forestry Questions considers NWFPs in the work of the networks on stone pine, cork oak and multipurpose species for dry lands.

Research on NWFPs in the CGIAR agenda: There is scope for strong support from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system for NWFPs. As these products can potentially contribute to alleviating poverty and contributing to food security of the poor through production of food items and rural employment, they are at the centre of the CGIAR objectives. The Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) includes NWFPs broadly in its work, in the programme, Conservation and Management of Natural Forests. The activity relating to Management for Diverse Products features sustainability of non-wood forest production in traditional forest management systems. The Products and Markets programme includes activities on: management for NWFPs by local communities; market requirements and possibilities for under-used, NWFPs; and expansion and harmonization on properties and uses of tropical timbers and non-timber forest Products. The whole programme of the International Centre for Research on Agroforestry (ICRAF), especially the Multipurpose Tree Improvement and Systems Improvement programmes, are relevant to non-wood tree production. The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) has become much aware of the needs of forestry in the conservation and management of plant resources. The whole CGIAR system will hopefully support cooperative programmes and networking initiatives on research on NWFPs at national and regional levels.

Capacity Building and Information

Education, training and information are the areas of most urgent need for sustained action for the development of NWFPs. Original approaches are necessary, as a considerable amount of knowledge and expertise is available at the level of the population. Assessing this knowledge and incorporating it in any capacity-building initiative is a challenge much stronger here than anywhere else. Also, with many non-wood products, there is a strong cultural basis, the understanding of which is indispensable as it determines the degree of acceptability of modifications of the technologies or product characteristics. This consideration also highlights the need, at the vocational level, to use the local skills and technologies and promote their dissemination among community groups.

Education for NWFPs should cover the whole range from general information and awareness-raising to specialization.

Information and awareness-raising: So little is said or disseminated on the existing resources, on traditional and local skills for processing these resources, knowledge among ethnic and community groups, and the overall potential and role of NWFPs.

Local transfer of technologies and skills: Many cases exist of a resource being intensively used in one area and totally ignored elsewhere in the same country. In many cases, when no cultural barriers exist, this underdevelopment could be remedied with some exchange between groups to transfer know-how (e.g. basket weaving, processing of edible items). Such exchanges, often effected by local development projects and NGOs, should be encouraged and promoted.

Primary education: The exposure to natural sciences, geography and knowledge of village or local land should include local resources and products, particularly non-wood forest resources and their contribution to local economy. Applied manual work should start developing children's skills.

Secondary education: Secondary education should continue the work started at primary school and include within programmes of education relating to the environment, the economic potential of all local resources, including NWFP resources. Awareness-raising should prepare vocations and provide students with information needed by those who envisage early settlement or would otherwise "drop out".

Job-oriented training, vocation and professional training: The 17th Session of the FAO Advisory Committee on Forestry Education examined NWFPs in forestry education; the suggestions made then to enhance the content of NWFPs in Forestry Education and Training (Chandrasekharan, 1993) are quite adequate and are reproduced in Table 1.

To conclude this section on education, the following points are highlighted:

Table 1: Suggestions for enhancing the content of NWFPs in forestry education
and training

Level of Education/Training


Technical and Vocational


Technical and Vocational

Extension and Public Information

  • Increase the areas and avenues of specialization to include aspects and interfaces related to NWFPs
  • Promote research and post-graduate work related to NWFPs in universities
  • Support multidisciplinary approaches and programmes in specializations
  • Encourage both pre-service and in-service specializations in areas related to NWFPs
  • Provide better balance of courses by adding/incorporating relevant NWFP topics
  • Establish facilities for teaching subjects related to NWFPs including teaching materials, reading materials, improved methods and qualified teachers
  • Widen the base for student selection allowing diverse skills into forestry
  • As part of the instruction, incorporate NWFPs in planning and policy analysis at the sectoral level and in studies related to inter-sectoral linkages
  • Establish new facilities for training in the different aspects of NWFP management and utilization, and for specific products, as relevant
  • Improve the existing facilities in polytechnic institutes and forestry schools by incorporating courses on NWFPs
  • Upgrading/enhancement training to keep up with technical, scientific and methodological developments
  • Refresher training
  • Short training programmes on specific aspects of NWFPs or technology related to specific non-wood products
  • Retraining related to the use of tools and techniques
  • Establish and/or strengthen the system of extension and information dissemination including materials and methods related to conservation and sustainable development, cultivation and management, harvesting, processing, marketing and trade of NWFPs, aimed at target groups ? farmers, rural groups, processing establishments, trading organisations and academic community

Source: C. Chandrasekharan (1993).


Many of the institutional aspects discussed in this paper are not exclusive to NWFPs. It is very clear that they also concern many other aspects of national development to which their promotion is very tightly linked. The concluding discussion should, however, help focus on ideas for solutions to the most important clusters of concerns, problems and constraints that hamper their development. Eight areas of concentration are proposed.

Set up a specific policy to promote NWFPs: It would be over-optimistic to think that comprehensive policy-setting exercises will easily and rapidly take place; there is therefore merit in reviewing all areas of national development and identifying the pertinent policy elements that favour development of NWFPs. These should then be regrouped, eventually completed and made coherent for use in the particular need of NWFPs. This exercise should be encouraged by the responsible services in charge of NWFPs and NGOs and interested operators and groups.

Put together relevant administrations and institutions to assist in a coherent way the development of NWFPs: The sector of NWFPs needs focused governmental assistance of an interdisciplinary and cooperative nature; efforts should be made to bring the interested administrations together to better deliver the state role collectively. Groupings such as councils and boards should be explored.

Promote knowledge of and safe access to resources: This requires that (1) national services assessing natural resources, in particular the national forest inventory units, are given enlarged mandate and orientation to integrate progressively identification and evaluation of non-wood forest resources; and (2) that measures and specific actions are taken when necessary to remove institutional limitations to access.

Respond to needs for legislation and regulations: Legislation, when essential to the use and conservation of resources, should be taken and reinforced. It is, however, more likely to be effective when inspired by genuine need and enlightened by local and traditional knowledge and experience. Laws then will be made with and not against users and will guarantee safe ? that is sound ? and legal access to resources.

Assess and improve technologies: The operational tool of this is research, but institutional facilitating measures are needed, such as the involvement and interest of institutes of food technology in the production and processing of food from the forest, and the organisation of commodity based groups.

Organise producers: The already rich experience gained by local groups, NGOs and also in many cases by some administrations (including forestry administrations) should be expanded. Initiatives relating to networking, exchanges among producer groups and at a larger level, technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC) should be encouraged.

Build capacity and promote human resources: This task needs a larger than usual approach, involving professionals of training and education extensionists, but also local groups and communities and experienced artisans. The objectives are not only to train skilled human resources and specialists, but also to raise awareness and provide resource conservation-oriented education and culture. Local values should not be neglected in the process.

Look forward with research: Broad-based cooperation should be encouraged to facilitate establishment and cooperative implementation of a wide spectrum research agenda, including management of the resources, the forest/agriculture interface and agroforestry, harvesting practices, improvement of producing species, processing technologies and socio-economic considerations.


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1/. Chief, Forest Conservation, Research and Education Service, Forest Resources Division, FAO, Rome.
2/. Extracted from Manilcara bidentata a Sapotacae from French Guyana; The product was used by European industry as an alternative to rubber in some of its applications.
3/. The extractive resources of this forest include a number of NWFPs which have drawn international attention including the Brazilian nut from Bertholletia excelsa, the Babassu from Orbignia martiana and O.oleifera, the tucuma fibre from Astrocaryum tucuma, the patau oil from Oenocarpus batau, the acail from Euterpes oleacea and the copaiba from Copaifera langsdorfil.

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