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Appendix 4.4.3

STATUS OF RESEARCH ON NON-WOOD FOREST PRODUCTS:

THE ASIA PACIFIC SITUATION

C.T.S. Nair 1/
Senior Programme Advisor, FORSPA


ABSTRACT

Although the long-term potential of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) is well understood, concomitant efforts to develop them are lacking. Current research efforts are far from sufficient and spread too thinly over several items, topics and organizations. Technological development has been particularly absent with regard to most of the products used in the subsistence sector. Product development continues to be one of the most neglected areas. The paper reviews the present situation and indicates the direction for future research on NWFPs. Unless concerted efforts are made, it is argued that the potential will go unrealised.

INTRODUCTION

Several reports and studies provide a general indication of the current and potential importance of NWFPs in the Asia-Pacific Region (Beer and McDermott, 1989). The region is reported to be the richest in terms of product diversity and the volume and value of trade of NWFPs (Iqbal, 1994) and every country has a long list of species, either used locally or traded in the local or international markets. There are nearly 1,000 plants yielding NWFPs in China (Shi Kunshan, 1994), 3,000 plants in India (Gupta, 1994) and 700 species of medicinal plants in Nepal (Khatri, 1994). More than 1,000 medicinal plants have been reported from Peninsular Malaysia (Rao, 1991). Of the 1,500 species of medicinal and aromatic plants in Pakistan, 300 are used in traditional medicine. In Korea 1,000 medicinal and aromatic plants have been reported (FAO, 1993a). Annual collection of beedi leaves from India is valued at US$ 200 million and 3 million persons are estimated to be employed in collection and processing (Rao, 1994).

Yet what is the capability for realizing the full potential of NWFPs? Inadequate research has been identified as one important constraint contributing to inadequate development of NWFP resources (Mok, 1991). Know-how on cultivation, management, processing and utilization of a large number of products is poor due to the weak research base (Saulei and Aruga, 1994). During 1992 the Forestry Research Support Programme for Asia and the Pacific (FORSPA) initiated the preparation of a directory of forestry researchers in the Asia-Pacific Region. At the time of publication of the directory (FAO, 1992) in 1992, information could be compiled on 881 persons, representing about 11 percent of the total forestry researchers in the Region. While collecting information, researchers were requested to indicate their areas of specialization. Less than 4 percent of the researchers indicated NWFPs (including bamboo, rattan, medicinal plants and fodder) as an area of their specialization. Notwithstanding the limited coverage (for example private sector institutions, other public sector agencies and some university departments dealing with NWFPs were not covered), possible overlaps with other topics (for example chemistry could deal with both wood and NWFPs) and the biases inherent in using information from a general directory, this nevertheless gives an indication of the state of research on NWFPs. Availability of material resources is in no way different from that of human resources.

Further, within the broad group of NWFPs, the allocation of resources for research and development is extremely skewed. Some of the products have been traded for centuries and their production, harvesting and processing have been systematized whereas there are large number of products yet to be properly identified and whose uses are highly localized (FAO, 1991). It is a complex and fast-evolving scene, with new products and uses emerging, while some of the products which were important earlier have faded out or declining in importance due to changes in demand and competition from better and cheaper products. The research scenario in such a situation is as complex as the diversity of products. Substantial research inputs have gone into some of the highly commercialized items, while there remains a large number of items whose botanical identity remains unestablished, not to mention their production and processing.

This paper reviews the Asia-Pacific situation, specifically focusing on research in support of NWFP development. After considering the conceptual problem of classification, it provides an overview of ongoing research, indicating the constraints in the present approach. An alternative framework is then indicated, followed by general conclusions.

WHAT ARE NWFPs?

The large number of items which constitute NWFPs makes a general discussion on research issues extremely difficult. Historically all products other than wood are included under a residual category and further grouping is based on general end uses or source of the product. Products are thus grouped as fibre products, food products (including animals and animal derived foods), medicinal and cosmetic plant products, extractive products, animal and animal products other than foods and miscellaneous products (Anon., 1991) despite the significant differences in the systems of production, technology adopted and market characteristics. Thus, forest-derived foods include fruits and roots collected and consumed by forest dwelling communities with minimal processing as well as those grown under intensive management, subjected to complex processing to alter the characteristics and sold to high income consumers through super market chains. Medicinal plants include those collected from forests and homesteads for direct domestic use under traditional health care systems to those cultivated on a large scale and processed with the latest techniques for production of globally marketed pharmaceuticals. An alternative approach is offered here to provide the right perspective for a discussion on NWFPs and to avoid the pitfalls of existing classification.

Alternative Approach

Considering the strong link between markets, production systems and the level of technology adopted at different stages, NWFPs could be grouped as subsistence products and commercialized products. Key characteristics of products under these two groups are indicated in Table 1 and discussed below.

Table 1: NWFPs and technology


 
Product

Activity

Subsistence Products
Commercialised Products
   
Semi-developed
Fully developed
Production/Collection Local know-how Local know-how Highly developed technology
Processing Local know-how Well-developed technology Highly developed technology

Subsistence Products

These are characterized by traditional technologies in production, processing and utilization, largely based on local know-how. Production is primarily nature dependent and the technology of harvesting and processing is simple and labour intensive. Since the products are consumed locally, no complex marketing is involved other than customary sharing and exchange. Several products (forest foods like roots, tubers, fruits and bush meat, medicinal plants, oil yielding plants, bamboos and rattans for construction and other artifacts, etc.) are included in the consumption basket and the relative importance varies depending on seasons and the socio-cultural setting. The extent of utilization of any specific product is related to the overall livelihood strategy of the household or community. Cultural factors play a dominant role in the utilization of the products. For example, some of the food yielding plants preferred by one community may be culturally unacceptable to those living in another area.

Commercialized Products

Market development has transformed a number of subsistence products to traded goods with substantial investment on improved technologies for production, processing and marketing. While the amplitude of development is extremely wide, based on the degree of commercialization, the level of technology and organisation of production two broad sub-groups can be identified. A large number of products are still in the early stages of development, with raw material production largely remaining traditional (collected/gathered from the wild by local communities), while processing and marketing have been well developed. Included under this are several medicinal plants, bamboos, rattans, gums, resins, dyes, and forest foods. The technology for collection/production remains traditional, while processing and trade are more systematized. Final processing into consumer goods often takes place in importing countries and trade involves complex channels.

The other end of the spectrum consists of highly commercialized products, which have moved out of the category of NWFPs and whose production, processing and marketing have been highly systematized. Rubber, oil palm, cacao, coffee, tea, coconut, arecanut, cashew and a number of spices belong to this group. While differences in the system of production exist (for example rubber may be cultivated under highly organised plantation or under small farmer managed mixed farms), close integration with the processing sector is a key characteristic of the system.

Organised production, especially through cultivation, emerges when supply from natural sources is inadequate or declining. At low levels of demand supplies from the wild remain profitable and high investment on cultivation tends to be uneconomical. Most products hence pass through phases of collection, depletion and cultivation.

Changing Nature of Product Markets

A variety of factors affect the development of a given product; of these, use characteristics and access to markets are critical. Traditional uses by local communities are primarily aimed at basic needs satisfaction (food, medicine, shelter, clothing, etc.) and the processing is focused on removing unacceptable characteristics and separating desirable properties. Growth of industrial processing has substantially enhanced the scope for diversified use of NWFPs involving a shift in emphasis on what is regarded as desirable characteristics. Processing technologies can substantially alter characteristics and introduce new combinations. While this undermines some traditional uses (for example substitution of bamboo baskets with plastic wares), new products and uses are continuously emerging (example bamboo plywood). Developments in biotechnology, especially recombinant DNA technology, will significantly alter the scene and ultimately individual genes and DNA molecules could become as or more important than the physical, mechanical and chemical properties. As indicated recently by Ruiz Perez (1995), the changes are multidimensional with several factors influencing NWFP development.

STATUS OF RESEARCH ON NWFPs

A review of research should consider such scenarios of development, and examine how developing countries (more particularly rural communities, which are traditionally dependent on NWFPs) can benefit from such changes. Diversity of products and their differing potentials make the design and implementation of a research programme complex. What are the ongoing research efforts and in what way are they going to enhance our capability to manage NWFPs? Are these qualitatively and quantitatively adequate to meet the emerging challenges-

Institutions Involved in NWFP Research

National Initiatives

Broadly, the institutions involved in NWFP research can be grouped as public sector and private sector. Universities and specialized research institutions form the most important public sector agencies involved in NWFP research. Research priorities of these institutions vary and can encompass (a) all important NWFPs, (b) selected crops of high economic importance (rubber, coffee, oil palm, etc.) or (c) specific groups of products (e.g. medicinal and aromatic plants). The focus shifts depending on resource availability and the changing perceptions of the management.

Of the 137 forestry research institutions (including universities) in the region listed in the FAO Directory (FAO, 1993b), 23 have indicated NWFPs as one of the priority areas of their research. Although this in no way implies that others are not undertaking any NWFP research, it gives an indication of the overall importance assigned to this topic. Most of these institutions, although purportedly dealing with several products, generally focus on some aspects of selected items, such as production research concerning bamboo and rattan, ex situ and in situ conservation of medicinal plants, improved resin-tapping techniques, lac production, rearing of silk worms, post-harvest handling techniques, basic research on chemistry of selected products, etc.

Research on highly commercialized crops are undertaken by specialized institutions, which are designed to deal with all the problems related to a specific crop. Examples include the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia, the Cardamom Research Institute in India and the Cocoa and Coconut Research Institute in Papua New Guinea. Export significance of these crops has led to high investment on research, often supported through special levies on export income (Antony, 1994). Research is strongly linked to extension and problems are dealt with in their totality, making research more user responsive.

Between those dealing with the broad category of NWFPs and of only selected crops are those undertaking research on a broad group of related plants. Medicinal and aromatic plants form an important group that has received considerable attention. There are several research institutions in the region specifically aimed at research on this important group, like the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development under the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in India, the Research Institute of Spices and Medicinal Crops in Indonesia, Herbs Production and Processing Company in Nepal and the Bandaranaike Memorial Ayurvedic Research Institute in Sri Lanka. Research efforts are generally focused on selected species of commercial importance, with most attention given to ethnobotanical studies, maintenance of germplasm, cultivation and identification and isolation of active ingredients.

Although private sector involvement in NWFP research, especially at the processing end, is substantial, reliable documentation on this is virtually non-existent for a number of reasons. First, it is spread over a variety of products and activities and the traditional sectoral surveys and studies are unable to capture the totality of the situation. Second, in-house research is often an integral part of production and no separate information is available. Finally, the private sector is reluctant to provide information on the nature of research undertaken which are mostly treated as trade secrets. In countries like China, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, with strong traditions of indigenous herbal medicines, there has been significant private sector efforts to develop processing of medicinal plants, including allopathic formulations. Dependence of NWFPs using industries on government forests and other common lands for raw material supply has continued and often rules and regulations relating to land use have discouraged private or community investment in production. Declining supply has however encouraged investment in cultivation, as in the case of medicinal plants. Some of the major private sector institutions dealing with traditional medicines maintain research units, undertaking studies on the efficacy of different species of medicinal plants and their propagation. Production of cut flowers (especially orchids), honey, wax, mushroom, bamboo shoots, and sericulture are other important areas of private sector production oriented research.

There has been increasing interest among non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the development of NWFPs. Here again, reliable information is not available on their capabilities and areas of research. Their efforts are mostly directed at supporting local communities with regard to cultivation, processing and marketing, relying on available research information. The Centre for Minor Forest Products and the Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions in India form important non-governmental efforts to strengthen NWFP research.

International Efforts

Supporting national efforts, there are several international NWFP research programmes, directed at a broad group of products or at specific items. Some of the important efforts in this direction are indicated in Table 2.

Table 2: Important regional NWFP research initiatives


 
Agency
Area/Activity
FAO 
- Regular programme 
- FORSPA 
- FORTIP 
- ANMAP 
- APAN 

IDRC/INBAR 
 
 
 
 
 
 

RECOFTC 
Unesco/WWF 
UNIDO 
WHO 

Technology transfer 
Field research projects 
Breeding and improvement 
Networking and information exchange 
Agroforestry with NWFPs components 

Bamboo and rattan 
- production research 
- utilization research 
- socio-economic studies 
- information dissemination 

Medicinal plants 

Training and support for on farm research and studies on marketing 
Ethnobotany 
Industrial processing 
Traditional medicines in relation to primary health care

Of the efforts listed in Table 2, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) supported bamboo and rattan research has been a pioneering effort, which has substantially enhanced national research capacity in the region. In addition there are several country-level activities supported by donor agencies and international NGOs. NGOs are particularly involved in developing appropriate local techniques and marketing studies primarily aimed at enhancing income accruing to local communities.

Establishment of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Southeast Asia Centre of the International Centre for Research on Agroforestry (ICRAF) will substantially strengthen NWFP research in the region. The policy focus of the former is expected to fill a major information gap, providing a clear direction for the development of NWFPs. ICRAF's efforts follow a system approach, specifically considering the integration of NWFPs in farming systems.

Research Agenda

Current research on NWFPs can be broadly grouped as: (1) status surveys aimed to provide a general understanding of their uses and importance at different levels (household, local, national and international); (2) development of technologies to improve production, utilization and processing; and (3) socio-economic studies, including marketing.

Status Surveys

A large proportion of the studies come under this category, intended to indicate the overall significance of one or more products at various levels. Thrust areas include:

Development of Improved Technologies

Development of improved technologies is closely linked to development of markets and often focused on a limited number of products. In the case of some of the plantation crops like rubber, tea, coffee and coconut, the technology for both production and processing is well developed with substantial research on all aspects. But for most NWFPs, major technological changes have been in processing (which has largely taken place in the private sector), while production/collection has remained traditional.

Production Research

Production technologies generally develop in different stages depending on supplies from natural sources and prices. Generally, three distinct stages can be observed:

Traditional product-gathering systems: A substantial proportion of NWFPs (rattan, bamboos, gums, resins, dyes, medicinal plants, honey and wax) continue to be collected from natural sources (including reserved forests) largely based on local skills and know-how. Production is entirely dependent on natural factors. Tools used in harvesting are simple and locally produced. Local communities have an intimate knowledge of what to collect, when to collect and how to collect. Where traditional community structures are in tact and external pressures minimal, there are well developed local institutional mechanisms that regulate the use of community resources. These, however, tend to break down with increasing pressures, both internal and external, and development of local know-how is unable to keep pace with the rapid changes.

Collection under formal regulatory mechanism: Regulatory mechanisms, mostly at the instance of governments, emerge either out of genuine concern for conserving the resources or as a means of appropriating benefits from products that generate substantial income. These are generally aimed to restrict removal at the level of regeneration. Research has hence focused on: appropriate inventory techniques for estimation of growing stock; natural regeneration and studies on growth and yield; and effect of different harvesting intensities and techniques. Examples of prescriptions based on research include harvesting rules concerning bamboos and rattans (age and the number of culms/stems that can be extracted, method and season of harvesting), tapping gums and resins (the depth and length of incisions to be made, the season when trees should not be tapped), and extraction of medicinal plants (the part that has to be extracted, season of extraction, etc.). Regulatory measures prescribed to appropriate income tends to be ad hoc with very little research on critical aspects concerning sustainability. Invariably their ineffectiveness becomes evident through continued depletion, as has happened with several products.

Organised cultivation: Organised cultivation is a sequel to the high demand and inadequate supply from traditional sources. As indicated earlier, in the case of plantation crops, like rubber, oil palm, cardamom, coconut, arecanut, tea, coffee, cocoa and cashew, cultivation practices have been highly systematized with substantial research on breeding, cultivation, nutrient management, management of pests and diseases and processing, largely due to the efforts of crop specific institutions. High commercial potential has encouraged increased investment in research, which in turn has enhanced production and improved utilization. Large-scale cultivation (which is linked to a large market) has facilitated the realization of economies of scale keeping unit cost of research low. A strong demand pull for innovation is exerted by the multitude of farmers involved in cultivation. Supported through strong extension, research has made a significant impact on the technology of cultivation of these crops.

In contrast, for a large number of products like bamboo, rattan, gums, resins, essential oils, dyes and forest foods, production research is less organised and often compartmentalized between institutions and disciplines. Thrust areas of research are:

In the case of gums and resins, research is focused on identifying high-yielding provenances and varieties and establishing the optimum intensity and frequency of tapping. Cultivation of medicinal plants is another focal area of research, especially with regard to commercially important species.

Recognition of the importance of agroforestry as a more viable land use has led to efforts at integrating NWFP cultivation with agriculture. There are several examples of traditional land-use systems with NWFPs as an important component, e.g. the case of rattan in Kalimantan (Peluso, 1992) and damar in Sumatra (Michon and Bompard, 1987). Agroforestry research has particularly focused on growing multiple-use species as well as species with varied uses, especially medicinal plants in different combinations (Paroda, 1993).

Utilization Studies

A review of the state of utilization research is made difficult due to the ambiguity of what constitutes utilization. It varies from direct and rather crude use of products, with no processing, to highly sophisticated techniques for isolation of active ingredients, which are subsequently used for the production of a variety of intermediate and final consumption products. Traditional uses, especially by local communities, are largely based on experience gained through actual use, while modern uses rely on more systematic trials and supported through chemical characterization.

Usually the type of processing technology is dependent on the situation that exists in the area where processing takes place. This is particularly evident with regard to some internationally traded products, such as gums, resins, dyes, and medicinal plants. Harvesting techniques have remained traditional, largely dependent on resources and know-how of local communities. Utilization research in the producing locations (or countries) is mostly focused on primary processing, to facilitate transport and to minimize damage during storage. Examples include treatment of bamboos and rattan against borer and fungal attacks and to retain strength, colour and texture, preliminary cleaning and grading of gums, resins and lac. Final processing in the importing countries involves isolation of active ingredients and product development combining several ingredients.

Unfortunately, development of processing technologies in most countries in the region has stagnated at the level of preliminary processing. Production techniques are archaic and unorganised and hence countries are not able to take advantage of the immense potential for value addition, especially in the case of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics (Henle, 1993). Most research on product development is undertaken by processing units in importing countries, the benefits of which seldom trickle down to the raw material suppliers. Barriers to access to technology could become stronger, especially with the stringent enforcement of patent laws and stipulations concerning intellectual property rights.

Socio-Economic Studies

Socio-economic research continues to be the most neglected area with regard to NWFP development. Most efforts are directed at highlighting the overall economic and social significance of the products based on unreliable statistics (Nair, 1994) and broadly indicating their potential contribution to the economies in terms of employment, income and revenue based on questionable assumptions and extrapolations. Profitability studies on some of the commercialized products have primarily focused on estimating the rate of returns and the cost benefit ratios. Equity aspects seldom receive attention and very often some of the NWFP-based activities are nothing more than low-wage traps providing little scope for improvement of the livelihoods of the people involved.

The dynamics of NWFP activities is a major grey area, except for a few isolated location-specific studies on how technologies, markets and production relations interact with each other transforming the nature of the activity and the distribution of benefits. These studies on collection and marketing of rattan (Peluso, 1991), bamboo mat weaving (Smyth, 1986), rattan in Malaysia (Fui, 1994), clog-making in Indonesia (Hadi, 1991), and lacquerware in India (FAO, 1991), provide glimpses of the dynamics of NWFP development and indicate the constraints and the potentials. Unfortunately, these have not been followed up with a coherent policy and long-term strategy for NWFP development.

One of the most neglected area with regard to NWFPs is market research (Warner, 1994). Currently producers have no information on how a given product passes through different stages of trading and the nature of end uses and prices. Government agencies may at best have information on who purchases the products, but little is known about their flow through different trading channels and the prices prevailing at different stages. There has been some efforts to undertake systematic studies (e.g. in Nepal) and to provide information to the NWFP producers to enhance their bargaining power. Absence of market information has led to avoidable competition among developing country producers, to the advantage of the raw material importing countries.

Major Constraints

From what has been discussed earlier, it is evident that NWFP research is dominated by an ad hoc approach without a coherent long-term policy. Some of the major problems due to this are as follows.

Neglect of Traditional Sector

While a major proportion of the NWFPs are produced and utilized in the traditional sector, very little effort has been made to improve the level of technology. With the increasing external pressures, indigenous systems of management have broken down, contributing to rapid resource depletion. Developments in technology have largely benefited those not directly concerned with protection and management of NWFPs.

Emphasis on Product Approach

Most NWFPs research has understandably adopted a product-focused approach and efforts are directed at enhancing output of commercially important products, largely adopting the plantation system as the standard model. Integration of NWFPs in the farming system approach, which takes full cognizance of all resources and potentials, with the household as the focal unit, is yet to find wider application.

Supply-Driven Research

A substantial proportion of NWFP research is supply driven (and quite often donor driven), based on narrowly focused priorities, not related to clearly identified problems. Consequently there is considerable duplication of efforts in the "soft" areas (taxonomy, establishment of live collections, etc.), while the "hard" areas (multiple use management, processing technology, etc.) seldom receive adequate attention. Compartmentalized research focusing on a narrow aspect is another result of supply-driven research.

Lack of Linkages

A major drawback of supply-driven research is the lack of linkage between different institutions involved in NWFP development. Interaction between universities, research institutions and industries is poor, resulting in a substantial proportion of the research remaining unused, or no research being undertaken on priority concerns of the processing sector.

A COHERENT APPROACH

The NWFP scene in the developing countries is still a trader-dominated situation, where the emphasis is on generating income through trading. Impact of research on resource conservation, management and development of new products has been negligible and research tends to be preoccupied with traditional products with uncertain future. Enhanced awareness on the long-term potential is yet to be translated to action and the efforts to take advantage of the widening product markets are far from adequate. Countries in the region face a dilemma, in that while the potential is enormous, there are serious resource constraints in fully realizing this. While the strategy will vary depending on the situation in each country, there is an urgent need to articulate a coherent approach encompassing all aspects of NWFP development, including research. Some of the important aspects to be considered are indicated below.

Policy and Strategy for NWFP Development

There is an urgent need to articulate a long-term policy with regard to NWFP development. As indicated earlier, new technologies will substantially alter the scope for utilization of NWFPs; new products and uses will emerge while traditional uses will fade out. A clear framework is necessary to take advantage of the changes; otherwise the potential of NWFPs will not be realized by the countries where they are produced.

Prioritization of Research

Given the resource constraints, countries in the Region cannot afford to spread their efforts too thinly ? and hence ineffectively ? on a large number of products; hence the need for prioritization. More than providing a wish list of projects, efforts should focus on clearly defining the principles and criteria for identifying research problems and there should be a close link with the eventual users of research results. Some of the key areas that require attention are indicated below:

Market Research

Well-planned market research will have an immediate impact by providing vital information on demand, sources of supply and prices to producers enhancing their bargaining power. In a trader-dominated sector like that of NWFPs, the producers/collectors have very limited access to critical information, compelling them to accept whatever prices are offered by the traders. No doubt the relationship between producers and traders are often determined by other factors; nevertheless, market information will be a major step in the empowerment of rural communities involved in production/collection of NWFPs. At the national and global levels, market research will facilitate decisions on what and how much is to be produced and to ensure that comparative advantage of countries is fully taken into account.

Product Development

A major weakness of existing research on NWFPs is the neglect of product development. The substantial efforts on studies on taxonomy and chemical characterization are not effectively followed up to develop marketable products. Countries in the region have to substantially invest in product development research. One area that will have an immediate impact on producers/collectors of NWFPs is the development of suitable post-harvest and processing technologies. This will be particularly relevant in the case of high-value products which are in limited supply.

Intensive Multiple Use Management

Multiple-use management is another important area that requires significant research inputs. The potential of this has been demonstrated by home garden systems. Local communities are dependent on an assortment of products, switching from one to the other within the framework of an overall livelihood strategy. Unfortunately, the single-product-focused approach of NWFP development has enhanced vulnerability to market fluctuations and undermined the product diversity. There is an urgent need to rediscover multiple-use systems and to improve them based on a better understanding of ecological and socio-economic factors.

Strengthening Linkages among Agencies

There seems to be enormous duplication of efforts largely due to lack of coordination between different agencies. Appropriate institutional environment does not exist in support of all activities and the government agencies, universities, research institutions and the private sector all work in isolation. Product development has been the weakest, while there is a lot of duplicated effort in the area of breeding and cultivation, although this is seldom effectively translated into practice. Ideally, most basic research would be undertaken by universities, while applied research and product development would be pursued by public-sector research institutions and industries, respectively. Such a partnership is essential to ensure that research is more focused and adequate financial support is available.

Community Participation in Research

Most NWFP research has failed to take cognizance of local technical know-how and to facilitate local innovations. Given the large number of products and the limited resources, the conventional approach focusing on a limited number of items is unlikely to enhance the level of technology. A paradigm shift is necessary to tap local initiatives and innovation. In this, researchers will act as facilitators and problem solvers. At the operational level the traditional separation between research, training and extension must disappear to facilitate regular interaction between researchers and local communities. Due recognition and reward of local initiatives will go a long way to demystify research (and researchers) and to bring scientific thinking to the grassroots level.

CONCLUSION

While there has been recognition of the immense potential of NWFPs, there are yet no indications of serious efforts to realize this. On the whole, research efforts are far from adequate and spread too thinly on several aspects, contributing to their ineffectiveness. Impressive achievements with regard to production and processing have occurred mainly for plantation crops cultivated on a large scale. Technological improvements with regard to production and processing, especially with regard to a large number of products in the subsistence sector, have been negligible. In most countries research is focused on traditional areas and products, with very little effort to develop new products and uses. Significant value addition takes place in importing countries; the benefits of this seldom trickle down to the producers.

There is an urgent need for a clear policy and a well-directed approach to research. Research capacity has to be improved, both qualitatively and quantitatively. In view of the resource constraints, priorities will have to be clearly identified and research should focus on critical high-impact areas. Linkages between institutions have to be strengthened, so that research becomes more demand driven and leads to technologies for enhanced value addition. Considering the limitations of conventional approaches, an alternative framework that provides more scope for local innovations seems necessary. Empowerment of local communities through improved access to information and technology should be a major objective of research. Mechanisms to overcome barriers to technology transfer at all levels have to be devised; otherwise the potential of NWFPs will remain unrealized.

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1/ Foresty Research Support Programe for Asia and the Pacific, FAO Regional Office, Bangkok, Thailand.

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