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Inventory and future management strategies of multipurpose tree and herb species for non-timber forest products in Nepal

S.P. Sah1 and I.C. Dutta2
1 Central Department of Botany, P.O. Box 5967, Kathmandu, Nepal
2. Institute of Forestry, P.O. Box 43, Pokhara, Nepal


Little research has been done so far in Nepal on multipurpose trees, which provide non-timber forest products (NTFP). Nepal has about 700 medicinal plant species. The high-value medicinal plants are found in the higher altitudes, mostly in the form of herbs. The lower-value medicinal plants, mostly trees, are found in the lower altitudes. This paper reviews the status of NTFP-based income generation in local communities and discusses the role of community forestry. Income generation through community forestry has been found to have both positive and negative impacts on the local community through its influence on policy-makers and forest management. The importance of indigenous knowledge in sustainable NTFPs extraction and use is also described. It is concluded that community forestry products may greatly contribute to the major sources of income generation for rural people locally.


It has never been more urgent to realize the full potential of forestry for sustainable development, both to meet the immediate and future needs of increasing populations and to provide the continuity of the natural resource base. Achievement of this goal requires a comprehensive approach in which the totality of the contributions of forest resources to society is fully appreciated. In modern times, forests have been mainly seen as a source of one product: timber. However, forests also provide a multiplicity of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), for commercial, industrial or subsistence use, such as foods, medicines, materials for handicrafts, spices, resins, gums, latexes, as well as a habitat for wildlife. These can be extracted sustainably from a forest ecosystem, in quantities and ways that do not downgrade the plant community's basic reproductive functions. From a resource manager's point of view, NTFPs offer scope for innovative variations on forestry, agriculture and forest industry practices. NTFPs also offer an opportunity to make integrated approaches to land use, such as agroforestry, still more versatile, while sustainable forestry practices can be promoted by enhancing their secondary benefits. In this way, local pressures to overharvest timber can be alleviated.

In both developed and developing countries, the utilization of NTFPs can extend the range of benefits from the forest and provide justification for their conservation. In the developing countries, enterprises based on NTFPs diversify opportunities for gainful employment and income generation, especially by disadvantaged groups of women, and therefore hold potential for rural poverty alleviation (FAO 1993). With responsible use and proper husbandry, NTFPs can support remunerative enterprises to supplement subsistence activities. It is therefore important to develop sound and sustainable means to bring NTFPs into the mainstream of modern economics, while retaining their accessibility to local communities.

In Nepal, many tree species have potential for multiple use. These can be grown to provide more than one product or service in the land-use systems they occupy (MacDicken and Lantican 1990). In homegardens in Nepal, multipurpose tree species provide many products for different purposes. However, little research has been done on their utilization for non-timber tree parts, such as bark, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds, in making products such as food, animal feed, fertilizers and chemical products. Research on the utilization of these tree parts will help to identify new uses and improve the production of already known products. Such research could pave the way for new or improved small- and large-scale enterprises that use raw materials, which would favour tree growers and help to expand markets for tree products. Research is needed that promotes the welfare of small-scale farmers and encourages large-scale industrial processing of forest products. No significant research of this type has been done so far in Nepal, even on a small scale. This paper reviews the present status of NTFPs and their future management strategies in Nepal.

Potentially important NTFPs in Nepal

Forty-four multipurpose trees for timber and from both mountain/hills and lowland regions of Nepal produce potentially important non-timber forest products (table 1). Dalbergia sissoo Roxb. ex DC has been considered the most important. It provides not only good-quality timber but also fuelwood and fodder with multiple management options. Other important species for the wood industries are Eucalyptus sp. (fibre) and Shorea robusta Gaertner f. (furniture wood), while Acacia catechu (L. f.) Willd., Cinnamomum tamala (Buch.-Ham.) Nees & Eberm, Sapindus mukorossi Gaertner, Azadirachta indica A. Juss., Daphne bholua Buch.-Ham., ex D. Don provide important non-timber forest products, as do also Shorea robusta Gaetner f. and various eucalypts. Over the last few decades, the marketing of NTFPs has gained increasing international recognition. Experience from many countries demonstrates that the collection and sale of NTFPs can provide important cash income for households. Income derived from harvesting NTFPs can be very substantial and can equal, or be in excess of, that derived from agriculture and timber. Quantification and valuation of these benefits is, however, often inadequate (Brown et al. 1993).

Role of community forestry in promotion of NTFPs

In many Asian countries, community-based NTFP can contribute significantly to the national economy and constitute major sources of income and employment. For example, in Vietnam, NTFPs are a significant component of the forestry sectors income and the Ministry of Forestry has set itself a target of exporting USD 150 million worth of NTFPs in the 5 years from 1986.

Table 1: Important multipurpose tree species of the plains and hills of Nepal

Tree species Altitude Uses
Acacia catechu* plain-900 m F, Fo, extractives
Acacia nilotica plain-500 m Fo, F, T, tanning
Acer oblongum 1200-2400 m T, Fo
Adina cordifolia plain-1800 m T, Fo
Aesandra butyracea plain-1800 m F, Fo, extractives
Ailanthus excelsa plain Fo, matches
Albizia chinensis plain-1500 m T, veneer, F
Albizia lebbek plain-1000 m T, F, Fo
Alnus nepalensis* 900-2700 m F, Fo, T
Anogeissus latifolius plain-1700 m F, T, Fo
Anthocephalus chinensis plain-1000 m veneer, pulp, Fo
Artocarpus heterophyllus plain fruit, T
Artocarpus lakoocha plain-1300 m Fo, fruit
Azadirachta indica plain-900 m F, Fo, T, extractives
Bauhinia purpurea plain-1600 m Fo, food, F
Betula alnoides* 1200-1300 m F, Fo, T, veneer
Betula utilis 2700-4300 m T, Fo, M
Cassia fistula plain-1400 m F, T, ornament
Castanopsis tribuloides 450-2300 m T, Fo, nuts
Cinnamomum camphora 1000-1200 m T, extratives
Cinnamomum tamala 1000-1200 m T, extractives
Dalbergia sissoo* plain-1400 m T, F, Fo
Daphne bholua 1800-3600 m paper
Eucalyptus sp.* plain-1800 m F, paper, M
Ficus sp. plain-2000 m Fo, fruits
Gmelina arborea plain-1200 m T, pulp, Fo, F
Grewia sp. plain-1700 m Fo, T, F, fruits
Lagerstroemia parviflora plain-1200 m T, F, Fo
Litsea sp. plain-2700 m F, Fo, fruits
Mangifera indica** plain fruits, F
Myrica esculenta 1000-2300 m fruits, M
Phyllanthus emblica plain-1500 m fruit, M, T. Fo
Pinus roxburghii 900-2000 m T, F, resin
Pinus wallichiana 1800-3600 m T, F
Prunus cerasoides* 500-2400 m F, fruit
Pyrus pashia 1300-2500 m F, fruit
Quercus sp. 450-3800 T, Fo, F
Sapindus mukorossi 600-2200 m fruit
Schima wallichii 450-2000 m F, T
Sesbania sp. plain Fo, F
Shorea robusta plain-1500 m T, F, Fo, oil
Syzygium cumini plain-1600 m F, T, Fo
Terminalia sp. plain-1500 m T, F, Fo
Zizyphus sp. plain-1600 m T, F, Fo, fruit

F = fuelwood, Fo = fodder, M = medicines, T = timber

* fast-growing MPTS used for the farmlands in Nepal

** mainly for fruits in homegarden or marginal lands

In Nepal, the experience from the Nepal-Australia Community Forestry Project (NACFP) suggests that Community Forestry can play an important role in providing local employment, NTFP promotion and local markets (Malla 1993, Jackson & Ingles 1994). At present, in the NACFP area, over 19 000 ha of plantation has been established and these plantations are capable of yielding a range of NTFPs in excess of immediate local demand.

From the Koshi Hills Project, another Community Forestry Project in eastern Nepal (Maharjan 1994), it is estimated that a net income of 62 450 Nepalese rupees(USD 1200) per annum can be generated by 1 ha of chiraita cultivation (Swertia chirata). It is strongly believed by the forest user groups that such substantial income can support their forest management programme, as well as other community welfare activities. Most of the southern parts of Koshi Hills are covered by substantial stands of chir-pine (Pinus roxburghii), which produces resins for tapping. In Dumare Sanne, one of the community forestry projects managed by the Herbal Processing and Production Company (HPPCo) is annually managing resin tapping. From this enterprise each labourer makes an income every season of NPR 5000-6000 (approx. USD 100) from resin tapping, which is a good income to these poor forest users.

Present status of medicinal products trade

The diversity of physiography caused by altitudinal and climatic variations in different areas of Nepal has greatly contributed towards a rich diversity of vegetation in different areas, representing flora of tropical, subtropical, temperate and alpine zones. The list of medicinal plants so far enumerated by the Department of Medicinal Plants of Nepal comprises well over 700 different medicinal plants, out of an estimated 7000 higher plant species.

The reputation earned by Himalayan medicinal herbs is not restricted only to the Himalayan region. On average, Nepal exports each year a wide range of crude herbs and drugs worth well over NPR 20 million (USD 400 000) per annum. The quantity per species ranges from 10 to 400 tonnes per annum (tables 2 and 3).

The main products traded from high altitudes are herbal plants of high value, for example, chiraita (Swertia chirata), cardamom (Amomum subulatum), jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi), kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa), bikh (Aconitum spicatum). The total value of medicinal products traded through Hille and Basantpur in the 1991/92 trading season was estimated to be NPR 18 180 000 (USD 350 000).

At lower altitudes, low-value medicinal products (mostly from tree species) are marketed through Lahan market (eastern terai). Over 60% of the value of this is in the bark (dalchinii) and leaf (tejpaat) of Cinnamomum tamala. The total trade amounts to about NPR 8 300 000 (USD 150 000). Unlike for the high-altitude trade, it is probable that the majority of this produce is cultivated on private land.

Table 2: The trade in high-value NTFPs from high altitudes in eastern Nepal markets, 1991/92

Plant species Weight
(t year-1)
(NPR kg-1)
(NPR year-1)
Swertia chirata (chiraita) 140 100 14,000,000
Picrorrhiza kurroa (kutki) 24 65 1,560,000
Nardostachys jatamansi (jatamansi) 30 50 1,500,000
Aconitum spicatum (bikh) 10 55 550,000
Swertia chirata (1 year old) 14 25 350,000
Others 6 - 220,000
Total     18,180,000

Source: Edwards 1994

1 USD = approx. NPR 55

It is difficult to encourage quality control or primary processing at the local level where the present markets so rarely differentiate between grades of medicinal plants extracts or raw materials.

Table 3: The trade in low-value NTFPs from low altitudes in eastern Nepal (terai) markets, 1991/92

Plant species Weight
(t year-1)
(NPR kg-1)
(NPR year-1)
Cinnamomum tamala (dalchinii) 100 28 2,800,000
C. tamala (tejpaat) 400 6 2,400,000
Asparagus recemosus (satawari) 45 40 1,800,000
Sapindus mukorossi (rittha) 100 8 800,000
Acacia consinna (sikakai) 50 10 500,000
Total 695 92 8,300,000

Source: Edwards 1994

1 USD = approx. NPR 55

Importance of indigenous knowledge of NTFP extraction and marketing

Community forestry development has existed in Nepal for about two decades-about the time it takes some trees to mature and become available for harvesting and marketing. This long time-horizon makes careful planning especially important for community-managed forest resources, if they are to benefit the community and achieve their sustainable productivity. Indigenous knowledge of local forest use patterns and practices are therefore key information on which to base decisions. Unfortunately, indigenous knowledge is not always sufficient, nor always the best for enhancing NTFP productivity, but it can provide a critical point of departure, on which scientific forest management systems can be based. Development policy-makers and forest managers therefore need to recognize the nature of indigenous knowledge about NTFPs and balance this with scientific knowledge when developing their management plans of community systems. Unfortunately, support for studies on indigenous knowledge is still lacking in Nepal.

At the same time, it is apparent that villagers and middlemen do not know enough about resource growth and marketing to make best use of existing opportunities for NTFP development. Evidence from many countries of the existence of indigenous management systems (Clark 1995, Fisher 1989) has revealed that local community management can indeed `work' sustainably. So, well-trained community forestry developers are needed to extend useful knowledge to local communities about NTFP planning and management.

The knowledge base about modified NTFPs, their cultivation, processing and marketing whether from indigenous, technical, scientific or economic sources, is lacking in Nepal. Of the medicinal plants harvested in Nepal, only a small proportion is consumed in the domestic market; most of the plants are exported to India and neighbouring countries. Ayurvedic medicines processed in India, partly based on Nepalese NTFP resources, are then imported again. Processing could just as well be done in Nepal, saving valuable foreign exchange and encouraging better local resource management.

Potential effects of income generation through commercialization of NTFPs

Potential effects on central policy of commercializing NTFPs locally may be either positive or negative with regard to forest management and biodiversity, through its effects on policy-makers, politicians and local communities (including forest user groups and individual collectors).

Effects on policy

Belief that community forestry is oriented toward meeting subsistence needs may explain why central policy-makers have transferred forest management responsibilities from government field staff to user groups. If this is true, it can be hoped that these policy-makers will make a further paradigm shift and help user groups exercise a much broader range of forest management options, especially those involving risks and surrounded by uncertainty. Policy-makers, however, lack resource information and effective monitoring systems within the forestry agencies of developing countries. Thus there is the danger that schemes that increase income generation may provoke policy-makers to restrain the development of community forestry through overregulation of user group, and control over them. Such overregulation could threaten the viability of commercial community forestry activities. Examples of overregulation include the need to obtain approval to sell or transfer the products outside local markets. Such examples are common in Nepal.

Effects on rural community

When forest user groups generate cash, rather than just providing forest products for their own consumption, several problems may arise. For example, there are several options as to how to distribute the cash, and these user groups are faced with politically complex decision-making. The user groups must agree upon a socially acceptable disbursement of cash and then implement the disbursement in such a way that the cohesion of the user group is maintained. Such decisions will be difficult where there are likely to be differences of opinion in the community as to how the disbursement should be done.

Effects on forest management systems

Income-generation objectives can result in decisions to select tree-based production systems that reduce the viability of systems important to a subgroup of users. In Nepal, for example, women wanting to grow fodder were disadvantged when the men of the community decided to maximize income generation by producing timber. Within the community, therefore, all special-interest groups should be consulted, to reduce the potential for conflict or inequitable decision-making about common resources.

Effects on biodiversity

In many areas of Nepal where community forestry has been to some extent successful, there has been a decrease in the rate of forest degradation and an increase in the quality of natural forests. Jackson & Ingles (1994) have reported that the majority of plantations in the community forestry sites can, in the long-term, be converted into natural forests, if the user-groups promote the return of naturally regenerating species through appropriate silvicultural practices. Under these circumstances, well-managed community forestry can contribute both to the economy and to the enhancement of biodiversity values of these forests.

Management strategies for income generation through NTFPs

The multipurpose trees most preferred by farmers in Asia (including Nepal) are those that produce food as well as other products. However, local communities should also be informed about the full range of non-timber values of trees, so that they can be encouraged to plant them in agroforestry systems.

The following management strategies should be followed for multipurpose tree improvement:

enhance ecological and silvicultural knowledge (such as site requirements, growth rates, and management practices) of suitable trees through research

initiate regionally coordinated research on the utilization of NTFPs and identify new uses and improved production methods for already known products.

develop cost-effective processing technologies for non-timber forest products

assess the economic potential of utilizing non-wood parts of various multipurpose trees

identify and develop effective enterprises for utilizing NTFPs

motivate extension services for promotion of NTFPs

develop policy reforms to promote the wise use of NTFPs

The following sequence of events should be followed when developing natural resources for the income generation in community development programmes:

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It is clear that trees are important for many products in addition to timber, fuelwood and fodder, and that some of these products may be more valuable than the timber or alternative agricultural land uses.

It is clear that community forestry has the capacity to generate substantial economic benefits for local communities. However, sustaining both the income and the forest depends on the addressing a range of socioeconomic, political and institutional issues. The lack of a conceptual framework for addressing these issues is frequently a constraint when designing appropriate forms of intervention so that both government policy objectives and local community development objectives are met.

To establish markets that will enhance the development of small-scale production systems for NTFPs, foresters and planners have to understand relationships between local and outside markets.

Future research for income generation from NTFPs from multipurpose trees must consider the following:

local indigenous knowledge in NTFP utilization and management

the ecological impacts of NTFP extraction

silvicultural techniques of multipurpose trees

the collection of quantitative data throughout the year to assess seasonality of production

the analysis and evaluation of the role of marketing cooperatives

the development of appropriate small-scale processing technologies and enterprises

monitoring equity by gender and subgroup in decision-making and sharing of benefits, rights and responsibility


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Edwards D.M. 1994. Research into the collection and trade of Jaributi from Middle Hills of Nepal: the Koshi Hills. p 4-18. In: Focus on Jaributi., ed. M. D. Edwards. Kathmandu, Nepal.

FAO. 1993. More than wood. Forestry Topics Report No. 4. FAO, Rome. 52 p.

Fisher R.J. 1989. Indigenous systems of common property forest management in Nepal. Working Paper No. 18. Environment and Policy Institute, East-West Centre, Honolulu, USA.

Jackson W.J. & Ingles A.W. 1994. Developing rural community and conserving the biodiversity of Nepal through community forestry. Paper presented at RECOFTC Regional Seminar, Income Generation through Community Forestry, 18-20 October 1995, Bangkok, Thailand.

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Malla Y.B. 1993. Changing role of the forest resource market: an ignored dimension of community forestry. Ban Ko Jankari 4(1):28-31.

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