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5. Policy and institutional aspects

I. Kone (chair)
P. Rudebjer (rapporteur)
M. Iqbal
W. de Jong
F. Nwonwu
T. Tomich
A. Mahapatra
C.S. Olsen


While a number of studies have been conducted on NTFP issues, very few address markets, policies and institutional aspects. Available studies are usually confined to a single commodity or a group of commodities, and in a specific geographic and cultural setting. There is an urgent need to review available studies to draw general conclusions on market, policy and institutional aspects. Particularly there is a shortage of studies on domestication and commercialization of NTFPs in relation to-


As interest in non-timber forest products is relatively new, many issues requiring research arise, for example-

Much information exists, but it is not systematized. There is a need for creation and collation of databases to support decision-making. There is an urgent need for creating a monitoring network for collaboration among governments, NGOs, the private sector and international organizations. This collaboration should take place at different levels: national, regional and international. These efforts should involve a three-step approach: identification of issues; decisions on what to do; and decisions on how to do it (collaboration, coordination and implementation).

Dissemination of information

Given the breadth of research areas and the site specificity of conditions, coordination of research and sharing of results are necessary. Information dissemination is crucial. The FAO newsletter is an important tool for communication, but it needs to be published more often. There is a need to identify the relevant institutions at international, regional, subregional and national levels, and to encourage collaboration. Collaboration needs a leader. ICRAF is a leading organization in the tropics, but who is leading in the subtropics and in the temperate forest regions? The International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO) and other relevant organizations also could play an important role in coordination. IUFRO, for example, already has member institutions at the national level which are very active. There is a range of channels already existing that can aid in sharing research findings. These include conventional extension organizations, NGOs, the private sector and community leaders. National agroforestry coordinating committees can be used to address NTFP issues. In some cases national level NTFP networks also exist. Many actors are dealing with NTFPs: WHO, IUCN, WWF, UNICEF, etc. A small working party would be very useful in identifying the role of the different involved organizations. Lack of workable arrangements for intellectual property rights, however, can be a barrier to sharing information.

Benefits from domestication

It is necessary that the domestication of non-timber tree species in agroforestry systems benefit both the farmer and the environment. Although benefits cannot be ensured completely, prospects for success can be improved. To start, there must be no policy barriers that discriminate against smallholder farmers. Many different actors control different aspects of domestication and commercialization. Researchers have certain roles to play as well as farmers and traders. Since they often operate in isolation, it is necessary to establish mechanisms for the exchange of information among these actors. In such a way farmers can respond better to markets and be kept aware of advances in domestication.

Keeping the improved livelihoods of farmers and environmental conservation in mind, ICRAF, in partnership with NARs, NGOs and other institutions, should identify research needs and carry out appropriate research-for example, identifying the potential NTFPs for each country. Through collaboration with farmers and governments, ICRAF could provide tools and information to respond to their development needs. CIFOR and ICRAF should jointly convene a workshop focusing on case studies, such as farm studies in different ecological zones. Such studies could contribute to pilot projects to address how domestication would work under farmer's conditions and what would be the environmental externalities. A result of such research should be the production of guidelines for the domestication of NTFPs, for example, what is to be taken into account and how the farmer will benefit.

The concept of domestication involves genetic improvement and cultivation of the species in an agroecosystem. Objectives of domestication are to alleviate poverty, to raise people's incomes, and to provide food security. Genetic erosion is a threat to domestication, but domestication can also conserve a species (with a reduced gene pool). There is therefore a need for parallel efforts towards both in-situ and ex-situ conservation. Moreover, domestication could contribute to biodiversity conservation by reducing pressures for the exploitation of natural forests. The beneficiaries for domestication and commercialization are smallholder farmers, traders and processors.


Investments in domestication have to pay off; therefore, research should target products and species that are economically viable at the commercial level. There is a need to distinguish commodities with a local or national and a regional or international market. But in both cases information about price, market, etc., is necessary. It is also important to analyse the business environment for NTFPs compared with alternative possibilities such as agricultural crops. We do not know much about NTFP markets, and perhaps we can learn from the agricultural sector, for instance about launching a commodity in the market.

There is a relationship between the costs of domestication and the appropriate technical level. Domestication can be associated with value-adding activities in a wide sense, for instance, processing at local level-but is processing a necessary part of domestication? Processing and quality issues can create development, but there are also costs involved in processing and increased quality that need to be considered.

Domestication will create new labour opportunities depending on what is domesticated and the extent of domestication. The implications of changes in labour allocation should be monitored and evaluated-for example, what labour quality (skilled and unskilled) and quality is demanded, how different groups are affected, and how gender issues are taken into account.

Institutional constraints

Legal and other institutional hurdles exist that impede the domestication process-for example, trees of some species are always government property regardless of where they grow. Clarification of land and tree tenure is important. The level of clarity differs according to ownership category. Private ownership poses no problems; however, problems may exist at clan, communal or public level that need to be addressed by research and development. Such hurdles should be identified and removed to provide a legal basis for production and marketing of NTFPs. Standards and agreements for international trade (GATT, ISO, etc.) should be clarified for NTFP producers. Artificial protection does not work. Also, how will structural adjustment programmes affect NTFPs? Southeast Asia is experiencing success as a result of a freer market environment. Genetic and intellectual property rights, as well as licensing of improved varieties, are increasingly serious issues.

Policy making

The benefits of removing bad policies can be considerable; for example, developing countries cannot afford to support many subsidies. For each market, there may be specific barriers that policy-makers should focus on removing. Policies should focus on public goods, research and extension, information (about price, markets), and infrastructure (roads).

Some specific support systems might be needed to aid participation by the poorest people, but there was no consensus in the group on how to do this effectively. Providing credit facilities can help avoid dependence on middlemen.


Capacity building is important at different levels for success of domestication and commercialization. Farmers, depending on their objectives, need training in a variety of areas from germplasm conservation and propagation techniques to business management and market information systems. Universities and specialized institutions play an important role in developing products. They need qualified staff for this endeavour. Training of extensionists on NTFPs is also needed. Policy-makers and decision-makers also need to be kept informed of the latest advances in domestication and commercialization.

The World Food Summit will be an important policy forum. Considering the role that NTFPs can play in maintaining and improving food security, it was recommended that NTFPs be recognized during the summit.


The policy and institutional aspects of both the domestication and the commercialization of NTFPs are crucial for the realization of social benefits in the form of food security, poverty alleviation and employment as well as environmental benefits.

Conference recommendation to FAO

During the Domestication and Commercialization of Non-Timber Forest Products for Agroforestry Systems Conference, 19-23 February 1996, the delegates made the following recommendation:

recognizing that Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) have played a traditional role in the feeding of people throughout the tropics;

recognizing that NTFP play an important role in food security, especially in dry years;

recognizing that NTFP play a crucial role in the health and nutrition of people in the tropical countries;

recognizing that the sale of NTFP allows people the freedom to purchase essential inputs in support of agriculture;

recognizing that through domestication, as defined by Leakey and Newton (1994), many NTFP can be improved qualitatively and quantitatively to be more attractive to farmers, more marketable and so to contribute to the alleviation of malnutrition and poverty . . .

This conference recommends that FAO include edible non-timber forest products, and their domestication, on the agenda of the forthcoming World Food Summit.


Leakey R.R.B. & Newton A.C. 1994. Domestication of tropical trees for timber and non-timber products. MAB Digest 17. UNESCO, Paris. 94 p.

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