Non-wood forest products (NWFPs) have been vitally important to forest-dwellers and rural communities for centuries. Local people collect, process and market bamboo, rattan, beedi (Diospyros melanoxylon) leaves, resins, gums, lac, oil seeds, essential oils, medicinal herbs, and tanning materials. Rural communities also draw upon forests for food such as honey, mushrooms, fruits, nuts, tubers, leaves, bush meat, and numerous other forest foods.
Although foresters never completely ignored NWFPs, for decades their management received only secondary or tertiary attention relative to timber management. Increased concern over the degradation and loss of forests in recent years, however, has brought new attention to NWFPs. NWFPs are increasingly being seen as offering new alternatives to timber extraction, forest conversion, and more destructive forms of forest exploitation.
Recognizing that successful conservation of forests will depend on developing alternatives or complements to timber harvesting in many areas, conservation-minded foresters and scientists are "rediscovering" the non-timber products of the forest. Renewed emphasis is being placed on managing forests for a multitude of products to directly benefit those people whose actions might otherwise destroy the forest. Multi-purpose forest management is being complemented with improvements in the processing, marketing, and commercialization of NWFPs. New forest policies and strategies are likewise being promulgated to enhance the development of NWFPs.
FAO has recently stepped up its support for the development of NWFPs by improving data collection, compiling case studies on the successful management of NWFPs, facilitating information dissemination, organizing workshops and consultations, and formulating new projects related to NWFP development. This publication is a product of FAO's enhanced attention to this long-neglected area of forestry. It contains reports describing the status, management, and importance of NWFPs in eleven Asian countries. These reports should be useful in supporting the efforts of foresters, conservationists, and rural development workers in helping local communities increase their benefits from nearby forests.
A.Z.M. Obaidullah Khan
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative of FAO