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Foresters, ecologists, and other conservationists are increasingly recognizing the multiple values and benefits provided by the world's forests. New respect is emerging for the numerous ecological functions and economic possibilities offered by forests. This thinking is exemplified by recent reorientation of policies embracing holistic forest management, ecosystem management, ecological forest management, and other broad-based sustainable management concepts. Consistent with this reorientation is a renewed emphasis on non-wood forest products (NWFPs) and services.

Recognition and respect for the non-timber values of forests has long existed in the minds of people traditionally living in, and around, the forests of Asia and the Pacific. Non-wood forest products have been vitally important to forest-dwellers and rural communities in the region for centuries. Until recently, however, their use has been largely confined to meeting subsistence needs. The situation is now changing rapidly, as increasing attention is being directed toward the economic potential of non-wood forest resources.

As part of FAO's strategy to foster balanced and sustainable forest management, the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has recently expanded its support for the development of NWFPs by improving data collection, compiling case studies on successful management of non-wood forest resources, facilitating information dissemination, organizing workshops and consultations, and formulating new projects related to NWFP development.

In support of these efforts, FAO convened a regional consultation on non-wood forest products, in Bangkok, Thailand, in late 1994. The consultation was pivotal in looking beyond the biological and management aspects of NWFPs, traditionally considered paramount to forest managers. Notably, the meeting spotlighted the social, economic, and cultural dimensions of NWFPs that are so crucial to the people who live in, and around, forests. It was particularly successful in drawing together a highly diverse assembly of specialists from government agencies and non-governmental organizations, each reflecting unique interests, philosophies, and perspectives. The meeting produced a valuable set of recommendations and an extraordinary collection of papers highlighting social, economic, and cultural issues and experiences in NWFP development.

FAO is pleased to publish and disseminate these valuable papers along with a summary report of the regional consultation. These proceedings provide practical information and perspectives that will be useful to foresters, conservationists, and rural development workers in their efforts to improve forest management and enhance the benefits local people derive from forests.

A.Z.M. Obaidullah Khan
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative of FAO

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