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Non-wood forest products in Myanmar


The role of non-wood forest products in Myanmar
Discussion and conclusion


Khin Maung Lwin
Lecturer, Department of Forest Products
Institute of Forestry

The Union of Myanmar remains well endowed with forests and vegetation cover. About half of the total land area (676,777 square kilometers) is covered with forests. These are public forests and are classified either as Reserved Forests or Unclassed Forests. Table 1 summarises the distribution of forests and other land uses in Myanmar. Although the Reserved Forests have legal protection, the government allows rural communities to use the products of Unclassed Forests, except for certain protected plant and animal species.

Table 1. Land use in Myanmar

Land Use

Area

(Million hectares)

(percent of total area)

Forests




Reserved

10.20

15


Unclassed

23.70

35

Agriculture




Cultivated area

8.00

12


Fallow land

2.10

3


Additional arable land

8.40

12

Other land

15.30

23

Total country area

67.70

100

In Myanmar, forest products are generally divided into commercial and minor forest produce. Minor forest produce is defined as "all kinds of forest produce other than timber and firewood." This includes animals, vegetables, and mineral products.

The role of non-wood forest products in Myanmar

For rural communities, NWFPs are probably more important than timber or other forest products. They depend on NWFPs for subsistence and for trade. The Forest Department counts the following NWFPs for trade purposes: bamboo, cane (rattan), cutch, tanning bark, straw (bast), karamet, indwe/pwenyet, thanatkha, hpala, kanyin oil, roofing materials, te, honey, beeswax, bat guano, thitsi, edible birds' nests, lac, orchids, bomayaza, and pine resin. Recent annual production figures for these products are given in table 2.

Myanmar's NWFPs can be divided into 13 groups according to their nature and uses:

1. Bamboo
2. Cane (rattan)
3. Tanning bark
4. Shaw (bast)
5. Scented wood and bark
6. Gum, resin and oleo-resin
7. Spice
8. Roofing material
9. Dyeing material
10. Animal products
11. Medicinal plants
12. Edible products
13. Other miscellaneous products

Table 2. Annual production of selected NWFPs in Myanmar, 1992-1995

Product

Units

1992/93

1993/94

1994/95 (provisional)

Bamboo

culms

157,283

153,140

153,620

Cane

pieces

64.997

65,860

62,790

Cutch

kg

271,800

189,750

198,479

Tanning bark

kg

812,250

896,700

903,150

Shaw (Bast)

kg

73,950

73,350

105,000

Karamet

kg

55,500

22,500

24,000

Indwe/Pwenyet

kg

650,030

876,875

929,925

Thanatkha

kg

438,750

439,500

442,050

Hpala

kg

9,225

7,920

7,950

Kanyin oil

kg

7,650

9,150

9,900

Roofing material

pieces

92,596

95,165

104,884

Te

kg

18,000

18,000

10,500

Honey

kg

35,800

36,400

28,710

Beeswax

kg

2,198

2,018

2,018

Bat guano

kg

232,575

234,300

265,650

Edible birds' nests

kg

923

923

1,740

Lac

kg

50,700

227,700

228,900

Orchids

number

32,500

19,500

30,000

Bomayaza

kg

7,650

7,050

9,000

Thitsi

kg

40,200

34,650

48,000

Pine resin

kg

579,750

522,000

385,800

Source: Forest Department, Myanmar.

Bamboo

Bamboos are the most important NWFPs in Myanmar. About 100 species grow in large quantities throughout the country. They major construction materials, particularly in rural areas, and can be used for almost all parts of houses, including posts, roofs, walls, floors, beams, trusses, and fences.

People also use bamboo to make mats, baskets, tool handles, hats, traditional toys, musical instruments, umbrellas, and furniture. In addition, bamboo shoots are edible and pickled-bamboo shoots are becoming very popular. As an industrial raw material, bamboo is commonly used in Myanmar by pulp and paper mills.

The most common bamboo species in Myanmar are kyathaung (Bambusa polymorpha), tin (Cephalostachyum pergracile), myin (Dendrocalmus strictus), kayin (Melocanna bambusoides), thana (Thyrsostachys oliveri), thaik (Bambusa tulda), wabo (Dendrocolmus brandisii), wabo-myetsangye (D hamiltoni), waphyu (D. membranaceus), and wagok (Oxytenanthera albo-ciliata).

Canes or rattans

About 36 species of canes or rattans grow in swampy areas of semi-evergreen and evergreen forests in Myanmar. The commonly used species are kyet-u-kyein (Calamus platyspathus) , yamata-kyein (C. latifolius), kabaung-kyein (C. longisetus), ye-kyein (C. floribundus), kyein-bok (C. myrianthus), and thaing-kyein (C. erectus).

Canes are used in log-rafting as binding materials, and in small-scale enterprises which produce furniture, baskets, handicrafts, mats, etc. Raw canes and finished products have been exported since Myanmar changed to a market economy. This should produce more employment opportunities in collecting, processing and trading canes. However, poor knowledge and technology in processing, and limited experience in trading, mean that most canes are exported unprocessed at lower prices.

Tanning barks

Myanmar forests contain many tree species yielding tanning barks. Ngushwe (Cassia fistula), tanaung (Acacia leucophloea) and some mangrove species of the family Rhizophoraceae are the most important ones used for leather tanning. With the recent expansion of the leather industry, there is great demand for tanning barks.

Shaw (bast)

The people of Myanmar have traditionally used the straw (bast) of some plants for tying materials. Although urban people now use synthetic rope, rural people still use traditional plant fibres. Ropes made of the fibre best collected in the forests are essential for domestic and farming activities in rural areas. Myanmar's famous traditional mats, called "thinbyu," are woven with the best of thin (Clinogyne dichotoma). As a by-product, its inner portions can be used as string. The families Sterculiaceae and Tiliaceae include good fibre-yielding plants which grow widely in Myanmar. The most important species for rope-making are shaw-ni (Sterculia villosa), shaw-gulu (S. urens), letpan-shaw (S. foetida), don-straw (S. ornata) and tayaw (Grewia spp.).

Scented woods and barks

Scented woods, including karamet (Mansonia gagei), nanthani (Pterocarpus santalinus), santagu (Santalum album), taungtan-gyi (Premna integrifolia), and thit-hmwe (Aquilaria agallocha), are used in fragrances, scented sticks and medicines. These species are rare in natural forests and consequently very expensive.

The bark and wood of thanatkha (Hesperethusa caenulata) are yellowish and scented. They are the most popular traditional cosmetics in Myanmar and are a very important part of Myanmar culture. Because of increasing cosmetics manufacturing, thanatkha is in great demand and prices are high.

Gums, resins and oleo-resins

Gums, resins and oleo-resins are exuded products obtained from some of Myanmar's forest trees. The collection and processsing of these products provide employment, additional income and traditional household items for the rural people. The most common species which yield these products are discussed below.

Thitsi (Melanorrhoea usitata)

These trees grow in dry dipterocarp forests and yield a black resin called "thitsi," which is useful for lacquer work, coating surfaces that are to be gilded, coating baskets and bamboo sieves, caulking boats and varnishing.

Pines (Pinus spp.)

Myanmar has two notable native pine species (Pinus kesiya and P merkusii). A distillation plant in Chin State uses their resins to produce rosin and turpentine, which are used in making polish, paints and medicines.

Kanyin (Dipterocarpus alatus and D. tubinatus)

Kanyin can be tapped for a kind of wood oil (oleo-resin) which rural people use for making torches, caulking boats and preserving woods. It is also a raw material for manufacturing paint, varnish and medicines

Subyu (Acacia arabica)

The gum of subyu trees is similar to gum arable. People collect the gum during hot weather and use it in indigenous medicines, food, dyeing and painting cloth.

Spices

In Myanmar, people usually enjoy their meals with rice and a variety of curries. Therefore, spices are essential in Myanmar's kitchens and culture. The forests provide many spices, not only for domestic use, but also for export. Some important species include:

· Hpala (cardamons) (Elettaria cardamomum).
· Ngayok-kaung (black pepper) (Piper nigrum)
· Peikchin (long pepper) (P. longum)
· Karawe (Cinnamomum spp.)

Roofing materials

One of the most important NWFPs is roofing thatch made of leaves. A variety of roofing materials is available in the forests. Common roofing materials are thetke (Imperata cylindrica), dani (Nypa fruticans), salu (Licuala peltata), in (Dipterocarpus tuberculatus) and taung-htan (Livistona spp.). The collection, processing and trading of these materials are generally part-time, income-producing activities for rural people.

Dyeing materials

Many natural dye-yielding plants grow in Myanmar's forests. Although synthetic dyes have been introduced in the textile industry to replace these natural dyes, the rural people still use them for certain purposes. The most important dye-yielding plant species are:

· Meyaing (Indigofera spp.): grows throughout Myanmar and is most popular for dyeing fabrics black. It is especially used in cottage textile industries in the Yaw region.

· Pauk (Butea monosperma): flowers are used to dye fabrics yellow, orange and red.

· Megyi (Strobilanthes flaccidifolius): a shrub which yields blue dye; grows in Upper Myanmar.

· Pein-ne (Artocarpus heterophyllus): bark is famous for dyeing Buddhist monks' robes.

· Nibase (Morinda spp.): roots produce good red and yellow dyes; common in the dry zones.

· Tein-nyet (Caesalpinia sappan): wood yields a well-known red dye; quite valuable.

· Te (Diospyros burmanica), common, medium-sized tree which grows in central Myanmar; dye from its fruits is used for dyeing traditional umbrellas and fishing nets.

Animal products

Myanmar's forests have a variety of wildlife including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. The rural people hunt them for food and to earn extra cash. Such animals are their major protein supplement. The animals also provide many valuable trade products, such as lac, edible birds' nests, honey and beeswax, bat guano, hides, bones and horn.

Lac

Lac is a resinous substance secreted by lac insects (Kerria lacca). It is used in the manufacture of shellac, polish and varnish, electrical goods, printing inks, sealing wax, dyes, cosmetics and medicine. The quality of lac depends on the species of host tree. The best host trees in Myanmar are pauk (Butea monosperma), gyo (Schleichera oleosa), zi (Zizyphus jujuba), thinbaw-koko (Samanea saman) and ingyin (Shorea siamensis).

Edible birds' nests

These nests are composed of a white gelatinous substance secreted by the salivary glands of the grey rumped swiftlet (Collocalia inexpectata). They are obtained from natural caves in the Myeik archipelago and on some islands off the Pathein coast. They are very precious and used in indigenous Chinese tonics. The nests are collected only by licensed traders under control of the Forest Department. They produce good foreign exchange earnings.

Wild honey and beeswax

Harvesting honey from natural bee-hives in the forests is profitable for rural people. People prefer wild honey to the honey from the hives of bee-keepers. It is used for preparing food stuffs and in Myanmar's indigenous medicines. Two of the commonest honey-bees in Myanmar, Apis indica and A. dorsata, are found throughout Myanmar.

Bat guano

In rocky, mountainous areas of Myanmar, large quantities of bats live together in natural caves. Their guano is collected and used as a natural fertilizer, which can give high crop yields at low costs.

Hides, bones, horns, etc.

Rural people make good money selling products such as hide, bones and horns from forests animals. The hides of some animals are in great demand for the leather industry. Bones and horns are used for handicraft production and to decorate living rooms.

According to their customs and beliefs, some tribes keep and wear some parts of the bones, horns and hides.

Medicinal plants

Most rural people use traditional indigenous medicines made from a variety of medicinal plants. The indigenous medicines are cheap and efficient in curing some diseases. Today, the Myanmar Medical Research Department and the pharmaceutical industry have upgraded various indigenous medicines, resulting in a high demand for medicinal plants to use as raw materials. Some prominent medicinal plants from Myanmar's forests are bomayaza (Rauwolfia serpentina), subyu (Acacia arabica), hnaw (Adina cordifolia), banbwe (Careya arborea), zibyu (Emblica officinalis), nalingyaw (Litsaea lancifolia), ondon (L. glutinosa), taw-shauk (Citrus medica) and pwegaing (Cassia angustifolia).

Edible plant products

Most rural dwellers who live near forests rely on edible plant products, such as buds, leaves, flowers, fruits, tubers, corms and shoots that are obtained in the forests. Edible mushrooms and fungi are a seasonal food of the forests. Forest foods provide nutrients and cash income for rural people.

Other miscellaneous forest products

Other NWFPs available in the forests of Myanmar include indwe/pwenyet, orchids, cutch and others.

Indwe/pwenyet

Indwe is a product of in (Dipterocarpus tuberculatus), ingyin (Shorea siamensis) and thitya (S. oblongifolia), which all grow widely in indaing (dry dipteocarp) forests. Pwenyet is a kind of dammar, produced by small stingless bees of the genus Melipona. Both these products are used for caulking boats and water containers. They are essential for people living in delta areas and along rivers. Rural people earn money by collecting these products in their spare time.

Orchids

About 840 species of orchids have been identified and can be collected throughout Myanmar. Some well-known orchids are highly valuable and are exported to earn foreign exchange.

Cutch

Cutch is a water extract from the heartwood of she (Acacia caetechu), which grows in dry areas of Myanmar. It is used as a dye and a preservative for fishing nets and canvas. The people enjoy chewing betel with katha, which is separated from cutch. Cutch also contains tannic acid and can be used as a tannin.

Discussion and conclusion

NWFPs, were not previously considered to be as important as wood products, although NWFPs have produced good export earnings in Myanmar's recent past (see table 3). Although they contribute revenue to the country and also provide income-generation opportunities for forest dwellers, they have had a low economic profile.

Table 3. Recent export quantities of selected NWFPs.

Product

Units

1992/93

1993/94

Jan-Aug, 1994

Bamboo

culms

189,168

37,166

98,500

Bamboos (split)

bundles

20,200

-

-

Bamboos (peels)

bundles

415,000

-

-

Canes

pieces

2,681,404

856,415

526,033

Thitgyabo

kg

2,570,124

298,450

135,486

Cutch

kg

172,413

217,145

116,582

Nanthaphyu

kg

22,446

5,742

-

Lac

kg

-

23

-

Edible birds' nest

kg

-

1,418

608

Ondon bark

kg

-

13,770

22,410

Thitsi

kg

470

2,343

-

Indwe

kg

-

64,500

191,481

Orchid

number

30

47

-

Taungnangyi

kg

-

474

-

Karamet

kg

7,500

-

-

Pine rosin

kg

-

-

18,375

Kinpwin-thi

kg

-

-

9,000

Source: Forest Department, Yangon Division.

The major impediment to the greater exploitation of NWFPs may be a lack of knowledge of their value. For example, although bamboo is normally treated as "poor man's timber," it is now generating export earnings for the country. With the scarcity of raw materials for pulp and paper factories in neighbouring countries, the future of bamboo as a raw material for making paper and rayon is very promising. Since the rural poor have easy access to bamboo forests, the development of the industry could provide them with additional employment opportunities in cutting, collecting, and processing bamboo.

Likewise, rattan is an important foreign exchange earner today. However, rattan has generally been exported as a raw material or as semi-finished products. This is nationally less beneficial than exporting higher valueadded products. With suitable training in processing and treatment, cottage industries could be promoted which would provide job opportunities for the rural poor and improve their social well-being.

These examples show that there is ample incentive to improve the development and use of NWFPs in Myanmar. This can be accomplished by training rural communities to produce forest products of higher value, thereby generating job opportunities and better incomes.

Thus, the Forest Department is currently engaged in rural development through community participation for the socioeconomic well-being of rural communities. Satisfactory results achieved from the pilot Kinda Dam project (a rural development and conservation project), will encourage the extension of similar projects into dry and delta areas.

New processing techniques and market promotion are essential for the development of NWFPs in Myanmar. The Forest Research Institute and the Institute of Forestry will participate in research promoting the use of NWFPs, either locally or jointly with interested agencies in the Asia-Pacific Region. Acquiring up-to-date text-books, periodicals, well-equipped laboratories, and adequate budget allocations are extremely important for the success of these research studies. Strengthening the two institutions through external funding agencies is necessary to promote NWFPs, rural community development and forest conservation, all of which will help improve the well-being of the rural poor.

Bamboo furniture is a popular product of central Myanmar.


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