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Summary report of FAO regional expert consultation on non-wood forest products: social, economic and cultural dimensions

Consultation results
Major issues identified
Risks of NWFP development

28 November - 2 December, 1994
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Bangkok, Thailand

Seventy-two men and women met for a Regional Expert Consultation on Non-Wood Forest Products: Social, Economic and Cultural Dimensions, 28 November - 2 December, 1994, in Bangkok. Participants came from more than 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Resource specialists from North America, Europe, and Africa brought valuable perspectives from other parts of the world to the meeting. Participation by women, NGO representatives, and non-foresters was particularly strong. In addition to foresters, participants included sociologists, economists, marketing experts, buyers of forest products, researchers, product development specialists, rural development officers, pharmacists, and lawyers.


The objectives of the consultation were to:

· review the status of non-wood forest product development throughout the Asia-Pacific region, with particular emphasis on the social, economic, and cultural aspects of non-wood forest products;

· facilitate the exchange of information and sharing of experiences on non-wood forest products development among participating countries;

· develop a base of information and specific recommendations for use by Asia-Pacific representatives at the Global Expert Consultation on Non-Wood Forest Products in Indonesia, in January, 1995; and

· develop specific proposals and action recommendations for support of non-wood forest products development at regional and national levels.

Consultation results

Twenty-eight technical papers were presented in three separate sessions devoted to the social, economic, and cultural aspects of non-wood forest product development. Briefings on the activities of seven organizations (including FAO) were presented in a fourth session on institutional support for non-wood forest product development.

A one-day field visit was made to the Thailand Royal Forest Department's nonfood Forest Products Experiment Station and private bamboo shoot plantations and processing facilities. An exhibit of dozens of non-wood forest products and photographs was on display for the week of the meeting.

The consultation highlighted several successful or promising non-wood forest products initiatives including efforts to develop markets for forest nuts in the Solomon Islands, preserves and jams made from forest fruits in the Philippines, ecotourism in Fiji, medicinal plans in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, rattan in Malaysia, and others.

Marketing and trade specialists provided advice to consultation participants on how to improve linkages between rural producers of non-wood forest products and consumers through efficient and viable market mechanisms. Similarly, legal specialists provided guidance on ways to protect people's rights of access to increasingly valuable non-wood forest resources.

Major issues identified

Participants in the consultation identified several major issues related to the development of non-wood forest products, including:

· uncertainty over resource sustainability;

· lack of information about the NWFP resource base;

· inadequate local control and participation in resource management and decision making;

· lack of information on current and future demand for NWFPs;

· inequitable distribution of benefits derived from NWFP exploitation;

· inefficiency of marketing systems due to a lack of information, incomplete market analyses, lack of credit availability, inadequate transportation and storage systems, weak management capability, and inappropriate government policies and regulations;

· lack of clearly defined resource tenure and access rights;

· weak implementation of laws and regulations governing NWFP extraction;

· lack of emphasis on NWFPs on the part of forest management agencies;

· improper or incomplete valuation of NWFPs vis-a-vis timber resources; and

· implications of moving from subsistence-based cultures to greater dependence on the cash economy.

Risks of NWFP development

Consultation participants recognized that accelerated development of non-wood forest products entails several risks. Most important among these are the risks of over-exploiting resources, competitive exclusion of the poor as the demand (and therefore the price) for NWFPs increases, boom-and-bust cycles resulting from erratic production and demand patterns, over-dependence on single-product markets, and threats to traditional cultures from reorientation away from subsistence lifestyles toward cash economies.


Despite the diversity of the meeting's participants, the group developed a surprisingly solid consensus on the need for local community control and management of non-wood forest resources. This was perhaps the singly most important conclusion and agreement emerging from the consultation.

Based on resource papers, technical presentations, working group sessions, and general discussions, the consultation made several recommendations. They are summarized as follows:

Policy recommendations

1. Wherever possible, communities should be given rights and authorities to protect and manage local resources by, and for, themselves.

2. Countries and institutions should establish policies and enact laws that provide local communities with management capability (e.g., through training, information, and credit) and incentives for long-term sustainable management of non-wood forest products.

3. Agencies with jurisdiction over, or financial interests in, forest resources, should promulgate mission statements and plans to proclaim and strengthen their commitment to stewardship of non-wood forest products and partnership with local resource users.

4. For purposes of monitoring, regulating, and taxing, differentiation should be made between natural (collected) non-wood forest products and those which are planted or cultivated. Exploitation of natural non-wood forest should be carefully monitored and limited to sustainable levels. Propagation of endangered plants should be encouraged.

5. FAO should revisit Resolution No. 8 (1983) concerning the common heritage of genetic resources with a view toward ensuring that local knowledge and local efforts to conserve and develop non-wood forest products, especially medicinal plants, are appropriately valued and compensated.

Management recommendations

1. Non-wood forest product considerations should not treated apart from broader forest management activities, but rather should be integrated with a wide range of projects and activities.

2. Forest management agencies should begin a process that will lead to greater emphasis on non-wood forest products in forest management strategies. In some countries this process will be slow, involving task forces, consultations, and research. In other countries the process may depend upon decisions by a relatively small number of individuals and can be accomplished quickly. Process aside, the objective should be the integration of non-wood forest products into mainstream forest management and planning.

3. Management responsibilities of forestry professionals should be expanded to include human ecology and conservation. Financial compensation and incentives should be increased for those professionals that successfully promote biodiversity conservation and the sustainable development of non-wood forest products.

4. Decentralized processing of non-wood forest products should be encouraged to enhance the likelihood of a higher percentage of economic benefits staying within local communities.

5. Communities, local people's organizations, and NGOs should be involved in designing and implementing strategies for non-wood forest product development. Local organizations should be strengthened where necessary to enhance local participation.

6. New products and new market relationships should be developed to meet competitive future demands. Among the approaches worthy of consideration are "fair trade agreements," whereby communities enter into agreements with processors or retailers (i.e. direct sourcing), and rethinking the niche for NWFPs (e.g., bamboo as timber, medicinal plants processed into high-value pharmaceuticals, etc.)

Training recommendations

1. Training of foresters and field forestry workers should be expanded to provide greater emphasis to non-wood forest resources and their productions, utilization, and marketing.

2. The curricula in forestry schools and other educational institutions on all levels needs to be expanded to include more interdisciplinary perspectives, including environmental stewardship, local equity in resource management, marketing, financial management, appropriate technology, and coalition building.

3. Where local knowledge and experience in inadequate, practical training should be provided to local growers, collectors, and processors of non-wood forest products to ensure sustainable and efficient use of the resources and to increase local income levels.

Research recommendations

1. Research should emphasize case studies, especially those that identify and analyze the causes of success and failure in non-wood forest products development. Case studies are particularly needed in the areas of community management, production of non-wood forest products, forest dependency, sustainable utilization, equity, and benefit sharing in marketing . There is also a need to develop case studies that describe and analyze the marketing channels from collectors/producers to consumers.

2. Other specific research should be conducted on:

· the supply and demand of non-wood forest resources, currently and in the future;

· indigenous systems of local knowledge and resource management;

· the connection between tenurial security and the sustainable development of non-wood forest products;

· the role of gender in resource management, including areas with matrilocal customs and property rights;

· appropriate technologies for non-wood forest products harvest, use, and processing;

· the existence and effects of professional biases and inaccurate stereotypes, especially those concerning local resource users.

Information needs/recommendations

1. Comprehensive inventories of non-wood forest resources and assessments of their uses are lacking for most non-wood forest products; such inventories are sorely needed.

2. Surveys and analyses of the degree and extent of the subsistence and local uses of non-wood forest products should be conducted prior to encouraging more intensive commercial exploitation.

3. Marketing analyses that follow specific non-wood forest products from collection to final consumer are needed for a variety of products in each country.

4. Better linkages should be developed among the numerous networks and organizations already dealing with non-wood forest products.

5. Producers, buyers, and consumers should be sensitized and made aware of the value of non-wood forest products and the issues related to their development and exploitation.

6. FAO and other international organizations should gather, analyze, and distribute information concerning non-wood forest resources, collection, production, and marketing.

Greater efforts are needed to ensure equitable distribution of benefits from NWFPs.

Inadequate recognition of the social, cultural, and subsistence values of NWFPs is a widespread problem.

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