Non-wood forest products (NWFP), as used in this report, refers to market or subsistence goods and services for human or industrial consumption derived from renewable forest resources and biomass, bearing promise for augmenting real rural household incomes and employment. The products include the use of plants for food, forage, fuel, medicine, fibre, biochemicals, as well as animals, birds, reptiles and fishes for food, fur and feathers. Wood used for handicrafts is included, as are services derived from the standing forest that generate such benefits as tourism revenues and preservation of biodiversity.
An extensive bibliographical search revealed that there have been numerous meetings and conferences where the more commercially important NWFP (tannins, cork, turpentine, fungi, etc.) have been the focus of discussion. The more domestic activities, such as food, handicrafts, fuel and fodder derived for subsistence purposes have been increasingly discussed in the realm of the Community Forestry programme.
The division between forestry, agriculture and horticulture is ill-defined, both at national and international levels. Therefore, it is not surprising that there should be some overlap of interests between FAO Departments concerning NWFP. For example, the Agriculture Department has been concerned with the development of wild species of oil producing palms, while the Forestry Department has been concerned with the resource management of vicuna in Peru and the management of captive crocodiles for leather. Inter-and intra-Departmental co-operation can ensure that technical expertise is applied to specific product development problems in response to international need.
The major factors, which have impeded the development of NWFP in the past, include the following:
1. Prejudices against the use of wild resources.
2. A lack of appreciation of the value of non-wood forest products to the national economy
3. A lack of understanding of the role of non-wood forest products in the life of the rural community.
4. Prejudices by both field workers and scientists in favor of products requiring highly specialized technology, rather than natural products, that often require only simple processing.
5. Substitution in industry by synthetics to reduce cost.
6. Lack of information, poor access to literature and lack of adequate training.
The major factors encouraging the development of NWFP are:
1. Deteriorating internal and external economic factors restricting imports and placing increasing reliance on indigenous natural resources.
2. Increasing publicity regarding the benefits to be derived from developing NWFP for national and community economies and environmental conservation.
3. New market opportunities created by the green movement in western countries and new ethnic markets created by the migration of peoples.
4. The ever increasing search for new biochemicals for pharmaceuticals and industry.
Marketing new NWFP requires a niche in the market waiting to be filled by either replacing an existing product with a superior and/or cheaper product, or to supply a demand that has until now been unfilled. Price information and market infrastructure are necessary to ensure adequate returns to the producer. There may be financial problems for the individual supplier when increasing production to meet the demands of new markets. Institutional changes in property rights arrangements may be necessary to avoid over-exploitation and resource exhaustion.
Because of the wide range of products and other contextual conditions affecting development prospects, it is difficult to select any particular ecological zone as a priority for development of NWFP. The humid tropical forests present the greatest range of unexploited NWFP. The arid and semi-arid areas, on the other hand, with their limited natural resources, lack a wide range of options, but a concerted effort to develop any potential product is likely to be beneficial. Food, forage and medicine will always rank high among any community's needs, but product development efforts should give priority to those non-wood sources that promise to improve incomes and employment, while also providing other benefits for local consumption.
The development of NWFP is a multi-disciplinary task requiring close collaboration between specialists within FAO and other international and national organizations. An insufficient effort has been made in the past to strengthen common programmes on sustained use of key NWFP among concerned agencies. Such efforts should now be encouraged, as one among many approaches toward conservation and wise use of forest resources.