There is a tremendous range of products, as well as local economic and social conditions affecting potential for development of NWFP. Therefore, it is difficult to select any particular ecological zone for priority development. Some factors involved as well as the relative merits of a programmatic focus on the arid and semi-arid, sub-humid and humid zones, are discussed below.
3.1 In recommending priority regions for assistance, consideration has to be given as to whether local needs are consistent with government policy. One factor to be considered is the origin of demand for assistance in forest product development, whether generated by a need perceived by administrators, by local communities, both, or neither (i.e., other interests have stimulated such demand). The administrators should also consult potential beneficiary communities and intermediary organizations to identify priorities.
The administrator may also have to consider other national or commercial economic considerations regarding a particular development. Product development assistance should aim to produce a significant increase in prosperity of local communities through increased employment and improved income and living conditions. Even where sustainable harvesting of NWFP is viable and attainable, the potential for channelling significant benefits to land users may be uncertain (Flint 1990).
3.2 Within FAO units consulted, the consensus of opinion is that the arid and semi-arid regions, including the higher altitudes should be treated as a priority for improvement in subsistence production systems. Because natural resources and potentials are limited in these areas, almost any development is bound to be beneficial, especially for provision of basic necessities as food, forage, fuel and medicines.
However, although based on this criterion, sub-Saharan Africa has been singled out as the region most in need of assistance, it is doubtful whether development of NWFP would be financially feasible in most of the Sahelian region. However, there is some scope in the Sudanian region, immediately to the south of the Sahel, as well as in the Kalahari and the Horn of Africa. The improvement of Ziziphus fruits (see section 4.2), Vitellaria paradoxa and Parkia spp. for food production should be considered as possible product priorities.
Ziziphus in Niger
The caatinga of Brazil and the puna belt of the Andes are other arid areas with a high potential for non-wood forest product development, especially for forage and medicinal plants. FAO field projects in these areas are focussed on rural development through promotion of use by farmers of multipurpose woody species. National institutes in Peru are engaged, with FAO support, in programmes for the conservation of multipurpose woody species and their rational use in the high Andes.
3.3 The tropical rainforests have the greatest range of unexploited NWFP, with some communities entirely dependent upon them. Many wild fruits marketed in Brazilian regional capitals are unknown in Europe and North America, and may have potential for export. Such potential is already being explored by local NGOs linked with international environmental and human rights movements and progressive entrepreneurs (May 1990), and have recently received FAO assistance to prioritize NWFP for development through the Institute for Amazon Studies.
3.4 Land tenure security is an
important factor promoting conservation and sustainability in land use systems. The
sub-humid zone, lying between the arid regions and the tropical rainforest, forming the
principal locus of settled agriculture, is an area of insecure tenure. Development of NWFP
in this zone should focus on efforts to allay the process of desertification, but must go
hand-in-hand with better definition of property rights over trees and land.