4.1 Bamboos and rattans
4.2 Food plants
4.5 Medicinal plants
4.10 Environmental plants
4.11 Ornamental plants
4.12 Forestry Services
Generally, food, forage and medicine rank high in community needs, both for subsistence and commerce. However, as suggested in the preceding section, their degree of priority can be subject to other factors, both local and national.
Priority should be given to the further development of NWFP that are already providing socio-economic benefits at the local level. Locally important NWFP that have the potential to generate export revenues or to enter broader national market circuits should receive higher priority.
A selection of specific NWFP is
described below in general terms; their development will be subject, among other things,
to the variables discussed in previous chapters.
Assistance could be provided in harvesting and transport of rattan and bamboos to increase the productivity and improve the working conditions (safety) in the forest. Although major NWFP, they are not discussed here in more depth as such as they are already viable industries, backstopped by UNIDO whenever necessary. More assistance should be provided to the producing countries to maintain and develop these resources.
FAO's Forest Resource and Management
Branch has a programme activity in the management of rattan and bamboo, and several field
projects are focussing not only on the harvesting/utilization but also on resource
Food plants from non-domesticated species help to supplement existing staples, maintain balanced nutrition throughout the year and provide food in times of scarcity. Sometimes, wild food plants provide marketable products for local, national or international consumption.
For most of wild food sources there have been no or little nutritional analyses. The few analyses that have been carried out have often been incomplete and/or based on a single sample. Little information is available regarding seasonal availability and yields.
Local nutritional laboratories and university departments should be encouraged to carry out additional analyses. Local schools can be involved in efforts to collecting data on phenology, yields, use, preparation and period of use. If necessary, local nutritional laboratories may have to be strengthened.
Multipurpose trees and shrubs are to be preferred to single-purpose food sources. Apart from use as snack foods, the harvesting and preparation for storage/market of species selected for development, should not interfere with the labour requirements for staple food production. For local consumption, harvesting spread over a period of time is preferable to a short season. However, the latter may be preferred for commercial marketing and processing.
It may be desirable to focus attention on potential for genetic improvement or selection for locally important food plants. For example, selection of elite fruit trees and grafting wild populations have been successful in the case of Irvingia gabonensis in Nigeria. Similar increases in productivity could be obtained for Sahelian conditions with wild Ziziphus varieties already sold in local markets in the semi-arid one, using recognized cultivars from the Indian subcontinent.
The ye'eb, Cordeauxia edulis, an endangered species whose nut has been a staple food of the Somali and Ogaden nomads, is most definitely worthy of development. Its fruit has potential as a valuable food source in other arid regions as well as a dessert nut for export markets. Very limited germplasm is available from a few trees of this species cultivated in Kenya.
Another example is in Brazil where
numerous fruit juices and ice creams are prepared using pulp from local wild species, many
of which could well have an export potential. Selection for quality and yield, propagation
and processing for export could usefully be investigated (see FAO 1986).
Forage for both domestic and feral livestock raise similar problems to those noted above for food plants regarding the paucity of information. In addition, forages also present attendant management problems, such as overgrazing and bush encroachment. Efforts to improve productivity of existing forages and introduce new species will make an important contribution to these problems.
Forage production from Prosopis in Niger
Livestock production is the largest and most important industry in the arid and semi-arid regions of the world and its prosperity is very much dependent upon the ability of the animals to survive the long dry season with the minimum loss in condition. Dry season browse is, therefore, the key to their survival.
Phenological observations will provide the necessary information regarding forage species availability (but not quantity) and the range of browse species required to ensure maximum productivity through the dry season, providing, of course, that stocking rates are adjusted to carrying capacity.
Local schools should be encouraged to provide phenological observation and animal preferences for forage species, and universities to carry out seasonal nutritional analyses; information regarding yields of forage species is also required.
The rich leguminous flora of the semi-arid caatinga of Brazil is worth investigating for potential browse species that could be introduced into other low rainfall regions of the world.
Among the more unusual forage
requirements are those of some fishes of the Amazonian rainforest, which enter seasonally
inundated areas to feed on large quantities of seeds and fruits, surviving for the
remainder of the year on their stored fat. The mangrove ecosystem also plays a vital role
in the food chain for many marine fishes, crustaceans, etc. Deforestation of such areas
can eliminate the fishes, an important non-wood forest product!
Wood use is here limited to handicrafts. These have somewhat limited possibilities for development as local industries since they cater to a limited local tourist market. Such products need to be of high quality and have a unique appeal if they are to attract the overseas ethnic markets.
Baskets made from palm
fibers in a local market
Medicinal plants include those used for the treatment of both humans and animals, the latter uses being poorly documented. Herbal medicines, especially local herbal remedies, have always attracted a great deal of interest to the layman; if all the claims for folk medicine remedies were true then the world would certainly be a much healthier place. l
Generally, similar specific claims for the same species, made by several, preferably widely separated communities, are worth investigating; claims regarding multi-cure species are generally of dubious veracity.
Unfortunately the medicinal attributes claimed of folk remedies are seldom supported by clinical evidence that a cure had been effected, that no placebo effect or autosuggestion was involved, i.e., proof that the herbal treatment by itself was effective. Possible side-effects involving either the active principles or, if present, secondary metabolites, and/or the presence of toxic or carcinogenic compounds, also need to be considered, especially if the effects are cumulative.
Medicinal plants are generally seasonal in their availability; their efficacy throughout the year may be subject to such variables as stage of growth, season, method of preparation and storage, etc. It is this variability in the concentrations of the active principles that pharmaceutical companies wish to eliminate, either by rigorous harvesting control or by developing synthetic substitutes.
Research into medicinal properties is best conducted on a plant systematic basis, paying particular attention to taxonomic relationships, rather than attempting to scan the whole range of a herbalist's medicine chest. Analyses need to be carried out not only at regular intervals throughout the year but also over a range of dietary habits. There is always the possibility that mineral uptake from other foods, for example, may affect the medicinal properties.
It is evident from the above discussion that, apart from the initial collecting of information on use and application, distribution and availability, study of medicinal plants represents a specialized field requiring both clinical and pharmacological expertise, their ultimate exploitation being dependent upon whether they are to become official or remain as traditional remedies.
4.5.1 Official medicinal plants
Medicinal plants accepted as official in the pharmacopoeias have been subjected to rigorous and extremely costly investigations; even the preliminary tests merely to prove that a new drug is safe for clinical trials can cost the pharmaceutical company more than over 2.5 million dollars. Only the most promising of species are likely to get beyond the first screening.
Purity, uniform quality, adequate and regular quantities are prerequisites for pharmaceutical companies. If their demands cannot be met from natural sources, then synthesis is inevitable. Presently, there are still several pharmaceuticals plants that cannot yet be synthesized.
There is also a growing market in the western world for the use of some specific official herbal material in preference to synthetic pharmaceuticals. The supply of such plants can be undertaken by rural communities, but such enterprise demands rigorous standards for quality, packaging, storage, and in particular, no fluctuations in annual supply.
4.5.2 Traditional medicines
Traditional herbal medicines are not usually subjected to control within the country of origin. As far as the western world is concerned, their use when exported, subject to a preliminary screening by the importing country for undesirable metabolites, is generally on the understanding that no claims are made regarding their alleged medical/pharmaceutical properties.
China, the Indian subcontinent and Latin America are particularly rich sources of herbal medicines, many of which are already being exported to the western world.
Any development of herbal medicines needs to ensure management for sustainable yields. Where underground organs, such as tuber roots and bulbs, are involved, sustainable use may imply the need to bringing the plant into cultivation so as to prevent over-exploitation. Some such species, for example, the South African grapple plant, Harpagophyton procumbens, still defy cultivation, making this option impossible until limiting factors are identified. Alternative harvesting techniques may be necessary, such as using secateurs to prune leaves instead of collecting small shrubs by pulling them up by the roots.
Close communication with the
forest/rural population is needed to obtain local knowledge on the use and preparation of
herbal remedies. Properly prepared, packaged and marketed, herbal medicines can serve as
the basis for profitable local industries.
Toxins used in ordeal poisons and for stunning game and fish may be considered as potential pharmaceuticals; some have already been discovered to possess anaesthetic properties. Other toxins may have a potential as pesticides or antifeedants and can consequently be of interest to local farming communities as well as possibly having commercial potential. Their management within the community would be similar to that for herbal medicines; their use against specific insect or other pests would almost certainly be based on empirical experience handed down by practitioners.
Consequently, exploration into toxic
plant sources requires close communication with the local population to obtain information
on the toxins themselves and their role in local society.
Aromatics are a specialized field, with the international markets for essential oil concentrate (concrete) controlled by the cosmetic industry. There is usually a demand for such products within a country to supply the local cosmetic and soap industries. The international markets require both high quality and a regular supply.
There are possibilities for increasing production and, in particular, the quality of many essential oils, incenses, myrrh and other unguents gathered or tapped from wild sources. The cultivation of aromatic herbs and shrubs for market during the early stages of reafforestation can considerably reduce the costs of activities and provide additional local employment.
For many aromatics, maximum
concentration within the plant is to be found in plants growing in the drier regions,
which suggests another rationale and focus for NWFP development in the semi-arid zones.
Production of biochemicals from wild plant sources represents a specialized field where the initial identifications and their potential applications are largely the responsibilities of the biochemists and industrial chemists (see Appendix A). Like aromatics, maximum concentrations are generally found in the drier regions. Here too there is room for improvement in harvesting techniques and in quality, especially in standards of cleanliness.
Often, improvements in yields are
dependent upon first understanding the plant's physiology; only then can there be a sound
scientific basis for selecting higher-yielding strains - selection for gum arabic
production based on apparently high-yielding mother trees has conspicuously failed to
provide a new generation of higher yielding trees. The mother trees are not consistently
productive, and the productivity enhancing features are apparently not genetically
Fibres are in local demand for cordage, which may be required for a range of purposes, from musical instruments to bindings for house construction. Both animal and vegetal fibres are required for weaving and matting; both have possibilities for local industries and, if of good quality, reaching the international ethnic markets.
For plant fibres there may be room
for improvement in the resting operation, while for both animal and vegetal fibres
improvements can generally be made in the standard of cleanliness throughout the
harvesting and manufacturing processes.
Environmental plants are basically those that are necessary to maintain a stable and healthy environment for man, his livestock and all forms of wildlife, by providing shade, shelter, hedges, nitrogen, green manure, soil stabilization, etc. The number of plants that can be used for such purposes is unknown and many can be initially selected merely through observation, e.g., by finding plants that assist dune stabilization or grow naturally in saline soils.
ornamental plants for horticulture can provide quite a lucrative activity. Growing orchids, cacti and other succulents, crocuses, for sale to the specialist collector can be particularly profitable where the import of wild material is prohibited under CITES, but not the import of cultivated material.
However, the conservation regulations within the exporting country must be respected. For example, the collecting of wild cacti for growing and multiplication in a nursery may be forbidden; the collection of seed is usually, but not always, permitted.
The product may then be marketed through national or international horticultural firms or through the specialist societies to be found in many western countries, interested in cacti, succulent plants, orchids, etc.
Many horticultural firms employ their own seed collectors, and undertake their own processing, packaging and marketing. However, the vegetative propagation of bulbs, succulents, etc. is often preferably carried out in the country of origin, provided the importing country's plant health regulations permit import of the living material. Such multiplication work can provide employment for community members.
The use of attractive, locally
produced containers, climbing frames, etc. will enhance the value of the plants as well as
providing additional employment.
Forestry services are derived from a wide range of sources, including trees in rangeland (grazing, browse shade and shelter for cattle and wildlife etc.), establishment of parks and reserves for conservation, rearing of valuable wildlife species such as crocodiles and pythons, tourism recreation and aesthetic, scenic or historic sites.
Crocodile rearing in India