5.4 Edible plant products

5.4.1 Edible oils and nuts
5.4.2 Spices

5.4.1 Edible oils and nuts

Seeds and nuts from forest trees are consumed locally or processed into edible oils for the home market, and as such they are very valuable. For certain varieties of nuts there is also a specialized export market with the potential for a moderate expansion. Another reason to value the significance of these oil seeds is that, unlike cultivated oil seeds, many forest species with oil bearing seeds do not place much demand on soil nutrients (see Gupta and Guleria, 1980:79).

Sterculia lychnophora (Malva nut)

This is a large tree which occurs naturally in south and central Vietnam, in the southern provinces of Laos and in the mountains of Cambodia. One tree gives about 40 kg of an excellent nut. The tree is particularly valued by forest dwellers, who actively protect it.

The registered annual production in Vietnam is 235 tonnes of nuts. Laos exports malva nuts to France. The price of 1 kg of malva nuts is around 1000 km/kg (US $ 1,50) in Vientiane.

Sterculia foetida

This is a large tree, which is quite common all over Indochina, and sometimes cultivated. One tree gives about 20 kg of seeds. Locally pressed, one kg of seeds results in 20% of an excellent edible oil. The oil is locally used for cooking.

At present there is no export of the oil. World demand for medicinal purposes is estimated at about 100 tonnes of oil. Thailand, which exported the oil in the past, at present is not able to do so because of depletion of the resource (Mahidol University, 1980/1981).

Aesculus sinensis (Chestnut)

Chinese chestnuts occur naturally in north Vietnam and in the province of Luang Phabang and elsewhere in Laos. Boiled or roasted it is a much appreciated delicious side dish in Laos and Vietnam. It is also used as pig fodder. The registered production of the forestry sector in Vietnam is between 70 and 134 tonnes per annum.

Bassia pasquieri

This tall tree was formerly known as illipe de Tonkin. In the past Bassia pasquieri occupied a large area, growing in almost pure stands. Now, only about 300 ha is left in the province of Thanh Hoa, north Vietnam. The fruits are maturing little by little over a long period of years. In practice it is not possible for people to collect the fruits in the forest. However, fruit bats which roost in caves in the area drop the seeds of the fruits they have eaten in those areas. The seeds are collected there and pressed into oil. Bassia is a very good edible and cooking oil, comparable with olive oil. (Tran Van Nao 1986, Crevost & Lemarie, 1924)

Thea oleosa

This small tree occurs naturally in different areas of Vietnam and Laos and is also cultivated in Northern Vietnam. The seeds contain a fluid oil, which has a mild taste and a pleasant special smell, which differs per area. It is used in Vietnam as a high quality cooking oil. It is also suitable for the production of soap. In Qui Chau, where Thea oleosa is cultivated, yields vary from 20 kg of seed per tree per annum (4 kg of oil) for trees 5 years old, up to 30-35 kg of seeds for trees 8 years and older.

The price on local markets is 30 Dong per liter, 1987 price (equals about 1100 Dong November 1991). According to Van Nao (1987) this would be an excellent tree for enrichment planting.

5.4.2 Spices

Numerous forest spices are consumed locally in Indochina. Many of these spices are also used in traditional herbal medicine. Some spices are traded with neighbouring countries, whilst a few also enter international trade. Two of the latter, cardamom and galanga, are discussed below. Cassia, together with cardamom the most important spice, has been discussed in the paragraph on essential oils.

Generally, prices for spices have reached an all time low on the world market as a result of a structural oversupply by the producer countries. Although an important product as cardamom, or to a lesser extent cassia, is also affected by the general downfall of prices, this does not imply that the product would be less interesting from the primary producers point of view. Particularly where production costs are low and a good quality can be offered, certain spices are still well worth collecting or cultivating.

Cardamom (Amomum spp.)

A herb, growing under forest cover, of which the seeds are used as a spice. In Laos it grows naturally and is cultivated on the Boloven plateau in the south and in the province of Oudom Xai in the north. In Cambodia it occurs in the Cardamom mountains. A small quantity of cardamom is also produced from wild resources in north Vietnam (provinces of Son La and Hoa Binh). Cardamom is used in the Middle East as a coffee flavouring and in northern Europe and the USA in bakery products. Elsewhere it enters meat seasonings. The world market price is at present US $ 7/kg c.i.f. Rotterdam for top grades of cardamom.

Laos exports 400 tonnes or more of cardamom per year via Thailand and China, Vietnam some 10 tonnes to Japan, Hongkong and Singapore. Cambodia used to be an important exporter in the past, but no known quantities of the product enter the trade from this country today. The market price in Pakse, Laos, for top quality selected cardamom was 2000 kip (US $3)/kg in October 1991.

Galanga (Alpinia officinarum)

This herb occurs naturally in Northern Vietnam and in Laos, but is also much cultivated in home gardens. The root is commonly used in Vietnamese and Lao cuisine as a ginger like spice. It is also used in local medicine as an aromaticum, a stimulant and as an aphrodisiac. There is a market for galanga in Asia, whilst a small quantity is imported into the Netherlands (about 30 tonnes annually at US $ 750-1000 per tonne). At present, India is the main supplier for the Dutch market. In the past galanga was also imported from Vietnam and in principle there is an interest in re-establishing the trade relation for this product with Vietnam (or Laos).

5.5 Animal products

5.5.1 Honey and wax
5.5.2 Sticklac

5.5.1 Honey and wax

Forest honey in Laos and Vietnam is mainly produced by Apis dorsata, a bee native to tropical Asia. A large part of the honey is consumed locally at the household level. In Vietnam, about 200-400 tonnes of forest honey per annum are marketed. This is a small quantity compared to the thousands of tonnes of honey produced on rubber- and coffee plantations and elsewhere. However, pure forest honey makes a much better price on the domestic market because of its good taste and the medicinal qualities that are ascribed to it.

For instance, one litre of forest honey from the Mekong-delta costs 10,000-40,000 Dong (1991 price at collector's village), whilst one litre of ordinary honey at the same time would get a maximum price of 6,000 Dong.

The major area in Vietnam where forest honey is collected are the Melaleuca forests in the Mekong delta. It accounts for about half the quantity that is brought to the market in the country. According to connoisseurs the honey is of the best quality.

As an export commodity Melaleuca honey doesn't have much perspective, because - with an average water content of 27 á 28% - it doesn't fit the standards in most markets9. With a healthy domestic market and a limited supply, there is certainly no need to explore foreign markets for this product. Unknown quantities of bees-wax are also sold on local markets, as a byproduct of honey collecting.

9 With the exception of Japan and Taiwan.

Several provinces of Laos produce very fine qualities of forest honey. At present, most honey is traded on local markets. Small quantities are sold over the border with neighbouring countries. In the province of Sekong a small factory for the processing and package of forest honey for the export to Bangkok and Europe will start to operate in March 1992.

5.5.2 Sticklac

Sticklac10 is the resinous secretion of a tiny insect, Laccifer lacca. Host trees, either wild or, more frequently, cultivated are inoculated with Laccifer lacca breed. In Laos (e.g. in the province of Sayaboury) the resin is also collected from the branches of trees in natural forests, without prior inoculation. Some of the more common host trees are: Samania saman, Albinia lucidior, Cajanus cajan, Acacia catechu and Albizzia odoratissima.

10 Not to be confused with 'lac', which is an exudate vegetal liquid produced by Rhus succedanea. This product is much used in lacquer works in Vietnam

Sticklac is the crude product as it is harvested from the trees, which is known as shellac once the resin has been extracted. Bleached lac is sticklac after having been bleached with a hypo-chlorite solution.

Lac finds a wide variety of uses, including paints and varnish and electrical insulation. In Vietnam the registered annual production by the forestry sector of sticklac in the second half of the 1980s varied between 89 and 143 tonnes per years11. On top of this 15-22 tonnes of lac per annum was produced for electrical insulation. Actual production (from cottage industries) most certainly is substantially higher.

11 Lac production can vary very much from year to year in relation to weather conditions (see Subansenee, 1986:1).

A few years ago, with foreign assistance, a lac processing plant with a capacity of 150 tonnes per annum was established at Ha Dong. Reportedly, the plant does not produce lac that meets the required standards for the domestic industry. The latter industry is further supplied by cottage lac processing units throughout the country, supplemented by imports from India and Laos.

In Laos, the provinces of Sayaboury, Luang Phabang and Houaphanh produce an unknown guantity of sticklac. In a good year total production may well exceed 100 tonnes. Part of it is exported to Thailand, China and Vietnam.