It has never been more urgent to realise the full potential of forestry for sustainable development both in terms of meeting immediate and future needs of increasing populations, and of the continuity of the natural resource base itself. Achievement of this goal requires a comprehensive approach in which the totality of the contributions of forest resources to society is fully appreciated and wisely utilized.

In modern times, forests have been seen essentially as a source of one product: timber. However forests also provide a multiplicity of other products and benefits such as foods, medicinal products, materials for handicrafts, spices, resins, gums, latexes and wildlife. For example, forest derived medicinal materials alone support a US$ 43 billion pharmaceutical industry. Other than timber trees, forest species also represent a wild gene-pool, which are a safety net for narrowly based industrial agriculture. In both developed and developing countries, the utilization of such non wood forest products (NWFP) can extend the range of benefits from the forest and so provide further justification for their conservation. In low-income countries, enterprises based on NWFP are generally more accessible to disadvantaged groups and women, they diversify opportunities for gainful employment and income generation and therefore hold potential for rural poverty alleviation.

Non-wood products have mostly been neglected or overlooked by planners, partly because their value is often greatest within relatively restricted local economies and partly because they are often outside established marketing channels. These products rarely feature in statistics and are hardly studied; consequently, we have only limited knowledge of their productivity, developmental potential or management regimes for sustainability. Forests which yield little timber are often considered worthless and are soon converted to alternative land uses Yet it has become apparent that with responsible use and proper husbandry, the non-wood forest products, hitherto largely confined to subsistence use, can also support remunerative enterprises which increase the contribution of forestry to development. Our task is to help to make this happen in a sound, sustainable manner and to bring NWFP into the mainstream of modern economies while retaining their accessibility to traditional societies.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has prepared this booklet to present examples of the wise use of NWFP and to illustrate their importance in diverse circumstances. FAO proposes a strategy for promoting the development of non-wood forest products. Central to the success of the approach would be the need to increase knowledge among policy-makers of the potential of these products, to indicate which NWFP have growth potential, to encourage the application of greater technical and marketing assistance programmes to such high-potential products, and to disseminate information on opportunities with a view to capturing entrepreneurial interest. FAO believes that success will require effective partnerships between local people governments, NGOs and the commercial private sector.

This report is action-oriented and provides a framework for medium- and long-term endeavour. Of particular importance it sets out a number of crucial immediate objectives which must be achieved to clear the way for future success. Both the topic and the approach are particularly appropriate in the wake of recent international commitment to sustainable development made at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development.

Edouard Saouma

Forest landscape in Fouta Djallon. The forest represents wealth (Guinea Conakry).