Product file - Mainly for self-sufficiency

Forest farming and food products
Health and harvest - medicine and related products
Protein and prosperity - wildlife utilization
Lubricating development - fats and oilseeds

Children gathering the fruit of Santaloides afzelii for food (Guinea).

The examples that follow are divided into those products whose use is mainly or most significantly for subsistence and those that are sought-after mainly for trade use. In practice, most classes of non-wood forest products often serve both commercial and noncommercial uses. The pattern of use is, moreover, liable to change quite rapidly in response, for example, to changing market demand or seasonal fluctuations in supply.

Forest farming and food products

Foods derived from forests and trees may not be consumed in great quantities in comparison to main food staples but they add variety to diets, improve the palatability of staple foods and provide essential vitamins, protein and calories. They are also used extensively as snack foods eaten, for example, while working in the herds or herding livestock.

Forest foods can offer vital insurance against malnutrition or famine during times of seasonal food shortage or emergencies such as droughts, floods or wars. While forest gathering activities are not restricted to groups that are poor, landless or nomadic, these are the groups most likely to be affected by reductions in the availability of such foods as the forest resource is reduced, degraded or closed to access as a result of privatization or nationalization.

Forest foods also have substantial market potential. Some, such as the brazil nut, are collected virtually entirely in the wild. Others that are easier to take into cultivation may have a short-lived existence as emerging non-wood forest products before they are adopted as farm or plantation crops.

In some countries, fashion and tradition can still strongly influence consumer choice in favour of authentic fruits and other foods from the wild. Forest fruits that have come to new prominence in the world trade in recent decades (often as health or diet foods) include avocado pears, mangoes and guavas. Market forces have galvanized production of these fruits, formerly wild or semi-cultivated forest products, on plantation or orchard scale in their countries of origin and their introduction into the agriculture of other countries. Value continues to reside, however, in the varieties left behind in the wild, as they can form an important genetic resource for improving the cultivated stock.

Joint investigations piloted by IBPGR and IUCN in Kutai National Park, Kalimantan, Indonesia have confirmed that the area is an important centre of genetic variation for several important tropical fruit trees, including mango, breadfruit and durian. Of 16 species of mango in East Kalimantan Province, 13 are edible. Most of these edible species have been brought under semi-cultivation and these, together with their wild relatives, represent a unique gene-pool which is closely linked to traditional lifestyles in the area, particularly those of the local Dayak people, whose knowledge of the diversity and growing requirements of the mango stock is unsurpassed.

A scheme is now under way to conserve the genetic resource and guard the local knowledge of Dayak people from loss, as part of plans to manage a buffer zone around the park perimeter. Large numbers of migrant people have been resettled in Kalimantan from Java. Lacking intimate knowledge of local resources, their farming and fuelwood-gathering activities pose an inevitable threat to the forest's continuing scope to harbour useful genetic material.

Children gathering and eating the fruit of the Landolphia heudelotii liana (Guinea Conakry).

Transport of fodder for livestock ( Senegal).

Health and harvest - medicine and related products

Among the best-known of non-wood forest products are medicinal substances like the anti-malarial drug quinine or the oral contraceptive ethenyl oestradiol, both derived from rainforest plants. Though today's sophisticated pharmaceutical and bio-engineering industries have a ready capacity to synthesize most naturally occurring substances, including the aforementioned examples, it is widely recognized that modern medical science still has much to learn and gain from the forest and from the 'folk medicine' of forest-dwelling people.

Even today, the active ingredients in 25 percent of all prescription drugs come directly from medicinal plants (though not all of these grow in forest habitats) and the estimated global value of plant-based drugs is US$ 43 billion a year. The anti cancer drug vincristine contains naturally occurring alkaloids from the rosy periwinkle of Madagascar (Catharanthus roseus), which cannot be produced in the laboratory without supplies of the plant itself. Other plants and plant extracts are still being exported for drug manufacture in highly lucrative commercial quantities from Madagascar. The periwinkle is now widely cultivated and processed on its native island, as part of an overall attempt to add value to medical plant exports at source.

Another significant use of forest chemicals is in cosmetics and perfumery. Not all the substances that are used in these trades are plant-derived: for example, the sweet - smelling secretions of the anal gland of musk deer are important stock items of perfumery. Though the value of trade in forest-based substances for cosmetics and perfumery is undoubtedly high, these are among the most secretive of trades and very few hard facts are ever disclosed about the volume or value of the goods involved.

Though still a highly controversial issue, the notion of medically or commercially useful plant genes as 'intellectual property' to be protected by law is taking firm hold among many forest-owning countries. Costa Rica embarked in 1989 on a cooperative venture with a consortium of research foundations, development banks and commercial interests, to search the estimated 500000 or more species of plants, insects and micro-organisms harboured in the country's forests, for possible medical uses. The scheme, which forms part of a national scheme to classify and catalogue Costa Rica's entire fauna and flora, has built-in guarantees of appropriate royalty payments in return for the use of any plant drug that may be commercialized as a result of the venture.

Remedies for diseases that currently baffle the world's medical researchers, such as cancer or AIDS, are being actively sought by botanists and pharmacologists in woodlands, forests and other wild plant habitats around the world. The local knowledge of indigenous peoples, who are expert 'librarians' of the medicinal properties of the plant and other natural life that occurs in their neighbourhoods, has frequently provided vital clues to new 'breakthrough' drugs. There is no reason to suppose that this process will not continue as long as there are forests, forest lands and forest users.

There has been a surge of interest in recent decades in ethnobiology, ethnobotany and other interdisciplinary fields of research that take traditional knowledge and culture as starting-points in the search for new medicines. What is not generally realized, however, is that the reason why traditional medical knowledge is so extensive is that it exercises a virtual global monopoly over medical practice.

Folk medicine is the standard source of medical treatment for at least three-quarters of the world's people: some analysts set the figure as high as 90 percent. 'Western' or technological medicine is readily available only to one person in four or five, worldwide.

Systems of 'folk' or 'alternative' medicine take many different forms but nearly all are based largely on plant extracts. India has more than 2000 known medicinal plants, Malaysia around 1000, Brazil at least 3000. These numbers probably fall far short of the true totals because they refer only to remedies that feature in published records. Because they are not formally recognized or regulated by official or clinical standards, alternative medicines and treatments vary greatly in their effectiveness. Their most important feature, however, is their availability to billions of people who have no access to other systems of medicine.

Industrial transformation of Shea butter nuts (Butyrospernum parkii) into various cosmetic products (Burkina Faso).

Forests also provide important remedies for livestock diseases and thus help maintain livestock production and general nutrition. There are many other links between forestry, traditional medicine and nutrition. Foods from the forests often serve a dual purpose as vitamin sources or diarrhoea cures. Few studies of traditional medical systems focus on the impact of medicinal plants on community health care or nutritional well - being. Loss or overexploitation of NWFP resources can seriously affect both.

Protein and prosperity - wildlife utilization

Most investment in modern biotechnology has been in highly industrialized countries. Biotechnology offers new opportunities for global partnerships between these countries - rich in technological expertise and developing countries which are rich in biological resources. The traditional methods and knowledge of indigenous people and their communities should be protected and indigenous peoples should share in the economic and commercial benefits arising from biotechnology. Agenda 21, Chapter 16

Historically, most societies achieved stable coexistence with wildlife and attached implicit cultural value to other species, even to those animals which traditionally formed the hunter's quarry. In the past the commonest prey animals were 'small game' like deer, birds, monkeys or rodents. The same is still true today in most areas where traditional hunting for 'bush meat' and use of animal byproducts, such as hides or skins, persist as major means of subsistence and rural income.

In Africa, the centralizing of authority during the colonial era undermined customary laws governing use of wild resources, as well as the authority of the traditional leaders who enforced them. As colonial administrators failed to provide alternative means of wildlife conservation, there was a rush to exploit riches like elephant ivory and other 'big game' trophies for short-term gain, particularly as new international markets opened up at the same time.

Tropical rainforests are by no means the only habitats that abound in forest-based medicines. For instance, in the forests of the Pacific North-west of the USA, the bark of the Western Yew tree (Taxus brevifolia) is harvested in quantities exceeding 350 tonnes a year. It yields the drug taxol which is currently undergoing clinical trials as an ant-cancer agent. Formerly a throw away by-product in the eyes of local foresters, trade in the yew bark now provides an alternative livelihood for an army of local 'pickers', including many loggers thrown out of work by recent declining markets in timber and wood products. Non-wood forest products (often known to US foresters as Special Forest Products) in general are worth more than $130 million a year in industry revenues and employ at least 10 000 people full-tine in the USA.

After independence, most African countries retained the colonial structure of centralized game departments and systems of national parks and protected areas. Wildlife management in these areas has typically been based on punitive measures designed to maintain barriers between wildlife resources and local residents, drawing little or no distinction between traditional hunters specialized in small game subsistence hunting and organized criminal gangs poaching on a commercial scale for big game.

At the same time, the official practice of curing (or selectively slaughtering) over-large herds of protected game animals has become more and more widespread. Local people are often not sufficiently involved in the distributor of the meat and other benefits arising from culling. Other market benefits from protected areas, such as safari tourism revenues and visitors' fees, are not always fairly shared with the local community whose ancestral lands were, in many cases, set aside to form the reserves in the first place.

A number of community-based projects in different parts of Africa, notably Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, are inviting local participation in wildlife management and in the management of tourism facilities. Under these arrangements, local people assist in cuffing wildlife or in conducting safari hunting for foreign tour parties and thus gain income and employment. They also have official permission to consume or trade in a quota of the meat, hides and other by-products of cuffing or safari hunting.

Culling is a management technique that often attracts controversy and safari hunting is by no means everybody's idea of sport, but there is little doubt that, without schemes like these, illegal hunting and farming incursions into protected areas would be uncontrollable. Populations of rare or endangered animals are maintained at sustainable levels and (in the case of Zambia's ADMADE scheme), Community Development Accounts have been set up to hold wildlife revenue shares at the disposal of local development councils headed by recognized local leaders. In 1988 these shares totalled $230000 for ten ADMADE sites, and revenues have been invested in improved local infrastructure such as schools, health facilities and new roads.

Ritual hunting scene, Turkana Lake (Kenya).

Most of the world's forest wildlife occurs (and most hunting, trapping and gathering of wildlife takes place) outside protected area boundaries. There is, however, little reliable information about these resources and practices except in protected situations. Studies conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature and a consortium of bilateral development agencies in the region surrounding Korup National Park, Cameroon, showed that in 341 households studied, hunting, trapping and fishing accounted for an average 27 percent of annual income, while income from other forest products totalled some 29.4 percent of yearly earnings.

Rewards from bush meat can be extremely high: in Peru, a hare hunter can earn the equivalent of US$ 1350 a month, compared with a labourer's typical wage of US$ 100 a month. Household consumption of 'bush meat' is harder to chronicle, as it fluctuates with the availability of game, and bush meat hunting in many cases is an 'undercover' activity. People living near forest reserves in Nigeria consume as much as 84 percent of their animal protein in the form of game, whereas people in areas far from special hunting grounds consume less than seven percent. Many households turn instead to fish, birds' eggs or insects to supplement protein-poor diets. Studies in Zimbabwe's Communal Areas suggest that well over 90 percent of households routinely consume insect protein, mostly in the form of termites.

Fish that spend part or all of their life cycles in estuaries and river basins protected by forests are also, in a sense, forest products. Forests help maintain the conditions under which many kinds of food fish, crustaceans and shellfish feed and breed.

Fish and molluscs dependent on forested ecosystems (especially mangrove swamps) contribute significantly to the diet of many people, while forest plants often yield chemicals traditionally used as poisons to capture fish. In Sarawak, Malaysia and the Peruvian sector of the Amazon Basin, 50 to 60 percent of annual protein intake comes from fish, while in parts of Nigeria more than three times as much fish as meat is eaten.

Another option being explored in many parts of the world is game ranching of wildlife to provide meat and other products on a more organized and sustainable basis. In New Zealand, introduced roe deer were formerly regarded as an agricultural pest. Now 4500 deer farmers stock some 600000 deer in forested rangelands under carefully controlled conditions. Today, exports of deer meat and antlers earn New Zealand more than US$ 26 million a year.

Residents of Papua New Guinea's swamplands have virtually no saleable resources apart from the crocodiles that abound in these densely vegetated areas. One skin of a mature crocodile can fetch around US$ 150 in the capital, Port Moresby. The Government of Papua New Guinea has been working with FAO and UNDP since 1983 on a project aimed at developing the crocodile skin industry while protecting the wild crocodile population from over-exploitation. The scheme involves fattening and breeding crocodiles from young specimens captured in the wild. A network of village crocodile farms has been established for this purpose. Larger, more advanced breeding stations have also been set up and national staff have been trained in techniques to improve the grading and marketing of skins. The scheme has special exemption under the wildlife trade convention, CITES.

Other notable wildlife products obtained in various parts of the world and traded for high prices include snake venom and frogs' legs. The Netherlands-based Tropenbos programme is helping farmers in Côte d'Ivoire achieve sustained-yield harvesting of African giant snails (Achatina achatina) in the buffer zone around Tai National Park. An estimated 8000 tonnes of these protein-rich molluscs were sold in 1986: each snail provides some 100-300 grams of meat and the shells can also be used to provide calcium for animal feed or crop fertilizer.

Lubricating development - fats and oilseeds

The seeds of the sal tree (Shorea robusta) have an oil content that can be as high as 12.5 percent. The oil is widely used in soap or as a component of cattle or poultry feed in India and several other Asian countries. Sal seeds are also boiled with the flowers of another tree to produce a substitute for rice and other grain staple foods.

Other oilseeds from Asian forest lands yield cooking oils, lamp oils or paint and varnish ingredients. In rural areas of northeast Brazil, more than 450000 households depend on income from sales of kernels from the babassu palm (Orbygnya phalerata), rich a nutritious oil resembling coconut oil. Many poorer farmers rely on this income during the lean off-season or use it to buy seed or other farming inputs for the following year. Around two million people also depend on byproducts of babassu palm for medicines, subsistence foods, that beverages and a range of other household uses.

Oilseed trees like the sal and the babassu palm are prime candidates for domestication in home gardens and farming systems. Since edible oils are highly prized on world markets, scope probably exists for further steps towards plantation farming of useful oilseed trees on a still larger scale in the future, in the same way that coconut and oil palms were taken into cultivation in the past.


As in the case of fuelwood and charcoal, forest foods and other forest products gathered by rural people either for immediate consumption or for processing and sale, come predominantly from existing forests, woodlands and marginal or 'waste' lands.

Such 'common property resources' are losing ground rapidly in many parts of the world, chiefly as a result of privatization, encroachment or official appropriation of land for other uses. Whatever the new land use may be, the chances are that it will lead to a weakening or breakdown of local control or management of resources and yield diminishing returns of non-timber or non-wood forest products.

Among communities, the poorest typically depend most on non-wood products and other common property resources such as fuelwood. Even in the heavily degraded dryland communal areas of India, it has been estimated that village people obtain the majority of their fuel and fodder resources and 14 to 23 percent of their income from the wild.

Where common property resources have been depleted, trees that yield useful products may be grown instead as part of farming systems or 'home gardens'. These cultivated trees, like the natural forest, can play an important part in the food security of low-income rural people but the transition from forest to farm or plantation is not always successful. The full participation of local people in any rural appraisal exercise prior to changes of land use is critical to communal well-being and the long-term sustainability of forest resources.