Emerging topics and concerns

Forest industries and non-timber products
Extractive reserves
Women and non-wood forest products
Service benefits of forests
FAO and non-wood forest products

Forest industries and non-timber products

There is a growing tendency for people to leave forests and forest lands. This trend is specially marked in the more isolated forest areas of the tropics where the incidence of disease and child mortality is typically high and where modem health care, education and other facilities are often lacking. A compromise may be found by applying research to develop new products from forests (and new markets for them), then using the revenues of forest industry and commerce to generate better and more secure livelihoods for residents of forest neighbourhoods.

Established forest industries like timber extraction, sawmilling or pulp and paper manufacture can be integrated with small or medium scale non-timber enterprises to enhance local benefits. New combinations of large and small forest industries can also make a slower rate of tree extraction economically feasible and more sustainable.

Management systems for boosting production of non wood forest products while introducing longer felling cycles and lower harvesting intensities for timber, have already been proposed in several countries. An example of such a system in action is the Yapo National Forest in southern Côte d'Ivoire, where revenues from fuelwood, charcoal, poles, chewing sticks, ornamental plants and matchwood, defrayed forest management costs to the tune of US$ 26000 in 1987, enough to offset a more conservative timber harvest than in previous years.

New kinds of management regimes may be needed to accommodate new forms of multiple-use. The use of fire to promote forest floor growth, one of the oldest of range management practices, can threaten some wildlife or plants that have value as non-wood products, though it can also have a beneficial effect on availability of certain others. Conflicts of interest are also likely to arise between non wood cash crop collectors and subsistence users.

Management practices will have to take account of these and other potentially conflicting factors in the future. Research into new techniques of propagation, varietal improvement and other forms of husbandry could help bolster development of new forest industries based on non-wood products. Coppicing techniques used in forestry could, for example, be applied to large grasses or reeds that yield useful forest products.

Research could also be applied to processing, storing and marketing of products. A technique for preserving palm sugar to compete with other commercial sweeteners, would for instance - allow tree-derived sugar to vie with beet or cane sugar for a share of national and even of world markets. More than research, however, market development needs people with entrepreneurial vision and drive who will see and seize the opportunities for new forms of commerce in forest produce.

Extractive reserves

The concept of the extractive forest reserve implies the controlled extraction of a safe quota of useful or valuable products from areas of rainforest or other forest biomes. The revenues gained should in theory enable the area to be left ecologically intact without paying economic penalties. Such reserves can help generate income and protect forests but they are not panaceas. The more usual fate of non-wood forest products that gain long-term popularity, is depletion.

Palm heart and brazil nut exports earned Brazil some US$ 20 million in 1989. Exports of chicle (the resin of Manilkara zapota) or the Sapodilla tree used for chewing gum), allspice and Xate (ornamental fronds of two palms in the Chamaedorea subfamily) bring US$ 7 million a year into Guatemala. But the aguaje palms (Mauritia species) that grow in the lowland jungles of Brazil and Peru have been decimated by collectors harvesting hearts of palm. Sapodilla trees tapped for chicle and felled for timber have been depleted over large areas of Guatemala and Mexico. The fate of many gatherers is continuing poverty while middlemen and urban elites enjoy the fruits of the collectors' labours brazil nut gatherers working in extractive reserves in Amazonia, for example, receive a mere 2 to 3 percent of the product's wholesale price on distant markets.

These social drawbacks are not new. The great rubber boom of 1870-1910 brought thousands of rubber-tappers to Amazonia. It also led to the subjugation and mass extermination of great numbers of Amerindian tribespeople at the hands of the rubber-tappers: eventually the latter, too, were reduced to the condition of forced labourers. For many of the tappers, today's conditions offer little hope despite their having diversified their labours to include brazil nut collection: plantation growing of brazil nut is now threatening to remove their alternative livelihood.

Despite these poor omens, the principle behind extractive reserves is sound. What may be missing is a more localized marketplace (perhaps at existing sawmills or other processing centres) where supplies of non-wood products can be auctioned or tendered for in an open, fair and accountable manner.

Women and non-wood forest products

Women at market making brooms from dried palms (Samoa).

Income and home employment opportunities created by trade in non-wood forest products can provide openings for a high level of participation by women in small-scale forest industries.

In rural areas of India, women often dominate income-earning handicraft activities such as mat or basket weaving, as these tasks can be combined with household and child-care activities. For many women, the handicraft connection is the only opportunity that they will have in their lives to earn an independent cash income. Products made from natural fibres like rattan or raffia are, however, losing their market share to synthetic, mass-produced substitute products in many areas.

Rattan and bamboo products are also prey to this trend, except where furniture - making and other heavy-duty handicrafts are concerned. These are expanding markets, but the shift of emphasis from small craftwork to larger products that are more likely to be made in a workshop using machine tools than at home by out-workers, has also changed the gender emphasis of fibre craftwork production. Now men, not women, are most likely to dominate the rattan or bamboo craftwork labour force.

Another illustration of the far-reaching effects of shifts in market demand on the collection, processing and use of non wood products, is provided by the trade in uppage (pronounced 'oo-pah-jey') fruit in Karnataka State, India. The seeds of the evergreen uppage tree (Garcinia cambogia) have a high (30 percent) fat content and have been traditionally gathered by women of the Havyak Brahmin caste to produce a vegetable substitute for ghee (clarified butter). The rinds of the uppage fruit were discarded in this process as an unwanted by-product. However, a new market for uppage rind developed in neighbouring Kerala State, where it became fashionable as a condiment to be used in place of tamarind in fish curries.

The hugely increased demand for uppage rind that this market shift has created in Kamataka State during the past ten years has drawn increasing numbers of villagers into the collection of the fruits as a source of seasonal self-employment. Though no longer an exclusive preserve of women, the collection of uppage has put many more women in a position to earn a personal income. It has also led to new restrictions on access to the resource, as what was formerly a commodity held in low esteem acquires ever-higher market value.

Service benefits of forests

Forests and trees play an important supporting role in improving agricultural and livestock production, providing social amenities such as shade and shelter, and protecting soil and water resources from erosion and depletion. They also help regulate climate, atmosphere and weather conditions. They perform these functions whether they are of natural or cultivated origin.

In addition, forests (especially natural forests) can harbour a range of species and habitats that represent genetic and ecological resources of great potential significance. Forested landscapes, particularly those that are rich in wildlife, also attract tourism and other wealth-creating leisure industries to low-income rural areas.

They are benefits that 'spin off' from forests and forestry in general. Few would deny that they are more likely to be delivered abundantly by forests and forest lands that are utilized in sustainable ways. Though the connection is not always beneficial, the multiple or conjunctive use approaches made possible by the existence of non-wood resources, usually make sustainable use of forests easier to achieve because communities in rural areas are more likely to rally behind them.

Trekking in Nepal.

FAO and non-wood forest products

Interest in the future development of non-wood products from forest lands and woodlands is not limited to poor rural situations but concerns the global community. The need for such development cuts across related disciplines such as forestry, agriculture and horticulture and poses the challenge of coordinating action at local, national and international levels.

FAO has long recognized the complex interaction of these factors. It is reflected in systemic linkages between the many divisions whose work relates to non-wood forest products. For example, the Agricultural Department of FAO has been concerned with the development of wild species of oil-producing palms, while the Forestry Department has been concerned with the resource management of vicuna in Peru and captive crocodile projects. Cooperation within and between these and other FAO departments is acknowledged as vital to ensure that technical expertise is applied across the broadest possible front and without needless duplicator of effort.

The diversity of the non-wood products field means that its development and promotion often requires a multidisciplinary approach involving not only specialists within FAO but also their counterparts in other national and international organizations.

Multidisciplinary links are fundamental to the work of the FAO's Forestry Department. Non-Wood Products and Energy Branch of the Forest Products Division (FOPN*) of the Forestry Department has been designated as the main focal point for the coordinator of actions aimed at promoting and developing non-wood forest products and is establishing dose links with the Community Forestry Unit of FON (Forestry Policy and Planning Division) as well as with FOR (Forest Resources Division) and FODO (Forestry Department Operations Service). On plant genetic resource conservator and biodiversity in general, FOPN liaises with the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR), for which FAO supplies secretariat services.

Other non-wood product-oriented forestry interest groups within FAO are the Forest and Wildlands Conservation Branch, and the Forest Resources Division (FOR). The latter division has special interest in the context of anti-desertification activities in dry ecosystems. Various technical groups such as the joint ECE/FAO Agriculture and Timber Division and Silva Mediterranea, a group with special responsibility for monitoring forest production and utilization in the Mediterranean Region, also count non wood products among their key interests.

* Full titles appear in the list of acronyms at the end of this booklet.


The Tropical Forests Action Programme TFAP), launched in 1985, is co-sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and FAO. Its purpose is:

• to raise awareness and mobilize commitment at all levels of society to tackle the problems of deforestation;

• to foster multidisciplinary sectoral planning approaches at national level in order to formulate effective policies and programmes;

• to mobilize national and international resources, both financial and technical, for the implementation of programmes for the conservation and sustainable use of forests.

More than 90 countries are currently in the process of developing national TFAP plans. Activities at national level involve the active participation of communities, voluntary non-governmental organizations and commercial interest groups as well as official bodies. There is a strong emphasis in every TFAP initiative on multidisciplinary interaction to streamline and consolidate institutional approaches to forest issues and on the intersectoral linkage.

The TFAP is one of the major existing mechanisms which can be used for implementing forest-related objectives and programmes as proposed in the UNCED Agenda 21. It stresses the need to support countries: "... in taking action to ensure that forest resources contribute to social and economic development, in particular through multi-purpose forest management." It hence holds special significance for NWFP development. FAO provides technical guidance and assistance in developing a comprehensive public database on all TFAP - related projects.

Other departments within FAO that have an interdisciplinary stake in non-wood forest products include the Agricultural Department Branches responsible for:

• forage and livestock management in plantations (AGAP);
• water resources and watershed management (AGLW);
• soil conservation (AGLS);
• forage, horticultural and industrial crops (AGPC);
• agricultural industries and marketing (AGSI).

On food policy and nutrition matters, FOPN liaises with ESNP, ESNA and other sections in the Nutrition Division, and with the World Food Programme. The main links with the Fisheries Department is FIRM, which deals with marine environment and mangrove management issues and with FIRI, the Inland Water Resources and Aquaculture Service. Both units are within the Fishery Resources and Environment Division of the Fisheries Department.

In addition to interdisciplinary links within FAO, opportunities exist for collaboration with an extended global network of intergovernmental and international bodies, including other UN bodies and major international NGO networks. The nature of the likely collaboration with FAO is broadly classed in the chart above under four broad headings.

Other UN & Intergovernmental Bodies - Independent Sector