Special features

Veld products research in Botswana: an overview
International NWFP statistics
Bamboo: an important non-wood forest resource


Veld Products Research (VPR) became a formally constituted nonprofit organization in February 1994 after being an informal NGO for 12 years.

When Veld Products Research was established in 1981, its first project was to undertake an 18-month consultancy for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Botswana, on the potential for the commercial utilization of veld products (non-wood forest products). A survey of veld resources with economic potential was undertaken around 83 villages throughout the country. The resources were studied and evaluated, simple processing technologies identified or developed, and markets researched in Botswana, South Africa, Western Europe and North America. In addition, management plans were proposed to ensure the sustainability of the resources. The resources studied included craft and florist materials, foods, medicines, essential oils, gums, resins, dyes, tannins and insects. A three-volume, 680-page report was published, entitled The potential for commercial utilization of veld products in Botswana.

During the following few years VPR undertook a number of rural development consultancies in neighbouring countries, and it was only in 1986 when land was acquired in Gabane that research work started in earnest again, this time on microcatchment systems (nearims) with fruit trees. This work soon expanded into indigenous fruit-tree domestication and improvement.

The development of high-yielding cultivars of indigenous fruit trees would seem to hold significant potential for subsistence farmers in particular since these trees generally require minimum management, no irrigation and, of course, no ploughing or tilling. Even in drought years most species produce some fruit, which is an important factor for food and household security.

As an indication of commercial potential the example of one species, Strychnos cocculoides, may be examined. VPR has found superior phenotypes of this species, which produce 300 to 400 fruit in a season, each having a street value in Gaborone of P1.00 (US$0.40). This reflects a gross return of over P300 (US$120) per tree.

Figure 2

The indigenous fruit trees at present being researched include Sclerocarya caffra subsp. birrea, Strychnos cocculoides, Vangueria infausta, Azanza garckeana and Ricinodendron rautanenii. Fruit-tree research currently under way includes the monitoring of the growth and yields of superior phenotypes in planting trials. In addition, a four-year joint research project is under way with the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to domesticate the Kalahari truffle, Terfiza pfielii. This potato-like fungus is a popular wild food providing food security to marginalized groups in particular. Hotels in Gaborone pay P30.00 (US$12) per kg.

Recently VPR has moved out from the research and application mode into the participatory assessment and resource utilization and management mode. The objective of the exercise will be to develop models for enabling and assisting rural communities to devise their own strategies to utilize and manage their natural resources on a sustainable basis. It is recognized that no-one in a semi-arid region will be prepared to be involved in such an exercise unless there are financial rewards, which means that cash values will have to be put on veld resources. Therefore, VPR intends to enter this area with the utmost caution and sensitivity, undertaking participatory discussions, assessments and planning which could last from six months to a year before any concrete moves are made to put cash values on veld products.

Considerable interest has been shown by countries in southern and eastern Africa with regard to VPR's work in non-timber forest products and the domestication of indigenous fruit trees. Suggestions have been made that VPR should become a regional resource centre for research and training in non-timber forest products. (Contributed by Frank W. Taylor, Director, VELD Products Research, PO Box 2020, Gaborone, Botswana. Fax +267347047.)


At present there is no international system for the reporting of non-wood forest products statistics.

Between 1954 and 1971 the FAO Forestry Department collected and published some information on a few of these products in the yearbooks of forest products.

In these publications from 1954 to 1962 the term "Other forest products" was used. In 1963, this term was replaced by "Forest products other than wood", which was used until 1971.

Not only did the main heading change over the 17 years, but the product coverage and product names also changed.

• The term "Raw cork" remained the same from 1954 to 1971.

• The term "Bark and other materials for tanning" was used from 1954 to 1959; in 1960 it was changed to "Bark for tanning" and was used until 1968; from 1969 to 1971 the old term "Bark and other materials for tanning" was used.

• The term "Materials for plaiting (excluding bamboo)" was used from 1954 to 1968; from 1969 onwards it was divided into "Bamboo" and "Materials for plaiting".

• The term "Natural gums, resins, balsam and lacs" was used from 1954 to 1959; from 1960 to 1968 "Natural rubber, balata, gutta-percha - raw (including latex)" was reported as a separate commodity.

• The term "Oil seeds and oil nuts" was used from 1954 to 1956; from 1957 to 1971 the term was changed to "Oil seeds, oil nuts and oil kernels".

• The term "Vegetable oils and waxes (excluding essential oils)" was used from 1954 to 1968; from 1969 onwards it was divided into "Vegetable oils (excluding essential oils" and "Waxes.

During the entire period 1954-71, data were published on production and export, quantities were measured in tonnes and export value calculated in US$1000, with the following note: "Statistics on forest products other than wood are difficult to collect in all countries, and the reported figures are therefore likely to fall short on total production, and perhaps also on total trade. For this reason it is not possible at the present time to estimate regional or world totals from the statistics given."

There is a serious need for statistical information on NWFPs to support plans and policies for their development.

Lack of information is negatively affecting development efforts. Lack of an internationally acceptable and consistent classification of NWFPs duly harmonized with other existing classification systems such as Central Product Classification (CPC), International Standard Industrial Classification of all Economic Activities (ISIC), Standard International Trade Classification (SITC), and Harmonized System (HS) of Product Classification of Customs Cooperative Council, is a major lacuna in this regard.

NWFPs do not, therefore, get adequately incorporated into the national system of accounting. It is important that proper attention be paid to fill this gap.

Please send your ideas and suggestions to C. Chandrasekharan, Forest Products Division, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy. Fax: +39 6 52255618.


Improved policies

• design forest policies that integrate other land-use policies and recognize that non-wood forest products have a significant role to play in forest management;

• establish effective natural resource accounting within national economic planning which recognizes the long-term benefits of non-wood forest products and the costs of liquidating existing natural resource capital;

• foster land and tree resource tenures to allow legal access to forests by dependent forest communities to extract non-wood forest products;

• identify incentives for non-wood forest products in place of cattle ranching credits, agrochemical purchases, low timber taxes, etc.

Institutional strengthening

• improve government extension services for non-wood forest products through such measures as technical assistance, credit, market opportunities;

• develop legislation to implement resource stewardship programmes, such as sustainable extractive reserves;

• support pilot projects to test promising approaches and mechanisms for alternate forest uses and the institutional support for these uses;

• undertake policy reviews to implement and support sustainable multiple-use resource management;

• foster partnerships between forest-user groups to advance the economic use and extraction of non-wood forest products;

• enhance collaboration between NGOs, often more flexible in responding to community needs, and community organizations and cooperatives.

Applied research

• develop improved silvicultural management systems designed to accommodate sustainable timber harvests while promoting and supporting the development of non-wood forest products;

• develop effective techniques to process, collect and store Non-Wood forest products efficiently and economically;

• expand marketing opportunities;

• identify new, economically viable non-wood forest products and uses;

• develop approaches to ecotourism that respect sensitive ecological balances in protected regions.

Source: Forestry issues: Non-Wood forest products, Canadian International Development Agency, 1992.


Bamboos are fast-growing, mainly arborescent, grasses. Their culms or canes have many uses in construction and for furniture, household goods, handicrafts, agricultural tools, fish-pen poles, banana props, fishing gear and so on. Bamboos are planted in watersheds for erosion control, on stream banks for protection and as shelterbelts or fences on farmland. The young shoots are consumed as a vegetable in most Asian countries. Bamboos are also much appreciated as ornamental plants.

Bamboo is an important resource for rural communities. Because of its productivity, wide range of uses and adaptability to different sites, it is the timber-replacing crop most preferred by small farmers.

The German botanist Karl Kunth was the first to distinguish bamboos as a separate category of grasses in a paper published in Paris (1815). There are nearly 1200 species of bamboo worldwide and many new species are discovered each year, especially in Amazonia. Nearly 700 species are distributed in Asia, around ten in Africa, one in North America and the rest in Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

Bamboos generally appear in two distinctly different forms as a result of the different types of subterranean rhizome: either as single-stemmed culms apart from each other or as dense clumps. The rhizome system constitutes the structural foundation of the plant, in which nutrients are stored and through which they are transported. The growth of new culms is completely dependent upon the nutrition provided by the rhizome and the older culms. Rhizomes are strongly developed and often interlaced. In combination with their dense fibrous root system they constitute the most effective soil protection.

Ecological requirements vary widely among the numerous bamboo species. Many are indigenous to the monsoon area of tropical Asia, but the natural distribution has been greatly changed by human intervention. In general, bamboos prefer tropical or subtropical climates where high temperatures act favourably on growth. Some species (Oxythenanthera abyssinica in Central Africa) can tolerate temperatures between 40 and 50C, whereas others (Phyllostachys bambusoides in China) can withstand snow or, as in the case of Fargesia nitida, winter temperatures as low as -18C.

Bamboos grow mainly at altitudes between 100 and 800 m, but they also grow at sea level and in mountains above 3000 m (e.g. Thamnocalamus aristata in the Himalayas, Chusquea montana in Chile and Ch. tesselata in Ecuador).

As regards rainfall, not all bamboos grow in wet tropical and subtropical climates. Several species such as the drought-resistant Dendrocalamus strictus in India and Bambusa blumeana in the northern Philippines grow in semi-deciduous forest savannah with a pronounced dry season. The minimum rainfall is considered to be 750 mm.

The propagation of bamboos is necessary for afforestation programmes and for local planting in villages. Since most bamboos only produce seeds over long intervals, vegetative propagation is generally preferred. To rely only on vegetative propagation may turn out to be a major disadvantage since large bamboo plantations originated from materials of the same physiological age may flower and die gregariously.

During the last decade, bamboo has been increasingly recognized as a valuable non-wood resource and large bamboo plantation schemes have been implemented, mainly in Asia, for the supply of edible shoots, banana props and other products. In China, 2 million ha are devoted only to Phyllostachys edulis for edible shoots and cane production. In India, bamboo covers 10 million ha with a potential annual cut of 4.5 million canes, while in Bangladesh the annual harvest in the period 1986-87 reached nearly 92 million canes. On the other hand, Guadua angustifolia, one of the most valuable bamboos for construction, is seriously affected by overexploitation in Colombia and Ecuador. Hence its genetic diversity is under serious threat.

In spite of substantial output and increase in bamboo research, mainly in China, India and Japan, there are still large gaps, especially about bamboo plantation management, yield, physical and mechanical properties and preservation. (Contributed by Friedrich M. Schlegel, Forest Resources Division, FAO, Rome. Fax: +39 6 52256661.)

Figure 3

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