Advantages and disadvantages

Domestication holds advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include the abilities to:

• help sustain steady and reliable production to meet market demands;
• help relieve pressure on natural forest stocks;
• provide local income and resources for subsistence;
• facilitate easier collection and harvesting;
• improve plant or animal growth rates;
• offer a crop of cultural familiarity and value (Wickens, 1991).

Disadvantages of domestication can include:

• increased species susceptibility to pests and diseases (particularly in monoculture plantations), often leading to dependence on potentially harmful pesticides;

• loss of some of the ecological functions played by the forest when plantations replace natural forests;

• heavy dependence on regular infusion of seed from wild sources, for better yield and resistance to diseases and pests;

• concentration of income-generating potential in larger corporate entities, often far from the forest and the communities, and causing further disadvantages for poor households and minority groups.

With an awareness of these advantages and disadvantages, a community can better manage the domestication process. For example, LeCup (1994) describes a medicinal plant programme in Nepal in which communities first assessed the ecological impact of harvesting, then developed a strategy based on the population density and market value of each species. As land tenure arrangements permitted, the communities established forest gardens and nurseries for cultivating the high-value, low-density plants. For lower-value plants that occurred more commonly in the wild, harvesters learned improved harvest techniques and placed stricter limits on harvest levels. This approach improved local management, maintained wild genetic resources, and helped to improve the predictability and quality of supply.

For wildlife species to be candidates for domestication, they must be amenable to some degree of human handling and grouping in a limited space for feeding and handling, the young must show fast growth, females must have a high reproductive output (live weight of young per year), and they must be amenable to reproduce on a fairly inexpensive diet (Redford, op. cit.). See also Chapter 4 for domestication strategies.

Text box 2.1: Species domestication and inequity

While domestication can initially give a community more control over supply of a market product (in terms of harvest, seasonality, etc.), it does not guarantee that the community can maintain control and gain benefits. Historical patterns suggest that domestication contributes to the boom-bust pattern experienced by NWFPs in international markets. In this sequence, the local people often lose their advantage. Rubber and quinine provide two examples of this. When rubber's value on the international market rose significantly in the late 1800s, supply from cultivated sources in Asia began to replace wild sources in the plant's native range of Amazonia. The same pattern occurred with quinine. Producers in Asia were able to turn this to their advantage because:

• the species, when introduced into a new region, escaped the pests and diseases that had evolved with it (at least temporarily);

• as a result, the species could be planted in monoculture with (temporarily) less risk of crop failure and with greater economic efficiency;

• genetic improvement programmes in Asia led to further increases in yields.

As a result, wild Amazonian sources lost the international market for rubber and quinine (Clay and Clement, 1993).


Agroforestry offers a flexible technology system, often indigenous, by which non-wood products can be domesticated gradually, in a way that is adapted to local conditions and practices. This has happened in Southeast Asia with local favourite species such as rambutan (Nephelium spp.), mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) and durian (Durio spp.), and in West Africa with bush mango (Irvingia gabonensis), African pear (Dacryodes edulis) and kola (Cola acuminata, C. nitida) (Leakey and Newton, 1994).

For regionally important plant species, strategies for more intensive and systematic domestication might include a sequence of:

• screening of candidate species through species trials on farmland in collaboration with farm households;

• identification of preferred characteristics of chosen species to form an ideotype3/ for improvement programmes;

3/ The concept of ideotype is used by plant breeders to define a plant model which then becomes the target for a breeding programmne. The ideotype specifies the ideal attributes of a plant for a particular purpose (Raintree, 1991).

• seed collection and distribution;

• study of interactions between genotype and environment;

• establishment of seed orchards.

This type of strategy is often best organized by a regional research institution (Leakey and Newton, op. cit.).


• Understand the rules of tenure and access that govern the non-wood resource and its use. Open-access resources should be converted to a common-property regime for better management accountability.

• Conduct a resource inventory to identify the ecological forest types, species and products of interest. To reduce the costs of forest inventories, plan carefully, and clarify the forest types and species of interest through review of existing information, including maps.

• For tree-based products, assess the density and size-class distribution of preferred species. This provides a gauge of the forest's general health against which to compare later management. Wildlife population size and trends should be similarly assessed.

• Assess each species' ecological amenability for harvesting, local cultural and social preferences for its products and the economic trade-offs. Higher-value products are usually the first to be managed.

• Monitor forest dynamics regularly using studies of yield, harvests and regeneration rates. When monitoring tools indicate that harvest levels exceed natural regeneration, either reduce the harvest level or begin supplementary measures to create new resources.

• Domestication is a tool for communities to supplement wild sources of NWFPs. Before intensifying species management through domestication, communities should consider the trade-offs between more reliable supply and increased vulnerability to ecological decline of the resource material, and equity issues. A local strategy can combine production based on domesticated and wild resources to best advantage.


ATI. 1995. Non-timber forest products manual. Draft version. Appropriate Technology International, Washington, D.C.

Clay, J.W. and Clement, C.R. 1993. Selected species and strategies to enhance income generation from Amazonian forests. Forestry Working Paper FO: Misc/93/6. FAO, Rome.

Falconer, J. 1992. Non-timber forest products in southern Ghana: a summary report. ODA Forestry Series No. 2. London.

FAO. 1995. Group reports. In Report of the expert consultation on non-wood forest products, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 17-27 January 1995. Non-Wood Forest Products 3. Rome.

Grifo, F.T. 1994. Chemical prospecting: an overview of the International Cooperative Diversity Groups program. In J. Feinsilver, ea., Emerging connections: biodiversity, biotechnology, and sustainable development in health and agriculture. Pan American Health Organization, Washington, D.C.

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Leakey, R.R.B., and Newton, A.C., eds. 1994. Domestication of tropical trees for timber and non-timber products. MAB Digest 17. UNESCO, Paris.

LeCup, I. 1994. The role of marketing of non-timber forest products in community development projects: Ayurvedic medicinal plants in Nepal. In Raintree, J.B., and Francisco, H.A., eds., Marketing of multipurpose tree products in Asia: Proceedings of an international workshop held in Baguio City, Philippines, 6-9 December, 1993. Winrock International, Bangkok.

Montagne, P. 1985. Contributions of indigenous silviculture to forestry development in rural areas: examples from Niger and Mali. Rural Africana 23-24 (Fall 1985-Winter 1986):61-65.

Ocampo, R.A. 1994. The present situation of non-timber forest products in Costa Rica. Project for the Conservation and Sustainable Development in Central America, Working Document No. 7. Centro Agronómico Tropícal de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), Turrialba, Costa Rica.

Peters, C. M. 1994. Sustainable harvest of non-timber plant resources in tropical moist forest: an ecological primer. Biodiversity Support Program-WWF, Washington, D.C.

Raintree, J. 1991. Socio-economic attributes of trees and tree planting practices. Community Forestry Note 9. FAO, Rome.

Redford, K.H., Godshalk, R., and Asher, K. 1995. What about the wild animals?: wild animal species in community forestry in the tropics. Community Forestry Note 13. FAO, Rome.

Reis, M. 1995. Resource development for non-wood forest products. In Report of the expert consultation on non-wood forest products, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 17-27 January 1995. Non-Wood Forest Products 3. FAO, Rome.

Salick, J. 1992. The sustainable management of non-timber rain forest products in the Si-a-Paz Peace Park, Nicaragua. In Plotkin, M and Famolare, L. eds., Sustainable harvest and marketing of rain forest products. Conservation International, Washington, D.C.

Sittenfeld, A., and Lovejoy, A. 1994. Biodiversity prospecting frameworks: the INBio experience in Costa Rica. Paper presented at a conference on Biological Diversity: Exploring the Complexities, held 25-27 March, 1994 in Tucson, Arizona. University of Arizona.

Vantomme, P. 1995. Information requirements and planning principles for managing non-wood forest resources in mangrove forests. In Report of the expert consultation on non-wood forest products, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 17-27 January 1995. Non-Wood Forest Products 3. FAO, Rome.

Wickens, G.E. 1991. Management issues for development of non-timber forest products. Unasylva 42 (165):3-8.

For further reading

Adlard, P.G. 1990. Procedures for monitoring tree growth and site change. Tropical Forestry Paper No. 23. Oxford Forestry Institute, Oxford, UK;

Avery, T.E. 1983. Forest measurements, 3rd edition. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Booth, F.E.M., and Wickens, G.E. 1988. Non-timber uses of selected arid zone trees and shrubs in Africa. FAO Conservation Guide 19. FAO, Rome.

Cunningham, A.B. 1993. African medicinal plants. People and Plants Working Paper No. 1. UNESCO, Paris.

Falconer, J. 1990. The major significance of "minor" forest products: the local use and value of forests in the West African humid forest zone. Community Forestry Note No. 6. FAO, Rome.

FAO. 1989. Community forestry: rapid appraisal of tree and land tenure. Community Forestry Note No. 5. FAO, Rome. (Available in English, French, Spanish.)

FAO. 1981. Manual of forest inventory. FAO Forestry Working Paper 27. FAO, Rome.

FAO. 1990. Community Forestry: Rapid Appraisal. Community Forestry Note 3. FAO, Rome.

FAO. 1994. Tree and land tenure: rapid appraisal tools. Community Forestry Manual No. 4. FAO, Rome.

FAO. 1995. Selecting tree species on the basis of community needs. Community Forestry Field Manual No. 5. FAO, Rome.

Forestry/Fuelwood Research and Development Project. 1994. Selecting multipurpose trees (module 1) and Species fact sheets (module 9). In Growing multipurpose trees on small farms (2nd ed.). Winrock International-FAO, Bangkok.

United Nations. 1990. Forest resources of the temperate zones, the general forest resources information. UN-ECE/FAO Forest Resource Assessment, vol. 1. UN Publications, New York.