How to collect the information

In the past decade, a variety of methodologies have evolved for assessing rural community needs quickly and with their participation. These include Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA), Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), and Diagnosis and Design (D&D). A number of excellent references explain how to use these information-gathering tools (see "For further reading").

These usually start with a background search of available literature from local government offices and other sources, such as research institutes. Studies that appear unrelated to non-wood products may still describe important local values concerning the forest or people's access to it. For example, a study on the impact of a pulp and fuelwood plantation in West Africa contained local people's complaints of reduced availability of forest produce and listed the most important types: bushmeat, chewsticks, canes, poles and other housing materials (Falconer, 1990). Studies of nutrition, land tenure and agriculture can provide valuable indicators of local forest use.

This background search is usually followed by a combination of household and/or group interviews or surveys and mapping exercises. A survey in six Asian countries asked households to list the forest species they used, rank the species by preference based on their use-value, and list the different plant parts used (Mehl, 1991). Households can further help by keeping weekly estimates of the products they consume and sell, in quantitative terms.

Text box 3.2: Women's involvement in processing in Brazil

In Acre, women have responsibility for processing all plants intended for human and animal consumption: foods, beverages, spices, medicines and animal feed. Women in the area have refined skills in managing and exploiting some 150 species. Plants for food include wild and domesticated fruits and nuts, and field and garden crops. Processed products range from jams, chocolate and cooking oil, to coffees and herbal teas. The women use over 50 plants for medicines. Pest repellents also come from the forest. Both men and women make baskets, brooms, hats and other craft products. More than half of a group of women interviewed replied enthusiastically that if a market existed, they would make time to regularly prepare items for sale (Kainer and Duryea, 1992).

Local markets and prices can help to indicate what non-wood resources are important. Where local market information systems exist (see Chapter 7), they may, with some adjustments, help to gauge local harvest rates for key products. Market figures alone, however, do not supply the full picture. In Zaire, studies found that most small game was traded or exchanged locally or consumed within the household and not recorded (Redford et al., 1995).

Identifying target and indicator groups

The importance of women's concerns
Other indicator groups

For an accurate picture of local resource use, forest managers should identify the groups that depend most on the resource and monitor their use as a sensitive gauge. To optimize equity and stability, the managers should also consider how proposed activities would affect these groups.

The importance of women's concerns

Despite the fact that women tend to depend more on non-wood resources for household use and income than men, they frequently have less voice in resource management decisions than men, and their priorities are often overlooked. In Latin America women have large roles in hunting using certain technologies (nets, basket traps and poison fishing) but not in others; in some societies, women are the ones to identify and track animals (Redford, op. cit.). Assessments of local NWFP use should recognize these variations and make a special effort to include women and address their needs.

Other indicator groups

Other groups that tend to rely heavily on forest products for food and other subsistence needs include (FAO, 1989):

the landless poor, who often depend on common property resources for fodder, fuel, handicraft materials and other needs;

forest dwellers and shifting cultivators, who frequently lack secure land tenure and are squeezed out when pressures increase on forest resources;

small-farm families, who may lack resources for subsistence production, and who experience declining fertility and shrinking farm-size through inheritance;

pastoralists and herders, who are vulnerable to droughts and encroachment by cultivators and government programmes;

young children, who depend on forest snacks for certain vitamins.

By identifying these vulnerable groups and the non-wood resources on which they rely, forest managers can anticipate and prevent (or reduce) conflicts and shortages caused by changes in forest management.

Subsector analysis for marketed products

For major marketed products, subsector analysis helps in understanding the commercial processes at work. A full subsector study can take a month or more to complete, but parts of it can be done in several days and provide useful information on local market flows.

A full subsector analysis uncovers a range of information, including (ATI, 1995):

• the local market's main functions, technologies, participants and product flows;
• a summary of participants and alternative channels for product flows, and trends among channels;
• regulations and policies that influence local product flows;
• the number of enterprises that market a product, sales value amounts, employment levels and increase in product value at each stage.

Text box 3.3: Adapting assessment methods: the example of mangroves

Assessing resources and how nearby communities use them is a site-specific task. Resources range from desert oases and semi-arid savannas to montane forests, from herbs and vines to wildlife. Resource managers must adapt the assessment methods to suit the local species, ecosystem and human environment.

Mangroves and other wetlands, for example, present a unique set of conditions for management and are subject to different pressures than land forests.

In mangroves, non-wood activities such as fisheries often generate much more income than timber harvests. Mangroves can also create income through algae cultivation (for example, for export) and producing salt from evaporating seawater (FAO, 1989). Mangrove products include tannin for leather curing, medicines, honey, vinegar, cooking oil, wildlife and fermented drinks. Mangroves contribute to local food security particularly through their support of coastal habitats for fish, shrimp, oysters, crabs, cockles and molluscs. They also provide plant - borne food, such as nipa palm fruits, and high-protein fodder from Rhizophora leaves.

Pressures unique to mangrove ecosystems include land reclamation efforts, destructive and unmanaged construction of fish and shrimp ponds, and harvesting for fuelwood and poles. Mangroves are also very sensitive to pollution from urban wastes, food-processing industries, power stations and dam construction.

To manage mangroves effectively, a manager needs to know the dynamics of water bodies and forest cover. Assessment of mangrove ecosystems and their products requires more interdisciplinary collaboration than for dryland forests. This makes it especially important to clearly define data needs before starting to collect them.

The general types of data needed are still the same as described in Chapter 2 (resource biology, socio-economic information, existing and future demand, and operational and institutional information), but mangroves involve a variety of particular trade-offs. For example, there are socioeconomic trade-offs between fisheries and timber harvests. Additional logistical considerations include river transportation and pond or canal construction (Vantomme, 1995).

Subsector analysis starts by defining the product's end market. In the case of rattan, for example, end market products could be furniture and handicraft for both local and export sale. After identifying the main end markets, the analysis should describe each step from growth to harvest to final consumer; this sequence is known as the product's value chain (ATI, op. cit.).

The analysis identifies the participants at each stage (collectors, processors, government agencies, NGOs, traders, market agents, etc.). For each stage, it lists all steps involved: What is required to complete each stage? What set of skills, equipment, and capital? Which participant performs which step?

When the information from this part of a subsector market analysis is combined with the results of the rapid assessment of subsistence use, a picture emerges of (1) who collects and uses NWFPs locally, (2) who gains by them and (3) a rough estimate of what quantities are involved.

Learning about local forest management

Few, if any, forest resources are entirely unmanaged. Even where the forest appears undisturbed, some form of management is probably taking place. For example, the Kayapo Indians of the Amazon basin plant species along forest paths and in natural forest openings for food, medicine, building materials, dyes and insect repellent. Damar forests in Sumatra, Indonesia, appear quite natural but have been managed for generations to obtain damar resin and other products.

In many cases, local forest management has increased the diversity of forest species for non-wood products. In West Kalimantan, Indonesia, Dalat communities have broadened distribution and increased the abundance of products, including illipe nuts (Shorea spp.) and fruits of durian (Durio zibethinus), rambutan (Nephelium spp.) and mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana), as well as a timber species, Eusideroxylon zwagerii. In Brazil's eastern Amazon, in the Ilha das Onças, people have maintained a variety of fruit and latex species as well as wood-producing species (Reds, 1995).

In these cases, local management strategies build on basic practices such as: selective weeding around valued plants; enrichment planting, and occasional selective harvesting of timber species to open the canopy and stimulate seedling growth. These elements form a sound basis for sustainable forest management (see Chapter 4). To learn what management practices exist in an area, prospective forest managers should interview older local people and forest dwellers (both men and women), spending time with them in the forest.


• Assess how communities near the forest already use the forest resource for non-wood products, and the influence of local cultural, spiritual, social and economic values. This helps to fully account for existing demand and prevent over-harvesting. It also helps to identify the types of improvements most likely to succeed locally.

• For this assessment, examine household subsistence uses. Review background materials and use rapid appraisal methodologies to gauge the priority household uses.

• Gauge the importance of NWFPs in local markets, for example using subsector analysis. This method helps identify who sells, who buys, and how the products flow through the market.

• Investigate local management systems for the resource. Interview older villagers, forest dwellers and forest medicine providers to uncover information on how people use these products. These systems can include selective weeding around valued species, enrichment planting of these species in the forest and selective felling. Even where the forest appears unmanaged, local management systems can be important and offer keys to sustainable management.

• Look for indicator groups within the community - people who especially rely on NWFPs - in order to understand people-resource dynamics. This allows a manager to monitor forest health and that of nearby communities.

• Ensure that women's interests and preferences receive full weight in plans for forest management, in recognition of their role in product collection, processing and marketing.

With a sound understanding of the biological resource and its relationship to the human environment, the forest manager or community is ready for the next step - identifying opportunities for improvement.


Arnold, J.E.M.. 1995. Socio-economic benefits and issues in non-wood forest products use. In Report of the expert consultation on non-wood forest products, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 17-27 January 1995. Non-Wood Forest Products 3. FAO, Rome.

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

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.

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

FAO. 1989. Forestry and food security. Forestry Paper No. 90. FAO, Rome.

FAO/Food and Nutrition Division. 1995. Non-wood forest products in nutrition. In Non-wood forest products for sustainable forestry, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 17-27 January 1995. Non-Wood Forest Products 3. FAO, Rome.

Fischer, F.U. 1993. Beekeeping in the subsistence economy of the Miombo savanna woodlands of southcentral Africa. In NTFPs - three views from Africa. Rural Development Forestry Network Paper 15c. Overseas Development Institute, London.

Kainer, K.A., and Duryea, M.L. 1992. Tapping women's knowledge: plant resource use in extractive reserves, Acre, Brazil. Economic Botany 46(4):408-425.

Mehl, C.B. 1991. Trees and farms in Asia: an analysis of farm and village forest use practices in South and Southeast Asia. Report Number 16. Multipurpose Tree Species Research Network, Bangkok.

Poole, P.J. 1993. Indigenous peoples and biodiversity protection. In Davis, S., ed., The social challenge of biodiversity conservation. Working Paper No. 1. Global Environment Facility, Washington, D.C.

Redford, K.H., Godshalk, R., and Asher, K. 1995. What about the wild animals?: wild animal species in community forestry. 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.

Uraivan Tan-Kim-Yong. 1993. The Karen culture of watershed forest management: a case study at Ban Om-Long. Resource Management and Development Center, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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

FAO. 1990. The community toolbox: the idea, methods and fools for participatory assessment, monitoring and evaluation in community forestry. Community Forestry Field Manual 2.

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

FAO. 1991. Non-wood forest products: the way ahead. FAO Forestry Paper No. 97. FAO, Rome.

FAO. 1991. Guidelines for integrating nutrition concerns into forestry projects. Community Forestry Manual 3. FAO, Rome.

FAO. 1994. Tree and land tenure rapid appraisal tools. Forests, Trees and People Programme Manual 4. FAO, Rome.

FAO. 1995. The gender analysis and forestry training package. FAO, Rome

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. Working Document No. 7, Project for Conservation and Sustainable Development in Central America. CATIE, Turrialba, Costa Rica.