A definition of NWFPs

Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) consist of goods of biological origin other than wood, as well as services derived from forests and allied land uses.



Styrax is a balsamic oleoresin obtained from trees of the genus Liquidambar. In Southeast Asia, styrax is obtained from Liquidambar formosana, a broad-leaved species occurring mainly in Japan, the Republic of Korea, southern China, northern Viet Nam and Laos. Liquidambar formosana grows dispersed in natural forests and is a typical pioneer species growing on barren land and on sites earlier utilized by shifting cultivation.

The balsam is a yellowish-brown, viscous and sticky liquid consisting mainly of cinnamon acid, vanillin and borneol. The botanical name of the tree is deduced from the Latin word "liquidus" and the Arabic term "ambra" used for the fragrance obtained from the whale sperm. Liquidambar balsam is used as a raw material for the perfume and pharmaceutical industries and the manufacture of varnishes. In the East it is used as an incense when religious traditions are celebrated.

In Viet Nam, the balsam is tapped from trees with a diameter of more than 25 cm. Preparation work, that is the removal of vegetation around the tree, is carried out in March and April. The first incision is a streak forming a 30° angle to the horizontal. The streak covers one-third of the circumference of the tree and is 1.5 cm deep and 1 cm wide (vertical direction). To collect the exuded balsam, a 10-cm high semicircular box is cut into the trunk just above the first incision. Five to seven days after the first cut is made, the second is carried out in an ascending order removing a 1-cm wide chip.

The tapping season lasts from May to November and during this period yield is relatively high, while it is very low from January to April, which is the dry cooler season of the year. Trees are tapped from approximately five years of age.

The yield per cut is estimated to be approximately 5 g and, since 200 trees can be worked per person per day, a tapper may produce 1 kg balsam per day. Normally 30 cuts are made per year, so the output per tree is approximately 150 g. Tapping is mainly carried out by the ethnic minorities of the mountain regions to obtain an additional income. Liquidambar balsam is almost exclusively produced from natural forests where the trees grow dispersed and working conditions are very difficult.

To increase the output of balsam production, research is needed to focus on: silviculture of second-growth forests; the establishment of multiple-use liquidambar plantations near villages to produce timber, fuelwood and balsam; biological studies on the formation of balsam in the ducts of the sapwood and the exudation physiology; yield variation according to tree physiology and ecological conditions; tapping technology and ways to improve it; and the application of biological stimulants to increase yield.

Other NWFPs which can be obtained from Liquidambar formosana are: substances extracted from the corky knobs occurring sometimes on the trunk and from the roots used in Chinese medicine against fever, bladder troubles and kidney diseases; and the leaves used as food for silkworms, in meals prepared by the inhabitants of the mountains and as raw material to extract tannins. (Based on a contribution by: G. Stephan, Dorfstrasse 7a, D 18320 Tribohm, Germany; and Trieu Van Hung, Ministry of Forestry, Hanoi, Viet Nam.)


Lacquer, which is indigenous to subtropical regions of China, is a polymerized natural resin made from the sap of the lacquer tree, Rhus verniciflua. Lacquer trees initially grew wild but from early in the history of lacquer production they were planted commercially. The sap, grey and syrupy, is tapped in the same way as rubber and only dries in humid conditions. Once dried, it is impervious to water and this characteristic, together with its strength and resistance to heat, has made it a protective surface for domestic utensils and furniture for thousands of years. Surface decoration of lacquer may be painted, inlaid or carved. Natural lacquer dries black but with the addition of cinnabar it turns a rich red. Gold and silver can also be painted or etched on lacquer.

Many early records refer to lacquered items, including its use as a tribute, and there are records decrying its extravagance, particularly the decorated lacquered dishes which cost ten times as much as bronze. Archaeological excavations are now providing evidence to support such accounts. The best-preserved earliest evidence is in certain Shang dynasty (about 1500-1050 bc) tombs where coffins painted with lacquer have been found. Through the ages and during the different dynasties, lacquer was certainly used for vessels, furnishing items such as trays and stands, for the decoration of chariots and weapons, and for musical instruments. During the Eastern Zhou period (475-221 bc), lacquer became increasingly popular to the extent that it came to eclipse bronze, previously so highly valued by the Chinese, in the hierarchy of valuable materials.

Tablets found in tombs from the late Warring States period and under the Qin dynasty list regulations for the manufacture of lacquered objects; they give information on how lacquer groves were tended and who was responsible for quality control.

By the time of the Han dynasty (206 bc to ad 220) the lacquer industry in China was very well organized. It became a state monopoly able to produce wares on a large scale. Lacquer production was highly labour-intensive. Each coat had to dry before the next could be painted on. High-quality pieces would have had several coats of lacquer before the final design was painted and they would have been put to dry in a drying room with a specially humid atmosphere. (Extracted from: Carol Michelson. The shining tree, ancient Chinese lacquer. British Museum Magazine, October-December 1996, p. 27-28.)


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The Forest Products Laboratory of the University of Concepción, Chile, has carried out research aimed to test the potential of Phormium tenax (Agavaceae), known either as "formio", New Zealand flax or lily flax, for paper making.

Plantations of Phormium tenax have been established in a wet and cool temperate region of Chile with the aim of using the material for rope making, carpet making and similar uses. With a light alkaline treatment, followed by bleaching, a pulp with good mechanical properties is obtained. In particular, the pulp shows an interesting high resistance to tearing, as high as 50 percent more than the fibres from radiata pine. (Based on a contribution by: R. Melo, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad de Concepción. Casilla 53-C, Correo 3, Concepción, Chile.)

Ed. note: Other reported uses of Phormium tenax are in Maori traditional medicine: the anti-fungal activity of root extracts has been studied and documented in New Zealand and as forage for the sambar deer, Cervus unicolor.


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Le safou, fruit du safoutier (Dacryodes edulis), est largement consommé en Afrique centrale où il fait l’objet d’un commerce intense qui tend à s’internationaliser. Le safoutier est un arbre originaire de l’Afrique équatoriale et tropicale. Il est cultivé depuis longtemps dans les pays du golfe de Guinée. La pulpe du fruit, seule partie comestible, présente des qualités nutritionnelles intéressantes: en moyenne elle contient 50 pour cent de lipides, 10 pour cent de protéines, 27 pour cent de fibres et 10 pour cent de glucides digestibles par rapport à la matière sèche. Elle apporte en plus des minéraux et des vitamines. L’huile extraite de la pulpe est également intéressante par la présence de l’acide linoléique (de 18 à 27 pour cent) et de celle de l’acide oléique (de 15 à 30 pour cent). La quantité (1 à
2 pour cent) et la qualité (tocophérols, stérols, alcool triterpeniques, etc.) de sa fraction insaponifiable lui garantissent des utilisations cosmétiques.

Actuellement, il existe une demande non négligeable de safou en tant que fruit de bouche pour l’alimentation en Afrique centrale et en tant que fruit d’huilerie en alimentation et cosmétique. Une demande internationale pour l’huile de safou s’est déjà manifestée: Nestlé (Suisse), Occitane (France), Institut de recherche en biologie et dermatologie (France), Imperial Öl Import (Allemagne), etc.

La production du safoutier s’étale en Afrique centrale pratiquement sur toute l’année, de juin à novembre dans l’hémisphère Nord, et de novembre à avril dans l’hémisphère Sud. Il n’existe pas actuellement des statistiques fiables sur la production de safou dans la région. De plus, la culture traditionnelle, généralement éparse, ne permet pas un calcul aisé.

Au Nigeria, on rapporte, pour des arbres adultes (10 à 15 ans) des productions de 200 kg de fruits par arbre. Au Congo, on a obtenu environ 100 kg par arbre et plus de 30 kg sur des safoutiers de semis, âgés de cinq ans. Sur la base de ces informations, et retenant une moyenne de production de 100 kg de fruits par arbre, le rendement peut être évalué entre 19 et 15 tonnes à l’hectare. La production n’est donc pas le facteur limitant pour la promotion de la filière safou.

Le safou est un fruit fragile, les pertes après récolte peuvent s’élever à plus de 50 pour cent de la production et le ramollissement de la pulpe en est la principale cause. La cueillette des safous par gaulage et les conditions de transport favorisent la blessure des fruits et contribuent de façon non négligeable à l’augmentation des pertes après récolte.

Dans les pays où il est cultivé, le safoutier se reproduit essentiellement pas semis. Il en découle une grande diversité variétale qui se traduit, entre autres, par des fruits aux caractéristiques morphologiques très variées.

Il a été signalé l’existence de fruits sans graines présentant, dans la plupart des cas, des caractères très intéressants: maturité tardive, gros calibre, excellentes caractéristiques organoleptiques.

Sur des fruits mûrs, l’extraction au soxhlet de la pulpe conduit à des teneurs en huile variant de 50 à
79 pour cent de la matière sèche. A la presse, on ne peut en extraire que
15 à 40 pour cent. L’huile obtenue a un indice d’acidité bas à l’état brut, un indice d’iode caractéristique d’une huile moyennement insaturée, et un indice de saponification voisin de 200. Toutes ces indications sont en faveur de son utilisation comme huile alimentaire.

La teneur en acide linoléique, acide gras essentiel, généralement comprise entre 14 et 27 pour cent, renforce l’intérêt nutritionnel de cette huile. Les teneurs des acides palmitiques (35 à 65 pour cent), oléique (16 à 36 pour cent) et stéarique (4 à 32 pour cent) donnent un rapport acide gras insaturé/acide gras saturé de l’ordre de 1. Cela rapproche énormément l’huile de safou de l’huile de palme.

L’huile issue de la graine est du même type que celle extraite de la pulpe et, dans l’éventualité d’une production d’huile de safou, il ne paraît pas nécessaire de séparer la pulpe de la graine, ce qui occasionne un gain en matière grasse de l’ordre de 10 pour cent.

En ce qui concerne la valeur biologique du tourteau de safou, le faible taux de protéines et le taux élevé de cellulose font du tourteau un aliment que les ruminants pourraient utiliser d’une manière optimale. En outre, le tourteau semble dépourvu de toute toxicité.

Tout comme l’huile de palme, celle de safou pourrait être estérifiée en cas de surproduction ou en cas de besoin, et fournir ainsi des carburants de substitution aux combustibles fossiles.

De plus, l’extraction de l’huile de safou est plus simple que celle de palme.

Le colza, en zone tempérée, ne produit que 1,5 à 2 tonnes d’huile par hectare, alors que le safoutier non amélioré, comme les palmiers, pourrait produire entre 1,5 à 3 fois plus. Le safoutier pourrait ainsi figurer parmi les plantes potentiellement productrices de biocarburants les plus performantes de la planète. A titre de comparaison, la Jatropha curcas ne produit que 0,3 tonne d’huile par hectare, c’est-à-dire environ le cinquième de la production d’huile de colza et le dixième de celle de safou ou de palmier. (Source: extrait et édité de l’article «Perspectives de production de l’huile de safou», par T. Silou et
E. Avouompo, Bulletin africain Bioressources-Energie-Développement-Environnement, juillet 1997.)


Adresse des auteurs:
Thomas Silou: Laboratoire d’études physicochimiques, Faculté des Sciences, B.P. 69, Brazzaville, Congo.
Etienne Avouompo: Département de technologie agro-alimentaire, Agricongo, Brazzaville, Congo.

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Pistacia lentiscus is an evergreen shrub or small tree native to the eastern Mediterranean. The plant is valued for its aromatic, resinous exudate: mastic gum. Mastic is used in the preparation of paints. Although the tree grows elsewhere in the Mediterranean, mastic resins are only found in the trees of the island of Chios in Greece. In Chios, mastic from P. lentiscus is collected on a large scale.

In ancient times, mastic gum was seen as a panacea for every sort of ill. In present days, Greece’s biggest pharmaceutical laboratory, Lavipharm, has launched a project to research whether any antique mastic remedy might have a modern application. Lavipharm, which is trying to negotiate an exclusive contract with the union of mastic producers on Chios, has already undertaken a range of experiments using mastic.

Studies are also under way in the United Kingdom, the United States and Sweden involving mastic use in dental care or treatment of bed sores, while other scientists are investigating whether it could be used against diabetes or cholesterol or in cancer treatments. The cosmetic industry is also taking a new look at this product, which was used in ancient Rome to affix false eyelashes, whiten teeth or bleach skin.

Mastic gum is highly prized in Mediterranean cooking and pastries and as a flavouring of ouzo, the sweet, aniseed-flavoured Greek liqueur.

Chios already exports mastic to 50 countries, mostly in the region, with Saudi Arabia topping the list. In Greece it is used as an all-natural chewing gum.

Mastic currently brings US$14.4 million per year to 21 village producers, who have held a monopoly since 1938 on the resin’s collection and distribution and who stand to earn a lot more if the new experiments take off. (Source: FOPW files.)

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Ambrette (Abelmoschus moschatus) is an annual or biennial herbaceous plant which grows to a height of 2 m. It is distributed in India, southern China, peninsular Indochina, the southwestern Pacific islands, New Guinea and northern Australia. It is cultivated and naturalized elsewhere.

The seeds of ambrette are extensively used in perfumery, since their aroma is similar to that of musk, and are also used to impart a musky perfume to sachets and hair powders, etc. The seed-coat yields an aromatic "absolute", which can serve as a highly useful base for preparing high-quality perfumes, scents and cosmetics. The liquid ambrette oil of commerce blends excellently with many other essential oils, including rose, neroli and sandalwood oil. Ambrette oil in the form of extract can be used in creams, lipsticks, cosmetic powders and soaps.

Another major utilization of ambrette seeds is in the manufacture of "zarda", a flavoured chewing tobacco. In the Arabian Peninsular, the seeds are also used to flavour coffee. In addition to their pleasant taste and flavour, the seeds possess several medicinal properties and the roots and leaves are also used for medicinal purposes. The processed seed meal can be used as cattle or poultry feed. (Source: G.S. Srivastava, S.K. Nigam and G. Misra. Production and processing of ambrette seeds. Agriculture International, 38(7-8): 220-23, July/August 1986.)


This overview of the many uses of mangroves in various parts of the world is based on a much longer contribution by Dr W. Bandaranayake of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The collective noun mangrove designates an ecosystem formed by a very special association of plants and animals that live in the intertidal area of low-lying tropical coasts, estuaries, deltas, backwaters and lagoons. It is also used to designate the trees and shrubs that thrive in that ecosystem. Ecologically, mangroves are important in maintaining and building the soil, as a reservoir in the tertiary assimilation of wastes, and in the global cycle of certain gases. They also serve as a natural habitat for wildlife, birds and shellfish. Mangrove trees are the foundation in a complex marine food chain and the detritus food cycle.

The uses of mangroves are many and varied. Traditionally, mangroves have been exploited for timber for building dwellings and boats and fuelwood for cooking and heating. Palm species are used, especially in Southeast Asia and Brazil, to construct jetties and other submerged structures because they are resistant to rot and to attack by fungi and borers. Rhizophora and, to a lesser extent, Avicennia woods have a high calorific value and are excellent fuels for the boilers of trains in Pakistan. In Indonesia, commercial exploitation of mangroves for charcoal is reported from 1887. In Central America, the direct use for charcoal production and the extraction of tannin has been responsible for large-scale mangrove removal and degradation. Large-scale conversion of mangroves for wood chip production began in East Malaysia and Indonesia during the 1970s. Mangrove wood chips are still a major export from Kalimantan.

In Malaysia, where mangroves occur in profusion, an important cottage industry is the manufacture of shingles for roof thatching from the fronds of Nypa fruticans. Basketry, corks and floats are obtained from the pneumatophores. Rhizophora apiculata has been exported from the Philippines to various parts of the world for utilization in the textile industry and extracts of stilt roots exhibited mosquito larvicidal activity. In Sri Lanka, Cerebera manghas is used in making masks for many traditional cultural activities. Pulp for paper, matchsticks, household utensils, agricultural implements and toys are some other products produced from mangroves. In Japan, propagules of Rhizophora and Bruguiera are planted in pots and make good decorations when germinated.

The tender leaves of Acrostichum, the hypocotyls of Bruguiera, are the staple food of some Papua New Guineans. Leaves of Osbornia octodonata are flavouring agents. Fibres, mats, paper and tapa cloth are products of Hibiscus tiliaceus, Thespesia populnea and Pandanus spp.

A local industry in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh and India is the production of honey and, in Bangladesh, a large number of people including wood and thatch cutters, honey and wax collectors and fishermen are directly dependent on the mangroves. Fruits of Avicennia marina are universally used as vegetables. The fruits of Kandelia candel and Bruguiera gymnorrhiza contain starch and if sliced, soaked in water to rinse out tannins and then ground to a paste can make excellent cakes or sweetened stuffing for pastry. "Sagu" is taken from the mangrove palm tree Metroxylon sagu found in Southeast Asia where the hypocotyls of Bruguiera are also an accepted food item. Intoxicating drinks are made from the sap of the "coconut" of Nypa and Borassus. The common Nypa plant, in addition to sugar, provides a diversity of products, including thatch from the leaves and alcohol and vinegar obtained by distillation of the fermented sugary phloem sap. Cooking oil and cigarette wrappers are also products obtained from many species of mangroves. Extracts of the heartwood of Avicennia alba and A. officinalis have tonic properties. It is reported that some mangrove plants and extracts are used as incense, perfumes, hair preservatives, condiments and aphrodisiacs. Edible jelly and a kind of salt are made from the ashed leaflets.

Among the coastal lagoons along the west coast of Africa, the villagers produce salt by using a technique of boiling brackish water placed in a clay bowl over a fire made from Avicennia. On the west coast of Sri Lanka twigs and branches, mainly of Rhizophora mucronata, R. apiculata and Lumnitzera racemosa, are used to form "brush piles" or "brush parks" in a specially devised fishing method. The gathering of mangrove leaves (e.g. Suaeda and Porteresia) for animal fodder remains widespread in the Near East and South Asia, and for feeding camels in Iran and India.

To a limited degree, the indigenous people of Australia and Sri Lanka use extracts from mangrove plants as valuable sources of dyes. In Viet Nam, farmers complement their income by collecting and sorting shells from the mangrove mud flats.

The importance of bark tannins has declined in many Asian countries, but mangrove tannin is still used in India and Bangladesh for leather curing and in Sri Lanka tannin is used traditionally in curing fishnets. The tannins comprise two groups of phenolic constituents, hydrolysable and condensed, which are important economically as agents for the synthesis of certain medicines. Their potential value as cytotoxic and/or antineoplastic agents and as antimicrobial agents has been demonstrated.

Mangrove plants are rich sources of saponins, alkaloids and flavonoids. Plant saponins have been shown to have interesting biological activities such as spermicidal and molluscicidal activity.

The extraction of natural chemical compounds, in addition to those already known to the pharmacopoeia of the people, continues to this day and among the latest additions are an array of substances from glues to alkaloids and saponins and many other substances of interest to modern industry and medicine.

An alternative source of wealth in the mangroves is the exploitation of the fish, molluscs and crustaceans that abound in the mangrove areas. The exploitation and value of aquatic products from mangrove ecosystems is of great significance today.

Use of mangroves as natural sewage-treatment plants has been considered. Mangroves trap sediments and so contribute to land building, preventing erosion and excessive shifting of coastlines.

A relatively recent commercial use of mangroves is for recreation and ecotourism. In Australia, mangrove habitats play a significant role in programmes of conservation, recreation and researching methods of establishing nature reserves, sanctuaries, national parks and biosphere reserves.

A non-governmental organization, the International Society for Mangrove Ecosystem (ISME), which was established in 1990, aims to promote the study of mangroves with the purpose of enhancing their conservation, rational management and sustainable utilization.

Ed. note: There are two major research programmes at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS):

• Coastal and Shelf Process Programstudies have been undertaken to assess the suitability of mangrove species and mangrove environments for commercial use; and

• Biotechnology Programisolation of biological active compounds from marine sources including mangroves and mangal associates.

Address of the author:
Dr W. Bandaranayake, Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB 3, Townsville MC, Queensland 4810, Australia.
Fax: (+61 77) 725 852;


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