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The emphasis on sustainable forestry as a means of making forestry contribute efficiently to sustainable development has drawn increasing attention to the ecological aspects, active involvement of people and utilization of forest resources in a comprehensive manner.

Sustainable and comprehensive utilization of forest resources is achieved through appropriate harvesting, processing and marketing of both wood and non-wood forest products. Although non-wood forest products have been utilized extensively by local populations, relatively little systematically documented information exists. With the rapid urbanization in developing regions, the importance of understanding thoroughly the commercial aspects of many of these products is becoming vital.

Medicinal plants comprise one of the major non-wood forest product categories on the marketing of which information is scarce, although the use of traditional medicines is a common practice in many parts of the world.

FAO, through its Forest Products Marketing Programme, aims, inter alia, at increasing and documenting the knowledge of current marketing practices in order to provide a solid basis for further development. The Programme, being part of the normative activities of FAO, also makes every effort to contribute to the development of approaches and methodologies for the preparation of case studies on marketing practices.

In South Africa there are long-standing traditions for the gathering and processing of medicinal plants for the markets. The increasing interest in traditional medicines has, however, boosted the gathering activities from natural sources to an alarming level. In order to increase the knowledge of the traditional medicine sector, the Institute of Natural Resources of the University of Natal has initiated a project to promote the cultivation of indigenous plants for markets that include selected medicinal plants. This case study by FAO, therefore, also provides an input to the sector study by the Institute of Natural Resources.

FAO would like to record its appreciation to the Institute of Natural Resources and, through it, to the numerous people and organizations for their contributions to the study.

Specific thanks are recorded to Mr Myles Mander as an FAO consultant for his work in the actual collection of information, analysis and writing up of the case study report.

Appreciation is also recorded for the editing of the report for printing by Ms Elisa Rubini, Secretary, and the supervision of the work by Mr L. Lintu, Senior Forestry Officer, Forest Products Division of FAO.

It is hoped that this case study will provide a valid model of an approach and method to assess the marketing practices of non-wood forest products and those of medicinal plants in particular.

Karl-Hermann Schmincke
Forest Products Division

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