Mr Karl-Hermann Schminke, who was Director of the Forest Products Division from 1993, retired in August 1998. The new Director, Dr Wulf Killmann, took up his duties in January 1999. Dr Killmann has a background in non-wood forest products; in fact, he is a specialist in the utilization of monocotyledons, particularly palm stem utilization [see under Publications of Interest for more information]. We are honoured that Dr Killmann has accepted our invitation to write the editorial this year.
You are holding the sixth issue of Non-Wood News. As was mentioned in an earlier editorial, this bulletin is meant to be yours - your news sheet and your discussion platform. We try to collect and process the scattered information on properties, uses and markets of non-wood forest products, supplying you with the information needed for particular products, trying to respond to your requests and fostering communication and discussion with other people.
Your response and active participation proves that you adopted this concept, and you have helped to shape this bulletin: last year our mailing list increased to almost 1 900, we had numerous requests for information and this issue has a print run of 2 500 copies. FAO's Forest Products Division is proud to provide this forum and looks forward to continuing this active exchange with all of you.
Starting as hunters and gatherers, since stone-age times humans have adopted and domesticated plants from their hunting grounds. It is safe to assume that most of our fruits, plants and natural fibres originate from NWFPs. Looking at our history of plants - for example, the synthesis of the antimalaria substance quinine, which was originally extracted from the bark of Cinchona spp.
As soon as a product has reached the plantation (or industrial) level, rural producers tend to lose their competitive edge on the national and international markets and fall back mainly on supplying rural households and local markets. This process is undoubtedly ongoing.
Today, non-wood forest products can basically be divided into two groups: those of mainly local value and importance; and those of interest to the international market.
For many people in the developing world, NWFPs are their means of living and/or their only source of income. In industrialized countries, on the other hand, past generations regarded all products primarily from their commercial aspect. Only in the last 20 years has an awareness arisen of the importance to rural communities in the developing world of the income derived from NWFPs. Nowadays, issues are also of an ethical and legal nature:
- Who is the owner?
- How does the rural population/indigenous group/country of origin benefit?
- Who monitors the consideration of their interests?
- What negotiation/mediation processes have been devised?
- How successful have they been?
These issues, as well as that of bioprospecting, have to be addressed in depth; consequently, we would very much like to highlight them in our next issue of Non-Wood News. We hope to receive your ideas, opinions and concerns on this subject and look forward to your continuing active participation.