With the accelerating loss of tropical rainforest around the world, non-wood forest products (NWFPs) are becoming ever more important as a means of mitigating deforestation, hence maintaining forest cover and realising income from it. NWFPs have been widely acclaimed as a panacea for the problem, but there are many constraints and frequently false hopes have been raised by the promulgation of the value of NWFPs. It is therefore excellent that an international workshop on NWFPs was recently held at Limbe Botanic Garden, Cameroon, to evaluate the situation and develop possible strategies to assess the potential that forest products, other than timber, can contribute to conservation and development initiatives.
Although this workshop was primarily geared towards Central Africa, it has a much wider relevance to the rainforests of the world. I have attended several recent meetings where NWFPs have been discussed and have been particularly struck by two things. Firstly, the commercial exploitation of many NWFPs is often undertaken in a non-sustainable manner, and secondly, we lack so much of the basic research that is essential before further exploitation of a particular NWFP is promoted, in terms of both biology and the socio-economic considerations. However, in spite of these reservations there is no doubt that NWFPs have an important role to play in the future of tropical forests and the conclusions and recommendations of the papers and discussion sessions from this workshop are a most welcome addition to the debate on how to use NWFPs more wisely.
Rainforest species generally occur in extremely low densities. In the majority of the inventory plots with which I have been involved the majority of species, some of which could yield non-wood products, occur with extremely low frequency. For example in a three hectare inventory in the Rio Xingu region of Brazil, 125 of the 265 species were represented by only one individual and another 54 by two. However, that same inventory included 79 individuals of the very useful babassu palm (Orbignya phalerata). In general, species with low densities are unlikely to become important commercial sources of NWFPs, as they are highly susceptible to the impacts of over-harvesting. Even many of the more common species that produce NWFPs are often over-exploited and many examples of this are given in this volume. The type of research reported on by Van Dijk is essential because it identifies the rare and the abundant resources of a rainforest area in Central Africa, whilst also taking into account the socio-economic aspects of exploitation.
As Charles Peters points out, other factors that need to be taken into account when a NWFP is exploited include the effect on pollinators and agents of seed dispersal and also on the removal of essential nutrients from the forest. So many rainforests are on poor soils and some of the essential nutrients are concentrated in the parts removed, especially in bark and fruits. In the exploitation of NWFPs it is essential that the regeneration of the species is not prevented by, for example, the removal of too many seeds or the damage to seedlings from trampling by the gatherer of a product.
As the majority of the harvesting of NWFPs is undertaken by forest dwellers, it is an essential requirement that the local community be involved in the management system. It is therefore good to see a paper by Ruth Malleson on the community management of forest resources and the importance of the social institutions that can influence the exploitation of NWFPs.
This volume reports on considerable research that has been carried out on NWFPs in Central Africa. However, a great deal more research is needed before we can be sure that any product is managed in a long-term sustainable manner. It is to be hoped that this volume will not only stimulate the use of NWFPs, but also much further research on the ethnobotany, ecology and socio-economic importance of any product that is to be promoted. It is only with this basic research that NWFPs will truly play a significant role in the conservation and the sustainable use of the tropical forests.
Sir Ghillean Prance FRS
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
The USAID-funded Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) with support from the FAO Non-Wood Forest Products Programme, organised an international expert workshop on non-wood forest products in Central Africa during May 1998 at the Limbe Botanic Garden, Cameroon. This workshop set the stage for the creation of a regional network for information sharing and collaboration and has helped to identify short and medium-term activities that will clarify the potential role of the sector in the better management of the forests of Central Africa.
In addition, the workshop provided an invaluable forum for the NWFP community to share their work and experiences with others. It is our hope that this will encourage an increased unification of knowledge and activities in the NWFP sector in Central Africa and determine the present and potential contribution of NWFPs to conservation and development. The workshop also provided, for many, a rare opportunity to disseminate their research findings in an international setting.
These proceedings include the papers presented at the workshop as well as a number of extra papers submitted by participants after the workshop had ended that were thought to be of sufficient interest to merit inclusion. The papers included in this publication are a synthesis of the current state of the knowledge of NWFPs in general and related issues surrounding their exploitation, and provide a unique overview of the NWFP sector throughout Central Africa, rather than the usual country specific approach.
The workshop and these proceedings would not have been possible without the hard work of a number of individuals and institutions. Full acknowledgement should be given to the Limbe Botanic Garden, without whose marvelous facilities and considerable logistical support the workshop would not have run as smoothly as it did. Special mention must also be made to Brendan Jaff who facilitated the workshop in a highly professional manner. Dr. David Wilkie provided an invaluable synopsis of the discussion sessions at the workshop, a summary of which forms the introduction to these proceedings. The CARPE contact for Cameroon, Nicodeme Tchamou, also provided invaluable help, advice and support both prior to and during the workshop. Indeed it was Nicodeme who originally identified the need for this workshop and helped us think through various issues along the way.
Finally, the workshop would never have happened without the personal commitment, dedication, and many long hours of hard work from Laurie Clark and Terry Sunderland. Laurie took on the thankless administrative and logistical burden, and Terry was instrumental in helping us finalize our thematic approach, identify key participants and, after the workshop, pulled together these proceedings. Overall guidance and coordination for the preparation, review and publication of the final document was provided by Paul Vantomme. Thanks and appreciation to them, and to the others who participated in the process.
Forest Products Division, FAO
Africa Branch Chief
USDA Forest Service/International Programs
As can be seen from a cursory glance through these proceedings, many of these papers are inter-connected and refer a great deal to each other. To facilitate ease of reading and presentation, we have avoided significant repetition that would occur if we were to include a definition of non-wood or non-timber forest products in each paper. Instead, we have opted for the use of the term Non-Wood Forest products and left David Wilkie in his introduction (and workshop summary) to provide the definition on NWFPs which applies to this volume, as indeed it did for the workshop itself.
A key to the acronyms used in the papers can be found in the Appendices, although efforts have been made to ensure that as many acronyms as possible are expanded upon in the individual papers. In many cases they have been avoided.
It should be noted that at the time of collation, the CFA franc / US$ exchange rate was 600 CFA = $1.
The Office of International Programs at the Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture is herewith kindly acknowledged for their financial support for the publication of the present document.