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Income generation through sustainable management of non-wood forest products

Around the globe and throughout history, forests have been valued for the many products and benefits they provide (food, fuel, medicine, fibres) and as a source of income from trade in these items. It is only recently, and for a relatively short period in this long continuum, that forests have been viewed essentially as a source of one product: wood. It is not far-fetched to identify this narrow perspective - and the short-sighted use of wood resources to the detriment and even destruction of the rest of the forest ecosystem - with many of the challenges that face the forests and those who manage and depend on them today.

In recent years, non-wood forest products (NWFPs) - goods of biological origin other than wood, derived from forests, other wooded land and trees outside the forest - have right-fully regained centre stage in efforts to ensure the sustainable management of the world's forests. There has been increasing recognition of their contribution to household economies and food security, to some national economies and particularly to environmental objectives, including the conservation of biological diversity.

The range of efforts required to develop the full potential of NWFPs is wide indeed. Land-use and forest policies need to be evaluated and where necessary adapted to ensure that potential impacts on non-wood forest resources and products are taken into consideration. Increased research on the abundance, distribution, biology and ecology of non-wood forest resources is essential. Of particular importance are investigations into ways to improve the employment- and income-generating potential of NWFPs through better harvesting, storage, transport, processing, manufacturing and marketing. The articles in this issue of Unasylva explore various facets of the challenge of generating income through the sustainable management of NWFPs.

In the opening article, D. Taylor considers the requirements for thriving rural NWFP enterprises, using current success stories to point up the factors contributing to economic and environmental viability. The article is complemented by a short piece by K. Dürbeck on green trade organizations, alliances that bring together producers and traders committed to ecological, economic and social sustainability.

M. Ruiz Pérez, O. Ndoye and A. Eyebe summarize the main results of studies by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) that characterize the performance and operation of markets selling NWFPs in Cameroon's humid forest zone. Two important constraints that emerge are the absence of an appropriate market infrastructure and growing pressure on the resource base for a number of products, highlighting the need for reconciliation of income generation and conservation.

Forest and land use policies set the background for management of forest resources and the products derived from them. The article by O. Saastamoinen considers the current and potential impact of forest policies in northern Europe on the development of NWFPs. Interestingly, Saastamoinen argues against privatization of access to NWFPs (generally freely accessible in northern Europe). The following article, by S. Olmos, summarizes information on income generation from NWFPs in three European countries: Finland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.

B. Barham, O. Coomes and Y. Takasaki consider the relationship of NWFPs to wealth and income generation for tropical rain forest dwellers, with a focus on the Peruvian Amazon. P. Van Damme and X. Scheldeman consider the requirements for developing cherimoya (Annona cherimola Mill.), a familiar fruit in parts of subtropical Latin America, as a niche crop that could discover popularity in international markets.

Although most NWFPs are traded locally and in relatively low volumes, a number of products are important in the international arena. At the top of the list are bamboo and rattan. A. Kumar and C. Sastry trace the development of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan from a small research network into an independent intergovernmental organization.

As the importance of NWFPs gains greater recognition, countries are attempting to maximize their potential. In one article related to this challenge, J. Anderson, K. Warner, L. Russo and H. Qwist-Hoffmann consider the special requirements of extension for NWFPs. In the final article in the issue, R. Prasad presents evidence suggesting that in India, state monopolies on NWFP collection and trade may not be achieving the desired positive impacts for the collectors or for the forests.

Readers are also directed to short articles in the FAO forestry section highlighting specific FAO activities in the development of NWFPs.

Finally, it is our sad duty in this issue of Unasylva to note the passing in June 1999 of C.H. Murray, FAO Assistant Director-General and head of the FAO Forestry Department from 1988 until his retirement in 1994. Mr Murray was both a colleague and a friend and the impact he had on FAO forestry as well as on forestry in a wider context continues to be strongly felt. A short recollection appears in the World of Forestry section.

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