FAO and food security

The success of the World Food Summit, at which 186 countries (of which 112 were represented at the level of Heads of State or Government) made a solemn commitment to the eradication of hunger, has now been reflected in FAO's Strategic Framework, which provides a long-term perspective to guide its actions until 2015. This now provides the framework for the medium-term plans and the biennial Programmes of Work and Budget.

One of FAO's new programmes is the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS). The SPFS is now operational in 51 countries and under formulation in 25 others. It has succeeded in mobilizing almost US$50 million from bilateral and multilateral donors and financial institutions, as well as an equivalent amount from the governments of the countries concerned.

Forests, trees and food security: the SPFS perspective

The projects developed within the framework of the Special Programme aim mainly at increasing food production in the participating countries. Recognizing the various contributions of forests and trees to the diversification and sustainability of the farming systems, the SPFS considers the introduction of a forestry/agroforestry component among the project activities as an essential step towards food security.

Introducing tree planting and agroforestry activities is seen to contribute to three major sets of objectives: (a) those contributing to the sustainability of the farming system through reduction of silting and sanding processes and any other soil degradation process that affect fertility and the growth of crops, including the negative effect of winds, especially in intertropical zones; these activities may contribute, after a minimum of five years, to around 20 to 30 percent increase in yield; (b) those contributing to direct production of non-crop items, such as timber, seeds and nuts (e.g. cashew nuts); in such cases tree planting provides fuelwood and charcoal for domestic energy and/or income; timber and poles for income; and (c) those related to environmental improvement. This is very important in all subsumed to arid African countries, where hot winds may affect habitat and comfort of dwelling. This environmental improvement has significant economic consequences since some other productive activities, such as apiculture, can be promoted.

In many instances, the various roles of trees and forests overlap, and trees planted for conservation works may also produce fodder, edible seeds (seeds of Sisyphus mauritiana; leaves of Cratoeva religiosa in the Senegal river valley, for example), provide forage for bees and increase honey production, and contribute to a number of other local uses and needs.

(Contributed by Mr. El-Hadji Sene, Director, Forest Resources Division, FAO Forestry Department.)

The ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security brings together main development partners for focused and coordinated action at country level. Established in April 1997 by the United Nations Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), the ACC Network has been endorsed and supported by the UN Secretary-General and the Heads of 20 UN organizations. It is jointly managed by FAO and IFAD, in close cooperation with WFP.

The ACC Network is a mechanism for World Food Summit follow-up and aims to:

· mobilize support for government efforts to implement the World Food Summit Plan of Action and rural development and food security programmes;

· reinforce ties between UN organizations and other stakeholders;

· foster synergy and avoid duplication of efforts; and

· exchange and disseminate information, experiences and best practices.

(More information on another of FAO's Web sites covering food security, namely Gender and Food Security, can be found in this Special Feature.)


FAO's Forestry Department and Food Security

A forthcoming issue of Unasylva, the international journal of the FAO Forestry Department, will focus on forestry and food security. The issue will look at forestry within the larger context of food security, specifically concerning the role that forestry plays in food security. It will explore several aspects of forestry and food security, focusing among other things on policy, globalization, local level multisectoral approaches, privatization and environment. See the Unasylva home page at:

The 1989 Forestry Paper (no. 90) on Forestry and Food Security is being revised and updated in order to take into account the important developments in this field and the World Food Summit in 1996.

The Forestry Department's NWFP Programme and Food Security

The NWFP programme will be channelling its efforts in 2000 into developing and maintaining a comprehensive information base and Web site documenting the role of NWFPs in food security.

A series of country profiles on the status of NWFPs are being prepared. The first set, covering English-speaking Africa, is now ready and will be posted shortly on our NWFP home page. Extracts from some of these profiles covering the contribution of NWFPs to food security follow.

(Country profiles covering Latin America and the Near East, as well as French-speaking Africa, are almost completed.)


The contribution of forests and trees to food security in Africa is important, diversified and valuable. It ranges from the direct production of food items to the provision of jobs, income generation, and support to the sustainability of farming systems.
Food from trees and forests is a regular item in the African diet, and the variety and abundance of plant and animal products found in African markets are proof of this. African populations have learnt to exploit all types of vegetation. Looking at the various ways plants are used in medicine and food production, one can assert that almost any tree, shrub or grass species in Africa is used in one place or another for food and nutrition. In villages and small towns, in particular, foods from forests and trees are essential to improve the nutritional status of the people by providing vitamins and other elements, which are not found in food, produced by agriculture. Thus a number of nutritional deficiencies associated with the monotony of the diet in many areas in Africa are avoided thanks to this «hidden harvest» from trees and forests.
In spite of the importance and richness of food from forests in Africa, progress has been very slow in considering measures and programmes to increase the contribution of wild plants and animals to food production and food security. Currently this contribution is hardly sustainable. It can however be more meaningful and more responsive to modern market needs if the natural resources are managed in an appropriate manner and if substantive research and technology are invested in its improvement and development. A combination of initiatives aiming at improved knowledge of local and traditional practices, inventorying and managing resources, and further integrating trees in farming systems can effectively make a difference and have a significant impact on food security in Africa.
(Contributed by Mr El-Hadji Sene, Director, Forest Resources Division, FAO Forestry Department.)

Food from NWFPs in selected countries of English-speaking Africa


In Botswana, the majority of animal protein comes from wild animals. Over 50 species of wild animals are hunted for food, providing in some regions 90.7 kg/year/person, equivalent to 40 percent of the human diet. Some animals are sold, thus providing income opportunities for the poorest households.


Beekeeping is an ancient tradition in Ethiopia. Hive density is estimated to be the highest in Africa. An estimated 4-10 million traditional hives and some 10 000 modern box hives are believed to exist in the country. The main products of the beekeeping industry are honey and wax. Honey is almost exclusively used for local consumption, while a considerable proportion of wax is exported. The annual turnover of the apiculture industry is estimated to vary between US$26 million and 64 million. Honey and beeswax also play a considerable role in the cultural and religious life of the Ethiopians.

The main resource base for beekeeping - forests and woodlands - has become seriously degraded in the course of time. Eucalyptus plantations have been established in some localities and constitute a new and complementary honey resource. In many places the beekeepers themselves have endeavoured to redress the situation by planting good honey plants near their hive colonies, such as Vernonia amygdalina and Salvia spp.


In Kenya, vegetables play an important role in food security for the rural population. In the Machakos district, for example, wild leaves represent one-third of all food intake in the rainy season.

Fruit are also consumed seasonally, especially by children. The fruits of Ximenia caffra and Sclerocarya birrea are popular and can be found on farms to a larger extent. In the Kathama area, wild fruits have long been valued as buffer food resources in periods of famine and food shortage. In the semi-arid Pokot region of northern Kenya, Balanites aegyptiaca is highly valued because it produces leaves during the dry season, even in drought years. Wild berries (e.g. gooseberries, raspberries) are not only consumed at the subsistence level, but are also commonly offered for sale and provide some employment for young people.

Most traditional beverages, such as beers and wines, are brewed from fruits of wild or semi-cultivated plants such as Kigelia abyssinica (sausage tree). Wild fruits are also used for other non-alcoholic health beverages and drinks, such as stews and soups.

Wild tubers and roots are locally used as food or for the preparation of health beverages because of their high starch or sugar content.

A wide variety of wildlife products is used for subsistence and commercial purposes in Kenya. Among these are honey and beeswax, bushmeat (small animals, birds) and insects, or feathers claws and skins of birds used as ornamentals and ritual objects.

The beekeeping industry depends heavily on forests for the production of nectar. Honey has multiple uses in traditional and modern lifestyles, in food, drinks, medicines and in trade, and is used by a number of communities in the majority of traditional ceremonies.

Bushmeat is also sold in butcheries as a luxury item. The value of bushmeat is twice that of beef and can be enhanced two or three times by processing it into such luxury products as smoked, dried or sausage products. However, bushmeat markets are not common, since hunting is strictly controlled in Kenya. In 1989, approximately 45 tonnes of bushmeat were produced, while the Kenya Wildlife Service estimates that by 1995 annual demand for bushmeat reached 500 tonnes.


Fruit-trees (e.g. Uapaca kirkiana, Tamarindus indica, Strychnos spinosa) are important sources of food supplements. Fruits improve the nutritional content of staple foods and the nutritional status, especially in times of food emergency, and have been used for a long time to supplement dietary needs. They contain vital nutrients and essential vitamins that are especially important for growing children, who often suffer from malnutrition and related diseases. Nutritional studies have shown that Parinari curatellifolia, Strychnos cocculoides and Azanza garkeana contain more than 30 percent fat and about 45 percent crude fibre and total carbohydrates, while Trichilia emetica and Annona senegalensis are important sources of protein. The miombo woodland is an important source of indigenous fruits (Uapaca kirkiana, Parinari curatellifolia, Strychnos cocculoides, Flacourtia indica).

Indigenous fruit-trees of the miombo are also used to generate income (both in cash and barter) through the sale of fruits and fruit products. The same is the case for other fruit, e.g. Uapaca kirkiana that are widely traded and offer a supplementary income-generating activity. Uapaca kirkiana makes a good wine. Most of these fruit-trees are found only in natural stands.

In the Kasungu District, 20 species of fruit-trees have been identified. The Wildlife Society of Malawi (WSM) is implementing a community-based project «Sustainable management of indigenous forests» (SADC/FSTCU-GTZ Project) in east Mwanza. Through this initiative, some local communities are enjoying the benefits derived from the sale to the People Trading Centre (PTC) of juices made from Tamarindus indica and Adansonia digitata fruit. Most of these fruit-trees are found only in natural stands and are threatened by deforestation. Efforts are currently under way to domesticate the most preferred indigenous fruit-tree species.

Mushrooms have always been known to provide supplementary food, especially during the rainy season. The utilization of 60 species of edible mushrooms is documented and these are widely sold along roadsides during the rainy season, particularly by women and children. Most of these wild edible mushrooms grow on dead wood and leaf litter normally found in indigenous woodlands.

A wide range of indigenous vegetables is available in Malawi. Many of these vegetables are rich in vitamins, essential minerals and oils. Young tender leaves of certain trees such as Adansonia digitata and Afzelia quanzensis are cooked and used as relish.

Bushmeat is an important source of food especially in areas close to natural forests. People in northern Malawi, where considerable forest areas exist, do a lot of hunting. However, bushmeat is becoming scarcer as a result of overhunting.

Efforts are under way to try to domesticate wild birds such as guinea fowls. They constitute a good business since a bird can be sold for as much as K 200 (approximately US$4.5-5).

Fourteen species of edible caterpillars are exploited in the Kasungu District. Approximately 170 people participated in the legal harvest of caterpillars during the 1991 season, gathering close to 1 850 kg, which were sold at US$2-7/kg. Each person earned nearly US$50 from the sale of these insects.

Higher termite species (Macrotermes) are a source of useful protein in Malawi. At the onset of the rainy season, alates (locally known as ngumbi or inswa) are trapped in their dispersal flight and are processed and eaten as relish or snacks. However, the quantities consumed or traded are unknown. Termites are obtained from natural forests, plantations and other areas.


Animal products such as bushmeat are the most important NWFPs in Mozambique. Other important NWFPs exploited in the country include honey, beeswax, medicinal plants, and a variety of edible plants and plant products such as mushrooms and edible fruits.

It is estimated that around 80 percent of rural households still depend on wild animal protein as a supplement to their diet - either birds, reptiles, small mammals or amphibians. It is estimated that, together with the inland fish production, wildlife provides up to 30 percent of the protein requirements of the rural population.

Local communities go hunting and sell the bushmeat along the main roads or at the local markets. However, in general, most of the bushmeat is for household consumption, while poachers are market-oriented.

In the hunting concession areas the hunting quota has been increasing drastically. From 1992 to 1994, an increase of 74 percent for residents and 33 percent for non-residents was documented. Although, the legislation states that the permission for hunting requires a licence, in practice this is not the case. There are very few legal hunters. Illegal hunting for meat and trophies and the destruction of wildlife habitats (through grazing and shifting cultivation) has contributed to the extinction of 20-60 percent of the wildlife population.

Edible insects play a significant role in food security in rural areas by providing animal protein. The most common edible insects are caterpillars and termites. Caterpillars feeding on Sclerocarya birrea (Maputo and Gaza provinces), Burkea africana, Erythrophleum africanum (Manica, Sofala and Zambézia) and Colophospermum mopane (Tete provinces) are the most sought-after by rural households. Caterpillars are normally harvested by women and children. They can be dried or cooked fresh.

Termites, dwelling chiefly in the miombo ecosystem, are very common during the rainy season. Since termites are attracted by light, in rural areas the harvesting techniques consist of placing a torch with a container of water in order to capture them; in villages and towns, it is common to see hundreds of children with baskets gathered around the electricity poles to collect the termites during the night. Although every member of the household can gather termites, chiefly during the peak of the termite dispersal, the main harvesting group consists of women and children.

Honey collection from the wild and beekeeping are common practices all over the country. The most important honey trees are from miombo (in the genus Brachystegia) and acacia woodlands. The harvesting process often involves the use of fire. This technique kills many bees and the smoke greatly reduces the quality of honey and beeswax.

The bulk of honey and beeswax is traditionally produced by rural households. The number of traditional beekeepers has been estimated at 20 000 and annual production of honey and beeswax at 360 000 kg and 60 000 kg, respectively. The production from modern beekeepers is estimated at 20 000 and 8 000 kg of honey and beeswax, respectively. In Maputo, the price of honey for domestic consumption has been increasing, from US$3.66-4.16/kg in 1994 to US$5.6/kg in 1999.

At present, there are a growing number of people and organizations involved in beekeeping countrywide. The work carried out by the Programa Nacional de Apicultura from 1978 to 1994 can be referred to as an example of such a growing trend. In addition, there is a woman's beekeeping association in Manica, supported by a local NGO (AMRU), that could also be considered a good example.

Regarding wild foodstuffs, 76 edible wild plant species are used in the rural areas of the coastal plains.

In regulado de Sabranca in southern Mozambique, 41 edible fruit species are recorded. In the north of the country, in a remnant of Miombo in Senhote, 144 tree species with multiple uses are found. Since trees bear fruits in different seasons and even in drought years, such fruits can be considered perhaps the most important wild food from the forest. These fruits can be eaten simple, cooked, roasted (seeds and nuts) or when they are still a flower.

According to the survey carried out by Albano et al. (1998), the most common fruits are Strychnos madagascariensis, S. spinosa, Sclerocarya birrea, Hyphaene coriacea, Phoenix reclinata, Aloe sp., Ficus sycomorus, Ximenia caffra, Boscia albitrunca, Diallium schlecteri, Trichilia emetica, Antidesma venosum, Ziziphus mucronata, Grewia sp., Garcinia livingstonei, Dovyalis longispina, Syzygium cordatum, Mimusops spp., Manilkara discolor, Landolphia kirki, Tabernaemontana elegans, Vangueria infausta, Coffea racemosa.

The preferred fruit species vary according to region. In Maputo the most valuable fruit-trees are Sclerocarya birrea and Strychnos madagascariensis. In the Manica Province, both Uapaca kirkiana and Sclerocarya birrea are known to be of great importance because of their cultural value. The value of Strychnos madagascariensis rests on its by-product called fuma. Fuma can be consumed as it is or with honey as a staple food during the periods when there is a lack of food in the agricultural cycle.

The fruits of Sclerocarya birrea can be used to produce an alcoholic drink called ucanhe or bucanhe. The pulp is said to contain four to eight times as much vitamin C as orange juice. Seventy percent of the people in southern Africa eat these fruits, which are a seasonal staple in local diets. Without this valuable contribution diseases caused by dietary deficiencies would affect many children, who are most vulnerable and the chief consumers.

Edible leaves, mostly of herbaceous plants, contribute significantly to the diet of all rural households in Mozambique. The most common leaves consumed in Mozambique are Adeinia gummifera, Amaranthus sp., Corchorus tridens, Ipomea lapatifolia and Momordica balsamica. These leaves are cooked with peanuts or Sclerocarya birrea nuts and consumed with rice or maize porridge.

Roots and tubers are consumed only on an occasional basis. The most important ones are Commiphora neglecta, Nymphaea capensis, Oxalis semilobata and Scilia hyacinthina.

Mushrooms are one of the most sought-after wild foods in the natural ecosystems, particularly in the miombo ecosystem. The mushroom season starts with the first rains in early November, reaching its peak in January.

Beverages mainly consist of two types of exotic palm wines: sura and utchema. The former is produced from an exotic palm tree (Cocus nucifera), mainly in the Inhambane and Zambézia provinces. The latter is obtained from indigenous palm trees (Hyphaene coriacea and Phoenix reclinata). This is at present the most common and largely produced wine in the country. This activity constitutes a business for the majority of households located along the main roads. Production is continuous throughout the year. In Matutuine, south Mozambique, the peak of production occurs at the beginning of the rainy season with an output of 20 litres of wine per day.


More than 200 species of wild plants are commonly consumed throughout the country. Wild leaves such as those of Grewia sp. are consumed primarily in spring and summer, while fruits are eaten during winter and spring when they are the main source of vitamin C supply. Other forest and bush foods also used seasonally are mushrooms, caterpillars and termite larvae. The top four species of socio-economic significance are: Sclerocarya birrea spp. caffra, Bequaertiodendron megalismontum, Syzgium cordatum and Ximenia caffra. Currently these plant species occur in natural forests and as trees outside forests. Their fruit are picked by children and women for sale on roadsides as a means to generate cash income. In the case of Sclerocarya birrea, a traditional liquor is produced from the ripe fruit, mainly by women, and is sold in rural areas, as well as in towns. The nut, on the other hand, is dried and oil is extracted for domestic consumption.


Honey and beeswax are two of the most important NWFPs in the United Republic of Tanzania. Honey is important as a sweetener and as a source of raw material for alcoholic beverages (honey beer). In addition, it is used in traditional ceremonies. Beeswax is used locally in a wide range of applications.

Honey and beeswax are collected in miombo woodlands, as well as outside the forests in agricultural land in western, central and southern Tanzania. Traditional methods are adopted, without using chemicals and, consequently, negative ecological effects are caused by the utilization of fire and the felling of trees. Most of the honey is consumed locally. Nevertheless, some honey and beeswax are exported and constitute an important source of foreign currency earning. In 1989 and 1991, Tanzania earned US$0.5 and 2.6 million, respectively, from exports with beeswax accounting by far for the larger share. Significant importers of Tanzanian beeswax are Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. Honey markets are in the Near East and in the United Arab Emirates.

Bushmeat is an important resource at local level.

In some parts of the United Republic of Tanzania cropping of termite colonies of the winged reproductive termites to be sold on local markets as foodstuff is a common practice. Some insects are exported to Uganda.


Naluswa (1993) lists 16 vegetables, 17 edible fruits, 7 edible mushrooms and 5 edible grasses that are used in Uganda.

Trade in NWFPs has increased and one example is the sale and export of shea butter obtained from Vitellaria paradoxa. Vitellaria paradoxa is an important multi-purpose tree in northern Uganda. Its nuts are eaten and used for production of food oil (shea butter). Since nuts are collected from wild sources in the "hungry season«, they contribute significantly to the daily nutrient supply. They also represent a source of income for women, who sell shea butter at local markets.

Export of shea butter was started in 1996 by the Shea Project. At the moment, approximately 50 kg of shea butter are exported annually to the United States. Since V. paradoxa seems to be an «underutilized natural resource« in Uganda and yields are higher than those of its West African subspecies, exports are expected to increase. Up to now, no plantations of V. paradoxa have been established because of its slow development (15-20 years before fruiting).

Gender and food security

A new Web site covering the many aspects of gender and food security is now available on FAO's home page. Given equal access to opportunities and resources, both women and men have proved to be efficient, dynamic and indispensable partners in development. Together, on the farm, and at all levels of society, women and men constitute a formidable partnership to achieve food security in the twenty-first century.

Abiu - A promising new fruit for the Philippines

Abiu (Pouteria caimito) is a relative of canistel (Pouteria campachiana) and caimito (Chrysophyllum cainito) in the Sapotaceae family. Both canistel and caimito are widespread in the Philippines, whereas Abiu is a new fruit with great economic potential.

Abiu is a native of tropical Brazil and Peru. However, it was introduced in the Philippines as seeds in August 1987 by Dr Roberto R. Coronel, Professor and Project Leader at the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of Los Baños in the Philippines. The resulting seedling trees started to bear fruits in 1990. Three seedling trees proved to be outstanding in terms of many fruit characteristics and one of these, after three years of evaluation, was submitted for varietal registration, which was approved in July 1995 by the National Seed Industry Council under the variety name «RCF Gold».

Abiu is a small evergreen tree growing up to 8 m tall. Its fruits are large and may weigh up to 500 g, round to oval in shape, with an attractive smooth, bright yellow peel. The flesh is creamy white, smooth, sweet and juicy and encloses, on average, one or two large black oblong seeds. Abiu can be propagated by seed, which germinates in three to four weeks. Trees from seeds can start bearing fruit after about three years. Both inarched and grafted trees can start bearing fruit within two years of planting.

Abiu trees tend to produce several crops a year, but the peak of fruit production occurs during November to January. Fruits are harvested when they are full yellow, at which stage they are slightly soft to the touch. They have a long shelf-life and can be kept in a refrigerator for a month without spoilage.

(Source: Prosea Newsletter, No. 22, April 1999.)

Developing Australian acacia seeds as a human food for the Sahel

A recent article in Unasylva presents research results and methods aimed at developing a potentially important supplemental protein supply. Hunger, famine and malnutrition and their attendant diseases are major public health issues in the West African sub-Saharan semi-arid zone known as the Sahel. With mean rainfall below 600 mm per annum, rural food systems based on rainfed subsistence agriculture are characterized by annual «hungry seasons». This situation is compounded by recurrent droughts, which cause serious failures of the main food crops, millet and sorghum. During such lean times, the rural people have resorted to «famine foods», such as millet chaff and the barks and leaves of non-nutritious trees, but these are insufficient in quantity and quality to prevent malnutrition. However, there are now ongoing efforts to establish another food source, the edible seeds of Australian acacia trees (Acacia coeli), which are likely to be beneficial in supplementing the main food crops.

At Maradi in Niger, development has reached the point where people can reliably grow this little-known food and safely incorporate it into their diets. A. coeli can easily be obtained locally because of prior introduction of the trees, and the trees themselves exhibit prolific seeding. The research summarized in the article shows how A. coeli can yield about 2 kg seed/tree for at least two to three harvests from age two years onwards, and its seed flour can be safely incorporated into millet- or sorghum-based human diets at rates of up to 25 percent by modifying traditional recipes. This food could be adopted across wide areas of semi-arid Africa and South Asia where climates are suitable for A. coeli and food security is poor. The trees also yield valuable fuelwood and leaf mulch and can provide windbreak protection for food crops.

(Source: Edited and extracted from an article by C. Harwood, T. Rinaudo and S. Adewusi, in Unasylva, 196, Vol. 50, 1999.)


Women feed their families with food from the forest. In the wooded areas of Thailand, for example, 60 percent of all food comes directly from the forests. Food from trees is sometimes a staple: more frequently, however, it is needed as a supplement for dietary diversity and nutrition.
Leaves are one of the most widely consumed forest foods. Women use them in soups, stews and relishes that add flavour to staples. Some leaves are high in fats; others are high in protein. Most are good sources of vitamins and minerals.
Seeds and nuts are high in calories, edible oils (fats) and protein. Palm nuts _ coconut, oil palm and babassu palm _ are examples. Thousands of millions of coconuts are gathered every year; coconut oil accounts for 7 percent of the world's fat ration. The sago palm is a useful source of starch for the peoples of the southeast Asian archipelago. If eaten with fish or meat and some vegetables, it provides a nourishing meal.
Mushrooms are a high-protein food and a good source of minerals, particularly calcium and iron.
Saps and gums are energy foods. They are cooked for sweets and fermented for wines. Gum is used as a staple by tappers working in the field.
Women help men hunt and trap forest animals for meat. In the Peruvian Amazon, more than 80 percent of animal protein comes from bushmeat.
Insect species are high in vitamins and minerals. Caterpillars have been described as "nature's vitamin pills". Bee larvae contain ten times as much vitamin D as fish liver and twice as much vitamin A as egg yolk. Bee honey, collected from wild hives in forests, is high in calories.
(Source: FAO's Gender and Food Security Web site

Fruits for the future

Tropical fruit-trees are important multipurpose species that supplement and improve the quality of diets and provide fodder, fuel, timber and medicine for smallholders. Harvesting these trees enables rural people, particularly women and children, to provide nutrition for a balanced diet, supplement family incomes and strengthen food security.

The major constraints to the effective use of these crops are access to information on use, production and processing and ineffective marketing.

Fruits for the future is a three-year project, funded by the UK Department for International Development, which aims to redress this balance and facilitate technology transfer to farmers through media, by distributing extension manuals emphasizing products, marketing and processing as well as production. Monographs and annotated bibliographies will be produced to collect and summarize existing research, in order to make better use of existing research results and identify possible gaps in the knowledge base for further research.

A group of species has been selected on the basis of their regional or global importance, because there are no comprehensive compilations of information already in existence, and because of their suitability for adaptation, income generation, nutrition and food security, diversification and use in agroforestry system. They are:

· Ziziphus mauritiana (Ber)

· Tamarindus indica (Tamarind)

· Dacryodes edulis (African Pear)

· Adansonia digitata (Baobab)

· Annona species (Cherimoya, sweet and sour sops, custard apples and other species).

For more information, please contact: Ms Angela Hughes, International Centre for Underutilised Crops, Institute of Irrigation and Development Studies, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK.
Fax: +44-1703 677519


Non-wood forest products and food security of Georgian displaced people

As a consequence of the recent conflict, more than 200 000 people were forced to flee from their home villages in Abkhazia and to establish as Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Georgia. In 1998, an international Spanish NGO Acción Contra el Hambre undertook a food security programme in Samegrelo, the region holding the greatest population of IDPs. Within the framework of this project, an assessment on food security, gender and social changes was carried out, which highlighted the great importance of NWFPs in IDP food security. NWFPs contribute to their staple diet of maize and vegetables and increase their food diversity, household income and protein.

Throughout the year, in the forest patches occurring all over the countryside, the following products/activities are collected/take place:

a) Blackberries, in summer, are sold in the market at a good price at least twice a week.

b) Hunting, in winter, is very popular among IDP families and is a good protein source. Gamebirds (ducks, quails and small birds) are the most pursued, but sometimes wild pigs can be targeted as well.

c) Young people and elders go fishing in the small rivers and ponds.

d) Some wild plants, such as mushrooms and medicinal and aromatic plants, are used for both consumption and sale, especially the most requested medicinal plants, such as Valeriana spp. and Melissa spp.

e) Minor wild fruits, such as figs, chestnuts, walnuts and small berries, are also harvested.

All these activities are performed by either men or women, in a quite clear, well-defined role distribution: women collecting mushrooms, blackberries, wild plants and minor fruits; while men hunt birds, fish and cut wood.

The contribution of NWFPs to the staple food diet of the refugees and displaced people in the Caucasus has been overlooked and poorly assessed by most humanitarian aid agencies. Hence, no programme has been drawn up to address IDP food security by promoting or enhancing these NWFPs and their market. NWFPs should increasingly be taken into account in food security programmes carried out for rural displaced people throughout the world.

(Based on a paper on food security, gender roles and challenges of internally displaced people in Western Georgia, in press.)

For more information, please contact: Mr Jose Luis Vivero Pol, former project manager in Georgia. Acción Contra el Hambre. c/ Caracas 6-1º 28010 Madrid, Spain.

Potential for novel food products from agroforestry trees

The domestication of trees for agroforestry approaches to poverty alleviation and environmental rehabilitation in the tropics depends on the expansion of the market demand for non-timber forest products. This paper (by R.R.B. Leakey) reviews published data on the nutritive values of the flesh, kernels and seed oils of the 17 fruit-tree species identified in four ecoregions of the tropics by subsistence farmers as their top priorities for domestication. In some species, genetic variation in nutritive value has been reported, but in most species there is still inadequate information on which to base programmes for the genetic improvement of these species. Farmers and agroforesters have identified many of the biological constraints relevant to their viewpoint on production, but there is a need for inputs from the food industry into the identification of the desirable traits and characteristics of potentially novel food products. This paper calls for greater collaboration between agroforesters and the food industry in the effort to promote the domestication and commercialization of underutilized tree products.

(Source: Reprinted from Food Chemistry, 66, R.R.B. Leakey, «Potential for novel food products from agroforestry trees: a review», 1-14, © 1999 with permission from Elsevier Science.)

For more information, please contact: Mr R.R.B. Leakey, Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland EH26 0QB, UK.
Fax: +44-(0)131-445-3943




Access and benefit sharing in the Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity, an intergovernmental convention ratified by 176 countries and which entered into force on 29 December 1993, has as one of its objectives: «the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of the genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding". (Article 1 of the Convention).

The third objective of the Convention is the "fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding". Article 15 of the Convention provides a framework for the implementation of this objective. Article 8(j) of the Convention contains provision to encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

By its decision IV/8, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity established a regionally balanced panel of experts on access and benefit-sharing appointed by governments, composed of representatives from the private and the public sectors as well as representatives of indigenous and local communities. The panel of experts met in October 1999 in Costa Rica to discuss options for access and benefit-sharing on mutually agreed terms, including access and benefit sharing for scientific and commercial purposes; review of legislative, administrative and policy measures at national and regional levels; review of regulatory procedures and incentive measures; and capacity building.

In its decision IV/16, the Conference of the Parties decided to include access to genetic resources as one of the topics for in-depth discussion at its fifth meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in May 2000.

(Contributed by Ms Linda Collette, Senior Environmental and Sustainable Development Officer and Ms Electra Kalaugher, Consultant, Environment and Natural Resources Service [SDRN], Sustainable Development Department, FAO.)


The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity for food and agriculture are important issues for food security, from genetic resources to the wider ecosystem level. The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity has recognized "the special nature of agricultural biodiversity, its distinctive features and problems needing distinctive solutions". FAO is responsible for various international conventions and agreements of prime importance in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity for food and agriculture, including the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, the International Plant Protection Convention, Codex Alimentarius, and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. FAO works to ensure a harmonious relationship between these agreements and the Convention on Biological Diversity, within the framework of their respective mandates.
Following UNCED, FAO broadened the scope of its intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to cover all plant, farm animal, forest and fisheries biodiversity. FAO assists in the implementation of the Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources, adopted by 150 governments in June 1996, the Global Strategy on the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources, and contributes to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity for food and agriculture through a wide range of other programmes and activities in the areas of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. An FAO Inter-Departmental Working Group (IDWG) on Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture provides an interdepartmental focus to this cross-cutting issue. Members of the working group contribute actively to the international agenda on biological diversity and provide technical expertise.
(Contributed by: Ms Linda Collette, Senior Environmental and Sustainable Development Officer and Ms Electra Kalaugher, Consultant, Environment and Natural Resources Service [SDRN], Sustainable Development Department, FAO.)

The International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

The International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources is the first comprehensive agreement dealing with plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. The FAO Conference formally adopted it in 1983 as an instrument to promote international harmony in matters regarding access to plant genetic resources and sharing of benefits arising from their use. The main objective of the Undertaking is to ensure that plant genetic resources of economic and social interest, particularly for agriculture, will be explored, preserved, evaluated and made available for plant breeding and scientific purposes. At present 113 countries have adhered to the Undertaking, which is monitored by the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), an intergovernmental forum of 160 countries and the European Community. The mandate of the Commission covers all components of agrobiodiversity, including forestry and fisheries genetic resources, which are of relevance to food and agriculture. It holds a variety of meetings, including biennial regular sessions, and other intersessional meetings to discuss and negotiate these matters. The meetings are organized by the CGRFA secretariat based in FAO headquarters in Rome.

Since its adoption in 1983, the Undertaking has been subject to a series of agreed interpretations through FAO Conference resolutions, for achieving a balance between the products of biotechnology (the commercial varieties and breeders' lines) on the one hand, and farmers' varieties and wild material on the other, and also between the interests of developed and developing countries. The aim has also been to establish a balance between the rights of breeders who represent the class of formal innovators and that of the farmers and their communities who are the informal innovators and traditionally the custodians of germplasm used for agricultural purpose. Indeed, «Farmers Rights,» which are defined as «rights arising from the past, present and future contributions of farmers in conserving, improving, and making available plant genetic resources, particularly those in the centres of origin/diversity» is an integral part of the Undertaking. It also recognizes the sovereign rights of nations over their genetic resources.

At present, negotiations are under way for the revision of the Undertaking in harmony with the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). In 1992, the signatories to the CBD recognized that solutions had to be sought within FAO for two outstanding matters concerning plant genetic resources: access to ex situ collections prior to the Convention, and the realization of Farmers' Rights. In 1995, the Conference of the parties to the CBD also acknowledged that the «special nature of agricultural biodiversity with its distinctive features and problems needed distinctive solutions».

The key elements that are under discussion include the scope, and access to plant genetic resources; sharing of benefits arising from their use, and the realization of Farmers' Rights. Countries have agreed that the Undertaking should include a multilateral system of access and benefit-sharing that meets the specific needs of agriculture. In a multilateral system facilitated access will be provided for a list of genera of relevance to agriculture as well as food security and for which countries are largely interdependent. Some of the agricultural crops that are included in the list of genera for the multilateral system include rice, maize, coconut and oil palm. Negotiations are also under way for a fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of plant genetic resources, including transfer of technology, capacity building, exchange of information and funding.

The negotiations for the revision of the Undertaking are expected to be completed in 2000. Once completed, it would allow the CGRFA to implement its mandate in other areas of agrobiodiversity including forestry genetic resources. In addition, a successful establishment of a multilateral system for access and benefit-sharing for plant genetic resources for agriculture will ensure their continued availability for food security through sustainable agriculture.

Information and documents of relevance to the Undertaking are available on the CGRFA Web site at

(Contributed by: Dr Kakoli Ghosh, Genetic Resources Officer, Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, FAO, Rome, Italy.

Fax: +39-06-570-56347.)

The commercial use of biodiversity

The commercial use of biodiversity, a book by Kerry ten Kate and Sarah Laird (published recently by Earthscan and the European Commission), explains the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), national laws and contracts on access and benefit-sharing and provides an analysis of the scale and nature of markets for products from genetic resources in pharmaceuticals, botanical medicines, crop development, horticulture, crop protection, biotechnology (in fields other than healthcare and agriculture) and personal care and cosmetics.

The cost, time and risk involved in product discovery and development and the benefits arising from collection to ultimate commercialization are described, with illustrative examples and case studies of best practices. The authors describe companies' point of views of the CBD, corporate and institutional policies on access and benefit-sharing, and provide a glossary of technical terms and extensive contact information.

(Source: Kew Scientist, Issue 16, October 1999.)

The challenges of access to genetic resources, benefit sharing and bioprospecting _ Who should benefit?

The history of the utilization of Cinchona spp. is an example of the ethical aspects related to the trade of NWFPs and genetic resources by the food and health industry. Quinine is an alkaloid obtained from the bark of Cinchona spp., indigenous to the mountain forests of South America. It is used in traditional medicine to treat malaria. In the seventeenth century, Jesuits discovered the traditional use of the bark by Peruvian Indians and later initiated its global commercialization (see under Products for more information on Cinchona). After having used and overharvested wild stands of Cinchona spp. for 200 years, several species were brought into cultivation in Asia and Africa. In the early 1940s, quinine was isolated for the first time and has been synthesized since by pharmaceutical companies.

Today, trade in quinine is a profitable business for the pharmaceutical industry, which developed the drugs and synthetic substitutes. But what about the innovators and discoverers of the active compound: the local communities which used and are still using Cinchona bark in their traditional medicine; the Andean states which originally provided the natural resource, or the Jesuits, who observed the traditional utilization? How did they benefit from this successful commercialization, if at all?

Some important plant-based ingredients of medicaments


Plant species Application

Climate zone

Main product basis





Salix alba






Atropa belladonna, Duboisia myoporoides

Pupil dilatation, bradycardia, Parkinson's disease, asthma, traveller's diarrhoea





Digitalis sp.

Heart failure, arrhythmia





Ephedra sinica

Nasal decongestant





Mucuna deeringiana

Treatment of Parkinson's disease



Plant source


Anamirta cocculus

Nervous system stimulus



Plant source


Pilocarpus jaborandi

Treatment of glaucoma



Plant source


Cinchona sp.

Treatment of arrhythmia



Plant source


Cinchona sp.






Rauwolfia serpentina

Antihypertensive agent





Hyoscyamus niger

Treatment of motion sickness



Plant source


Taxus brevilifolia

Ovarian cancer



Plant source


Catharanthus roseus

Treatment of Hodgkin's disease



Plant source


Catharanthus roseus

Childhood leukaemia



Plant source

It is estimated that medicines derived from plants originally used by indigenous peoples have an annual world market of US$43 billion. Although one-third of all plant-derived prescription drugs comes from rainforest species, most of the commercial beneficiaries of the trade in genetic and biochemical resources that are found in developing countries are located in developed countries. Pharmaceutical products based on traditional medicine have probably returned less than 0.001 percent of their profits to the local communities who originally used these resources.

Bioprospecting is the search for commercially valuable biochemical and genetic resources in plants, animals and microorganisms. Currently, some 200 companies around the world are screening organisms for medicines and other purposes. Pharmaceutical companies are currently investing some US$125-231 million in the identification of new drugs.

Bioprospecting is carried out in two ways: (a) random screening of chemicals found in nature: organisms are collected and tested for chemicals that might be effective against specific diseases. Mass screening is carried out by large companies for the majority of samples used. Each sample costs some US$500 for collection, transportation and storage; drug development in total requires investments of some US$300 million and takes from 8 to 15 years; and (b) screening of chemicals based on the traditional knowledge of the medical application of an organism. Some companies only screen organisms if different local communities use the same organism for comparable medicinal purposes. This ethnobotanical screening is mainly carried out by small companies and academic institutions. In both ways, the relevant ethical questions remain the same:

· Will the provider of the organism and/or the traditional knowledge receive adequate property rights?

· Will the share of benefits be equally distributed among all stakeholders, including local communities, national states and private companies?

Probably the best-known example of a bioprospecting agreement was signed in 1991 by the American pharmaceutical company Merck and Costa Rica's National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) (see also Non-Wood News 2). Merck made an up-front payment of US$1.35 million and agreed to share royalties on resulting commercial products, as well as to provide technical assistance and training; INBio, in turn, provides chemical extracts from plants, animals and microorganisms collected from protected areas and pays 10 percent of the up-front payment and 50 percent of any royalties it may receive to Costa Rica's National Park Fund.

In recent years, many other examples of agreements on benefit-sharing and access to genetic resources have been developed (see references and Web sites below for further information).

These agreements are meant to ensure monetary and non-monetary benefits in the short and long term to the source country and communities. Royalties, which arise from the commercialization of new products and drugs, are the most important long-term monetary benefits. Royalty-derived benefits are based on a percentage of earnings from commercial sales paid by the licensing partner. However, because of the long time required for the development of new drugs and the low probability of a commercially significant discovery, royalties often do not match expectations. In addition, the competition among many providers of genetic resources poses the risk of a decline in monetary benefits. Short-term benefits, which are already provided during the research and development («prospection») phase, are more promising and realistic benefits. These so-called «process» benefits include advance payments, access fees provided in the form of lump-sums or milestone payments. Advance payments are often used to establish trust funds that can provide immediate benefits to stakeholders. Short-term, non-monetary benefits include capacity building, training, technology transfer, equipment, infrastructure and research collaboration.

These types of benefits should be taken into account not only in bioprospecting arrangements, but also in agreements regarding the utilization of already exploited and commercialized products.

While many organizations and institutions emphasize the potential benefits of bioprospecting activities for national states (source-countries), local communities, private companies, scientific institutions, NGOs and the consumer of the new discovered drugs, others brand bioprospecting as «biopiracy»: extracting and exporting raw materials from developing countries without increasing the capacities of the countries to develop and export their own products. Another major risk might be that the benefits of commercial development do not trickle down to local communities.

Controversial discussions and negotiations on the implementation of agreements on access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing in general and bioprospecting in particular are still going on between scientists, politicians, the industry and NGOs. Therefore, this topic will remain on the agenda of international bodies such as the fifth Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which will be held in Nairobi in May 2000.

International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (ICBG)

The ICBG programme was established in 1992 by three agencies of the United States Government: the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the United States Agency for International Development. It was designed to stimulate the field of bioprospecting and to provide models for the development of a sustainable use of biodiversity.

The ICBG Programmes


Academic principal investigator

National partners

Foreign partners

Argentina, Chile, Mexico

University of Arizona

National Institute of Agricultural Technology of Argentina, National University of Patagonia/Argentina, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, National Autonomous University of Mexico

G.W.L. Hansen's Disease Centre, Wyeth-Ayerst Research Laboratories, American Cyanamid Company

Costa Rica

Cornell University

National Biodiversity Institute (INBio), University of Costa Rica

Bristol- Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute


University of Georgia

College of Southern Frontier/Chiapas

Molecular Nature Ltd.


Washington University

Aguaruna Peoples, Universidad San Marcos, Universidad Peruana, Cayetano-Heredia

Monsanto-Searle Co.


Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

University of Panama/ Gorgas Memorial Institute of Health Research, Nature Foundation of Panama

G.W. Hansen's Disease Center/Louisiana, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Monsanto Company, Conservation International

Suriname, Madagascar

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Forest People of Suriname, Conservation International Suriname, National Herbarium of Suriname, Bedrijf Geneesmiddelen Voorziening Suriname, National Center for Pharmaceutical Research/Madagascar

Missouri Botanical Garden, Bristol- Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute, DowElanco Agrosciences

Laos, Viet Nam

University of Illinois

National Center for Natural Sciences and Technology/Viet Nam, Cuc-Phuong National Park/Viet Nam, Research Institute for Medicinal Plants/Laos

Glaxo-Wellcome Research and Development

Cameroon, Nigeria

Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

International Centre for Ethnomedicine and Drug Development/ Nigeria, University of Dschang/ Cameroon

Smithsonian Institute, Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme, Pace University New York, University of Utha, University of Minnesota, University of Jos

The ICBG programme requires that both near and long-term benefits flow back to the collaborating communities regardless of whether ethnomedicinal knowledge is utilized in the research process or not. Local individuals (frequently traditional healers or parataxonomists) who collaborate with the project generally receive payment for their services and training in collection and identification techniques. Each of the ICBGs is establishing or is associated with a trust fund for conservation and development benefits. In all cases where collections involve areas that are inhabited the funds are or will be focused on community projects aimed at improving health services and the sustainable use of local resources.

However, a seemingly simple idea such as returning benefits to communities can be extraordinarily complicated in practice. How are communities defined: geographically, ethnically or politically? Who should be the principal beneficiaries: those individuals or groups who actively participate, those who may be related, or everyone in a country?

(Based on J.P. Rosenthal, 1998. The International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) Program. A benefit-sharing case study for the Conference of Parties to Convention on Biological Diversity, updated through information of the John Fogarty International Center at

Bioprospecting in reality: the Suriname ICBG Project

The Suriname Bioprospecting Project is a joint project of five academic, private and non-governmental organizations.

Participants of the Suriname ICBG Project









Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VPISU)


Team leader, project coordination

Conservation International (CI)

International NGO

Ethnobotanical collection, documentation of traditional knowledge, conservation initiatives

Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG),

Botanical Research Institution/USA

Random botanical collection for drug discovery and floristic inventory

Bedriff Geneesmiddelen Voorziening Suriname (BGVS),

Pharmaceutical company/Suriname

Extraction and screening

Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute (B-MS),

Pharmaceutical company/USA

Screening of samples for anti-cancer and anti-infective activities and drug development

These institutions collaborate with the local tribal people, who are known for their extensive knowledge of forest resources, to conduct bioprospecting activities.

Flowering plants are gathered by using ethnobotanical and random collection techniques. The project collaborates with local shamans who identify plants with medicinal uses. This information is put into a conservation database and Geographic Information System by CI. The plant samples are encoded, in order to prevent the pharmaceutical companies from having access to the ethnobotanical information. As a result of this system, no other institution initially receives information regarding the identity, description, locale, and traditional uses, if any, of the plant. This method ensures that no company can look for additional samples elsewhere and that Suriname and its local people are compensated for their contribution.

If B-MS expresses no interest in a given sample, it loses its exclusivity of use over the sample and the extract becomes part of a pool of samples that can be offered to other potential partners.

The main benefits of the ICBG project include the:

· provision of employment, equipment and training: shamans, field collectors and support staff were contracted and knowledge of Suriname's flora was increased;

· establishment of a Forest People's Fund: this trust fund was established in 1994 with a US$50 000 up-front payment of B-MS in order to fund local projects on community development, biodiversity conservation and health-care; and

· implementation of the Shaman's Apprentice Program: this programme places young community members to work with shamans to learn from their ethnobotanical knowledge.

What are the lessons learned from the Suriname ICBG?

1. While the potential profits from drug development are enormous, and initial expectations were high, it has become apparent over the course of this project that the actual chance of a drug being developed is relatively low. Therefore, in order for bioprospecting to be successful, other benefit-sharing mechanisms that provide immediate incentives have become even more important.

2. If bioprospecting is to promote biodiversity conservation, the source-country must be given the opportunity to participate in bioprospecting, including access to the means of adding value to these resources.

3. Smooth relations and communication among all participants have to be ensured. Each party has different needs, a different agenda, and a unique contribution to make. Even when each participant is adequately compensated, successful cooperation requires clear communication, reliability, honesty and trust by all.

4. The time frame for drug production highlights the fact that long-term relationships among the participants are important.

5. The ethical and legal basis for many of the benefit-sharing mechanisms should stem from the Convention on Biological Diversity's recognition of each nation's sovereign right to control access to its resources.

(Source: Guérin-McManus, Famolare, L.M., Bowles, I.A., Malone, S.A.J., Mittermeier, R.A., Rosenfeld, A.B. 1998. Bioprospecting in practice: A case study of the Suriname ICBG Project and Benefits Sharing under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Case study submitted to the Secretariat to the Convention on Biological Diversity.)

Benefit-sharing arrangements - theory and practice: the example of Prunus africana in the Mount Cameroon Region

The afromontane tree Prunus africana (Rosaceae; English: African Cherry, «Red Stinkwood», «Bitter Almond«) is a multiple-use tree species with local and international economic and medicinal value. The bark is the major source of an extract used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia, an increasingly common health problem in older men. The total annual value of the unprocessed dried bark and bark extract sold on the European market is estimated at US$150 million. In 1994, Prunus africana was included in Annex 2 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as «vulnerable species requiring monitoring» because of the overexploitation of bark in Cameroon and Madagascar (see Non-Wood News 2 and 3).

In Cameroon the bark is used locally as a traditional medicine against malaria, fever and stomach pains. The commercial exploitation was initiated in the 1970s by a French company called PLANTECAM. Collectors were trained to apply a harvesting technique which intends to debark the tree from opposing quarters in uninterrupted strips from breast height to the first branch of the tree crown. Massive legal and illegal exploitation of Prunus africana in Cameroon started in 1985 because of an attempt by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MINEF) to stimulate the national industry and to increase market competition by interrupting the monopoly for harvesting of PLANTECAM. In 1994, in addition to PLANTECAM, three other enterprises received export licences for Prunus bark or bark products. A shortage of Prunus africana bark in the Northwest Province because of bad harvesting practices (felling and total debarking which kills the tree) and overexploitation pushed the contractors with exploitation permits to move into the Mount Cameroon region to meet their quotas.

Until 1995 the harvesting of Prunus bark was carried out exclusively through workers contracted by PLANTECAM, and no legal benefit remained with the local communities. For a better participation of local people in the management of their natural resources and to reduce illegal harvesting, the Mount Cameroon Project (supported by the Department for International Development [DFID] of the United Kingdom and the German Technical Cooperation [GTZ]), together with MINEF, tried to encourage the village communities to do the harvesting themselves through a legal contract with PLANTECAM. The benefit-sharing agreements began with activities of perception gathering, conflict mapping and identification of common interests. Finally, the «First agreement for sustainable management of the species and production of Prunus at Mapanja Village facilitated by the Mount Cameroon Project and Ministry of Environment and Forests» was signed in July 1997.

The Prunus Harvester Unions could sell the bark directly to PLANTECAM at the agreed market price, which was much higher than that on the black market or the price paid by intermediaries (who bought from collectors and sold to PLANTECAM). The bylaws of the Unions foresaw that part of the generated income was paid to the Village Development Fund and to the Unions Fund. As a result of 2 kg being paid by each bark harvester to the Village Development Fund, the Fund had a sum of about one million CFA Francs (approx. US$1 500 at the 1999 rate of exchange) just five months after it was set up. The village intended to use this money for the realization of a long-awaited water project.

In 1996, the Office national de développement des forêts (ONADEF) carried out a Prunus africana management inventory in the Mount Cameroon Region and established an annual sustainable maximum quota of 300 tonnes of bark. In response to the setting of these quota limits, PLANTECAM annulled the agreements with the two Prunus Harvester Unions, even though the harvesting was carried out applying sustainable harvesting techniques, and illegal exploitation had been greatly reduced (also as a result of the regular joint monitoring carried out by PLANTECAM, Prunus Harvester Unions, MINEF and the Mount Cameroon Project).

Illegal exploitation boomed and more than 800 tonnes were harvested in the Mount Cameroon Region by contractors, local people, and PLANTECAM.

After long negotiations, it was agreed that no licence for Prunus exploitation could be granted without an inventory in the specific region and without the involvement of local communities in the management of Prunus africana. MINEF also agreed to put in place effective control and monitoring systems. With the financial assistance of donors, a national Prunus africana inventory, starting in the Mount Cameroon Region, will be carried out testing a new inventory methodology. The first results are expected in March 2000. The inventory will continue in other regions of Cameroon, where Prunus africana appears in economically interesting amounts, in order to diversify exploitation sites and ensure a continuous supply of raw material to the PLANTECAM factory.

The Mount Cameroon Project and MINEF intend to revitalize the two Prunus Harvester Unions and to agree on certain procedures on revenue sharing between PLANTECAM and the Unions. These agreements include supervision, sanctions for bad harvesting, putting aside means to cover the costs of monthly monitoring trips, regeneration tax, transport costs to the PLANTECAM factory, contributions for the next inventory after a certain period of time, share for the Village Development Fund and others. A working group was set up by MINEF, the Mount Cameroon Project and the Prunus Harvester Unions to explore and implement options, on which basis the Unions could be given their own exploitation quotas.

(Source: Extracted and edited from S.A. Laird and E. Lisinge. 1998. Benefit-sharing case studies: Ancistrocladus korupensis and Prunus africana. UNEP/CBD/COP/4/Inf.25; and from a contribution by J. Linke, 1999. Mount Cameroon Project.)

For further information please contact Dr Jörg Linke, Mount Cameroon Project, Buea, PO Box 60, Buea S.W.P. Cameroon.


The chronology of the «unsuccessful» discovery of Ancistrocladus korupensis

In 1726, the rainforest liana Ancistrocladus korupensis was first collected in Nigeria without identification of the species. In 1990, researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) discovered that extracts from A. korupensis (re-collected in the Korup National Park in Cameroon) inhibit the ability of HIV to kill human cells. The HIV-inhibiting alkaloids michellamine A and B are subsequently isolated. In 1992, NCI expanded its research programme on the assessment of density and distribution of A. korupenis and harvesting trials. The programme is implemented by the Missouri Botanical Garden and the University of Yaounde. In 1993, Cameroon declares A. korupensis a «national treasure», prohibiting the export of live plant material and seeds, conducting research into capabilities within Cameroon for the establishment of research partnerships with NCI, and establishment of three committees with well-articulated objectives (production/exploitation, laboratory research, legal aspects).

In 1998, because of the toxicity found in michellamine B, NCI stopped conducting R&D on A. korupensis. Cameroon mainly gained non-monetary benefits from the research on A. korupensis.

Main benefits obtained through the identification of michellamine B


Monetary benefits

Non-monetary benefits


Short term benefits

Employment in research and development

Training in nursery, agronomic techniques and sustainable sourcing strategies

Local communities


Training, capacity building, infrastructure, equipment and supplies, scientific exchange, supply of research results

National level

Long-term benefits

Potential alternative income generating scheme, Village Development Fund (funded by potential royalties)


Local communities


Potential royalties from commercial product


National level

(Source: Laird., S.A., & Lisinge, E. 1998. Benefit-sharing case studies: Ancistrocladus korupensis and Prunus africana. Submission by the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP/CBD/COP/4/Inf.25.)

Commercialization and benefit-sharing of NWFP obtained from neem (Azadirachta indica)

In November 1999, the Henry Doubleday Research Association held an e-mail conference on the «Improvement of neem (Azadirachta indica) and its potential benefits to poor farmers». The final session of the workshop dealt with the «Commercialization of neem» and tackled two topics related to benefit sharing: the benefit for the poor from neem commercialization, and the patenting of compounds extracted from neem.

Although only 25-30 percent of neem fruit are collected each year, the utilization of neem has a great impact on both the local and national economy in India. The majority of neem seeds are crushed to extract the oil, of which 95 percent is used for soap production.

Neem seed prices vary across the season. In general, higher prices are paid for neem seed kernels (e.g. US$0.25/kg in Uttar Pradesh, India) compared to whole seeds (e.g. US$0.05-0.12/kg in Andra Pradesh in 1998). However, seed processing (extraction of kernels and oil) is labour intensive and does not compare favourably to the salary paid for unskilled labour. Other factors preventing seed collectors from realizing a higher price are the lack of knowledge on seed collection and seed handling leading to the sale of poor quality seeds, and inadequate or lack of access to marketing facilities.

In 1992, a US patent was granted to W.R. Grace & Co. on a process for the extraction and the stabilization of azadirachtin (aza A), a compound which is used in the production of bio-pesticides. A coalition of NGOs opposed this patent on political and legal grounds (see also Non-Wood News 5). The coalition's underlying arguments were that biological resources are common heritage and should not be patented; that the patent would restrict the availability of living material to local people, whose ancestors have spent centuries developing the material; and that the patent may block economic growth in developing countries. The legal challenge failed on the ground that there was no prior knowledge of the process within United States borders, and the use of traditional extractions of neem would not be prohibited. The United States only recognizes prior `knowledge, use or invention' as blocking a claim to patent when those activities take place within United States borders, or are evidenced by publications accessible in the United States or, more commonly, by foreign patents.

Other topics dealt with during the e-mail workshop included «Global use of neem: tackling constraints and identifying opportunities», «Opportunities in India and Ghana - needs and prospects», «Improving productivity 1: silviculture» and «Improving productivity 2: genetic improvement».

(Source: Chamberlain, J.R., Childs, F., Harris, P.J.C., Antwi, E., Manu, J., Daniel, J., Naik, S. 1999. Commercialization of neem. Material presented at the electronic workshop «Improvement of neem (Azadirachta indica) and its potential benefits to poor farmers", 1-18 November 1999.)

For more information, please contact: Henry Doulbeday Research Association (HDRA), Ryton, Organic Gardens, Coventry CV8 3LG, UK.
Fax +44-01203 639229



«No to patenting of life»

At a meeting at the United Nations, Geneva, on 25 July 1999, 87 indigenous peoples' organizations, NGOs and networks signed a statement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the WTO agreement. The statement called for the WTO Member States to put the amendment of the TRIPS Agreement as a priority item on the agenda of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle and especially article 27.3b of TRIPS. The statement says that this Article should mainly be amended categorically to disallow the patenting of life forms. Thus, the revised Article 27.3b should clearly prohibit the patenting of plants and animals including all their parts, meaning, genes, gene sequences, cells, proteins, seeds, etc. It should also prohibit the patenting of natural processes involving the use of plants, animals and other living organisms and their parts and processes used in producing variations of plants, animals and microorganisms.

(Source: List server BIO-IPR, 19 October 1999.)

For more information, please contact: TEBTEBBA Foundation
Fax: +63-74-4439459

E-mail: or or


«Bioprospecting» or «Biopiracy»?

Drug discovery and biodiversity among the Maya of Mexico

A US$2.5 million five-year project «Drug Discovery and Biodiversity among the Maya of Mexico», which is now in its second year of operation, aims to collect and evaluate thousands of plants and microorganisms used in traditional medicine by Mayan communities. The project is led by the University of Georgia, United States, in cooperation with a Mexican university research centre, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), and Molecular Nature Ltd, a biotechnology company based in Wales, United Kingdom. However, this project is being denounced as «biopiracy» by the 11 Mayan organizations of the Council of Traditional Indigenous Midwives and Healers of Chiapas (Consejo estatal de parteras y Médicos Indígenas tradicionales de Chiapas).

(Source: Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI),

Law to protect native intellectual property

The Peruvian government is drafting a law to protect indigenous rights over their ancestral knowledge. Indigenous communities will be the intellectual owners of genetic resources coming from plant species whose curative or nutritional values form part of their ancestral knowledge, according to the text of the legal bill.

''Peru is one of the countries with greatest biodiversity in the world and must begin utilizing the competitive advantage this implies,'' commented Jorge Caillaux, president of the Peruvian Environmental Law Society, ''but it must protect its natural resources as well as the rights of its population.''

(Source: IPS News Bulletin, 12 January 2000.)

Ethical trade in forest products

The Natural Resources and Ethical Trade Programme (NRET) at the Natural Resources Institute is undertaking a research programme to examine the effects of ethical trade in forest products on forest dependent people. This has included studies on the supply chains of NTFPs such as Brazil nuts and tagua nuts, as well as studies on the benefits to local people in Peru and Ecuador. A later stage of the research programme will develop guidelines to ensure that ethical trading schemes, such as third party certification, benefit forest dependent people.

Details of this research programme can be found by following the Ethical Trade and Forests link on the home page for NRET.

(Contributed by: Ms Anne Tallontire, Social Sciences Department, Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Chatham Maritime, ME4 4TB, UK.)

Fax: + 44-1634 883706



- Anonymous. 1996. Finding medicines in the forest: can shamans point the view? Frontiers (Newsletter of the National Science Foundation), March:4-6

- Biodiversity Action Network. 1999. Access to genetic resources: An evaluation of the development and implementation of recent regulation and access agreements. Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Environmental Policy Studies, Working Paper No. 4.

- Bryant, P.J. 1997-99. Biodiversity and Conservation. A hypertext book. Irvine

- Conservation International. 1999. Bioprospecting. Washington

- Environmental Literacy Council. Value of Biodiversity..

- Farnsworth, N.R. 1988. Screening for new medicines. In: E.O. Wilson (ed.). Biodiversity. Washington DC.

- GRAIN. 1999. Bacteria become big business. Seedling, March.

- Macilwain, C. 1998. When rhetoric hits reality in debate on bioprospecting. Nature, Vol. 392.

- Mendelsohn, R.& Balick. M.J. 1995. The value of undiscovered pharmaceuticals in tropical forests. Economic Botany, 49(2).

- Missouri Botanical Garden. 1999. Bioprospecting for new pharmaceuticals.

- Plän, T. Playing fair in the biotrade. Akzente Focus. GTZ. Eschborn.

- Posey, R. 1990. Intellectual Property Rights: Just compensation for indigenous knowledge. Anthropology Today, August.

- RAFI, 1994. Bioprospecting/Biopiracy and indigenous peoples. RAFI Communiqué Nov/Dec 1994.

- Rainforest Alliance. Medicine: Our stake in the rainforest. New York

- Rosenthal, J.P. 1998. The International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) Program. A benefit-sharing case study for the Conference of Parties to Convention on Biological Diversity.

- Rural Advancement Foundation International. 1997. Biopiracy Update: The inequitable sharing of benefits.  RAFI Communiqué, September/October.

- Sheldon, J.W., Balick, M.J., & Laird, S.A. 1997. Medicinal plants: Can utilization and conservation coexist? Advances in Economic Botany, Vol. 12. New York.

- Shyamsundar, P. & Lanier, G.K. 1994. Biodiversity prospecting: an effective conservation tool? Tropical Biodiversity, 2(3): 441-446.

- Srivastava, J., Lambert, J., & Vietmeyer, N. Undated. Medicinal plants: An expanding role in development. World Bank Technical Paper Number 320. Washington.

- Tangley, L. 1998. Rain forests for profit. U.S. News online. World Report 4/20/98.

- World Resource Institute. 1992. Questions and answers about bioprospecting. Washington (

- World Resource Institute. 1999. Questions and answers about «bioprospecting».


This section presents some selected Web sites related to access to genetic resources, benefit sharing and bioprospecting. It is obvious that this list is not comprehensive.


Information on «Access to genetic resources and benefit sharing», compiled by the Clearing-House Mechanism of the Convention of Biological Diversity. The site hosts 18 case studies on Access and Benefit Sharing.


Information on the Experts' Panel on Access and Benefit Sharing, held in San José, Costa Rica, from 4 to 8 October 1999.


Homepage of the «Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture»


Information on the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG), published by the John E. Fogarty International Center.


The focus of the second issue (July 1996) of the People and Plants Handbook is on «Protecting rights - legal and ethical implications of ethnobotany».


The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) published various online communiqués (Nov/Dec 1994, Sep/Oct 1995, Dec 1996, Sep/Oct 1997) which deal with bioprospecting. RAFI is an international NGO that conducts research on agricultural biodiversity, biotechnology and intellectual property.


Information on the bioprospecting initiatives of Conservation International, a US-based NGO.


Projects of the Bioresources Development & Conservation Programme on Bioprospecting.


The March newsletter of the Genetic Resources Action International Network includes an article on «Bacteria become big business» and the bioprospecting activities of Diversa Corporation.


Homepage of the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio).


«Between a rock and a hard place: Indigenous peoples, nation states and the multinationals», an article on bioprospecting by G. Dutfield, published by FAO in 1997.


The GTZ publication akzente focus «People and ecology» includes an articles on bioprospecting («Playing fair in the bio-trade») and the work of INBio.


Sitenfeld, A. 1997. Issues and strategies for bioprospecting. BINAS News, Vol.3, Issues 3 and 4.


Comprehensive article on «The myths and realities of bioprospecting (Nature, Vol. 392, 9 April 1998).


Information on the «Fund for Biodiversity Exploration and Conservation», initiated by the International Organization for Chemical Science in Development.


Short article on «Bioprospecting or Biopiracy?», describing the pros and cons of bioprospecting.


An article on «Bioethics: A third world issue».


A hypertext book of Bryant, P.J. (1997-99) on Biodiversity and Conservation. Chapter 7 deals with the «Values of Biodiversity» including information on medicinal plants and foodstuffs.


The «Implementing rules and regulations on the prospecting of biological and genetic resources» in the Philippines.


The World Resource Institute answers questions about «bioprospecting».


A sample of companies active in plant and other natural product collection and screening, compiled by the World Resource Institute.


Information on the World Resource Institute publication «Biodiversity prospecting: Using genetic resources for sustainable development», which provides guidelines for establishing effective and equitable schemes for biodiversity prospecting.


How do you define non-wood forest products?

Based on the recommendations of an internal interdepartmental FAO meeting on definitions of Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFP) held in June 1999, the following new FAO working definition of NWFPs has been adopted: Non-Wood Forest Products consist of goods of biological origin other than wood, derived from forests, other wooded land and trees outside forest.

Non-Wood: The term NWFP excludes all woody raw materials. Consequently, timber, chips, charcoal, fuelwood, as well as small woods such as tools, household equipment and carvings, are excluded.

Forest: NWFPs should be derived from forests and similar land uses. FAO has elaborated definitions of «forest» and «other wooded land» in a working paper on terms and definitions for the Forest Resources Assessment 2000. Since plantations are included in the FAO definition of forest, NWFPs that are obtained from plantations, such as gum arabic (Acacia senegal) or rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) are thus also included in the definition. Many NWFPs are derived from both natural forests and plantations. The final definition of «trees outside forests» (including trees originating from forests which are located out of the forest and other wooded land, such as Acacia albida and the Karité tree Vitellaria paradoxa) is still in the process of elaboration.

Products: In the proposed definition, the term product corresponds to goods, which are tangible objects of biological origin such as plants, animals and their products. Forest services (e.g. ecotourism, grazing, bioprospection) and forest benefits (e.g. soil conservation, soil fertility, watershed protection) are excluded. Services and benefits are even more difficult to assess and quantify. A clear definition of forest services and benefits is still lacking.

We in the NWFP Programme would like to receive your comments regarding this new definition. What definition or term do you use and why? Your comments will be published in the next issue of Non-Wood News.

* The Spanish and French versions of this definition are:

Les produits forestiers non-ligneux sont des biens d'origine biologique autres que le bois, dérivés des forêts, des autres terres boisées, et des arbres hors forêts.

Productos forestales no madereros son los bienes de origen biológico distintos de la madera derivados de los bosques, de otras tierras boscosas y de los árboles fuera de los bosques.

Can non-timber forest products [NTFPs] come from a plantation?

Plantations are normally characterized as environmental "bad guys"; they are painted as sterile monocultures replacing biodiverse natural forest, and also as enterprises maintaining purely exploitative social relations with local communities. Research undertaken with forest margin communities in the forest zone of Cameroon looked more closely at the economic relationships between natural forest, oil palm plantations and local livelihoods, as part of efforts to develop participatory community forest management that better match community needs. The fieldwork was carried out under the Mount Cameroon Project in the Southwest Province, and was conducted with communities in three plantation camps. The results show that local people use plantations in the area as a major source of NTFPs for subsistence and commercial use, suggesting that plantations can be a source of livelihood security in surprising ways.

The communities in the plantation camps have access to both plantation and natural forest. The results demonstrated that for the majority of households in these communities the NTFPs collected from the plantations provided a far greater proportion of livelihood products than those collected from the «natural" forest. The results of the surveys in the camps were compared with data concerning the contribution of forest products to household livelihoods in villages traditionally regarded as highly dependent on the forest. It was interesting to find that the financial and subsistence contribution of plantation-derived NTFPs in the research communities was even greater than from "traditional" forest products in the other settlements.

The range of products collected from the plantations on a regular basis was wide. The most significant single product was snails (of various species). Other important bushmeat species included pythons, African civets, palm civets, hawks and other birds of prey and significant quantities of fish from drainage ditches and streams. Also included were herbaceous "forest" vegetables, three species of herbaceous forest spices, and a number of medicinal plants.

Not only was the range and quantity of NTFPs collected from the plantations significant, the more marginal members of the communities profited most from the harvest of products from the plantations. Women and children benefited from easy access into the plantations that fitted in well with their patterns of work and schooling. Those households without access to farmland traded snails as a useful monetary supplement to their plantation wages. Those without ethnic or other customary rights to enter the forest for hunting set traps in the plantations instead.

The economic situation in Cameroon has declined after the boom years of the 1970s and 1980s, so that contemporary financial constraints on state and local business are significant. Consequently, as the plantations are managed by a parastatal concern, more recent maintenance of the plantations may not have been as intensive as it once was, and this may account for the availability of NTFPs.

However, the plantations in this part of Cameroon are not "biological deserts", nor are they necessarily "simple" ecosystems. There is a surprising amount of floral and faunal diversity within the plantations that supplies important forest products to local communities.

For those interested in the nature of forest-dependent livelihoods, and in unravelling ecological and social relationships between forest, plantation and community well-being, the results raise interesting issues. The fact that plantations might deliver NTFPs of a greater financial value to the most disadvantaged while potentially relieving harvesting pressure in the natural forest merits further attention.

The results of the work sponsored by the Mount Cameroon Project (funded by the United Kingdom Government's Department for International Development) and the World Bank's Global Environment Facility, are being developed further with additional field data as part of a Ph.D. thesis with the environmental sociology research group at Wye College (University of London). They have also provided insights into the dynamics of forest-based livelihoods that are being used to guide a separate research project run jointly by Wye College and Imperial College (University of London) in India and Mexico.

(Contributed by: Ms Bianca Ambrose-Oji, University of London, UK.)

For more information, please contact: Ms Bianca Ambrose-Oji, Environment Department, Wye College (University of London), Wye, Ashford, Kent TN25 5AH, UK.