XIII. Conclusions

1. Trends, prospects and constraints
2. Wood vs. non-wood products
3. Lack of basic information

1. Trends, prospects and constraints

From the foregoing discussion on international trade in individual products, a number of interesting features, trends, prospects and constraints emerge.

The NWFP trade is characterized by fluctuations in supplies, often to the extent of disrupting the trade balance. Drastic disruptions in supplies of gum arabic caused by two droughts in a period of 10 years provides a notable example. Reduction in supplies resulted in disruption in manufacture of the products containing gum arable, which led the manufacturers to replace gum arabic with newly developed modified starches. Consequent price hikes made switching over to the substitutes economically feasible. Decisions concerning commercial reformulations for an established product are never taken lightly, and are almost always irreversible, because extensive modifications to manufacturing equipment are involved. Consequently, demand of gum arabic in international market was brought down from 70,000 tonnes in 1970s to the present level of 20,000 to 24,000 tonnes per annum. The demand never rose again, even after restoration of supplies. Therefore, serious attention must be paid to ensure a stable supply base, while planning development of NWFP.

Domestication and cultivation of NWFP is often recommended in order to ensure stability in supplies, but this also requires intensive research input and proper planning. Unplanned cultivation of wild plants may not yield desirable results and may actually prove detrimental. Extending cultivation of annatto in many Latin American countries caused frustration to the farmers, because seed from sources with a low bixin content were used for raising annatto plantations. As a result, annatto seeds obtained from such plantations have low bixin contents (less than 2.7%), and have hardly any market. As a result the market is glutted and prices have fallen down.

Diversification of supply base is another recommended measure to stabilise supplies. This also requires extensive research and planning, otherwise desired results may be hard to achieve, and in an attempt to solve one problem new problems might crop up. Introduction of Acacia senegal has been recently attempted as a tree crop in Kenya, Niger and Uganda, in order to diversify the supply base of gum arable. It has, however, been reported by Anderson and Weiping (1993) that gum produced in some of the plantations raised in Uganda exceeds the international specifications in heavy metal contents. As the cation content of the gum has been shown to be soil related, it has been recommended by them to concentrate future Ugandan gum production on soils low in aluminium and heavy metals, particularly iron.

Almost universal feature of NWFP trade is that the bulk of the supplies originates from developing countries. Consequently, developing countries are the major exporters of most of the NWFP, while major markets are in the developed countries. Even the developed countries which were historically major producers of some of the NWFP, were gradually superseded in production by developing countries.

Commercial production of the NWFP tends to be inversely related to the level of economic development; thus, the higher the GNP, the smaller the NWFP production. With an increase in living standards, few people are willing to do arduous jobs of NWFP collection and processing. Moreover, increase in labour costs make the collection and processing of NWFP uneconomical. Declining gum resin production in countries like USA and Portugal, and increase in its production in China and Indonesia illustrates this changing trend. Even in case of products like cork and carob gum, whose major producing countries are located in western Mediterranean region, the trend is gradually tilting towards eastern countries of the Mediterranean region, where cheap labour is available. Emergence of China and India as leading silk producing countries during recent years and decline in silk production in Japan and Korea are also linked with living standards and availability of cheap labour. Development of NWFP, therefore, has potential in developing countries when labour is cheap and in ample supply.

NWFP have remained under pressure from synthetic substitutes, which have advantages of regular supply, uniform quality and stable prices. The synthetic substitutes have made considerable inroads in the markets of some of the NWFP. The interesting aspect, however, is that the NWFP have generally survived the competition, not only because they had an edge over the synthetics in some chemical properties, but also new uses for NWFP are being found. Moreover, old uses of some of the NWFP are being revived.

In case of pine oleoresins, it was once thought that they will be completely replaced by petroleum resins. The petroleum resin, however, is not only costly to synthesize, but also rapid price rise in petroleum feedstock has made it less competitive. Similarly, turpentine was loosing ground to synthetic solvent, when suddenly it became a much sought after raw material for camphor, perfume and insecticide industries.

At the same time new uses are being discovered for some of the NWFP. For example, with the extinction of gramophone record industry, current shellac production and exports is almost half of that in 1950s. However, interest in production of shellac has been recently revived, and there is a clime for the industry to regrow. Efforts are underway in India, China and Thailand to increase its output and improve on its properties. Already there are signs of its utilisation in agriculture sector, to save on the application of urea fertiliser. Perhaps at a future date the story of turpentine may be repeated with shellac.

Cinchona bark provides another interesting example of revival of interest in a hitherto forgotten NWFP. Two important alkaloids are extracted from the bark, namely, quinine and quinidine. While quinine is used as an antimalarial, quinidine is used as a cardiac depressant to control auricular fibrillation. At one time use of quinine as antimalarial had gone down because of availability of synthetic drugs. Consequently, production of Cinchona bark as well as the alkaloids had decreased considerably. However, because of evolution of resistant strains of the malarial parasite to the synthetic chemicals, and consequent rise in the incidence of the disease in Asia and Africa, use of quinine as an antimalarial has increased recently. Similarly, use of quinidine as an antiarrhythmic compound will also increase with the development of better health facilities in developing countries (Husain, 1991).

Similar story was repeated with ipecac, a medicinal plant once popular for treatment of amoebic dysentery. With the availability of synthetic substitutes its demand had gone down considerably. However, because of continuous use of synthetic drugs, most of the strains of amoeba responsible for development of dysentery have developed resistance to these drugs and there has been an increase in demand for ipecac during last 4-5 years.

Revival of interest in natural rubber, due to rise in demand for products like condoms and gloves, caused by an increased incidence of AIDS is another example of rising demand for the NWFP.

Some new NWFP are also being identified and commercially developed. A range of products including neem oil, neem soap and an insecticide (azadarchtine), for example, have been developed from seeds of neem tree (Azadarachta indica).

Trend in value added NWFP exports is also emerging in some of the producing countries. Establishment of kibbling plant in Sudan to powder and spray dry gum arabic is a step in the same direction. Ban on export of raw and semi-processed rattan from Indonesia, though not yet fully effective, aims at helping local rattan furniture industry, and to enhance value of rattan exports.

Recent interest in use of natural-based, environment friendly products has given further impetus to the revival of interest and rise in demand for NWFP. The policy of the USA government of restricting the use of coaltar dyes in food stuffs, for example, has resulted in a generalised use of annatto seed colours. This trend is particularly visible in the use of herbal medicines and essential oils.

Although international trade structures for major NWFP are generally well defined, domestic market chains within producing countries are not well understood. The collectors and producers generally do not get adequate returns for their products, and there is a tendency on the parts of middlemen to exploit them. Similarly, collecting and processing methods are often crude and wasteful, resulting in loss of quality and reduction in price.

2. Wood vs. non-wood products

Trade in NWFP has been going on for centuries, long before the trade in wood products. A large number of NWFP, worth billion of dollars enter international trade each year, earning the much needed hard currencies for the producing countries. For majority of the developing countries with limited forest resources, NWFP are the only exportable forest products. To illustrate the role of NWFP in international trade, examples of three countries, namely, Sudan, India and Indonesia are quoted here.

In Sudan, gum arabic is a major item of export, ranking second only to cotton, in terms of monitory value. It contributes 10%-18% to the total value of exports from the country. However, total economic value of the product in terms of its employment generation potential, and role of the gum-producing tree (Acacia senegal) in protection of fragile desert environment far outweighs the financial value of the product. Due to the economic value of gum arable, the tree is protected by the locals.

India, though a net importer of wood products, exports as many as 37 NWFP. Contribution of NWFP to the total value of the forest based exports from India is estimated to be over 70% (Gupta, 1991). In view of the foreign exchange generation and import substitution potential of the NWFP, India is one of the few countries where an elaborate institutional infrastructure has been established for promotion of NWFP and to ensure fair wages to the collectors. Far greater, however, is the socioeconomic role of the NWFP. For example, it has been estimated that out of the total employment of 2.3 million man years generated from forestry sector in India, NWFP contribution is 1.7 million man years, or 70% (Gupta, 1991).

Indonesia is a major exporter of both wood and non-wood products. Earnings from export of NWFP are as high as 40% of the total export value of the sawn timber products. Despite their significance in national economy, NWFP have never received the attention and patronage they deserved. Activities in conjunction with the NWFP sector are not highly visible as is the case with those in timber and fuelwood sector. Of more than 90 identified non-wood forest products in the country, only a dozen or so have received some serious attention (Menon, 1989a).

Notwithstanding the neglect the NWFP have generally faced vis-a-vis the wood products, they have always been important to local communities for social, cultural and economic reasons. The local communities have been benefitting from their collection, processing and trade. These communities, however, have been hard hit due to short-sighted and overwhelming emphasis on timber production, which has caused considerable damage to the forest resources including NWFP, though often sharing little in the benefits derived from the extraction of timber.

More recently, however, the short-sighted view of managing forest resources for timber production alone is generally changing, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, combined with a growing concern for the provision of substantial benefits at both local and national levels. The need for the integration of management for production of wood and non-wood products is accordingly being realised.

This integration can make forestry operations economical and more feasible. Because of accrual of early returns from non-wood forest products, negative effects (in terms of financial analysis) of slower but environmentally sustainable timber extraction can be offset. In order to achieve ecological stability, longer felling cycles and low harvesting intensities are necessitated, but this reduces returns from timber harvesting and makes forestry operations unfeasible. Integration of management to produce both wood and non-wood products can offset lower returns from timber; in particular, early returns from NWFP can make the forestry operations economically viable. Peter et al (1989) advocate that financial returns from management of Amazonian extractive reserves for NWFP would be more profitable than timber production alone, or conversion of the reserves for agriculture. A number of other studies (e.g., Alcorn 1989 and Anderson 1990) also point out in the same direction.

Intention, however, is not to support forest management exclusively aiming at production of NWFP, but to integrate forest management for an ecologically sustainable production of wood and non-wood products, in order to harness full economic potential of the resource. Revenue realised from the collection of NWFP will provide an incentive to the local communities to protect the forests. Such ideas, however, require lot of deliberation and can be put into action after taking into account the unique mix of ecological, socioeconomic and political conditions specific to each potential site.

3. Lack of basic information

The problem of non-availability of basic information on NWFP is so acute that it deserves a separate mention. Immediate problem with which any investigator on non-wood forest: products gets confronted is the lack of authentic information about the resource. In marked contrast to the wood products, non-wood products have, for the most part, remained neglected. Almost nothing is known about the inter-relationship between the majority of NWFP species and their surrounding environment.

The NWFP have been neglected and overlooked, both by foresters as well as planners, partly because their value is often greatest within relatively restricted local economies. The products are rarely treated in statistics and hardly studied. Consequently, little knowledge exists on their productivity, development potential or management regimes for sustainability. Even a complete listing of such products is not vet available. Information on production and domestic consumption is strikingly lacking for most of the NWFP.

Export figures of NWFP are the only data which are kept on a more or less systematic basis, but unfortunately, most of the official statistics are not very reliable. Merging information for a group of products, under reporting or not reporting at all, and use of unrealistic prices are some of the major distortions noticed in trade statistics of most of the exporting countries, which make the data unreliable.