Since 1991, in an effort to increase awareness of Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFP) and to strengthen national collaboration at the regional level, FAO has collaborated with other interested agencies to conduct a series of regional expert meetings on NWFP. FAOs Wood and Non-wood Products Utilization Branch (FOPW) has co-organized various regional expert consultations in: Asia and the Pacific Region (Bangkok, Thailand, 1991); Anglophone African Countries (Arusha, Tanzania, 1993); Latin America and the Caribbean (Santiago, Chile, 1994); the Congo Basin (Limbe, Cameroon, 1998) and the Boreal Forests (Joensuu, Finland, 1998). Two global expert consultations have also been organized: "Social, Economic and Cultural Dimensions of NWFP" (Bangkok, Thailand, 1994), and the "Inter-regional Expert Consultation on NWFP" (Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 1995).
The Near East region had not yet been covered by such an effort, and the "FAO International Expert Meeting on Medicinal, Culinary and Aromatic Plants in the Near East" was the first Expert Meeting in the Near East on NWFP. Because of the uniqueness of the regions forest and rangelands and its products, the focus of the meeting was on medicinal, culinary and aromatic plants, as these are among the most important NWFP of the Mediterranean region.
The meeting was jointly organized by the FAO Regional Office for the Near East (RNE) and the Forest Products Division (FOP) and was held at the Egyptian International Centre for Agriculture in Cairo, Egypt, from 19 to 21 May 1997.
The specific objectives of the Expert Meeting were to:
The focus of the meeting was on medicinal, culinary and aromatic plants gathered from wild sources (such as on forest and/or on range lands) in the Near East, so as to differentiate these products from those obtained as agriculture cash crops (on irrigated or on rainfed lands). It was also noted during the meeting that the notion "forest land" (defined by FAO as land with a minimum of 10% tree cover), should encompass also the very extensive "range lands" (lands with a tree cover of less than 10% and mostly used for extensive grazing) in the region.
See Annex 1 for the Agenda of the meeting.
The meeting was attended by 23 participants (including two observers and two resource persons from FAO). All invited experts came from countries of the Near East region, i.e.: Tunisia, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Cyprus, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan and Egypt. Observers included Mr. Hennawi from the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development (AOAD), and Mr. Heywood, whos participation at the meeting was sponsored by the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh/MEDUSA). Some officers from the Egyptian International Centre for Agriculture also occasionally attended the meeting. The 19 experts invited by the organizers were selected on the basis of their specialized knowledge of NWFP in general and MAP in particular, and on the basis of their role in the management and utilization of forest resources in their country. They participated to the meeting in their personal capacity and not as representatives of their governments. See Annex 2 for the List of Participants.
SUMMARY REPORT OF THE MEETING
The meeting was opened by Dr. Mamdouch Charaf Eddin, Vice Minister of Agriculture, on behalf of Dr. Youssif Wally, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation of Egypt. In his speech he underlined the importance that the Egyptian government gives to the sustainable utilization of its forest resources, and the need for close cooperation with countries in the Near East region in this regard. Dr. Abdel Azeem El Gazzar, Director of the Egyptian International Centre for Agriculture, and Dr. Reyadh Mamdouh, Under Secretary of State for Afforestation, emphasized the important contribution of these forest resources to socio-economic development and to food security.
Dr. Mamdouch Charaf Eddin stressed that the meeting was timely planned, as it underscored the importance that the international community attaches to sustainable forestry development in the region. He also emphasized that the meeting was designed to facilitate an open dialogue among experts, and that it would make a direct contribution to the technical discussions on the development and utilization of NWFP in the Near East, and the role they play in the sustainable development of forest resources in the region.
Mr. Reyadh highlighted the important contributions of medicinal, culinary and aromatic plants and other NWFPs towards: (i) improving nutrition and health of the rural population in the Near East region; (ii) providing additional income for landless people; (iii) conserving the biological diversity of Near East forest resources. He also stressed the need for scientifically sound management and utilization of these resources, which should be fully compatible with the principles of sustainable forest management.
Speaking on behalf of FAO, Mr. A. Al Fares and Mr. P. Vantomme welcomed the participants, thanked the Government of Egypt for hosting this important meeting, and briefed the participants on the background and objectives of the meeting and its expected outcome.
The meeting elected Mr. Reyadh as Chairman and Messrs. Khater and Gavrilides as Rapporteurs. Mr. Vantomme of FAO HQ (FOPW) and Mr. Al Fares of the Regional Office for the Near East (RNE) served as Secretaries for the meeting.
The programme of the meeting was articulated in two technical sessions: i) Overview of the Resource Situation and the Present Status of Utilization of the Major Medicinal, Culinary and Aromatic Plants in the Near East Region; ii) Product Development and Policy/Institutional Issues. Each session included presentation of keynote papers, country reports and case studies, followed by general discussions.
The first session began with the presentation of three regional papers: "Plant Resources and their Diversity in the Near East" (V. Heywood), "The State of Agriculture, Forestry and the Environment in the Near East", (A. Alfares), and "Major Medicinal, Culinary and Aromatic Plants Gathered from Wild Sources in the Near East: Product Utilization and Trends" (P.Vantomme). The meeting was further briefed on the resource and utilization status of medicinal, culinary and aromatic plants through detailed country reports. Countries covered included: Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Cyprus, Tunisia, and Iran. The meeting was informed on the experience gained by these countries in the development and use of their NWFP, with particular reference to progress made in forest management, harvesting, processing and trade practices.
The second session covered the presentation and discussion of case studies documenting the situation, trends and needs of selected products: Mushroom production in Turkey, Jordan and Syria; NWFP in Turkey; Afforestation with Jatropha curcas in Egypt; Gum Arabic production in Sudan (including the production and marketing of new gums like Karaya, Sterculia setigera) and Medicinal and Aromatic plants in Arab countries. Three studies that had been commissioned by FAO-RNE on MAP in Pakistan, Sudan and Turkey were also presented. In this proceeding, only a summary of these three studies is given, copies of the entire documents are available from FAO-RNE.
RESULTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The meeting provided a useful overview of the specific characteristics of the many NWFP and their resource/utilization status in the region. The outcome of the discussions of the meeting was presented and discussed in plenary until an agreement by consensus was reached on all recommendations. A copy of the key recommendations were then distributed to each participant at the closing session.
The following are the main findings of the meeting and the corresponding recommended actions to be taken:
Information on the resources
It was found that there is a lack of:
Some information on the above is partially available from many and often very different sources, however this information base is still far from being comprehensive and adequate to cover the whole Near East region.
à Establish a regional metadatabase on medicinal, culinary and aromatic (and other NWFP) resources of the Near East based on existing efforts/databases;
à Create a "Directory on Who in the Near East is doing What on NWFP and Where" (including the utilization of the work done by AOAD, MEDUSA, IUCN, and others);
à Improve networking among key institutes in the region to strengthen information exchange, technology transfer, development of regional statistics and propagation methods (need for a regional training programme/center).
Conservation/protection/utilization of the resources
It was found that regulations and forest/rangeland legislation dealing with ownership, user rights, protection, utilization and harvesting of wild populations, at national/sub-regional level are inadequate. This situation is leading to over-harvesting and increased degradation of the natural resources, resulting in the inability of the wild populations to regenerate. It was also found that there was a lack of participatory and integrated forest resource management (combining wood production, grazing and NWFP).
à Review present national forest legislation in the region to identify critical gaps;
à Assist governments in the development of comprehensive strategies to address in a multidisciplinary manner the conservation and sustainable development of their medicinal, aromatic and culinary (and other NWFP) resources;
à Set aside gene reserves/conservation centres. This would require carrying out a feasibility study for establishing regional gene banks on MAP of the Near East.
The need for regional action programmes was mentioned,
including developing field
à Define the role of local people and develop participatory approaches with rural populations for improved conservation/utilization of the resources;
à Strengthen regional research collaboration.
Product Development and Policy/institutional aspects
It was found that there is urgent need for:
à Prepare marketing studies on important NWFP and MAP;
à Organize training workshops on specific topics (quality, marketing, involvement of local people, forest policy, extension).
CONCLUDING OVERALL RECOMMENDATIONS
The Meeting recommended that the development and promotion of NWFP between countries in the Near East should be strengthened through improved networking, and/or regional development projects/common programmes and, in this regard, close collaboration and coordination should be sought with, and among, the Arab agencies and institutions working in the same or related fields.
The Meeting recommended that a review of national forest policies and regulations in the region be carried out so as to identify critical gaps which could impede a sustainable conservation and development of NWFP.
The Meeting recommended that each country to become involved in a process of promotion of NWFP and that this process be developed simultaneously at regional, sub-regional and national levels.
The Meeting recommended that every effort be made to promote the exchange of information and experience related to this field, through, in particular, the organization of meetings between experts.
The Meeting finally recommended that follow-up action be taken and requested FAO to take a lead in the identification and formulation of a regional project to promote the sustainable development of NWFP in the Mediterranean basin, and to prepare a project document for submission to interested donors. This effort is to be carried out in close collaboration with relevant sub-regional organizations (such as ACSAD, AOAD and others) and with agencies from the countries concerned.