I. Introduction

1. Historical perspective
2. Objectives of research
3. Methodology

1. Historical perspective

A vast variety of non-wood forest products (NWFP) are known. For millennia, forest dwellers have thrived on harvest of fruits, nuts, leaves, tubers, saps and medicinal products gathered from the forests. Due to over emphasis on timber production during most of the recent times, however, these products were neglected by the foresters and policy makers.

Despite the lack of attention, collection, processing and trade of NWFP thrived, because of their social and cultural roots in the local communities. Some of these products are among the oldest traded commodities. Wood and wood products have become major international commodities only during recent times, but the non-wood products were traded over long distances for many centuries.

The ancient Egyptians, for example, imported gum arabic from Sudan and used it for preparation of colours for painting and mummifying 1. Similarly, this commodity was considered an important article of commerce in France, as early as 1349, when the Treasury of Philippe V imposed a tax on it.

1 Hubert Jacob de Cordemoy (1900), p 14; reported by Beshai, 1984.

Records show that trade in sandalwood oil dates back to the 12th century and by the 15th century the oil attracted attention of the traders from the West. By 1910 annual export of sandalwood had reached 600 tonnes (Menon, 1989a). Exports of an essential oil, Ylang Ylang, had started from the Philippines in 1864.

Brazil nuts were introduced in the world commerce by Dutch traders during 18th century, during the period when they attempted to colonize eastern Amazona (Mori and Prance, 1990). A prosperous trade developed soon after Brazil opened its ports to world trade in the late 19th century and Brazil nuts have been an important article of trade since that period. Bed ore that it was an important subsistence product for Amerindians and later for the colonists.

2. Objectives of research

This study attempts to bring together available information on international trade in non-timber forest products. The specific terms of reference for the consultancy are reproduced below:

i. To study and analyze the international trade in non-wood forest products by categories, based on available information such as trade statistics of ITC and FAO commodities group.

ii. To construct the trends in trade and conceptualise the importance of non-wood forest products, relative to wood products.

iii. Examine the structures and arrangements relevant to international trade in NWFP and other relevant aspects.

iv. Prepare an analytical report incorporating findings and indicative strategies for development of NWFP, especially at FAO.

3. Methodology

Basic information in NWFP is seriously lacking. Reliable data are no where painfully lacking as with NWFP. In order to comply with this demand, this report aims at providing a perspective, along which the conservation and development of the NWFP sector can be approached.

Because of the limited time available to the consultant, this report cannot pretend to be anywhere near comprehensive. Out of a long list of commercially important products, only a few were selected for a detailed treatment. The rest of them were mentioned in passing only, just to document their commercial significance, in the hope that they may be picked up for a comprehensive study in future. Although effort has been made to list as many of the products as possible, some of them still might have been missed.

The report is based on information gathered from secondary sources including national trade statistics, UNSO Comtrade data base, international journals and some commodity specific trade reports. Trade statistics, as far as they do exist, are to be handled with much thought, as a very large volume of NWFP are being traded unregistered. Under reporting or not reporting at all, double counting, grouping of NWFP among themselves and with other products, and the use of unrealistic prices are among the systematic short comings of these statistics. Such statistics, however, are the starting point to get information and at best can be considered as indicative only. A study of this nature would never be complete without getting first hand information from dealers of the products in the producing countries. This, however, was not possible, because of time limitation, and reliance had to be made on secondary sources of information.