Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

The world of forestry

Breakthrough on International Tropical Timber Agreement
Medicinal plants: A neglected resource
Mobile sawshops to Bangladesh
Integrating traditional and modern medicine
Honey from rubber

Breakthrough on International Tropical Timber Agreement

The 41 producer and consumer countries party to the International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA), a trade agreement with unique conservation clauses, have resolved the question of where to locate the headquarters and whom to appoint as Executive Director. The ITTO, which administers the agreement, will now begin operating from offices in Yokohama with Dr B.C.Y. Freezailah of Malaysia as Director. (See Unasylva, 36 (145) for an article by Freezailah on lesser-known species.)

The ITTA is the only UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) commodity agreement which has the conservation of an important living resource as an objective. Objective 1h commits parties to "encourage the development of national policies aimed at sustainable utilization and conservation of tropical forests and their genetic resources, and at maintaining the ecological balance of the regions concerned''.

Countries party to the ITTA control over 95 percent of all trade in tropical timber and remaining tropical forests. Under the agreement, voting is divided between consumers and producers. The producer vote is then split according to the main regions (Africa. Asia. South America) and allocated in proportion not just to trade but to forests held, thus giving "votes for conservation".

The ITTA took over ten years to negotiate and was deposited for signature after discussions among 70 governments.

The next meeting of ITTA is scheduled for March 1987 in Yokohama. Japan had lobbied extensively for the city as a headquarters since it is emerging as an international trade centre. Japan is also the largest single importer of tropical timber, dominating the world market together with the EEC.

International Tropical ember Organization members:











Côte d'Ivoire









Germany, Fed. Rep. of








Korea, Rep. of

Papua New Guinea








Trinidad & Tobago




United Kingdom

United States


From a World Wildlife
Fund press release

Medicinal plants: A neglected resource

The total value of world trade in medicinal plants in 1980 was US$550 million, according to a UN survey. This ought to be good news for developing countries with tropical forests since the genetic diversity of the tropical forests constitutes a huge and largely untapped reserve of species with potential medicinal value, and it is an additional incentive for the effective conservation of tropical forest resources.

Unfortunately this potential is not receiving the attention it deserves, partly because the major western drug companies, given the commercial risks involved, have been deterred from investing in natural product research. Collecting plants from remote and hard-to-reach forests in order to screen them for active ingredients is time-consuming and results are not always certain.

Producing a new drug to meet stringent government regulations is also a lengthy and expensive business, particularly if it is derived from a newly discovered natural product; variations on known compounds are cheaper to produce and easier to get approved. Nevertheless. Dr Clive Denyer, a research scientist with the Wellcome Foundation in London, believes that the drug companies' concentration on developing new synthetic products in the laboratory has mistakenly allowed natural product research to become a "Cinderella area" of science.

"There is no way to invent what plants have taken up to 3000 million years to develop. If people hadn't extracted things there would be no organic chemistry." he said.

Another major obstacle to the increased use of medicinal plants in modern medicine is the difficulty of guaranteeing a regular, large-scale supply of raw materials of a uniform quality. At present most medicinal plants arc simply gathered from the forest; strong demand sometimes brings them close to extinction.

"Production of medicinal plants on a larger scale means you have to establish a plant breeding programme.'' said Dick Van Sloten, a genetic resources officer in the FAO Plant Production and Protection Division. "To turn a wild plant into an agricultural crop requires a lot of research, a lot of germ-plasm and the guarantee of a user. One of the principal difficulties is that there is so little knowledge about medicinal plants in general and there are so many medicinal plants.''

At present the kind of research that might feud to the development of new medicinal plants as agricultural crops appears to fall between the terms of reference of a number of international organizations. The International Board on Plant Genetic Resources Centre has decided to concentrate its efforts on the world's major food crops.

"You can't work on everything and still have an impact," explained Van Sloten. "Most of these germ-plasm resources are not so seriously threatened as is sometimes made out. You will probably find them in ten to 20 years' time, especially if conservation measures arc successful. There is more pressure on the wild cultivars of crop plants, which is one of the main justifications for our priorities.''

The successful cultivation of aromatic plants for the cosmetics industry could provide a model for medicinal plants. Aromatics such as citronella, lemon grass, roses and artemisia are currently being cultivated in Nepal, while in Burma an FAO-assisted project is considering the substitution of illegal drug plants with liquorice, lavender and the babassu oil palm, among other species.

"The substitution of medicinal plants for illegal drug plants could have a big future.'' observed Dr Carlos Pineda-Cardoza of the FAO Plant Production and Protection Division. The value of the crops could be increased by local processing, which might enable them to come close to the very high values obtainable from illegal drugs. This would mean that governments would have less difficulty in persuading farmers to abandon growing illegal drug plants and would no longer have to rely purely on coercion, good will or subsidies.

The demand in the developed world for natural, ecologically harmless products could be extended from the cosmetics industry to medicinal plants and to other minor forest products. With sufficient investment to guarantee a regular, large-scale supply of products such as rattans, resins and waxes and a strong marketing emphasis on their natural provenance, any of these forest products should be able to compete successfully with their synthetic rivals. They also have the advantage of being the product of a renewable rather than a finite resource.

Philip Willan, Rome

Mobile sawshops to Bangladesh

Two mobile saw-servicing workshops supplied by Original Vollmer, a United Kingdom company, were recently presented to FAO. The units, which are being shipped to Bangladesh as mobile training units, join a recently established fixed workshop. They are intended to improve the standard of saw and tool servicing in Bangladesh sawmills.

A MOBILE SAWSHOP FAO assistance to Bangladesh

The two vehicles are based on Bedford four-wheel-drive chassis supplied by General Motors. The special bodies, which were built at Reynolds Boughton at Amersham, UK, are designed to open up on site to provide an effective workshop area.

Each truck is fitted with an electric start diesel generator that provides power for the machinery and lighting. The saw-servicing equipment includes a wide band-saw rolling bench, a dual-purpose automatic grinder for band-saws and circular saws and a second automatic grinder for smaller blade sizes.

Work-benches at the rear have an off-hand grinder, a drill press and band-saw jointing equipment mounted.

A telescopic lifting beam and 500-kg chain block, which extends out of the rear of the truck, are mounted on the roof. Electric arc and oxy-acetylene welding equipment are also provided.

These first units will be used initially for training purposes, with the idea of testing the use of similar mobile sawshops in Third World countries for servicing groups of small sawmills.

Timber Trades Journal

Integrating traditional and modern medicine

As part of its campaign, launched in 1977, to achieve "health for all by the year 2000" the World Health Organization (WHO) has called on governments to take steps to integrate traditional and modern medicine. The task is by no means easy and there is a long way to go before WHO can claim success.

"The response has been good, but it could be greater," said Dr Olayiwola Akerele, the official responsible for traditional medicine at WHO headquarters in Geneva. "It is up to the individual countries to work out how far to integrate."

One of the principal thrusts of the programme is on safety and WHO has been running courses on safety and dosage formulation in traditional medicine. It also makes available information on medicinal plants to non-profit organizations through the School of Pharmacy of the University of Illinois at Chicago. The service, known as NAPR-ALERT (Natural Products Alert), provides information on natural plant products gleaned from the world literature. Among other things, it provides the names and traditional uses of medicinal plants as well as information on their active ingredients and their toxicity.

Another field where WHO believes that progress can be made is in the integration of traditional medicinal practitioners into national health schemes, particularly at the level of primary health care. The provision of training for midwives is an example of how cooperation between traditional and modern medicine can extend the availability of basic health care.

There are, however, many difficulties to be overcome. Some of these have been illustrated by Dr Mohammad Saleh Lashari, the head of a general hospital at Oleh in Nigeria. Writing in the WHO journal World Health Forum (Vol. 5, 1984). Dr Lashari drew attention to the harmful effects of certain traditional medicinal practices. But he observed that traditional medicine is generally more widely available, cheaper and better accepted, particularly in rural areas, than its modern rival. He pointed out that people in rural areas tend to turn to traditional healers first and go to modern hospitals only as a last resort.

"As a result, precious time is lost, so that many patients are already in a desperate condition when they first receive modern medical treatment; the resulting therapeutic failure is attributed to scientific medicine and further adds to its unpopularity." he wrote.

In order to eliminate the harmful effects of traditional medicine Dr Lashari recommends that traditional healers should be given basic training in modern scientific medicine, that their practices should be subjected to scientific evaluation and that they should subscribe to a code of practice. "One thing is certain: traditional medicine will have to be refined," he wrote.

The lack of scientific research into medicinal plants may be depriving modern medicine of effective new drugs, but according to Dr Akerele it could be a blessing in disguise for developing countries. We advocate the use of crude drugs: we're not interested in the isolation of active ingredients." he said. "The clinical trials for a new modern drug are an extremely costly business and the drug often ends up being too expensive for people in developing countries."

A more optimistic view of the possibilities for industrial development as a result of research into plant-derived drugs is taken by Prof. N.R. Farnsworth, the head of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine at the University of Illinois. In an article in World Health Forum (Vol. 6. 1985) he wrote: "In most developing countries the flora remains virtually unexplored from the point of view of practical utilization, and the next two decades will provide many useful drugs that will alleviate human suffering. A majority of these drugs should be discovered by enthusiastic, energetic and highly motivated scientists in developing countries."

Honey from rubber

In Malaysia smallholders are being encouraged to look at alternative activities to maintain their incomes in the face of falling prices of rubber, palm-oil and other tree-crop products. The Malaysian Government is, for instance, encouraging sheep-grazing in rubber plantations. Fruit trees, fish-farming and beekeeping are also being suggested.

The potential for beekeeping is good since the country imports 400000 kg of honey a year, and demand is rising. The Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia is investigating ways in which smallholders can take up beekeeping.

A farmer must first make sure there are good sources of nectar on his farm. Oil palms can supply good flows of nectar, but since a rubber tree flowers for only about six weeks in March and April, the rubber farmer needs to plant alternative sources.

PRODUCING NON-WOOD WOOD FOREST PRODUCTS new sources for nectar in Malaysia

The Rubber Research Institute has been looking at fruit trees. Starfruit is a possibility. It bears fruit early in life and flowers all the year round. On an average smallholding there could be room for about 20 trees. Bananas are another suggestion, and guavas can provide profuse and regular flowering.

Chance observations have shown that the leaf-stems of some varieties of cassava exude nectar. This is something that is being more closely studied. There are other plants that could also help in providing nectar and, if chosen carefully, might also be useful as fodder crops for sheep. An example is the weed Asystaria, which flowers all the year round.

Beekeeping began in Malaysia with the European bee, but it died out, so an indigenous bee, Apis cerena, is being used and improved. Apparently it takes to hives quite happily. Langstroth hives are being used and they cost about M$5, if home-made. But researchers are also developing a new hive more suitable for the humid climate.

Farmers can expect about 35 kg of honey per hive in a season. But this should rise when more suitable plants are available to bees. This local honey is proving to be more popular than imported, so prices are higher - in fact, three to four times higher. Malaysian seem to prefer honey that tastes of coconut, coffee or fruit. Some 100 smallholders are cooperating in this project. They have about three hives each, and such is the success of beekeeping that they all want more. The University Pertanian Malaysia has started running courses for extension officers and farmers and it is hoped that they will be able to help others start up. A beekeepers' association is being formed in order to give experienced and novice beekeepers a chance to meet and swap ideas.

The farming World (BBC)

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page