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FAO forestry

Towards a harmonized definition of non-wood forest products

Over the past two decades an increasing number of governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and institutions, as well as the private sector, have become involved with the promotion and utilization of non-wood forest products (NWFPs). A lot of new information has been collected on the socio-economic importance and potential of NWFP utilization and its effects on the environment. However, little progress has been made to clarify the terminology for NWFPs. On the contrary, new and practically interchangeable terms have been created ("byproducts of forests", "minor forest products", "non-timber forest products", "non-wood goods and benefits", "non-wood goods and services", "other forest products", "secondary forest products", "special forest products") and a multitude of definitions proposed, all covering different aspects, species and products according to the focus of work of the respective author or organization. This lack of a clear terminology causes serious problems:

· Communication is becoming more problematic, since people are using the same term with different definitions, or without providing any definition at all.

· Studies and statistics are often not comparable, because of the different definitions and classifications used, in which some products are included while others are excluded.

· It has not been possible to create a comprehensive and consistent classification system on NWFPs, which can only be based on an agreed terminology including clear definitions. Definitions and classifications are crucial for improving the availability of statistical data.

In 1995, FAO made a first step towards a harmonized definition of NWFPs by organizing the International Expert Consultation on Non-Wood Forest Products in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, hosted by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. During this meeting, 120 participants from 26 countries, NGOs and UN agencies agreed on one definition of NWFPs: "NWFPs consist of goods of biological origin other than wood, as well as services, derived from forests and allied land uses."

The 1995 definition is currently being reconsidered within FAO; those concerned are evaluating the experience acquired in applying this definition during recent years and are reviewing the general discussion on terminology related to NWFPs. The discussion will lead to the use of a harmonized terminology within FAO, and it is hoped that it will contribute to a general agreement on a global definition of NWFPs.

Based on the recommendations of an internal interdepartmental FAO meeting on definitions of NWFPs 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 forests."

According to this definition, slightly changed from the one adopted in Yogyakarta in 1995, the three components of the term "non-wood forest products" are interpreted as follows:

· Non-wood: The term NWFP excludes all woody raw materials. Consequently, timber, chips, charcoal and fuelwood, as well as small woods such as tools, household equipment and carvings, are excluded. Non-timber forest products (NTFPs), in contrast, generally include fuelwood and small woods; this is the main difference between NWFPs and NTFPs.

· 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 included in the definition of NWFPs. 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, Butyrospermum parkii) is still in the process of elaboration.

· Products: In the proposed definition, the term "product" corresponds to goods that are tangible and physical objects of biological origin such as plants, animals and their products. Forest services (e.g. ecotourism, grazing, bioprospecting) and forest benefits (e.g. soil conservation, soil fertility, watershed protection) are excluded. Services and benefits are even more difficult to assess and quantify than NWFPs and have therefore already been excluded from most publications dealing with NWFPs. A clear definition of forest services and benefits is still lacking.

The new FAO working definition proposes a clear distinction between wood and non-wood forest products, as an important basis for building a classification system. FAO welcomes any comments and suggestions on the proposed. definition and classification. Please send any remarks to Non-Wood News, the bulletin of FAO's NWFP programme (Chief, Wood and Non-Wood Products Utilization Branch, Forest Products Division, Forestry Department, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy; E-mail: [email protected]).

Preliminary classification of forest and tree products

FAO's NWFP programme

Since 1991, the FAO Forestry Department has embarked on a major programme for the promotion and development of non-wood forest products (NWFPs). The mission of this programme, as was requested by FAO's member countries, is to serve as a centre of excellence for information exchange towards improved utilization of NWFPs in support of:

· sustainable forest management;
· conservation of biological diversity;
· improved food security.

The programme currently comprises the following four elements: gathering, analysis and dissemination of key technical information on NWFPs; full appraisal of the socio-economic contribution of NWFPs to sustainable development; improved networking among individuals and organizations dealing with NWFPs; and technical assistance on NWFPs to FAO member countries.

Gathering, analysis and dissemination of key technical information on NWFPs

Specific categories of NWFPs and/or important topics for their development are highlighted in the FAO Non-Wood Forest Products series. Twelve volumes have been published to date including the following titles: Non-wood forest products for rural income and sustainable forestry, Trade restrictions affecting international trade in non-wood forest products; Domestication and commercialization of non-timber forest products in agroforestry systems; Tropical palms; Non-wood forest products from conifers; and Medicinal plants for forest conservation and health care.

Information on NWFPs is disseminated through the NWFP Web page (

Appraisal of the socio-economic contributions of NWFPs to sustainable development

The availability of comprehensive data on the production and trade of NWFPs within and among countries, complemented with other descriptive information on products and their users, is essential for an accurate appraisal of their true socio-economic contribution to sustainable development. This, in turn, will contribute to the elaboration (and acceptance by policy- and decision-makers) of appropriate policies leading to schemes for their sustainable utilization, more equitable access to the resources and fair distribution of the benefits obtained from them. Although FAO and many other agencies have already assembled a wealth of information on the socio-economic role of many NWFPs, the available statistics are very dispersed and insufficient; they are not aggregated at the national level and they are far from being comprehensive or global in scope.

The following activities of FAO's NWFP programme support the development of a comprehensive statistical database:

· improvement of methodologies for the classification and valuation of NWFPs, including further development and harmonization of definitions and concepts on and related to NWFPs, as an essential requirement for the development of relevant statistics at national level (see the preceding piece, "Towards a harmonized definition of non-wood forest products");

· compilation of an information system on NWFPs which includes descriptive and quantitative information on products, uses and users and production and trade statistics by country. Within the framework of a European Union (EU)-FAO partnership programme to support data collection and analysis for sustainable forest management in the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions, NWFP reviews for each country in those regions are currently in preparation. The country reviews contain data, gathered and validated through regional workshops, on production and trade statistics for major NWFPs as well as other descriptive information on the resource base and the NWFP sector in general.

Within the EU-FAO partnership activities, it is planned that similar exercises will soon be initiated for countries in Latin America and Asia. NWFP country briefs for countries in the Near East have been prepared by FAO's NWFP programme. These country briefs will soon be posted on the FAO Forest Department Web site as they become available.

Improved networking

In the past few years the NWFP programme has developed an impressive network of contacts with organizations (governmental and non-governmental) and individuals working in the field of NWFPs. To improve networking further, the following activities are supported.

An annual news bulletin, Non-Wood News, is compiled from voluntary contributions of relevant information about ongoing activities dealing with NWFPs. It is distributed to some 2 000 individuals and organizations worldwide. Six issues of the bulletin have been published so far and they are available on the Internet ( Hard copies of recent issues can be obtained free of charge on request.

A directory of NWFP stakeholders is in preparation. This comprehensive, interactive database will gather reliable information about government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private companies and individuals involved with the development of NWFPs and will present their activities. A first draft of the database is available on the Internet ( It incorporates an option to download a questionnaire (available in English, French and Spanish) for those who wish to be included in the directory.

To increase awareness about NWFPs and to strengthen collaboration and partnerships at the national, regional and global levels, FAO's NWFP programme has organized several international expert consultations on NWFPs worldwide (see Box). The heterogeneity of the NWFP sector and the multitude of stakeholders call for multidisciplinary involvement and coordinated efforts. Inputs are welcomed not only from member governments, but also from a broad range of interest groups including the private sector, universities, forest industries and NGOs representing environmental and developmental interests.

Technical assistance on NWFPs to FAO member countries

FAO's NWFP programme provides support to FAO field projects on NWFP-related issues; assists in project identification, evaluation and monitoring; and helps countries identify donors for project funding.

Meeting on NWFP activities in Near East countries held in Lebanon

A meeting on the Development and Coordination of Regional Activities on Non-Wood Forest Products in Near East Countries was held in Beirut, Lebanon from 10 to 12 May 1999.

In the countries of the Near East there is a long tradition of management of forests and forest lands for non-wood forest products (NWFPs). Examples of products used in the region are cork, honey, edible nuts (stone pine, walnuts), carob pods, mastic gum, alpha grass, pine resin, argania oil and many plants widely used for culinary, aromatic and medicinal purposes. Some of these products are commodities traded on the international markets (cork, stone pine, aromatic and medicinal plants), while others are used on a local scale (argania oil in Morocco).

International expert meetings on NWFPs organized by FAO

Global expert consultations

· Social, Economic and Cultural Dimensions of NWFPs - Bangkok, Thailand, 1994

· Interregional Expert Consultation on NWFPs -Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 1995

Regional expert consultations

· Asia and the Pacific Region - Bangkok, Thailand, 1991

· Anglophone African Countries - Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, 1993

· Latin America and Caribbean Countries - Santiago, Chile, 1994

· Medicinal, Culinary and Aromatic Plants in the Near East - Cairo, Egypt, 1997

· NWFPs in Boreal and Cold Temperate Forests -Joensuu, Finland, 1998 (in collaboration with the European Forest Institute, the Economic Commission for Europe and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland)

· NWFPs for Central Africa -Limbe Botanic Garden, Cameroon, 1998 (in collaboration with the Central African Regional Programme for the Environment and the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service)

· Development of NWFPs in the Near East - Beirut, Lebanon, 1999

Despite their importance for local economies and for the people, NWFPs in the Near East are still largely neglected in the policy- and decision-making processes of natural resource management. Important gaps exist, for example, in the data available on production and consumption, the economic value of NWFPs and the botany and biology of most of the plant resources. Moreover, legislation and institutions are often inadequate to support NWFP development.

In response to this situation, FAO organized two regional meetings with the aim to promote the sustainable utilization of NWFPs in the Near East. The first meeting, Medicinal, Culinary and Aromatic Plants in the Near East, was held in Cairo in May 1997. It opened a forum for the exchange of information on NWFP use in the region and for the formulation of recommendations on actions to be undertaken in various fields (institutions, resource management, product utilization) to promote the sustainable use of NWFPs. The proceedings of the Cairo meeting are available on the Internet on FAO's NWFP home page (

Building upon the Cairo meeting recommendations, the second meeting, Development and Coordination of Regional Activities on Non-Wood Forest Products in the Near East Countries, was organized in Lebanon in May 1999. The meeting was attended by 25 participants representing Cyprus, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia and Turkey as well as international organizations.

Participants at the meeting in Lebanon discussed important issues identified during the Cairo meeting, including the main recommendations on priority actions for regional cooperation among Near East countries in the field of NWFPs. The meeting also gave an opportunity for the participants to share knowledge, to exchange experiences and to promote cooperation and coordination of activities among the different organizations and countries. Among the topics discussed were collection of national data on NWFP use; the main problems related to the ownership of natural resources for NWFP use; the status of participatory and integrated forest resource management in the Near East; and the future trends in the significance of NWFPs in the region.

The meeting's recommendations were the following:

Policy and institutions

· Clarify the definition of the term "non-wood forest products".
· Strengthen regional networking.
· Strengthen people's participation.
· Strengthen extension, training and education.
· Develop appropriate legislation.

Resource management

· Carry out assessment studies and yield studies (which should always complement commercialization studies) to specify sustainable harvest levels for important NWFP species.

· Develop appropriate propagation, cultivation and harvesting techniques, particularly for aromatic, medicinal and ornamental plants.

· Carry out ecological and environmental studies to assess the impact of NWFP extraction on ecosystems.

Product utilization

· Strengthen local processing and marketing capacities.

· Provide extension, information and training on quality requirements and specifications to the producers, especially for internationally traded NWFPs.

· Carry out socio-economic studies to assess the impact of NWFP commercialization on local communities, especially when NWFPs used at the subsistence level reach national or international markets.

· In order to identify areas for regional cooperation, agree on a set of criteria for categorizing the products and actions needed, e.g. products for which research and development are completed and products are commercialized; products for which research is finalized and development is still required; and products that have not been the object of any systematic research and development effort.

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