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Mr. Jelle MAAS
The Tropenbos Foundation, AE Wageningen
The Netherlands


The challenge for forest managers is to combine conservation of forest functions (i.e. biodiversity, watershed protection, erosion control, carbon storage) with improved livelihoods of local people (Ros-Tonen, 1999a). The management of NTFP9 production and harvesting cannot be seen separately from other forest uses. Contrary to timber harvesting or farming the extraction of NTFP is rarely an exclusive land use. In general it is part of a total livelihood strategy and combined with agricultural or other economic activities (Ros-Tonen et. al, 1995). In fact for local management the distinction between NTFP and timber is rather artificial, as they use all types (and services) from the forest (Schreckenberg, 2000).

The role of NTFP production and harvesting in conservation is based on the assumption that the collection of fruits or tapping latex is less damaging than felling trees. NTFP were therefore considered as a low impact forest use compatible with forest conservation. On the other hand NTFP constitute an important component of many subsistence farming systems (van Dijk, 1999; Hartog & Wiersum, 2000). The FAO estimated that 80% of the population of developing countries use NTFP to meet their needs in health and nutrition (FAO, 1997).

NTFP are a rapidly growing market sector with a total value in world trade of US$1,100 million. (Elevitch and Wilkinson, 2000). In some cases the value of NTFP trade is higher than that generated by commercial timber exploitation (CERUT, 1999). Although being potentially beneficial for local livelihood at the short term this commercial extraction of NTFP is not always sustainable. Ample evidence of over-harvesting of NTFP is given by numerous examples in literature. Even in the beginning of NTFP research over-harvesting of NTFP resources like rattan was reported (de Beer and McDermott, 1989). Ros-Tonen (1999b) concludes that the larger the market for a NTFP, the higher becomes its value and the greater the danger of overexploitation. Only products which can be harvested without killing the individual plant or animal, which are abundant, or which regenerate easily offer good prospects for sustainable management. Examples of NTFP with a potential for sustainable production and harvesting are Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) in Brazil and Bolivia (Assies, 1997) and palm heart from multistemmed species like Euterpe oleracea in Guyana (van Andel et. al, 1998).

Management options

Management needs to consider both the conservation of forest functions on the long term as the quality of local livelihood. To explore the suitability of NTFP production and harvesting with other forest uses different management options are to be considered.

Develop sustainable harvesting methods

Sustainable forest management is the process of managing permanent forest land to achieve one or more clearly specified objectives of management with regards to the production of a continuous flow of desired forest products and services without undue reduction of its inherent values and future productivity and without undue undesirable effects on the physical and social environment’ (ITTO definition in Lammerts van Bueren and Blom, 1997).

9 NTFP (Non Timber Forest Product) are defined as all tangible forest products other than industrial wood which can be collected from forests for subsistence as well as for trade (after Ros-Tonen et al, 1995).

In order to develop sustainable harvesting methods a number of key-ecological questions has to be answered (e.g. phenology, ecology, reproduction biology) in order to determine best harvesting practices, species and best suiting areas. The determination of a sustainable harvesting level depends on information on volume and reproduction. The lack of NTFP resource assessment methodologies in the tropics hampers the determination of such sustainable harvesting levels. NTFP resource assessment in tropical regions is relatively new and received little scientific attention, consequently only local methodologies have been developed by individual researchers. Some of these methods incorporate existing local knowledge with inventory methods from wildlife management, horticulture and other disciplines. An extensive literature survey by Jenny Wong (2000) showed that only a limited extent of these methods is scientifically sound. On the other hand the existing scientific inventory methods are not easily adjustable to local circumstances and are not easily understood and interpreted by local management. Therefore research should relinquish the need for inventory methods, which include traditional knowledge as well as some extent of scientifically rigour.

Develop human modified vegetation types

The distinction between natural and human modified forest systems is described as a gliding scale, characterised by an increase in human labour per unit of forest land and intensified human intervention on the reproductive biology of the desired species to gain a higher density and better access to the product (Wiersum, 1999).

Numerous interventions can be applied in various intensities and at different level. At the species level one has to consider yield raising methods and techniques such as semi-natural selection or domestication of the specific species. At the system level not a single species but also the surrounding ecosystem is adapted to the production and harvesting of a specific species. Farming or plantations are considered the most intensive management systems.

Some forestry systems try to combine the features of natural forests and domesticated products. One such system is ‘Analogue Forestry’. Analogue Forestry is a system of complex agro-forestry that encourages farmers to mimic the structure and ecological functions of the local natural forest ecosystem using species that provide them with a range of products for personal consumption or sale in the marketplace. Farmers benefit from the diversity of products that they harvest while also restoring the natural environment and supporting key ecological processes like soil retention and water purification (Senanayake & Jack, 1998). Such systems seem promising and are in needs of more scientific attention to fully investigate their potential contribution to sustainable forest management, conservation of natural resources and improvement of local livelihood.

Develop new market opportunities

The chance of a specific product to succeed in new commercial markets has to be studied in market viability studies. Studying the commercial potential of a specific (set of) NTFP has to take into account some considerations. The focus on developing market outlets for NTFPs needs to be kept in balance with consideration of the huge and usually very important continuing use of NTFPs to meet subsistence needs (Arnold & Ruiz Pérez, 1998). Some other considerations are the sustainability of the production, closely related to the continuity of production flow, the impact on socio-economic structures of the community, and the position of the NTFP in relation to similar (NTFP) products. For the latter a classification of NTFP based on supply and demand characteristics, the driving market mechanisms, is to be considered (see box 1).

Forest product certification seeks to link trade in forest products to the sustainable management of forest resources, and is therefore an important marketing tool for management to consider. Certified products enter different markets with other opportunities compared to the traditional, non-certified, trade markets. The three main certification schemes, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC, Sustainable Forest Management), International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM, biological control) and Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO, Fair Trade), are still highly inconsistent and urgently need closer co-operation. Some products, like shade coffee and chicle in Mexico and palm heart in Brazil, have already been certified by different certification schemes (Mallet, 2000).

Box 1: provisional categorisation of NTFP according to management characteristics (Wiersum, 1999)

Supply characteristics
1.    Production characteristics
-Degree of ecological sustainability of extraction
-Ease of vegetative or regenerative production
-Ease of cultivation under different environmental conditions
-Ease of stimulating production by technological means
2.    Organisation of production
-Access to NTFP resources
-Gender division of production responsibilities
Demand characteristics
1. Opportunistic collected products for subsistence consumption not related to main household needs (e.g. snack fruits)
2. Occasionally collected products purposely collected in times of emergency (e.g. medicinal products, emergency foods during droughts)
3. Products for regular household consumption
-Easy to substitute with products of other species (e.g. various food products, fodder, fuelwood)
-Difficult to substitute with products from other species (e.g. preferred forest foods)
4. Products for sale at various market types (local, regional/national, international)
-High degree of competition with substitutes
-Low degree of competition with substitutes (e.g. certain medicinal products, gums, resins)
5. Products demanded in manufactured forms, and which can be locally produced giving them added value (e.g. palm sugar, liquors)

Research needs

The management options mentioned above are to be based on and supported by sound scientific data. Ros-Tonen (1999a) divides NTFP research into two categories based on the primary objective, i.e. forest oriented and people-oriented research. The forest oriented approach focuses on the development of an ecologically sustainable extraction system, while the people oriented approach focuses both on the recovery of local knowledge and its application in participatory management, and to improve people's livelihood. Combining the threefold division with the research needs derived from the management options mentioned above results into the following schedule:

Forest-oriented approach
Forest conservation
People oriented approach
Participatory managementImproved livelihoods
  • Supply scientific basis, with scientific data on key ecological functions like phenology and reproductive biology, to develop sustainable harvesting methods and levels;
  • Develop tools to monitor the sustainability of the extraction at species and ecosystem level.
  • Point out the role of NTFP extraction as a suitable and compatible land use option in land use planning and forest management planning.
  • Develop participatory management models taking into account traditional/local knowledge and ensuring a broad support for management;
  • Hence, science should take into account that all management tools are to be applied and understood by local management.
  • Develop market viability studies and closely related market monitoring tools for specific NTFP products to be applied by local management;
  • Access the role of NTFP certification as a marketing tool in (international) trade and provide scientific support for certification like objective indicators (Viana et al, 1995);
  • Study the potentials of domestication of commercial attractive forest products and their integration into silvo-/agro-forestry systems;
  • Develop yield raising methods and techniques;
  • Provide insight into land tenure and property and access rights;
  • Provide insight into the socio-economic dynamics of NTFP extraction both for subsistence and commercial extraction.

The dashed lines indicate that the data are not limited to a specific objective but are strongly interrelated and mutually reinforcing. This schedule of research needs makes clear that there is a challenge ahead for continued collaborative NTFP research for the benefit of tropical; rain forest conservation and the people who depend on them for their livelihood. It is difficult to make any kind of prioritisation as all aspects are important to come to a NTFP production harvesting system contributing to the conservation of forest and the quality of local livelihood.


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Arnold, J.E.M. and Ruiz Pérez, M. (1998). The role of non timber forest products in conservation and development. In: Incomes from the forest. Methods for the development and conservation of forest products for local communities. By Wollenberg and Ingles (Eds.). CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia.

Assies, W. (1997). Going nuts for the rainforest Non-timber forest products, forest conservation and sustainability in Amazonia. Thela Latin American Series, Thela Publishers, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Beer, J.J. de and McDermott, M.J. (1989). The economic value of non-timber forest products in Southeast Asia. Netherlands Committee for IUCN, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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Ros-Tonen, M.A.F. (1999a). Refining concepts, objectives and research questions for NTFP research. In: Tropenbos (1999). NTFP research in the Tropenbos programme: results and perspectives. Tropenbos Foundation, Wageningen, the Netherlands.

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Wiersum, K.F. (1999). Understanding diversity in NTFP management: a neglected issue in NTFP research. In: Tropenbos (1999). NTFP research in the Tropenbos programme: results and perspectives. Tropenbos Foundation, Wageningen, the Netherlands.

Wong, J. (2000). Developing needs-based inventory methods for non-timber forest products. Application and development of current research to identify practical solutions for developing countries. Paper prepared for the ETFRN workshop on ‘Developing needs-based inventory methods for non-timber forest products’, 4–5 May 2000, FAO, Rome.

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