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close this bookPerspectives of environmental civil society organizations on forestry in the Asia-Pacific region: outlook to the year 2010. (1998)
View the document(introduction...)
Open this folder and view contents3.1 Forest Lands
Open this folder and view contents3.2 Biological Diversity
View the document3.3 Indigenous and Forest-dependent Peoples
View the document3.4 Non-timber forest products
View the document3.5 Forests and Climate Change
View the document3.6 Watersheds and River Basins

3.4 Non-timber forest products

Over the past decade, non-timber forest products (NTFPs)4 have attracted increased attention from both the forestry and development communities. It has become clear that NTFPs play crucial roles in the livelihood and subsistence strategies of tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of people in the Asia-Pacific region. A significant number of NTFPs are traded commercially in local, national, and international markets, but their most important function is in providing a wide range of subsistence uses to people living in forest areas. Environmental organizations have become increasingly active in the promotion of NTFPs, to generate income for forest-dependent peoples, to reduce pressures on natural forests from timber harvesting by enlarging the forest products base, or a combination of both. Their activities range from marketing NTFPs internationally to fostering multiple-use tree species planting on local levels. However, the growing demand for NTFPs also has negative implications in the form of disturbances of forest ecosystem integrity and stability caused by over-exploitation of selected species.

4The term has evolved from ‘minor forest products’ to ‘non-wood forest products’ to ‘non-timber forest products’. The latter term has been suggested to reflect me inclusion of woody products, including, most notably, fuel wood.

Closing the NTFP information gap

A major obstacle in developing sustainable approaches to NTFP management is the paucity of reliable information. A number of organizations and networks of professionals and organizations have emerged in response, including:

· International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR): to support and help coordinate research and development based on these two plants;

· Asian Network on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ANMAP): to exchange information, germplasm, planting materials, experimental data and expertise, as well as to establish effective cooperation in research;

· South and East Asian Countries NTFP Network (SEANN): to raise awareness of the importance of NTFPs for sustainable forest management, promote small-scale NTFP based rural enterprises, exchange information, and network;

· Centre of Minor Forest Products (COMFORPTS, India): to promote NTFPs through need-based sustainable forest management through seminars, technical assistance and liaison: and

· FAO’s The promotion and development of Non-Wood Forest Products Programme; to promote knowledge of NTFPs through its Non-Wood Forest Products Series, its non-wood News publication, and regional expert consultations. Based on responses to a questionnaire used to identify all those agencies, companies and individuals who are involved in one way or another with the promotion and development of NWFP, and may have socio-economic data on NWFP, a database is being developed to store and retrieve data on: organizations, agencies and companies; the location and kind of products which are the focus of their work; the socio-economic contribution of NWFP; critical gaps in thematic issues or geographic coverage.

Other initiatives that have a focus on NTFPs include FAO’s Forest, Trees and People Network, the Biodiversity Conservation Network (BCN), the International Centre for Research in Agroforestrv (ICRAF), and the Asian Network for Small-Scale Agricultural Bioresources (ANSAB).

In spite of the heightened awareness of the importance of NTFPs, basic and reliable information documenting their use, trade, and employment-generating properties is scarce. It is estimated that NTFP raw materials and processed products earn billions of US dollars per year (Mittelman et al, 1997), including, for instance, US$ 50 million generated from Asia-Pacific countries’ trade in rattan, especially Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and China (Iqbal, 1993). The collection and processing of NTFPs creates employment for millions of people in the region, including, for example, about 7.5 million people engaged part-time in collecting tendu leaves and another 3 million in processing the leaves into bidi cheroots in India (Tewari, 1982).

On the other hand, an ever-growing collection of case studies testify the wide range of uses of NTFPs, as well as local peoples’ extensive knowledge of them. Villagers from West Kalimantan recently identified over 800 plant species and almost 1,800 different uses associated with them (Graefen and Syafrudin, 1996). The uses of NTFPs that have been identified include:

· conventional subsistence products, such as medicines, staple foods, supplementary or emergency foods, protein foods, construction materials, tools and utensils, etc.;

· selected subsistence products used in smaller quantities or on special occasions only;

· commercialized products that generate various levels of income to collectors and processors, including rattan, resins, honey, aromatics, and bush meat;

· additional products commercialized in local, national and international markets, including medicines, tools and utensils, furniture, handicrafts, mats, walling and construction materials, major and minor foodstuffs; and

· major products with a long commercial history characterized by international trade, high annual turnovers, and market control by outside entrepreneurs. (Mittelman et al, 1997).

In addition, NTFPs figure large in indigenous peoples’ cultural identity, traditional knowledge systems, and social coherence. Forests, NTFPs and forest area populations interact in complex ways, currently threatened in many places by the reduction and degradation of forest cover. Many groups consider the forest as their spiritual ancestor who continues to demand respect through modest harvesting practices (Eder, 1997).

Certification of NTFPs

Rising concerns about the unsustainability of NTFPs have led to a number of initiatives in certifying NTFPs. These arose from economic motivations (higher market share, especially in industrialized urban centres, higher premium prices, and higher per unit value of NTFPs compared to timber), environmental motivations (unsustainable harvest of many NTFPs, environmental impacts of intensive production systems, and environmental benefits of diversified forest management), and socially driven motivations (benefits of increased revenues to producers and reduced economic risk resulting from diversified production systems).

NTFP certification of products from Asia and the Pacific has developed slowly. A 1994 survey of the Rainforest Alliance revealed that the market for certified rattan in the US would be minimal. Although such companies as Cultural Survival Enterprises, the Body Shop, or Ben and Jerry’s have made commitments to equitable and ecologically sound commercial NTFP development, they are often ill placed to ensure the sustainable origin of their products.

Source: Viana et al., 1996

Mittelman et al. identify five major trends in NTFPs. First, they note an increase in commercialization, particularly of NTFPs that become attractive with rising consumer incomes and that guarantee large profit margins through low-cost harvesting. Their long-term survival is not secure, however, neither in regards to the species or the market. Shifting rattan markets highlight the potential negative impacts. Before moving to Indonesia, natural rattan stocks were exhausted in the Philippines and in Thailand. Second, the gradual replacement of bartering with monetized systems in rural areas across the Asia-Pacific region is leading to a decline in the significance of subsistence NTFPs. The authors argue that such a decline has potentially wide-reaching effects on who will manage forests for what purposes.

Bioprospecting or Biopiracy?

According to some estimates, the annual world market for plant-derived drugs is worth US$ 200 billion, and the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) estimates that three-quarters of all plant-derived prescription drugs were discovered because of their prior medicinal use by indigenous peoples. Bioprospecting, the exploration of wild plants and animals for commercially valuable genetic and biochemical resources, continues to attract attention from various stakeholders. The Convention on Biological Diversity, by asserting the sovereignty of nations over their biodiversity, explicitly recognizes the right of countries to establish legislation regulating access to genetic resources and, if they wish, require payment for that access. Moreover, it requires that any company or country collecting biodiversity obtain the prior informed consent of the source country.

A number of ECSOs have become active in this field. Conservation International (CI), for instance, has designed a bioprospecting programme to foster incentives for conservation in tropical countries, including Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, illustrating to governments and forest peoples alike the economic potential of their genetic resources and the traditional knowledge.

At the same time, indigenous people are raising their guards against what they perceive as biopiracy. The Suva-based Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC) plans to draft a treaty to make the South Pacific a “life form patent-free zone,” and called for a moratorium on bioprospecting until appropriate mechanisms for assuring community benefits are in place.

Source: CI, 1997; Seneviratne, 95

Third, traditional arrangements and systems are disintegrating as a result of growing NTFP commercialization, migration of outsiders to remote forest areas, and the spread of the market economy, in addition to the historically unfavourable treatment by national governments. This latter trend is in many places reversed through the fourth trend, the devolution to community-based management. Except for the Pacific Island nations, where customary ownership has resided de jure with indigenous populations, Asian countries, in their attempts to overcome the shortcomings of state-owned and controlled forest lands, are moving to decentralize authorities. Finally, the authors note that policy initiatives aimed at granting local communities extended resource rights through forest protection committees, community agreements, and individual stewardship agreements (Fox et al, 1991) will create the decision-making space within which these local communities manage their forests and forest products (Mittelman, et al., 1997).

The largest and probably most influential involvement of ECSOs in NTFP-related issues has already been noted in the section on agroforestry. From local to national and regional levels, Asia-Pacific and international development/environment organizations support the rural poor in stabilizing subsistence resources and generating employment and incomes through the collection or cultivation, processing, and marketing of NTFPs. Increasingly, but still insufficiently, women are becoming the key actors in these programmes.

The second type of ECSO that has developed an interest in and activities related to NTPP are western-based conservation organizations. Mittelman et al (1991) note the role of NTFPs in integrated conservation and development projects (ICDP) in the Philippines, West Kalimantan, and Vietnam. Some conservation organizations, such as Conservation International (CI), have special programmes for marketing NTFPs. CI works with Papua New Guinea’s Conservation Policy Department to design and implement field research on exploitation schemes, including galip nut businesses, the Solomon Islands’ Makira Conservation Area project staff in identifying and evaluating markets for ngali nut oil, which possesses chemical qualities that make it a beneficial ingredient in personal care products.

Community-based Conservation Enterprises

“Economics drives much of the world’s rain forest destruction. Local people clear forests to grow crops, raise cattle, cut timber, or pursue industrial development. Conservation International’s Conservation Enterprise Department helps create an alternative to deforestation by developing enterprises based upon sustainable use of natural resources. These sustainable enterprises market “biodiversity products” such as tree oils, plant fibres, nuts, and latexes harvested in an ecologically sound manner from key biological areas. In doing so, they demonstrate that sustainable enterprise can help local people earn their living by managing and harvesting biologically rich forests instead of destroying them for short-term economic gain.”

Source: Conservation International

In Nepal, Appropriate Technology International (ATI) works with its local partner, the Humla Conservation and Development Association (HCDA), to help collectors in Humla, Nepal build a distillation facility for essential oils, which is keeping the first stage of processing at home and giving very poor mountain people a considerable boost in income. Says Tsewang Lama, HCDA’s director: “While you in the West are interested in conserving natural resources, our daily lives depend on it.” ATI notes that despite a large and lucrative worldwide trade in NTFPs, small-scale collectors receive very little from the sale of their valuable resources, value is lost to middlemen, providing incentives to over-harvest and deplete the very resources which sustain local populations and provide us all with valuable medicines and other goods.