Pressure, under pressure
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CTA. 2000. Pressure, under pressure. Spore 89. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Mushrooms, nuts, wild fruits, medicinal plants, rattan, bamboo Since time immemorial the forest has been prized for its so-called non-timber products which add much value, on top of timber and paper pulp. But the time for rampant exploitation of...
Mushrooms, nuts, wild fruits, medicinal plants, rattan, bamboo Since time immemorial the forest has been prized for its so-called non-timber products which add much value, on top of timber and paper pulp. But the time for rampant exploitation of this natural wealth is over. People s lives and prosperity depend on it, as do those of future generations. For local people living near it, the forest provides food, medicines and fibres, and a cash income from their sale. Forest products are used by some 80% of people in developing countries for food and personal care. Non-wood forest products, also known as NTFPs (see box), have been winning new interest for several years. There is a growing awareness of their contribution to household economies and food security, to national economies and to such ecological goals as the conservation of biodiversity. In ACP countries, NTFPs are generally in the hands of small-scale farmers and enterprises. More people are employed in harvesting NTFPs and processing them usually on the spot than in large forestry companies, and most of them are women : in Zimbabwe 237,000 people worked on NTFPs in 1997, compared with 16,000 in industrial forestry. Most non-timber forest products are sold locally or in regional markets. In Cameroon their sales are worth several million euros and go far beyond the local market. Market stalls in the conurbations of Douala and Yaoundé are full of such products as butter tree plums or safou (Dacryodes edulis), groundnut tree nuts (Ricinodendron heudelotii, used as a condiment), dika breadfruit (Irvingia spp) and cola nuts; these urban markets represent annual sales above FCFA 100,000 (h 150,000). The international market for NTFPs is not so developed, especially given the size of most producers. There are high commercial risks involved, not to mention the barrier of cumbersome customs procedures and the cost of middlemen and shipment. And it takes quite a lot of nerve, and patience, to handle the cyclical nature of international markets where shortfalls follow surges in demand, as night follows day. Growing international market All the same, some NTFPs are getting a firm foothold in the international market. Among the lead products are bamboo, rattan, wild honey and essential oils (see Spore 86). Often NTFPs serve as the basis for large-scale industrial processing. In Ghana, karité butter is sold to be used on cosmetic products distributed by the international Body Shop chain of shops. The same chain purchases organic honey and beeswax from North Western Bee Products in Zambia for the manufacture of creams and lotions. Similarly, world trade in medicinal plants is booming, carried by a wave of Western consumer demand for soft medicines and natural products: most of this ten-million euro trade is based on forest plants. Many producer countries are now working hard to exploit the growing economic potential of NTFPs, given their contribution to food security and job creation. But, there is a but. Photo François Besse/Cirad Rope-maker adds value to his bark Photo François Besse/Cirad The NTFP sector is coming under increasing pressure from commercial interests. In Cameroon for example, several thousand oil palm trees were cut down by farmers who were so anxious to get quick returns from raffia and palm wine that they did not even bother to climb the trees to pick them. More generally, agriculture is encroaching upon forest areas so much that the forest only exists in national parks or classified zones. In Côte d Ivoire, many forest species have been gradually lost from agricultural areas even though local farmers need them to earn their living. Such pressures harbour the seeds of conflict, fraud and theft, none of which are going to help conserve the heritage of the forest.1 Priority: improve management systems Any serious development of non-timber forest products, especially those most in demand, has to ensure their continuity. The conservation of NTFPs is targeted by several measures taken by the FAO, international research centres such as the International Centre for Research on Agroforestry (ICRAF) and national centres such as IRET, the research institute on tropical ecology in Gabon. They focus on the regulation of taking samples and the introduction of non-destructive techniques including the naturalisation or domestication of species (see box). Such conservation measures will only work if they enjoy the participation of local communities. This calls for awareness-building and training, and underpinning the community s sense of responsibility with well-defined land rights and policies that enable access to credit and trading opportunities. And then, when all is said and done, the extent to which forestry policies succeed depends on the ability of a country to develop scenarios which anticipate events. It also depends on involving local communities in shaping those policies. A recent study2 in the Caribbean repeated the widely known point that the viability of forests and forest resources is the business of men and women. Widely known it may be, but it is an attitude which is not always properly appreciated. 1. Unasylva, Vol 50, number 198, 1999, FAO. 2. Forest policies in the Caribbean, FAO, 1998.
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