THE HARVEST OF SUSTAINABLE FOREST PRODUCTS
There are numerous forest products that can be collected in a renewable fashion on a small scale by local peoples.
Although poor farmers must still overcome their ignorance of sustainable forest products and difficulties of distribution, the harvesting of forest products without destroying the forest can be more profitable in the long term than the
other alternative: destroying the rainforest and using the land for subsistence agriculture for a few years before
clearing a new area or selling the wood (assuming it has not been recently logged) to a timber company. Several
studies back the economics of sustainable forest use. One such study
in the Peruvian Amazon found that logging a one-hectare patch of forest generated $1,000. The annual net yield of
the sustainable harvest of fruit and rubber, after deducting the cost for collecting and transport, was estimated
to be $422, for a net present value of $6,330 per hectare, using a discount rate of 5 percent (Peters et al. 1989). The
estimate is conservative since it was based only on the inventory of commercially tested materials and a poorly
developed market. Quite probably, the section of forest houses species with uses as medicinal drugs, dyes, and pesticides,
that are yet to have an established commercial value. If you include sustainable timber harvesting in the management
scheme, the net present value of the one-hectare forest patch is $6,820 (Peters et al. 1989). Management of forests
for secondary forest products (non-wood forest
products or NWFPs) in place of, or in addition to, management
for timber, is more likely to benefit locals. Such forest use boosts the local economy and provides tangible benefits
to those who live in and around forests.
Medicinal drugs from the rainforest are still largely underdeveloped and only a few may be known to the local people
for harvesting. These are derived from bark, leaves, roots, and other plant parts and can be sold in local markets
to other local people. Local communities generally do not reap much from drugs derived from rainforest plants
by major foreign pharmaceutical companies because of the time and cost associated with drug development. Further, once active ingredients are isolated from a plant, the drug can be synthesized in the lab. However, in some cases the active compounds are so complex or so expensive to synthesize that it is easier to collect from natural forest or cultivate on farms, something which could directly involve small farmers.
More on medicinal drugs
Although only 10 percent of natural food colorants comes from rainforest products, rainforest colorings could easily satisfy
a larger proportion of the market at a lower economic and environmental cost. Local people could collect these colorants
and sell them in local and urban markets. However, before this practice is feasible, a proper distribution
system for these products must develop.
Some rainforest food products can be collected in a sustainable manner for profit. Most of these include fruits,
nuts, and flavorings. Tropical American nuts, like cashews and Brazil nuts, account for US$300 million in sales
to the U.S. alone. Many of these foods, particularly Brazil nuts, can be collected only from a fully functioning
forest, and cannot be raised in plantations. The Brazil nut tree is a canopy species that grows in forests with
Brazil nut pods
The crusade of the rubber tappers of Brazil in the 1980s and
the assassination of Chico Mendes became an inspiration for the sustainable use of the rainforest and various grass-roots
conservation projects around the world. Rubber tappers earn their principal income, which is four times higher
than they would earn as city workers, from the sustainable harvesting of rubber, Brazil nuts, palm hearts, and other
forest products. They understand that their livelihood depends on the functioning forest ecosystem, and are committed
to the preservation of the forests as productive systems.
The History of Rubber
SECONDARY WOOD PRODUCTS
Wood can be sustainably harvested from the rainforest by locals. In Costa Rica, FUNDECOR (web site) has organized a program where villagers collect scraps and discarded tree limbs
left by commercial loggers. They saw the wood into boards on location, and sell the products to furniture companies.
This practice of waste-wood recovery generates US$1.1 million annually for the villagers. Alternatively, small farmers could follow the example of the Amuesha Indians of Peru who utilize strip-logging techniques, a practice that can ensure sustainable logging.
OTHER FOREST PRODUCTS
Rattan, a common rainforest liana, is a valuable non-timber forest product, harvested from the forests of Southeast
Asia, that generates US$3 billion annually in a global market. It is probably best known for its use in furniture.
Now Brazil is hoping to tap into the market by developing the collection of rattan-like vines, in an ecologically
safe manner. These can be easily collected by poor farmers.
The collection of fragrances for perfumes and flavorings, ornamental seeds and pods, and fibers for weaving and
ropes can all offer economic benefits to peasants. However the concept of sustainable harvesting of forest products
is important because overexploitation has been a problem in the past. For example the fragrant pau rosa tree of the
Amazon is now threatened there by overharvesting for the perfume and flavoring industries. Those who collected
the fragrance felled the whole tree. Research shows that the fragrance can be extracted from the leaves and twigs
of the tree, and now the collectors of pau rosa have been advised.
There are several obstacles restricting the collection of NWFPs from reaching their fullest potential. The first
and foremost problem is the lack of clear laws regarding user rights and access to forest lands. Because in many
countries forest lands are considered common property, it will be difficult to monitor collection and determine
who has access rights to what resources. Another problem is how to manage NWFP collection in a sustainable way
without over-harvesting. To date, most extractive products are generally collected without regard to their sustainability.
A third challenge facing this system is the lack of adequate distribution systems for bringing goods to market
and a general lack of consumer awareness of existing sustainably harvested forest products. Finally, the traditional
barter system between local harvesters and merchants—especially prevalent in the Amazon as a throwback to the rubber boom—can be troublesome. Under this system—where manufactured goods and some food items are advanced
to harvesters against the future delivery of forest products—many remain perpetually indebted to their creditors.
Despite these concerns some countries have established a system of extractive reserves to set aside areas explicitly
for the harvesting of forest products. Some of these have been established with the hope that users will adopt
sustainable harvesting techniques under the tutelage and guidance of various NGOs and government organizations.
It is important to realize that while the collection of NWFPs can be lucrative, such practices can only support
a limited number of people on a sustainable basis. To raise the standard of living for a broader array of people,
extractive reserves would probably have to be regarded as supplementary sources of income to enhance their earnings
from other activities.
- How can people living near the rainforest earn a living without logging?
- What are some examples of non-wood forest products that can be sustainably harvested from the rainforest?
- How can the harvesting of non-wood forest products damage the rainforest ecosystem?
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