Scientists should directly take an active role in improving government policies for the sustainable use of high-value forest products.
Dr. Ramon A. Razal, former dean of the UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resource, said there is a very big promise in store for stakeholders of the non-timber forest product-based industry, but there are problems hindering the full development of the industry that should be resolved jointly by government and the country’s scientists.
Dr. Razal said in the past few years, there were surge in interest in these products both in the local and foreign markets, but there are still several gaps in policy that greatly affect the value of NTFPs needing appropriate and specific policies that should be set in place to make the industry more attractive and productive.
He said non-timber forest products (NTFP) include resources gathered or harvested from forestlands or related ecosystems without the benefit of intensive cultivation like the rattan, nipa, bamboo, vines and anahaw which are examples of these products.
”NTFPs are not just sources of native furniture and handicrafts, but are also consumed as food, resins, medicine and cosmetics. These products are also used in construction and transportation purposes, as well as components for common house appliances,” Dr. Razal said.
The forest expert said NTFPs have a share in the cash economy, particularly in the trading and processing sectors.
Indigenous peoples (IPs) and people’s organizations (POs) usually depend on these resources since they are the ones primarily benefiting from the increasing “fashionable” use of these “environment-friendly” resources, he said.
Based on statistics gathered by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 1997, livelihood opportunities related to the use of NTFPs can be very viable.
“Making paper from abaca, baskets from hinggiw and harvesting kaong for food, although labor intensive, still give a good return on investment,” Dr. Razal said, adding that “enterprises such as planting rattan, bamboo and lemongrass, and beekeeping, if successful, are very lucrative.”
According to Razal, forest charges are collected from users of products from the public forest land to regulate the cutting and transportation of timber in the country.
Those who gather forest products for personal use are not charged but are required to secure and pay permits.
Forest charges on timber and other forest products have been adjusted following the enactment Republic Act No. 7161 in 1991, he added.
He said forest charges collected from NTFPs contributed only P6.4 million to the overall revenue collection of the DENR in 2007 amounting P980 million, but which was very insignificant compared to the money from timber.
“It is therefore compelling to look at how we can improve the sustainable use of NTFPs,” Dr. Razal said.
He explained that in a recent study, small gatherers pay a sizeable amount in getting permits with very difficult requirements that entail a lot of follow-up work.
Dr. Razal opined that if charges on NTFPs are removed, the poor players in the industry will be benefited and could make cost of raw materials more reasonable.
“With a more simplified system, farmers and organizations can dedicate more time to forest protection and development rather than going to offices to follow-up papers to secure permit,” he pointed out.
Dr. Razal urged government and scientists to help bridge the gaps by reviewing and improving NTFP policies in its formulation, evaluation and assessment.
He said researchers should participate in the policy-making process of DENR in order to reflect on whether their research initiatives match the agenda set forth in the Revised Forestry Master Plan of 2003.”
“Researchers should also conduct more activities related the inventory, valuation, value chain analysis, and efficient utilization and indigenous knowledge systems of NTFPs, aside from looking at the properties of NTFPs grown in large scale and see how they can sustainably harvest them in small and large volumes,” he added.