In the past, timber was recognized as a major product from the forest. The term forest product’ almost immediately brings to mind wood and wood based products. Thus forests have traditionally been valued as a source of timber, pulp and fuel. All other products, regardless of their value to local people, have been classified by foresters as ‘minor” forest products. Nevertheless there are equally important non-wood products that are collected from the forests. These include all botanicals and other natural products extracted from the forest other than timber, known as Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), Minor Forest Products (MFPs), other forest products or other economic products because of their meager contribution to the country and forest revenues.
Forests contribute to development in many ways, for instance in the form of natural capital, production inputs and environmental goods. Forests are increasingly managed for their range of resource flows, their ability to support rural well-being and their capacity to promote industrial opportunities, Forests provide large, even though different, ranges of goods and services for virtually all patterns of human settlement and livelihood. They are not contiguous blocks of timber beyond the frontier, but are active parts of life everywhere.
Many non-timber forest products are harvested each year from forests around the world. Many of the products harvested are forest botanicals that are used personally or are sold as commercial trade in the food products industry. Berries, herbs and mushrooms are among some of the most valuable non-timber forest products being harvested and sold to established markets throughout the world. Other food products include essential oils, honey, nuts, seeds, spices, coffee, teas and saps. In many developing countries, wild forest plants comprise a great portion of the daily diet for many people
The forests provide food, medicines, household equipment, building material and raw materials for processing. Forests supply medicines for the vast majority of urban and rural people and medicines are consistently ranked as one of the most-valued forest products by local people. It has been noted that plants used for medicinal purposes are harvested more than any other product from the natural world. Knowledge of common medicines is passed on through families and this knowledge continues to evolve as the environment changes.
Forests support agriculture by providing materials for farm implements, harvesting and transportation equipment, crop storage containers and dryers as well as fuel for crop processing. Household utensils and agricultural equipment encompass forest products such as fibers, baskets, furniture, bow and arrow, dye, paint, varnish glue. Most items are made within the household rather than being purchased and every household uses items made from MFPs in daily life.
Forests play a significant role in feeding domestic and wild animals through the provision of fodder trees and fodder shrubs. The importance of fodder trees has received recognition by the wider scientific communities in recent years, as the number of livestock increased proportionally with the increase of human population in most of tropical countries. Then it is assumed that fodder plants are important components of animal feed particularly as suppliers of proteins and supplement feed in dry seasons. Beekeeping is as old as human history itself. Beekeeping has significant role in forest conservation and development.
Forest cover declined with the excess of logging operations. In developing countries deforestation, forest degradation, biodiversity loss and rural poverty have long been important concerns in forest governance. The search for effective forest governance arrangements that meet the challenges of sustainable forest use remains an important issue. It has been proposed that long-term economic benefits from sustainable MFPs extraction might be significant enough to prevent forests from being put to more destructive land uses such as logging, mining or ranching, and help lower rates of tropical deforestation
One option for the sustainable utilization of forest resources is through the management and use of MFPs. Harvesting of some important MFPs is considered a major conservation strategy because it deals with both conservation and development, thus focusing more on product, farmers and forest settlers, especially the tribal and forest
The vast natural resources of India’s forests, including minor forest products (MFP), such as medicinal and aromatic plants, leaves, fruits, seeds, resins, gums, bamboos, and canes, offer employment that provides up to half the income of about 25 per cent of the country’s rural labour force. However, poor harvesting practices and over-exploitation in the face of increasing market demand are threatening the sustainability of these resources, and thus the livelihoods of forest-dependent tribal communities.
Emphasis on community forest participation has focused attention on those products of the forest, the non-timber forest products upon which many communities are, at least partially, dependent. Efforts are now being made to examine the potential of these non-timber forest products, to support not only the subsistence needs of these people but also to offer commercial opportunities which will provide the communities with reliable sources of income. Doing so will highlight the wider value of the forest resource.
The Indian Forest Policy of 1988 (MoEF, 1988) and the subsequent government resolution on participatory forest management (MoEF, 1990) emphasise the need for people’s participation in natural forest management. The policy document asserts that local communities should be motivated to identify themselves with the development and protection of the forests from which they derive benefits. Thus, the policy envisages a process of joint management of forests by the state governments (which have nominal responsibility) and the local people, which would share both the responsibility for managing the resource and the benefits that accrue from this management.
Economic development strategies are beginning to include the capital values of forests in national policies and programmes that modify forest stocks, qualities and distributions. Forests are now widely acknowledged as both productive capital stocks and as components of public infrastructural systems. As ecological analogues of industrial capacity and physical infrastructure, forests are entering the central equations of macroeconomic growth, often with new definitions of what the forest is and does.
It can also be referred to as all the resources or products that may be extracted from forest ecosystem and are utilized within the household or are marketed or have social, cultural or religious significance. These include plants and plant materials used for food, fuel, storage and fodder, medicine, cottage and wrapping materials, biochemical, as well as animals, birds’ feather, reptiles and fishes. MFPs which are harvested from within and on the edges of natural and disturbed forest, may be all or part of a living or dead plant, lichens, fungi, or other forest organisms. Apart from timber and firewood that are conceived as major forest produces, minor forest products (MFPs) include all products obtainable from forest. MFPs indeed play a very significant role in the rural economy in terms of providing employment, income potential and life support sustenance
It is understood that natural forest will have greater long-term benefits if left standing. Local people will tend to manage their forest resources more sustainable if they directly benefit from doing so, and that poverty in forest communities is caused by, degradation of the forest resources. The logical conclusion is that if poverty can be alleviated through harvesting forest products, then there will be greater incentive to conserve those forests.