Life on Land

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Non-timber Forest Products (NTFPs)

  • Jelena NedeljkovićEmail author
Living reference work entry



The term “non-timber forest product” includes “all biological materials other than timber which are extracted from forests for human use. These include foods, medicines, spices, essential oils, resins, gums, latexes, tannins, dyes, ornamental plants, wildlife (products and live animals), fuelwood and raw materials, notably rattan, bamboo, small wood and fibres” (De Beer and McDermott 1996).


Despite the fact that non-timber forest products (NTFPs) “have only recently captured the attention of forest managers, forest-dependent peoples have used them for generations” (Barry 2005).

Utilization and commercialization of NTFPs have a long tradition in human history. For example, “evidence of the export of forest products from the western Indonesian islands to China dates from the beginning of the 5th century. The major products sought by these early pioneers were resins and oils valued for their aromatic and medicinal properties – benzoin, camphor and a resin known as ju” (De Beer and McDermott 1996). NTFPs “rank among the oldest traded commodities. Ancient Egyptians imported gum arabic from Sudan for use in paints and the mummification process. International trade in sandalwood oil dates back to the twelfth century A.D.” (FAO 1995).

NTFP’s “roles and importance in trade and societies have varied through time from key commodities during periods of early colonial conquest to secondary or minor resources, and once again more recently back in the international spotlight” (Sills et al. 2011).

Historical evidences show that “many NTFPs were key global commodities and an important component of international trade, driving the fabled spice trade between Asia and Europe, expanding in the colonial period with products such as shea butter (Vitellaria paradoxa) and gum Arabic (Acacia spp.) from Africa, and feeding the industrial revolution with products such as rubber from the Amazon (Heavea brasilenses)” (Sills et al. 2011).

Although the relative importance of NTFPs in international trade declined after 2nd World War, followed by their disappearance from the international policy agenda (Sills et al. 2011) for a couple of decades, the situation has significantly changed during 1980s.

Interest in the NTFPs has been renewed in the 1980s and 1990s because of the numerous reasons (Arnold and Ruiz Pérez 1998; Belcher 2003; Belcher et al. 2005; Mukul 2011):
  • Growing global environmental initiative, especially when it comes to reducing the forest area;

  • Exploitation of NTFPs is less ecologically destructive than timber harvesting and provides a more sound basis for sustainable forest management;

  • Increased concern for addressing poverty in rural areas. NTFPs greatly contribute to the livelihoods and welfare of populations living in and adjacent to forests (e.g., providing food, medicines, other material inputs, being a source of employment and income). For a large number of people, NTFPs are still more important resources than timber;

  • Introduction of the concept of sustainable development.

Issues Related to Definition

The term “non-timber forest products,” according to some authors, was firstly introduces to professional public in 1989. Namely, “in their groundbreaking publication on the economic value of NTFPs in South East Asia, De Beer and McDermott used the term Non-Timber Forest Products as an alternative to the ‘dismissive epithet’ minor forest products” (Belcher 2003).

The division of forest products into the “main” and “secondary” originates from a traditional understanding that the most important product of the forest (the most important benefit of it) is wood (Popović and Nikolić 1972). Such situation was present in most countries before the 1980s. At this time, “forest policy and formal management focused on the use of forests as factories for timber production and downplayed other products such as mushrooms or conservation. This resulted in a dichotomisation of forest products into ‘timber’ as the primary product and ‘everything else’ as secondary products” (Mantau et al. 2007).

However, to indicate wood as the main forest product is true only for such forest management, which the main goal is wood production (Ugrenović 1948).

Since the beginning of 1980s, “there has been an increasing realisation that many other products and services generated by forests are essential to the well-being of local communities, required by society at large that must be accommodated by forest management. The fact that many of these NTFPs do not require the cutting of trees and provide subsistence and incomes for local people also means that they (i.e., the products and associated uses) provide a useful tool for achieving conservation objectives which has further perpetuated distinction between timber production and conservation. Nevertheless, the broadening of forest management objectives is now widely accepted, although the historical prejudices between timber and other products continue” (Mantau et al. 2007.

However, as the function of the forests is very complex, classification of products on the main and secondary is not completely correct or purposeful. The significance of the products is different, and it changes in time and space. For this reason, such classification should be understood conditionally (Popović and Nikolić 1972), i.e., the usual distinction between forest products in the main and secondary is not absolute, but only relative in nature (Ugrenović 1948).

It should also be noted that it is not correct to make the conclusions about the importance of such products only by their name, i.e., to think that their importance is also secondary. The reason is the contribution of these products to the economy, and especially to forestry, agriculture, and industry (Ugrenović 1948).

Despite the great importance and interest of the professional public, there is still no single definition of the NTFPs (Box 1).

Box 1 NTFPs Definitions




De Beer and McDermott

All biological materials other than timber, which are extracted from forests for human use

(De Beer and McDermott 1996)

The expert consultation on non-wood forest products for Asia and the Pacific (FAO in 1991)

All renewable and tangible products, other than timber, firewood, and charcoal, derived from forests or any land under similar use as well as woody plants. Thus, the products like sand, stones, water, and ecotourism will be excluded

(Chandrasekharan 1995)

FAO (in 1992)

All goods and services for commercial, industrial, and subsistence use, other than wood, derived from forests and their biomass which can be sustainably extracted, i.e., extracted from a forest ecosystem in quantities and ways that do not alter its basic reproductive functions

(Chandrasekharan 1995)

The regional expert consultation on non-wood forest products for Africa (FAO in 1993)

All vegetal and faunal products (other than wood) derived from forests and other wooded land and trees outside the forests; excluded are industrial round wood, wood used for energy, horticultural, and livestock products

(Chandrasekharan 1995)

The expert consultation on non-wood forest products for Latin America and the Caribbean (FAO in 1994)

All goods of biological origin, as well as services, derived from forest or any land under similar use, and exclude wood in all its forms

(Chandrasekharan 1995)

Chamberlain, Bush, and Hammett

Products generated from the forest that are not timber-based

(Chamberlain et al. 1998)

FAO (in 1999)

Goods of biological origin other than wood, derived from forest, other wooded land, and trees outside forests

(FAO 1999)

Chamberlain and Hammett

Products are produced from plants, parts of plants, fungi, and other biological material that are harvested from within and on the edges of natural, manipulated, or disturbed forests

(Chamberlain and Hammett 2002)


Group of edible noncultivated products that grow in the wild

(Grivins 2016)

Leßmeister, Heubach, Lykke, Thiombiano, Wittig, Hahn

Organic matter except timber derived from forests, woodlands, and agroforestry systems for human use

(Leßmeister et al. 2018)

Literally, “NTFP includes all products that are derived from forests with the exception of timber. In practice, various products and production environments are included or excluded de- pending on the objectives of the author” (Ahenkan and Boon 2011). In the other words, “despite subtle differences, all of these terms are commonly understood to refer to products such as mushrooms, fruit, leaves, plants, and animals collected or grown in forests and used as food, fodder, medicine, as raw materials for handicrafts and with significance as cultural objects and as a source of income and subsistence” (Mantau et al. 2007).

Mantau et al. (2007) further highlight that “the term NTFP is not based on a biological or ecological category but rather is a political economic category useful for highlighting overlooked values and biodiversity that can occur when timber production is the primary focus of forest management.”

Setting aside the differences “all of the terms are meant to underscore the fact that forest-based economies are more complex than the simple harvesting of trees” (Barry 2005).

What Products Belong to “NTFPs”?

The examples of products covered by the term NTFPs are given in Box 2 and shown in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1

Different types of NTFPs in Europe. 1 Mushrooms 2 Medicinal and aromatic herbs 3 Berries 4 Forest fruits. (Source: original)

Box 2 Examples of NTFPs



(Chandrasekharan 1995)


Medicinal and aromatic plants

Various edible fruits of forest trees and shrubs

Items made of non-wooden materials

(Chamberlain et al. 1998)




Roots, leaves, and bark

Leaves and twigs that may be components of decorative arrangements

Wood carved or woven into pieces of art or utilitarian objects

(Chamberlain and Hammett 2002)







Wild tubers and bulbs


Specialty woody products (if produced from woody vines, saplings, or parts of trees, but not sawn wood)

Floral and decorative products (e.g., fresh/dried flowers, aromatic oils, greenery, basket filler, wreaths, and roping)

(Belcher et al. 2005)

Palm fibers,

Wood carving,


Medicinal plants




(Jones and Lynch 2007)



Moss and lichen



(Wong and Prokofieva 2014)



Plants (tree, shrub, herbs and grasses, moss, lichens, ferns):

 Stem and bark (latex, gum, resin, fiber, dye, soap, cork, bark pieces);

 Leaves (forage, fodder, fiber, herbs);

 Flowers (tea, decoration);

 Fruits and nuts (food, oil, spices);

Fungi (mushrooms, truffles, spawn)

Fauna (game meat, trophy, hides, honey)

Soil (litter)

(Leßmeister et al. 2018)






Medicinal plants

Bark, gum



Small wood products (e.g., firewood and chew-sticks)

(Saifullah et al. 2018)




Fish and game



Medicinal plants


As there is no unique definition of NTFPs, there is no universal classification. However, the NTFPs classification can be performed according to the (ultimate) goal of use or by origin (Ahenkan and Boon 2011), as shown in Box 3.

Box 3 Classification of NTFPs According to Origin, Purpose and End-Use

Classification based on origin



Products that come from the tree

Bark, resin, cork, fruits etc.

Products that come from the land surface

Litter, medicinal herbs, berries and mushrooms, etc.

Products obtained from the ground itself

Peat, stone, sand, clay

Classification based on purpose



Chemical and pharmaceutical industries

Bark, resin, medicinal herbs, berries


Forest litter, grass, leaf, etc.


Tree seed

Textile industry



Mushrooms, herbs, nuts, berries, forest fruits etc.

Construction industry

Peat, stone, sand, etc.

Classification based on end-use



Plant products


Vegetal foodstuff and beverages provided by fruits, nuts, seeds, roots


Animal and bee fodder provided by leaves, fruits, etc.


Medicinal plants (e.g., leaves, bark, roots) used in traditional medicine and/or by pharmaceutical companies

Perfumes and cosmetics

Aromatic plants providing essential (volatile) oils and other products used for cosmetic purposes

Dying and tanning

Plant material (mainly bark and leaves) providing tannins and other plant parts (especially leaves and fruits) used as colorants

Utensils and handicrafts

Heterogeneous group of products including thatch, bamboo, rattan, wrapping leaves, fibers

Construction materials

Thatch, bamboo, fibers


Entire plants (e.g., orchids, ferns, philodendron) and parts of the plants (e.g., pots made from roots) used for ornamental purposes


Substances such as gums(water soluble), resins (water insoluble), and latex (milky or clear juice), released from plants by exudation

Animals and animal products

Living animals

Mainly vertebrates such as mammals, birds, reptiles, etc.

Honey, beeswax

Products provided by bees


Meat provided by vertebrates, mainly mammals

Other edible animal products

Mainly edible in vertebrates such as insects (e.g., caterpillars), crabs and other “secondary” products of animals (e.g., eggs, nests)

Hides, skin

Hide and skin of animals used for various purposes


Entire animals or parts of animals such as various organs used for medicinal purposes (e.g., caterpillars, crab legs, and snake oil)


Entire animals or parts of animals such as various organs used as colorants

Other nonedible animal products

e.g., bones used as tools

Source: Adapted according to Ugrenović (1948), Ahenkan and Boon (2011)

Vacik et al. (2008) state that “according to the usual division, in Central European forestry, there are two groups of forest products: wood products and secondary forest products.” In addition, the secondary forest products may also be of wood (e.g., Christmas trees), but also include NWFPs and services (Vacik et al. 2008).

Economic Importance

If one takes into account the effects that can cause excessive use of natural resources, the need for their sustainable management and use is understandable. Accordingly, so-called non-forest forest functions are gaining in importance, and numerous global and regional initiatives have been launched to meet the new demands (Pettenella et al. 2007; Mavsar et al. 2008; Sills et al. 2011; Nedeljković 2015; Nonić 2015).

Policy-makers often surmise that “forests are of no economic value unless they are harvested. However, NTFPs can provide an important means for economic growth, specifically to man-made resource poor and forest resource abundant geographical areas. An important feature of NTFPs is the continuous flow of returns against timber returns that are available intermittently at an interval of rotation period and this feature can be used intelligently and strategically for conservation of forest resources through proper forest management practices” (Greene et al. 2000).

The input of NTFPs trade to “total household cash income can vary from less than 5% to over 90% depending on the degree of involvement and specialisation, extent of value addition and seasonality of the resource” (Shackleton and Pandey 2014). These products can improve welfare of local populations in numerous ways (Shackleton and Pandey 2014):
  1. 1.

    Direct household consumption (provide the products for food, shelter, medicines, fibers, energy, and cultural artifacts).

  2. 2.

    Provide many households with a means of income generation, either as supplementary income to other livelihood activities or as the primary means of cash generation.

  3. 3.

    Provide a safety-net, or insurance, for use in times of misfortune.

  4. 4.

    Some NTFPs play extensive and important roles in local cultures and spirituality.

  5. 5.

    The use of NTFPs by local households represents cash saving to those households as well as the State.

In relation to forest sector, the importance of using NTFPs consists mainly in the following:
  • In this way it ensured the use of raw materials and products which are only, or predominantly, located in a forest;

  • Complex forest harvesting is carried out (multifunctional forest management).

NTFPs, in contrast to products derived from wood, can more motivate private entrepreneurs to establish and develop SMEs whose business is based on their collection, purchase, processing, and selling (Nonić et al. 2014a). In addition, “demand for environmentally friendly products is increasing in all highly industrialised countries. Many traditional products that once used to be strictly connected to the needs and consumption behaviour of low-income people are now regarded as natural, health products. Some ‘specialty’ food products and drinks are more requested than in the past as a consequence of the development of some fashions like the ‘Mediterranean diet’, the Italian/Spanish/French traditional quality cooking, the increased demand for organic products, natural cosmetics, cosmeto-food, products used in the aroma-therapy, in bio-architecture, in green-building etc.” (Pettenella et al. 2007). Entrepreneurship based on the NTFPs represents a significant opportunity for improving the development of rural areas, whose population depends largely on forest resources. Rural areas, where the opportunities for income generation are limited, are rich in NTFPs, and the use of these products is an important component of the life of the local population and the development of these areas.

In central Europe, “there is a high demand potential for food products from the forest, such as honey, berries, roots, mushrooms, and chestnuts, as well as for medicinal, wellness, and hygiene products such as herbal teas and essential oils. However, the rate of actual buyers of NTFPs is much lower than the demand potential as measured by the number of people interested in buying such products. Generally speaking, then, the market potential of NTFP has not been realized” (Kilchling et al. 2009). This means that these products have sizeable potential “to support rural development and income of land owners and rural enterprises,” which is still not fully used (Ludvig et al. 2016b).

Southeast European countries, according to the FAO-TRAFFIC Expert consultation, are a key area in Europe for the collection of NTFPs and play an important role in local, regional, and international trade (FAO-TRAFFIC 2010). The collection and use of NTFPs are widespread in this region, especially among local populations. In this area, NTFPs have the potential to significantly contribute to the development of national and local economies (Donnelly and Helberg 2003).

Despite their importance, in many Southeast European countries, NTFPs are partially neglected and underestimated by forest authorities and other official institutions, compared to the wood-based products, probably because wood utilization has long tradition and is very well recognized. One of the reason for that is, probably, absent of information and systematic data on NTFPs (Rekola et al. 2007). This is not the situation only in this region. Many other countries around the world are lacking on information regarding NTFPs. There are numerous explanations “for the limitations of data on marketed mushrooms and berries. First, if mushrooms and/or berries are not considered economically important for a country, there is little interest in monitoring their markets, even though some limited commercial picking may occur. Second, due to the cost and difficulty of collecting reliable data on marketed NTFPs, many countries use rough estimates. Third, only a portion of mushrooms and berries reach well-documented organized markets while another part of the trade is unorganized (e.g., direct trade)” (Turtiainen and Nuutinen 2012). This could lead to the situation that total benefits from forests are not maximized in forest investments and management decision processes, since NTFPs are not taken into account (Rekola et al. 2007).

Usually, single NTFPs is economically less important than wood-based products, but, as a group, in some regions, they have bigger value than timber (Kant et al. 1996). The income-generating dimension of berry and mushroom picking is important in many European countries or regions of countries, predominantly for rural livelihoods (Turtiainen and Nuutinen 2012).

Globally, “the majority of the NTFPs are harvested and used locally for the household needs, while only a small part is sold for commercial proposes” (Vidale et al. 2016).

It should be highlighted that “the lack of production and trade data do not allow to report a detailed picture of the economic dimension and market structure of NTFP” (Vidale et al. 2016). Some estimations are reporting that the value of “raw NWFP may worth approximately 40% of the wood and biomass value (estimated at US$26.8 billion)” (Vidale et al. 2016).

The economic importance of NTFPs varies across the globe. For example, “the total value of NTFPs shipped in Canada during 1997 was Can$240 million. However, their figures do not include values of products not traded in markets, for example, those collected for personal use or those traded through underground economies. Using their figures, Can$220 million was credited to the maple syrup and mushroom industries; most of the remaining Can$21 million was attributed to foods such as wild berries. The estimated potential for NTFP harvest in Canada is Can$1 billion” (Boxall et al. 2003).

However, on a global scale, “NTFP produced and consumed in Europe have a leading position among the most traded NTFP in the world” (Pettenella et al. 2007).

In Turkey, for example, NTFPs contribute to the total forest products exports with 98%, or about $100 million annually (Karayilmazlar 2005). The average estimated value of NTFPs was, in 2005, about €39/ha in Mediterranean region, while, for example, in Portugal, the share of cork in gross domestic product was 3%. At the Mediterranean level, NTFPs contribute 26% of the estimated forest total economic value. The importance of NTFPs varies widely between country groups. NTFPs contribute about 73% to the estimated total economic value of forests in southern countries, and some 38% in the eastern countries (Croitoru 2007).

Estimated value of wild mushrooms was €6 million in UK market and €100 million in Finland, while contribution of wild berries is even more significant for Finnish economy – €200 million annually. The size of the market in Scotland based on the combined turnover of four companies in 2002 is estimated to be in the region of £1 million. There may be an equivalent amount sold in the black economy and some are also picked for personal consumption (Collier et al. 2004). Similar situation is in Switzerland, where estimated value of forest mushrooms was €5.8 million and forest honey €6.9 million (Kilchling et al. 2009).

The general direction of trade is from developing to developed countries, and about 60% of this trade was imported by countries of the European Union, the United States of America, and Japan (Karayilmazlar 2005).

Wild mushroom species are “traded on a global scale, exported mostly from developing countries in tropical regions and destined for Europe, Japan, and North America” (De Roman and Boa 2006). Distribution centers for forest mushrooms in the European market are based in Italy and France. The European market is also supplied from North America (Collier et al. 2004). There is a long history of trade in forest mushrooms in Europe. For example, “Italy began importing fresh porcini from neighbouring countries, especially Yugoslavia, during the early 20th century” (Sitta and Floriani 2008). In recent decades, “Italy’s export of frozen mushrooms is directed mainly towards France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland, but the quantities imported from France and Germany exceed those exported” (Sitta and Floriani 2008). Trade in wild mushrooms has expanded greatly in the last couple of decades, mostly because countries such as “China have adopted more liberal trade policies and as previously isolated countries in Eastern Europe have also grasped new possibilities for meeting a growing demand for Cantharellus spp. (chanterelles), Boletus spp. (porcini), and other species” (De Roman and Boa 2006). At the beginning of 2000s, “the Chinese contribution to Italy’s import of dried mushrooms comes to roughly 50% of the grand total. China has overtaken the Slavic countries as the main exporter of dried mushrooms to Italy. In 2003, China surpassed Serbia, and in 2004–2005, it surpassed the combined exports of all the countries constituting the former Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia). While it is impossible to predict the future, it seems clear, in the short term, that the Balkans, Romania, and, above all, Yunnan Province in China will continue to supply most of Italy’s commercially valuable dried mushrooms” (Sitta and Floriani 2008).

The most recent studies on global truffle trade show that “four countries (France, Italy, China, and Spain) account for 92% of global export value, and five countries (France, Italy, Japan, Germany, and USA) account for 70% of global imports. (…) France and Italy dominate the market, and that France is both an exporter and importer. There is a small group of predominantly exporting countries, where Spain and Italy mostly export to other countries (i.e., France) who are strong exporters themselves, while China exports strongly to final consumers” (Lovrić et al. 2018).

Some studies suggest that “Canada is the world’s largest producer of wild blueberries. In 1997, about 50,000 tonnes of berries were produced and the value of this harvest at the farm gate represented about Can$66 million. Much of the production comes from Quebec and Nova Scotia, but potential exists in other provinces (especially Ontario) to contribute to this industry” (Boxall et al. 2003).

When it comes to medicinal and aromatic plant material to pharmaceutical, botanical medicine, food and flavoring, cosmetic, cleaning product, insecticide, and other industries, “in 1996, its global trade was valued to be US$1.3 billion. World-wide sales of commercial botanical medicine products, dominated by European and Asian markets, averaged around US$20 billion a year. (…) Trade in herbal medicines is estimated at US$7.7 billion annually and is growing in excess of 10% annually in 2003. Global sales for herbs/botanicals accounted for US$14.2 billion of sales in 2000” (Martinez 2004).

The major market for medicinal and aromatic plants “is Europe, constituting for some 38% of the world market. The leading European market is Germany, accounting for over 42% of the European market, followed by France (25%), Italy (9%) and the United Kingdom (8%) (…) New markets at a global level include Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, India, China and Indonesia” (Martinez 2004).

The situation is similar with essential oils. Its imports are “larger in the European Union than in the United States or Canada. In 1997, the European Union essential oil import reached 57,000 tons and was worth €53 million. In the same year, the largest importer was the United Kingdom with a 27% share of total volume imports, followed by France (18%), the Netherlands (16%), Germany (16%), Spain (8%) and Italy (5%)” (Martinez 2004).

As the demand for NTFPs, and especially wild mushrooms “increases and rural communities struggle to find new sources of income, there is a growing need for better information on existing trade so that informed decisions can be made that both protect natural resources and allow their sustainable harvest” (De Roman and Boa 2006).

NTFPs Policy, Governance, and Support Measures

In recognition of the importance of providing different products and services and the key role of a growing number of stakeholders, most countries in Europe insist on a cross-sectoral approach when formulating forest policy objectives (Schmithüsen 2003; Forest Europe 2011; Winkel et al. 2013). However, the policies of different sectors (agriculture, environment, energy, climate change, trade...), related also to forestry, have different and partly opposed goals and tasks (Schmithüsen et al. 2001; Schmithüsen 2003; Winkel et al. 2013). Also, there is a “lack of coordination mechanisms” (Winkel et al. 2013). Consequently, effective coordination and prioritization, including the implementation of these activities, is a major challenge (Winkel et al. 2013).

Schmithüsen (2003) states that, in a situation where significant changes of society in relation to goods and services from forests are present, it is necessary to provide a public policy framework whose objectives, strategies, and instruments will be harmonized and well-coordinated in order to overcome complex problems and developed comprehensive solutions tailored to the principles of sustainable development.

The same author points out that “cross-sector approaches are seen as a prerequisite for the sustainable development of society. The separation of land management issues by various public policies is considered as a reason for the lack of development which balances economic advancement, sustainable ecosystem management and environmental protection. A more comprehensive approach is advocated which integrates economic, social and environmental policy objectives.” Still, in the case of conflicting interests, it is necessary “to find out to what extent modified political solutions and regulations can be found or to what extent complementary measures and/or compensation may reduce or neutralize negative policy effects” (Schmithüsen 2003).

Since NTFPs include wide range of products, they also go beyond one sector and industry. NTFPs-based business is, in addition to forestry, regulated by frameworks of other sectors, primarily environment, nature conservation, health, agriculture, and SMEs (i.e., industry). Because these policies were often not formulated to address NTFPs-based enterprises, they were often unsuccessful in providing adequate incentives and “often provide disincentives, often conflicting in ways that cause stagnation” (FAO 1995).

For this reason, in formulation business environment for NTFPs-based enterprises, it is necessary to apply cross-sectorial approach, and better co-ordinate interactions of all involved sectors. In other words, “there is a need to develop the skills and knowledge of development staff to facilitate a cross organisation response to the delivery of support services” (Collier et al. 2004). This is important because knowing the competence of organizations in the forestry sector, but also in other sectors, which are relevant to NTFPs issues is of utmost importance for NTFPs-based enterprises (Nonić 2015). Policies and regulations addressing harvesting of NTFPs are the centerpiece for successful enterprise development (Nedeljković 2015; Buttoud et al. 2016.

Regardless of numerous international and regional initiatives and advocacy in the last couple of decades, NTFPs are still, in most countries, underrepresented, overlooked, and poorly regulated in national and other policies (Laird et al. 2010; Sills et al. 2011; Shackleton and Pandey 2014; Grivins 2016). The main reasons for that are (Grivins 2016):
  1. 1.

    Most NTFP are used for rural subsistence or sold on local markets.

  2. 2.

    The statistics concerning produce are split between several conventional sectors, and it is therefore impossible to grasp the true importance of NTFPs.

  3. 3.

    Support to forestry and large-scale enterprises has seen NTFPs as incidental.

  4. 4.

    Biased perceptions of NTFPs.

  5. 5.

    The restrictions posed by seasonality.

  6. 6.

    The invisibility of trade and consumption (many of the products never reach the market).

  7. 7.

    The association between forest products and petty trade.


Nevertheless, there is “a growing number of countries with coherent and supportive policies for the NTFP sector (e.g., Finland, Namibia, Nepal), which provide enabling environments, and at times, active support for NTFP programms and marketing, alongside many national and international NGOs” (Shackleton and Pandey 2014). Even with this few notable exceptions, “NTFP measures instituted in recent decades were tagged onto timber-centric forestry laws, were neither strategic nor well-informed, and inadequate resources were allocated for oversight and implementation. Regulations rarely followed from careful analysis of the complex factors involved in NTFP management, use and trade, or from consultations with producers, who are often on the political and economic margins. These and other experiences are remarkably similar around the world” (Laird et al. 2010). Some examples of NTFPs policy instruments in Europe are shown in Box 4

Box 4 NTFPs Policy Instruments in Europe

At the European Union level, no policies or legislation specifically and exclusively targeting NTFPs were found. However, the recognition of the ecologic, economic, and social role of NTFPs and the willingness to promote them was highlighted in different European and international policies and agreements related to forests: The New EU Forest, the EU Forest Action Plan, resolutions of FOREST EUROPE – The Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe. Other sectorial policies relevant for NTFPs are: biodiversity policies, endangered species policies, the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and Rural Development Policy, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and JEREMIE – Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises.

Apart from the aforementioned sectorial polices, legislation related to other sectors can affect the NTFPs subsector and these were identified as follows:
  • Food safety policy

  • Product labelling and packaging

  • Fruit and vegetable regime

  • Marketing of agricultural and food products

  • Plant health and biosecurity

  • Trade regulations

At country level, the most important sectorial legislation and policies include Laws, Acts or Codes on Forest, Forest Policies, as well as National Forest Programs.

Within the StarTree countries some of the more notable distinctions were:
  • Countries (Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Turkey) which had provisions related to NTFPs in national forest law

  • Countries (Germany and Italy) which had provisions related to NTFPs in the forest laws only at subnational level

  • Countries (Austria and Spain) which had provisions related to NTFPs both at national and subnational level

  • Countries (e.g., United Kingdom) which did not have provisions for NTFPs in forest law

  • Countries (e.g., Finland) which did not have provisions in forest law but where there were references to NTFPs in other acts or other principles (e.g., Everyman’s rights).

In forest policies/strategies and National Forest Programmes, references to NTFPs are mainly related to strategic objectives of the country and the provisions are not binding. Most of the forest policies/programs/strategies generally promote production, use, marketing, and innovation in the forest sector which includes NTFPs. Scotland represents a special case as it has a dedicated “Policy on Non Timber Forest Products.”

A survey of policy instruments reveals that 23% of all identified instruments address trade of NTFPs in one way or another. In total, 29 instruments addressing trade have been identified across the 14 case study regions. In terms of product distribution, instruments addressing mushrooms and truffles prevail (20), followed by instruments addressing berries and fruits and nuts (13 each), cork and bark (8), and other NTFPs (13), such as herbs, moss, Christmas trees, and resin. Nearly 80% of all identified trade instruments address NTFPs directly. The instruments indirectly addressing trade of NWFPs are concerned with forest certification and also a specific mechanism in Serbia that fosters competitiveness and internationalization of Serbian economy.

More than half of the direct trade instruments are regulatory instruments (10). Most of these are concerned with different types of quality or organic labelling and certificates of origin (North Karelia, Latvia, Scotland, Styria, Suceava, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Valladolid). These include species lists allowed or prohibited for trade (North Karelia, Valladolid, Alentejo, and Serbia), laws and guidelines addressing different NTFPs or specific NTFPs (e.g., cork, pine nuts, and truffles) in Bursa, Catalonia, Trentino-Alto Adige, municipal sanitary trading permits in Trentino-Alto Adige and export permits in Serbia, as well as international regulation on the trade of protected species such as CITES which applies to trade in and out of Europe and so is most relevant for Turkey. Other remarkable instruments include an exemption of all or certain groups of the population from paying income taxes on income derived from sales of NTFPs (North Karelia, Trentino-Alto Adige), VAT reimbursement for any NTFP producers earning less than 7700 €/year also in Trentino-Alto Adige, as well as multiyear marketing agreements in Valladolid and associations for joint marketing of Christmas trees in Styria.

In terms of regional distribution, trade instruments have been identified in all regions, although over 75% of them are located in Southern Europe.

Note: Presented data are collected within the StarTree FP7 research project (“Multipurpose trees and non-wood forest products: a challenge and opportunity,” grant agreement No. 311919). The project included 24 partners drawn from 12 countries and was focussed around research in 14 NUTS2 case study regions. More information available at:

Source: (Wong and Prokofieva 2014)

The NTFPs governance must include several important aspects (Grivins 2016):
  • To combine public interests and private rights

  • To enable culturally driven practices to scale up to participate in global markets

  • To find a balance between benefiting from accessible resources and preserving the local flora

  • To understand how labor regulations can be articulated

  • To create mechanisms to control the origins of the products without limiting free access to them

This leads to conclusion that “any successful solution requires participatory policy planning and a recognition of the diverse spectrum of forest stakeholders and possible forest uses” (Grivins 2016).

In addition to abovementioned, it must be emphasized that the sustainability of forest-based enterprises, among other things, depends on “the continuous supply of raw materials, financial support and reliable demand” (Rahman et al. 2012).

Earlier studies have pointed out that one of the main problems encountered by forestry enterprises is difficult access to loans, so, when investing, they mostly rely on their own resources (Uddin et al. 2008; Nedeljković et al. 2013; Nedeljković 2015; Živojinović et al. 2017). Many of these companies do not have access to favorable bank loans for the necessary investments in the processing and final product processing capacities.

In order to successfully operate, enterprises (especially SMEs) need appropriate support measures. Entrepreneurs need greater support, with the aim of developing innovative activities, expanding and improving production capacities, obtaining the necessary technical knowledge and more efficient selling of NTFPs (Weiss and Rametsteiner 2005; Uddin et al. 2008; Mukul 2011; Rahman et al. 2012; Nonić et al. 2014b; Nedeljković 2015; Ludvig et al. 2016a; Živojinović et al. 2017). For example, state could “provide small loans to the small-scale entrepreneurs; help in technical advancement of the processing units, and in storage” (Mukul 2011).

However, in many countries there is a lack of support for the development of SMEs in forestry, and, even if support exists, it is often insufficiently or poorly targeted (Macqueen 2007). One of the reasons for this may be the failure to recognize different types of entrepreneurs and businesses by decision-makers and institutions and organizations that provide support to the private sector. Namely, in order for the support policy to be successful, it must be formulated differently for different types of SMEs and entrepreneurs, while respecting their real needs and possibilities (Westhead et al. 2005). For these reasons, it is necessary that decision-makers in institutions and organizations that support the development of entrepreneurship have the necessary information on the types of enterprises in the forestry sector, and in this case, NTFPs-based enterprises (Nonić et al. 2014b).

This is because “in a situation where there is a shift in society’s needs towards new forest goods and services, it is necessary to provide a framework for public policy with consistent and well coordinated objectives, strategies and instruments. Developing specific, product-by-product or more locally related policies, as well as responsible organizations for NTFPs, would certainly improve the situation” (Živojinović et al. 2017). In addition, “policy goals, financial support schemes and informational measures should better correspond to the specific nature of NTFPs” (Živojinović et al. 2017).

Future Directions

Due to the role and economic potential in the utilization of NTFPs, there is a need, and also an increasing interest in, monitoring their market volume and values both at national and international levels (Turtiainen and Nuutinen 2012). However, one should bear in mind that previous studies show that there is “a positive connection between the frequency of forest visits and the consumption of NTFPs. People, who rarely visit forests, also rarely buy NTFPs. This suggests that promoting forest visits and activities in the forest could enhance the marketing of NTFPs as well as generally strengthen consumers’ environmental awareness via information and education” (Kilchling et al. 2009).

Considering that the collection, purchase, processing, and selling of NTFPs in many countries are mostly unorganized, in order to develop NTFPs-based enterprises, appropriate support from the state, scientific, educational, and professional institutions is needed, as well as better organization of all business processes in these companies.

In accordance with the growing need for conservation of natural resources, in many countries forestry and environmental sector frameworks, which establish milieu for NTFPs-based enterprises, often more restrict than it encourage the use of NTFPs.

Bearing in mind the needs of the local population for the collection and use of these products, there are frequent cases where it is “unclear which institutional models might be appropriate at present,” which often results in many numerous conflicts in practice. In addition, there are “increasingly ineffective conflict resolution mechanisms that such policies and practices engender” (Arnold and Ruiz Pérez 1998).

Policy-makers seeking to encourage use of NTFPs “may benefit by looking to other sectors such as food industry and tourism that have proved viable in fostering multiple benefits at a range of scales across Europe, including for small local producers. Ideally, policies should take into account different uses of NTFPs and should rely on a coherent approach to NTFPs harvesting, management, trade and use” (Buttoud et al. 2016).

It is also very important to develop tailored support system, which will include regulatory, economic, and informational policy instruments. However, “in each case, it is important to consider the implications of the policy or regulation for household consumption as well as for recreational and commercial activity in the specific context where it is planned to be applied. Assuming that a particular regulatory measure will work in a region just because it is successfully implemented elsewhere might prove erroneous or in the worst case lead to undesirable outcomes, as the performance of any instrument hinges on local socio-economic and ecological conditions and attitudes of relevant actors” (Buttoud et al. 2016).

In addition to the aforementioned, the following policy recommendations are important for the successful development of NTFPs subsector (Uddin and Mukul 2007; Nedeljković et al. 2013; Nedeljković 2015; Buttoud et al. 2016; Živojinović et al. 2017):
  • NTFPs policies need to be based on ensuring rational and sustainable harvesting but carefully considered, as they can have a direct, strong effect on household consumption, recreational activities, and commerce;

  • Policies should be developed with a strategic vision, rather than in a reactive or opportunistic way;

  • Develop policies, which are coherent with existing legislation, otherwise they will not be followed;

  • Include representatives of regional and local authorities, NTFPs-based enterprises, and local residents, to ensure the presence of all stakeholders during the preparation of planning documents, rules and regulations, as well as possible strategies for sustainable use of NTFPs;

  • Develop responsible organizations for NTFPs;

  • Clearly outline the responsibilities for the implementation and control of laws and by-laws;

  • Promote cooperation between enterprises and public authorities in key sectors (environmental protection, forestry, agriculture, economy)

  • NTFPs policies must ensure support all along the NTFPs value chain, i.e., they should set incentives to foster regional horizontal and vertical cooperation and business opportunities along the NTFPs production and processing chain, from low-value exports of unprocessed raw material to value-added products of distinct origin.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Belgrade-Faculty of ForestryBelgradeSerbia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Sharif Ahmed Mukul
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ManagementIndependent University, BangladeshDhakaBangladesh