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Research Report

Riches of the forest:: Food, spices, crafts and resins of Asia

Citlalli López
Patricia Shanley
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2004
Pages: 131
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. vii-vii)
    Jenne de Beer

    The richness of Asia’s forests is reflected in the manifold products derived from these forests for human use. To serve as a first introduction to this plethora of products is the primary objective of the book at hand.

    The reader may be a city dweller, but nevertheless is likely to have first hand experience with some of the products presented in the following cases. Forest products are part of our daily lives – in the form of ingredients that we may use in our kitchens when preparing fine food, fibres and different materials in furniture and craft items around the...

  2. (pp. 1-4)

    The pages of this volume contain real life stories about a wide range of forest products and the people who use and manage them. The individual chapters illustrate how different forest foods, fibres, medicines and resins are grown, harvested, processed and traded. Through these stories, we learn about the history of such products - some of which have been used and traded for centuries and some of which are relatively new. We also find out about the various opportunities and problems that collectors and traders face, and the way they respond to change.

    The group of goods called non-timber forest...

  3. Fruits / Seeds

    • (pp. 5-8)
      Nitin Rai

      ‘Uppage’ (Garcinia gummi-gutta) is the Kannada name for a rain forest tree that grows in the Western Ghats of South India and in Sri Lanka. For hundreds of years the rind obtained from the fruit has been used to flavour fish and pork dishes in India and Sri Lanka. In the late 1980’s, scientists discovered that the rind contains a compound called Hydroxy-citric acid (HCA), which was widely believed to facilitate weight loss in humans. The product soon found a market in Europe and the United States of America, resulting in a steep rise in the price of the rind...

    • (pp. 9-12)
      Krishna H. Gautam

      The sweet and sour tale of ‘lapsi’, as it is known in Nepal, is the tale of a versatile fruit tree – the source of products ranging from fresh fruits, to pickles, timber, ‘trekker’s candy’ and even a type of fuel, derived from the seeds. Choerospondias axillaris, as it is known scientifically, is a tree native to the middle hills of Nepal, in the Himalayan range (and also found in Thailand, Vietnam and China). Traditionally popular in rural areas for its timber and pickled fruit, it has found a new market over the past few decades amongst urban populations, tourists...

    • (pp. 13-16)
      T.K. Raghavan Nair and M. Govindan Kutty

      Ahh … Its aroma is inviting!

      Mmm … A wonderful taste, with a hint of spice!

      Yes - This is tea flavoured with cardamom from India, the ‘Home of Spices’.

      For over 3000 years, the fruits of small cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) have lent their special flavour and spicy taste to beverages, sweets and a whole host of foods. Throughout the world, cardamom oils and powders are also widely used in medicine and perfumery, making cardamom one of the most successful products to ever come out of the forests. A relatively eco-friendly product, cardamom requires high financial and labour inputs but...

    • (pp. 17-20)
      Catherine Aubertin

      Medicinal cardamom is highly sought after and widely used in the traditional Chinese pharmacopoeia. It is a different genus and species and quite different from common cardamom, the source of the well known Indian cooking spice of the same name (see previous chapter). The exportation of Lao cardamom into China for medicinal purposes dates back perhaps a millennium and the trade has grown to represent Laos’ largest agricultural export, after coffee. In today’s market, the key destination for medicinal cardamom remains China, where the seeds are processed into essential oils. Later imported back into Laos, this value added product is...

    • (pp. 21-24)
      Marina Goloubinoff and Renni S. Hoshi

      Sleeping in Tarutung, in Indonesia’s North Sumatra, a loud noise startles us in the middle of the night. Looking outside, we see our neighbour’s daughters searching for something in their garden. “Here it is!” calls the youngest one, pointing at the spiny monster with her torch - a lovely 3 kg durian. The fruit had just fallen from the tree overhanging the girls’ hut, noisily bumping and rolling off its metal roof and alerting them that their precious fruit was now ready for the taking. Luckily it was not a durian tree that Sir Isaac Newton was standing under when...

  4. Mushrooms

    • (pp. 25-28)
      Ying Long Chen

      Considered an autumn delicacy, ‘song rong’ mushrooms (Tricholoma matsutake) have been used and revered by Chinese and Japanese people for more than a millennium. Of all the edible fungi in China, they are the most valuable, with a farm gate price of up to US$ 370 per kg for the highest quality produce and a total national value of around US$ 8 million. Often, the same day that mushrooms are collected from the forest floors of China, they are cooked and served in restaurants in Japan. About 95% of the collected song rong is sold fresh and exported to Japan,...

    • (pp. 29-32)
      Yeo-Chang Youn

      For centuries people living near forests have enjoyed natural delicacies unknown to city folk. The oak mushroom is one example, although in recent times this forest product has become popular in the cities too, where a growing market for it has developed. As the fruiting body of a fungus (Lentinula edodes), the oak mushroom grows on dead trees, particularly in oak forests - hence its name. But it can also be found on logs from other trees like beeches, maples and chestnuts. This mushroom is a non-timber product from the forests although it does rely on wood for its survival...

  5. Birds / Insects

    • (pp. 33-36)
      Marina Goloubinoff

      Imagine you are in Hong Kong and your Chinese friend invites you to a restaurant. On his advice, you agree to eat birds’ nest soup but are a bit worried about what will end up swimming in your bowl. Your friend explains this soup is said to be very healthy and capable of increasing longevity, cleaning your lungs, curing your asthma and preventing osteoporosis! Pregnant women also eat it in the belief their babies will have smoother skin.

      It looks like rice vermicelli but with a different taste and texture. The creators of these edible nests are Asian swiftlets or...

    • (pp. 37-40)
      Nicolas Césard and Irdez Azhar

      ‘Kroto’ is the Javanese name given to a combination of larvae and pupae from the Asian weaver ant (mainly Oecophylla smaragdina). This mixture is well known to Indonesian bird lovers and local fishermen, with the ant larvae being popular as a fishing bait and also, as a dietary supplement to improve the performance of songbirds. Bird fanciers treat their favourite pets with the protein and vitamin rich kroto for the satisfaction of listening to their enhanced warbling or when preparing them to challenge other birds in singing competitions.

      Weaver ants are found from India to Australia and throughout the Indonesian...

    • (pp. 41-44)
      Jenne de Beer

      Mabuhay! Welcome to Palawan, the last frontier. For those who miss nature in Manila's traffic jams, Palawan is a paradise just a few hours flight away. This island, the fifth largest in the Philippines, is partially covered by one of the country's few remaining forests. Visitors to the island can return home with exciting memories, handmade rattan baskets and perhaps a bottle of the famous Palawan honey. But do they realise just how precious this dark liquid is? How it is harvested or how important it is for the local people?

      Palawan honey comes from the wild and has a...

  6. Shoots / Culms / Stems

    • (pp. 45-50)
      Fu Maoyi and An Van Bay

      Bamboo belongs to the grass family and is the world’s largest plant in that family. There are more than 1,200 species of bamboo and most of them are found in Asia. This beautiful plant, with its strength and flexibility, has infinite uses and aesthetically, has long been a source of inspiration in Asian literature and the arts. Indeed, bamboo is a recurrent theme in poems, songs and paintings. According to one famous Chinese poem: “It is quite possible not to eat meat, but not to be without bamboo.”

      Bamboo is a natural part of life, from the cradle to the...

    • (pp. 51-56)
      Fadjar Pambudhi and Honorato G. Palis

      Rattan is an integral part of the life and culture of Asian people living in both villages and cities. In rural areas, rattan is cooked as a vegetable and served as a side dish and its strong, durable stems (or canes*) are used for making a whole range of things - from fences marking property lines to building materials, baskets, ropes and tools. Meanwhile, in Asian cities (and many other parts of the world), rattan furniture, mats and decorations can be found in countless homes, creating a fresh, relaxed look, with natural appeal. The plant itself however, is not so...

  7. Leaves / Wood / Bark

    • (pp. 57-60)
      Arvind A. Boaz

      On the street corners of India and neighbouring Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the distinctive aromatic blend of tendu leaves and tobacco wafts into the air. While most tendu cigarettes are consumed in India, smokers of ‘beedis’ can also be found as far afield as the Arab countries, the United States of America and Europe. For over half a century, tendu leaves have been used to wrap tobacco in the large scale manufacture of these tiny Indian cigarettes. The tendu leaves are popular due to their fine aroma, ease of rolling and smooth, continuous burning properties.

      Tendu leaf collection has...

    • (pp. 61-64)
      Catherine Aubertin

      The bark from the ‘paper mulberry’ tree has a long history of use in Laos and a reputation as a good raw material for paper-making. Local villagers have used it to create cardboard decorations, shape triumphal arches and make a range of religious objects as well. Prior to the introduction of imported sisal or nylon ropes, farmers would also make string and ropes from the strong mulberry fibres. Nowadays, paper mulberry is a good example of the successful domestication* of a forest product. It is especially common in northern Laos, where it grows naturally and also, in northwest Laos, where...

    • (pp. 65-68)
      Marina Goloubinoff, Jenne de Beer and Esther Katz

      Hata-san is the president of one of the most prestigious incense companies in Japan. When Kyoto was still the country’s capital, his forefathers would delight the imperial court with sublime fragrances. Today, next to the workshop lie treasures from times past - unique pieces of ‘agarwood’. These silent witnesses to forever vanished forests are not for sale. They are only used on rare occasions when connoisseurs gather for incense ceremonies.

      Agarwood is a marvellous but pathological phenomenon. Traded as agarwood, it is commonly referred to as gaharu in Indonesia but is also known as eaglewood, aloes wood and agalocha. It...

    • (pp. 69-72)
      Joost Foppes

      Every day, millions of people in Asia light incense sticks in their homes, temples and gardens, honouring their ancestors and local spirits or simply wishing for good luck and prosperity. Between December and April, the people of Ban Tat Mouan and many other villages in northern Laos, wander into the forests every day to collect the bark of a local shrub they call ‘tout tiang’. They dry it in the sun and sell it to passing traders. The villagers know it goes to China and have heard it is used to make incense but are not quite sure how.


    • (pp. 73-76)
      Pipin Permadi and Dede Rohadi

      Bali and woodcarving are intertwined - as you soon discover when visiting this small Indonesian island, east of Java. Carvers and the fruits of their labour can be found throughout this popular holiday isle, with artworks ranging from ornate gateways and village statues to traditional and popular carvings created for sale. Gianyar is the main centre of the Balinese woodcarving industry, with roughly 90% of producers located within this district.

      The Balinese have practiced woodcarving since at least the ninth century. The transformation of a community activity into a commercial enterprise began around 1935 and the industry has since continued...

  8. Resin / Oil

    • (pp. 77-80)
      Carmen García Fernández

      Benzoin is an ancient resin, which Middle Eastern traders once described as the ‘frankincense of Sumatra’. For more than a thousand years it has been sold in markets around the world and as early as the ninth century it was being traded in China and used in traditional medicines and incense production. Arab traders introduced this fragrant resin into Europe, where it became a valuable commodity from the Far East, used by royal families and aristocrats. Nowadays, its distinctive scent is still enjoyed as benzoin incense is burned during celebrations and religious rituals.

      So, where does this ancient resin come...

    • (pp. 81-84)
      Dede Rohadi and Retno Maryani

      In Indonesia, sandalwood is known as ‘cendana’ but it is also called ‘hau meni’ or ‘kayu wangi’, meaning ‘smell wood’. A less flattering name is ‘hau lasi’ or ‘problematic tree’ - a term relating to this tree being the centre of many conflicts involving the community, local rulers and government. People compete to possess the precious sandalwood trees for their own benefit, sometimes using illegal actions or even coercive force.

      Sandalwood is a well known woody species originating from Indonesia’s Timor region. Its wood has a beautiful scent and in shops throughout Asia, passers by often stop to enjoy the...

    • (pp. 85-88)
      Hubert de Foresta and Geneviève Michon

      ‘Damar’ is a generic Indonesian name for resins - sticky plant exudates produced by around 115 different types of forest trees. These resins vary in quality, with the clear yellowish ‘damar mata kucing’ (meaning ‘cats eyes’), produced by Shorea javanica, considered as the best. Damar was initially used for lighting torches, making batik dyes and incense, and sealing seams in boats to render them watertight. Since the mid-eighteenth century, it has also been used in the paint, ink and varnish industries and more recently, as an additive in sodas.

      Owners of ‘damar gardens’ as they are known, obtain benefits from...

  9. (pp. 89-95)
    Brian Belcher and Citlalli López

    The cases within this volume demonstrate a great deal of variability, as well as some striking similarities. As such, they are valuable for what they teach us both individually and collectively. By comparing and contrasting different cases we can gain a greater understanding about the characteristics of small scale natural resource management, the broader socio-economic context and also, policy and investment interventions that may lead to successful outcomes or failures. This final chapter discusses some of the key issues and lessons learned about the value of forest resources, their sourcing and management, demand and supply, and fair and sustainable trade....