Foraging may seem like an outdoor recreational activity for some, but it is also a form of income for others. An international group of researchers involved in the BioMonitor and the StarTree projects conducted a survey on non-wood forest products, involving more than 17,000 household in 28 European countries, and drew insights that will be deemed useful for policymakers involved in the bioeconomy.
Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) are items in forests which we frequently cherry-pick while we go out for a nature walk. These include berries, mushrooms, nuts, resins and so on. Despite having an integral part of forest recreation, food security, rural income, and cultural heritage, these items are often overlooked and are therefore ignored in forest policy and management decisions as reflected by the poor data collection on them.
The Value of Non-Wood Forest Products
As reported, the collected NWFPs represent an economic value of 23.3 billion € per year in Europe. A data gap is evidently shown once comparing it to the suggested economic value of marketed NWFPs reported in the past (2.1 billion € per year). The study’s findings suggest that NWFPs being reported in the market represent only a small share and 86% of the collected weight is consumed by households and is not marketed.
26% of European households collect NWFPs, and their behaviors differ according to regions. Those in Eastern Europe think of these items as a source of income, as they sell a portion of what they gather to those residing in Western Europe, where most of the added value is generated. Present-day regulations for commercial picking of NWFPs from forests differ between these two regions. These end up influencing the food supply chain markets, and their relevance to rural development, and the bioeconomy.
Its influence in the bioeconomy
Given the everchanging atmosphere of the European bioeconomy, the study is revealing the untapped potential of NWFPs. Below is an interview we did with Marko Lovrić from the European Forest Institute (EFI) who co-wrote the paper in behalf of BioMonitor.
The EU Green Deal mentions of the “Farm to Fork Strategy”. Do you think products foraged as food from forests should be included in this plan?
ML: Yes, they should be included. With respect to main highlights of the Strategy, they are almost free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, they have higher nutritional value than their agriculture-based counterparts do, and they present a healthy and sustainable diet contribution.
More people are discussing the need to make our bioeconomy and our supply chain sustainable. Which SDGs will forests meet if non-wood forest products are to be accounted for?
ML: The biggest difference if NWFPs are included will be in no.12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns). Forests contribute to several SDGs, such as no.13 (climate action), no.6 (clean water and sanitation), and increase in agricultural productivity (no.2) can reduce pressures on forests. However, there are some SDGs that pose threat to forests and to people dependent on them, such as expansion of agricultural crops for food or energy (no.1 and 7), while development linked to economic growth (no.8), industry and infrastructure (no.9) may lead to diminished forest area.
The coronavirus is changing our lives overnight. Will this affect the NWFPs as it is part of the rural livelihood in Eastern Europe and food supply chain in Western Europe?
ML: It is probable that the international supply-chains of fresh NWFPs will be disrupted, which will affect rural income in Eastern Europe. Increasing prominence of NWFPs of policy agenda also means recognizing its economic potential and where this value is generated. Thus, strengthening the role of added-value NWFPs in Eastern Europe may mitigate these negative short-term effects.
At this point, the forests’ role comes in three-folds rather than two: other than providing wood-based products and sustaining our environment, forests contain an emerging bio-based market rooted on NWFPs. The BioMonitor project seeks to provide a clearer picture of the bioeconomy’s extensive impact on our lives through data. Better forecasting can be made on the forest-based bioeconomy, as the data gap on NWFPS is addressed. This will help policymakers develop better policies and forest management practices across regions. In the long run, these will not only preserve nature but also safeguard a better future for the rural communities in Europe.
Click here to gain full access of their study.
Lovrić M., Da Re R., Vidale E., Prokofieva I., Wong J., Pettenella D., Verkerk P.J, Mavsar R., 2020. Non-wood forest products in Europe – A quantitative overview. Forest Policy and Economics, Volume 116, July 2020