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Non wood forest products (NWFPs): hobby or sine qua non?

Researchers from EFI conducted a study on the collection and consumption of non-wood forest products in Europe.

Climate Change and Environment
Food and Natural Resources

The study “Collection and Consumption of Non-Wood Forest Products in Europe”, published in Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research, provides details on the profile of NWFPs’ collectors and analyses to what extent this habit contributes to their household income, or whether it is mainly a recreational activity. One year ago, we announced previously in a news item the publication coordinated by BioMonitor partner European Forest Institute (EFI) about the quantitative overview of NWFPs in Europe. The study had a particular focus on the values generated by the collection of such products in terms of contribution to the forestry sector and to the bioeconomy in general. Back then, they already saw a noticeable data collection gap on NWFPs. One of the main reasons originates from the incoherent definition of NWFPs among various communities. This month, EFI wrote a follow-up paper with researchers from the University of Padova, Centre Tecnològic Forestal de Catalunya and Wild Resources Ltd from the UK in which they conducted household surveys, analysed their results, and gave a series of policy recommendations on the collection and consumption of NWFPs in Europe. Many NWFPs like mushrooms and berries are collected and consumed in Europe. Still, both national statistical and scientific data on this topic are reported only for a limited number of countries, products and case-study areas. Without an adequate quantitative basis, their importance as source of food and income, and their links to recreation and cultural heritage, are under-valued in forest-focused and forest-related policies. The aim of this study is to address this data gap by assessing the collection and consumption of NWFPs through a statistically representative survey conducted from more than 17,000 households in 28 EU countries. They mentioned that 89.8 per cent of households in sampled countries consume NWFPs while over a quarter of them collects them. Their results showed a dichotomy of NWFPs’ socio-economic importance. Rural households from the East of Europe, for example, rely heavily on NWFPs as a source of income. Furthermore, they observed the highest consumption rate in countries like Italy, Turkey, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland, Estonia and Latvia. The vast majority of collected products are consumed fresh, and households with higher income tend to consume a more diverse range of NWFPs. The report has also identified distinct types of recreational, hobby and professional collectors whose characteristics vary across socio-economic variables and geographical gradient. One particular observation they had made, based on this context, was on the truffles collectors. Unlike the other NWFPs, truffles are often collected for self-consumption, or are given away as gifts or purchased from another collector. All in all, their study pointed out the underutilised potential of NWFPs in Europe: they have been wrongly considered to play a minor role in the context of ecosystem and biodiversity, probably as a result of researchers’ difficulty in defining and quantifying them. At this point, it is vital for us to find a more sustainable approach for our society and our forest ecosystems to thrive. Besides providing stimulating insights into this scarcely known sector, “Collection and Consumption of Non-Wood Forest Products in Europe” has proposed a unique methodical analysis that provides an estimate of collected and consumed NWFPs among different countries and various social classes. Such an approach is much needed by the research community as national reporting on NWFPs is virtually non-existent in Europe and there seems to be no common methodology to collect this data and make them comparable at EU level. This report contributes to filling in this data gap and illustrates how this data can be collected in a cost-effective manner. Click here to find out more and gain full access to their study.

Keywords

forest products, non wood, bioeconomy, food, cultural heritage, hobby, ecosystem, biodiversity