New knowledge and tools for sustainable rural development and a more competitive bioeconomy in Europe
European forests provide income for about 16 million forest owners and form the basis for three to four million jobs, primarily in rural regions. However, the potential of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) such as mushrooms, berries, resin, aromatic and medicinal plants has been mostly neglected in favour of wood-based products. Despite the fact that NWFPs significantly contribute to the creation of new business opportunities and jobs, their potential is somewhat unknown and untapped. Contributing to rural growth and the European bioeconomy requires new solutions to optimise the sustainable provision and profitability of NWFPs and services from multipurpose trees (MPTs) – trees that are used for more than just wood production, like chestnut. Sustainably exploiting NWFPs for financial and ecological gain Thanks to EU funding, the STAR TREE (Multipurpose trees and non-wood forest products a challenge and opportunity) project ‘aimed at providing better understanding, information, guidance and tools to support relevant stakeholders such as forest owners, resource managers, enterprises, decision makers, and other public and private entities,’ says project coordinator Dr Robert Mavsar, Deputy Director of the European Forest Institute. ‘This should help to optimise the management of MPTs and develop innovative approaches to increase the marketability and profitability of NWFPs for a more competitive rural economy.’ To achieve its goals, STAR TREE relied on strong stakeholder engagement through case studies in 14 regions across Europe (10 Member States, Serbia and Turkey). In each region, stakeholder groups, comprised of different actors along the NWFP value chain, received updates and reports on project developments, and participated in meetings and events related to activities in their region. They were fundamental to the consultation and knowledge exchange process essential to developing relevant solutions and new ideas through the regional case studies. These case studies considered NWFP and wood sector development, different socioeconomic and policy contexts, and environmental characteristics. The cases provided an overview of the NWFP sector at EU and regional levels, and helped identify innovative approaches to MPT and NWFP management and use. Key findings show that NWFPs provide benefits for rural development and opportunities for greener lifestyles, and sustainable NWFP use requires relevant actors to overcome institutional and regulatory fragmentation of NWFP governance. They also reveal that innovation in NWFP must go beyond sector boundaries, while improved understanding of their demand and production would offer fresh dimensions for marketed and non-marketed NWFPs. First European perspective on potential of NWFPs and MPTs A significant STAR TREE achievement was the first Europe-wide household survey on the collection and consumption of NWFPs. ‘An important share of NWFP products is consumed directly by households and is not included in the latest State of Europe’s Forests 2015 report, which gives the total value of marketed NWFP products for the continent’s forests. ‘Unfortunately, there is no reliable information to indicate how much this share is,’ explains Dr Mavsar. Over 17 300 responses reveal that nearly 90 % of households have consumed NWFPs in 2015, and about 25 % of households have picked at least one of them in the same year. The figure equates to 20 % of the population, further proof that collection of NWFPs is an important social activity. STAR TREE succeeded in optimising the NWFP value chain by demonstrating how NWFPs and MPTs can be used to strengthen and diversify economic activities in rural areas. ‘By considering the resource base, markets, institutions and innovations, we promoted existing and latent opportunities towards a more bio-based “circular” European economy,’ concludes Dr Mavsar.
Rural development, bioeconomy, non-wood forest products, multipurpose trees, STAR TREE