Non-Timber Forest Products to Close $88b Hole in Trade Data?

Investment in non-timber forest products could add trillions to economic activity and end poverty

Fri 12 Apr 24


Official trade statistics are missing out on more than US $80 billion in non-forest products, with a world-leading bioeconomist pushing to include medicinal plants, edible inserts, nuts, berries, herbs, bamboo and latex in global trade accounts.

As it stands, only a limited number of non-timber products are included in official trade statistics—including coffee, cocoa, rubber, vanilla, avocado, and bananas, all considered crops. Now, researchers have pinpointed thousands of products not included in calculations. 

According to Professor Carsten Smith-Hall, an economist from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food and Resource Economics, adding non-forest products to trade statistics will add enormous sums of money and incentivise investment in local processing.

Non-timber forest products are a key part of large parts of the world, including Indonesia, where REDD has been working on projects. The footage is courtesy of @SatgasREDD.

He is now pushing to include ginseng, shea nuts, acai berries, baobab and acacia gum into global trade accounts.

“We estimate that roughly 30,000 different non-timber forest products are traded internationally, but less than fifty of them have a commodity code,” Professor Smith-Hall said. “We’re talking about goods worth an enormous sum of money that is not being recorded in official statistics – and is therefore invisible.”

“This means that the countries and commodities do not earn enough from them,” he said, adding that more than 28% of household income in tropical and subtropical economies relies on non-timber products.

“Because we underestimate the role of these goods, we’re wasting an opportunity to combat poverty. These goods contribute to food security, health, and employment worldwide, especially in low—and middle-income countries.”

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the total producer value of non-wood products is more than US $88 billion; however, when you add the value of processing, the value of products rockets into the trillions.

According to recent studies, more than 3.5 billion and up to 5.8 billion people use non-timber products, with just under half of users living in the Global South.

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Global architects are already using bamboo in award winning projects, however innovation and new research is allowing for greater application of the materials all over the world. (Photo Credit: Wanderskyy, Kevin Mirc, Bianca Blajovan, Nora Brown, Symbiosis Studio)

Last year, Wood Central reported that architects were now using engineered bamboo to meet the surge in building demand across the Global South—including Egyptian architect Islam El Mashtooly, who secured the World Architecture Festival’s “Future Project of the Year” for Prohabotic Tower. 

The Cario-based project uses engineered bamboo and cross-laminated timber to retrofit an abandoned water tower, “undoing the mistakes of the past and creating a carbon-negative building.”

Bamboo, the fastest-grown plant on earth, can reach full height and diameter within a few months—far quicker than softwood plantations, leading global architects claim that bamboo could replace green steel as a construction material of the future.


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    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


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