Diversity, Productivity, Profitability, Sustainability, and the Tao of Underutilized Species

Improved utilization of underutilized timber species may offer increased opportunities on a global scale for both needed products and healthy, sustainable forests. Their effective use is an integral element in forest conservation. Processing of such species is a key factor and both processing technology and marketing are more important than is generally considered to bring adequate supplies into the product mix. The unused, or underutilized, part of the resource is usually larger and more extensive than that commonly used, amounting to as much as 90 percent of the forest by some estimates. The resource is highly diverse and processing will need to accommodate that diversity. Productivity and profitability are as essential as for the more commonly used resource. Sustainability of the forest is a pervasive criterion for species use. Advances in technology for using diverse species, groups of species, and mixtures of species provide new options to broaden the resource base. Marketing is a critical element in rel ating consumer needs to producer output. Achieving increased use of underutilized species means overcoming many obstacles. Chief among those is the fact that this woody biomass is generally not of the size, species, and quality currently being used in the industry. Also, there is usually no assured supply around which to develop economical conversion processes and marketing systems. Effective processing and use will require careful attention to productivity and profitability if it is also to maintain forest diversity and sustainability. As we consider the world's forests in terms of the need for both material and environmental resources, we think back to the declaration of the Brundtland Commission that urges us to "meet the needs of the present while at the same time not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." [28]. Utilization of underutilized species is one of the key elements in achieving that objective. The eyes of much of the world are on its forests these days, and those eyes see the forest quite differently, depending on the perspective from which they are looking. Some see a unique resource rich in diversity, genetic potential, and environmental benefits. Some see a source of income and economic hope for millions of people who live in and near them. Some see trees cluttering large areas of land that could be used for grazing, agriculture, roads, shopping centers, or homes. Some see fuelwood as a much needed resource with which to cook meals and heat homes. An increasing number see non-timber forest p roducts being used for medicinal and dietary supplements, edibles, specialty wood products, and floral greens. They are all looking at the same forest, subject to these and other pressures as the world closes in around it. Documents such as Agenda 21 [25], based on the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, outline the needs and the opportunities to conserve the forest resource while using it to realize its many benefits.

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