By Julio P. Yap Jr.
When we talk about forests, it is most certain that timber and wood products would come into our minds.
Maybe, some of us would not even consider that over-exploitation and conversion of our forests to other purposes have already resulted in the rapid depletion of the country’s forest resources, including non-timber forest products (NTFPs) like rattan, bamboo, bark, nipa, flowering plants, ferns, orchids, vines and many other forest growth.
Unfortunately, NTFPs are often classified and referred to as “minor forest products” which are most likely neglected or forgotten.
Among the non-timber forest products that is getting lesser and lesser attention are the different kinds of forest vines.
But forest vines are among the best sources of raw materials for the production of handicraft and other hand-made novelty items.
These lowly vines are also important sources of materials for the construction of low-cost housing, preparation of food and beverage products, clothing materials, medicine, and other goods, particularly in the rural areas.
The gathering and utilization of forest vines can also provide an additional income for the marginal farmers and those living in the upland areas.
With its long yet flexible stems, forest vines are very suitable for the production of handicrafts and other hand-made items.
These herbaceous or woody plants have roots anchored to the ground and the rest of its body can climb without support on the branches of trees.
Forest vines usually cling to trees and other plants for mechanical support and position themselves to capture light.
Forest vines are considerably abundant in the forests, making our country the second largest world producer of handicrafts.
However, the local handicraft industry is now faced with problems on export due to the insufficient supply of raw materials, and stiff competition from other handicraft-producing countries like China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand.
Because of these factors, our handicraft industry is beset with problems and challenges.
Among them is the lack of market information, inefficient extraction and processing technology, lack of supply of raw materials, and lack of capital to finance the development of NTFP plantations.
To underscore the importance of our country’s forest vines, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD) funded a program for its development.
The program titled “Philippine Forest Vines for Handicraft and Furniture Industry” is being implemented by the DOST-Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI).
The PCAARRD-funded forest vines program includes: Biological Studies of Economically Important Forest Vines in the Provinces of Camarines Sur and Albay; Treatability and Performance of Commercial Forest Woody Vines Using Chemical and Organic Preservatives; Evaluation of the Physical and Mechanical Properties of Economically Important Forest Woody Vines; and, Value Chain Assessment of Commercially Important Forest Vines.
These projects aim to utilize non-commercial species of forest vines, promote sustainable management, develop nurseries and demo farms, improve harvesting technologies, and provide recommendations to the handicrafts and furniture industries for improvement in the supply chain.
Extensive resource survey and inventory will also be conducted to have an actual data of forest vines in the wild.
The supply chain of commercially important forest vines will also be mapped out.
Physical and mechanical properties of economically important forest woody vines and appropriate preservation and treatment of these vines and their products will be studied.
With the help of the technologies that will be developed, the furniture and handicraft industries are expected to be efficient and effective in producing raw materials and marketing their products made out of forest woody vines.
Non-timber forest products have long provided people living in or near forest areas, especially subsistence upland farmers and the unemployed or underemployed in the lowlands, with sources of income.
By utilizing forest vines for the manufacture of different products, farmers and those living in the remote upland areas could generate additional income, and help increase our country’s exports on handicraft items.
Although forest vines are mainly used for producing handicrafts and furniture, other novel and innovative products may be revealed and developed.
The application of science and technology (S&T) interventions can provide better opportunities to the various players in the industry.
DOST-PCAARRD vows to continuously work on addressing the challenges faced by the handicraft industry to meet the rising demand for forest vines products.
With the projects under the “Philippine Forest Vines for Handicraft and Furniture Industry” program, our forests will be able to provide an adequate supply of raw materials to the end-users and the handicraft industry, at the same time, conserving the resources.
Promoting equitable access to opportunities in the utilization of the resources and promoting economic development in the countryside can also be achieved.
It is expected that the results of these S&T interventions can put the forest vines industry in the forefront, provide opportunities for future researchers to study forest vines, and underscore their economic importance.
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September 2018 issue.