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Study on Definition and Classification of Non-timber Forest Products

Updated on September 29, 2014


Forest is broadly considered as valuable renewable natural resources. Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) is one among many other indispensable ecological and timber resources that human have adapted to utilize forest resources. Since prehistory humans around the world has relied on products derived from forest species for their survival and wellbeing.

In Bhutan, Non-wood forest products (NWFPs) play an important role in the daily lives and overall well being of the rural farming community. The country's forests provide food, fodder, medicine, oils, resins, fibers, dyes, and raw materials for baskets, traditional paper, houses, brooms, mats and numerous other items. NTFP utility has expanded from rural community to commercial industries such as the National Institute for Traditional Medicine (NITM), Traditional Paper Factory, Bhutan Bio Product Limited and etc.

Generally, Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) or Non Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) or Minor Forest Products (MFPs) are the terms synonymously used mainly to denote forest products other than timber resources. This report is as an approach to enhance the knowledge on NTFP definitions and classification system.


A broad aim of this report is to study and synthesize definitions and classification system of non timber forest Products (NTFPS). Different synonymous terminology referring to NTFPS and its classification system will be explored and evaluated. Specifically following two major objectives will be dealt in detail.

  • Review and analyze NTFP definitions.
  • Review and analyze NTFP classification systems.


Investigation of existing literature and research findings included within the NTFP definition and classification components of its chapters were reviewed. Although attempts in developing concise definition and classification system had been critically analyzed, most of them are still debated or in initial stage across the wider forum.

Results and Discussion

Considering the number of literature and research publications, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had been pioneer in supporting NTFP programs at regional and national scale.

In 1992, FAO as cited in Chandrasekhan, C. (n.d.) NWFP is defined as follows:

“NWFPs can be defined as all goods and services for commercial, industrial and subsistence use, other than wood, derived from forests and their biomass which can be sustainably extracted, i.e. extracted from a forest ecosystem in quantities and ways that do not alter its basic reproductive functions”

In another instance, the International Expert Consultation on NWFP, held in Indonesia in 1995, defined NWFP as:

“Goods of biological origin other than wood, as well as services, derived from forests and allied land uses” (FAO, 1995a).

Another definition used by FAO (1995b) says;

“all the biological material (other than timber and firewood) that may be extracted from natural ecosystems, managed plantations and semi-wild trees growing on farm-lands and be utilized within the household, be marketed, or have social, cultural or religious significance”.

In1998, FAO has again revised NWFP as follows;

“Products for human consumption: food, beverages, medicinal plants, and extracts (e.g. fruits, berries, nuts, honey, game meats, mushrooms, etc.). Fodder and forage (grazing, range). Other non-wood products (e.g. cork, resin, tannins, industrial extracts, wool and skins, hunting trophies, Christmas trees, decorative foliage, mosses and ferns, essential and cosmetic oils, etc.”).

In 2008, Ministry of Forests and Range Glossary of Forestry Terms in British Columbia, has defined NTFP as;

“Any commodity obtained from the forest that does not necessitate harvesting trees. It includes game animals, fur-bearers, nuts and seeds, berries, mushrooms, oils, foliage, medicinal plants, peat, fuel wood, forage, etc.”

In an attempt to harmonize terminology related to NWFP and a global definition of NWFP, FAO proposed a new definition of NWFP and it is now internationally used.

"NWFP consist of goods of biological origin other than woods derived from forests, other wooded land and trees outside the forest" (FAO, 1999b).

In Bhutan NWFPs are defined in the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules (2006) as:

“that constituting resin, varnish, katha, kutch, flower, seed, bamboo, bulb, root, fruits, leaves, barks, grass, creeper, reed, orchid, cane, fungus, moss, medicinal plant, herb, leaf-mould, or other vegetative growth, whether alive or dead, wild animal (including fish) and parts or products of wild animal, including the skin, hide, feather, fur, horn, antler, tusk, bone, bile, musk, honey, wax, and lac, insect and boulder, stone, sand, gravel, rock, peat and soil”.

Social Forestry Division, Department of Forest and Park Services, in 2008 also reflected the FAO definition of 1999, in National Strategy for the Development of Non-wood Forest Products in Bhutan.

The expressions non-timber forest products, non-wood forest products, and minor forest products, are frequently used interchangeably (Wong, 2000). In context to Bhutan, three terms for Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) namely Non Wood Forest Products (NWFP), Minor Forest Products NWFP) and Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) are interchangeably used in research and stakeholder documents.

The following paragraphs concerning terminology of NTFPS are adapted from Chandrasekhan, C. (n.d.). Terminology, Definitions and Classification of Forest Products Other than Woods. FAO Forestry Department.

The term minor forest products, which has been in use for many years in some countries, assume timber or wood as the major product. But timber is less important in some countries compared to other forest products, for example gums and resins. Terms based on assumed importance tend to be inconsistent. Since what is minor in one situation may be major in another, the term is not appropriate for universal application (ibid).

The terms other forest products and other economic forest products (apart from the vagueness of what is economic or otherwise) suffer similar inconsistencies and inadequacies. Since the main forest product(s) varies from one situation to another, the composition of others also varies (ibid).

The term special forest products is also vague about its coverage and scope, as it refers to particularity and can change from situation to situation. Moreover, it does not refer exclusively to products other than wood (ibid).

Due to its all-embracing nature, the term non-wood forest benefits, covering marketable and non-marketable as well as measurable and non-measurable benefits, frustrates attempts at a proper definition of its scope and quantification of benefits. Also, forest influences/benefits such as watershed values, environmental conservation, amenity values, etc., cannot be categorized as either wood or non-wood. They are generated by the forest ecosystem as a whole, and not only by wood or non-wood (ibid).

In the term non-wood goods and services, the word services is often interpreted to include environmental influences of forests, scenic beauty, heritage values and so on, even though services in the strict sense are products or services produced (e.g. managed grazing).

The terms non-timber forest products and non-wood forest products are comparatively precise and suggestive of their scope. A tendency is however seen often to use the words timber and wood loosely and interchangeably (ibid).

However, it will depend entirely on the intention of the proponent describing different situations and concepts.

Hand woven forest products.


Classifications of NTFPs, is adopted in variety of way around the world similar to the definitions of NTFPs. The majority of NTFPs classifications are based on the utility of the products.

NTFP can be classified according to its uses. There are two broad groupings: NTFPs of animal origin (game and other faunal products), and those of plant origin. Within each of these two broad groupings, product types can be categorized according to their presence in the market and their final use. Most commonly, NTFPs are used for food, medicines, magical therapies and craftwork.


Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) plays a vital role in humankind especially in rural communities. NTFPs are defined in many ways and variety of synonymous terminology denotes the NTFPs. Similarly, classification systems of NTFPs are not uniform and it differs from nation to institution specific. In context to Bhutan, majority of NTFPs studies and frame works are on interim basis and therefore explicit definition and classification is yet to be expected.

NTFPs definition of FAO 1999, as reflected in National Strategy for the Development of Non-wood Forest Products in Bhutan, SFD, (2008) wraps integral component of the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules (2006)’s definition. Therefore, in Bhutanese context both of the definitions may be implemented in affirming the NTFPs definition.

Majority of classification system of NTFPs uses the utility as classifying criterion. At the international level, two major groupings of animal and plant origin products are considered, which includes almost all the products other than timber. However, the classification system of NTFPs in Bhutan is more specifically narrowed to a utility or a plant group. Therefore, Bhutan’s system of NTFPs classification may be further reviewed to ingest some of the broader aspect that is encompassed in international classification system.


Chandrasekhan, C. (n.d.). Terminology, Definitions and Classification of Forest Products Other than Woods. FAO Forestry Department.

FAO. (1995a). Report of the International expert Consultation on Non-Wood Forest Products held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Non -Wood Forest Products, Rome, 3, 17-27.

FAO. (1995b). International trade in non-wood forest products. Retrieved from

FAO. (1999b). Towards a harmonized definition of non-wood forest products. Retrieved from

FRA. (2000). Terms and definitions. FRA Working Paper No. 1. Rome. Retrieved from

Ministry of Forests and Range Glossary of Forestry Terms in British Columbia. (2008). Retrieved from

Ndikumagenge, C., & Ngome, P. T. (n.d.). An ITTO-sponsored project helps address the lack of information on non-timber forest products in Central Africa. Quantifying NTFPs, ITTO Tropical Forest update, 18(4), 3-5.

RGOB. (2006). Forest and Nature Conservation Rules of Bhutan 2006. Department of Forest, Ministry of Agriculture, Thimphu, Bhutan.

SFD. (2008). National Strategy for the Development of Non-wood Forest Products in Bhutan. Royal Government of Bhutan, Thimphu.

Wong, J. L. G. (2000). The biometric of non-timber forest products resource assessment: A review of current methodology. DFID, United Kingdom.


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