13 May 2015
Boosting Asia’s rattan sector:
This week, on May 13, 2015, practitioners, business people and researchers from eight countries meet to define next steps to boost the rattan sector in Asia.
Rattan experts, forest policy makers, business people and researchers meet in Hainan, China this week in an effort to boost rattan development, investment and trade in the region. They aim to craft a plan that will stimulate rattan business and investment – and ultimately benefit several million people living in forest communities in Southeast Asia who work with rattan every day.
Rattan grows in many ASEAN nations where it has been used locally for millennia, and is still widely used to produce furniture for export, which is popular in both producing and the more affluent countries of the world. As one of the most important Non-Timber Forest Products, rattan adds value to forests and is a strategic forest resource that countries can use as a component of their green economy plans.
Rattan collectors are often poor, forest-dwelling families. Yet, many products made from rattan are beautiful design pieces, and the global market value is of the order of $5 Billion. Innovation in design helps keep the market fresh, with young designers using rattan to create modern, functional designs.
This progress charts a healthy future for rattan products.
But difficulties remain. The nature and magnitude of the resource base remains uncertain, as rattan is not often included in forestry assessments, and harvesting is sometimes unregulated, adding to the lack of clarity about the availability of raw rattan. Importing countries, mainly European nations and the US, have introduced regulations and rules that require raw materials to originate from sustainable sources, requiring better knowledge and management of its source by the exporting nations.
In many locations, proper evaluation of rattan stocks has not been conducted, and there is a limited understanding of the resource base available for development work, and hence no basis for future planning. As rattan takes at least ten years from planting to harvest, and possibly much more, the investment needed to plant rattans gives only long-term returns, and is often not attractive to investors for whom other, shorter-term, opportunities exist – favourable financing availability may help with this. There is also limited understanding of the effectiveness and potential of rattan-related policies to support sectoral growth, and surprisingly given the importance of the sector, a relatively limited number of proven successful instances of community development with rattan in the past, though many are in progress today. Product design and innovation is also thought to be critical to pushing the sector’s development.
Strategic development of the rattan sector has the potential to lift several million people in the regional out of poverty. To do this requires adding value to raw rattan through improved pro-poor value chains and cleaner processing technologies, while maintaining a healthy rattan resource base. Growing demand for innovative products also means that the private sector will play a greater role in driving rattan-based development, providing new investment that will link poor producer communities with markets.
National agencies in many nations of ASEAN are working to improve rattan-based development, as are a number of international organizations – the Asian Development Bank is working in Cambodia, WWF in the Mekong region, and SNV in Indonesia, all very successfully. Representatives from all these projects are presenting the results and the issues that they face. Project and innovation work in China has long attempted to address the lack of availability of raw rattan, and the need for innovation to drive market growth, and researchers and businesspeople are sharing their results and ideas, too.
Experts at the meeting include project managers from rattan projects in Indonesia (SNV), Laos and Vietnam (ADB), as well as WWF’s Mekong programme, researchers from China (Chinese Academy of Forestry, International Centre for Bamboo and Rattan), policy makers from China (State Forestry Administration, Hainan Forestry Bureau), government forestry officials from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and China, as well as INBAR.