Non-wood forest products (NWFP) are a multifaceted part of Europe’s cultural legacy. From cork to natural resins, from mushrooms to medicinal plants, and the many varieties of nuts and berries, NWFP are an intrinsic part of daily living. They contribute to human health and well-being and to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly to the social and cultural dimension (SDG1 — No Poverty, SDG2 — Zero Hunger, SDG3 — Good Health and Well-being), the environmental dimension (SDG13 — Climate Action, SDG15 — Life on Land), and to the economic dimension (SDG8 — Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG9 — Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, SDG12 — Responsible Consumption and Production).
The current and especially the potential future economic value of NWFP largely go unnoticed in official statistics and foresight analysis, as many NWFP are part of the informal economy and not properly accounted, or are registered as agricultural products in official records. A pan-European survey conducted
in 2015 estimated the value of NWFP collected in Europe at €23 billion per year, of which some €3.4 billion are marketed through formal and informal channels. This ranges in the same order of magnitude as the total revenues from roundwood. In addition, Europe is a central player in international trade of NWFP, importing €4.2 billion (50% of the global imports) and exporting €3.4 billion (40% of global exports). Moreover, NWFP are embedded in daily life: 90% of European households regularly consume NWFP, while 26% collect some type of NWFP at least once a year, for self-consumption or sale. More than 60 million European foragers, often organised in associations, take part in these activities. The positive impacts in public health and well-being of these outdoor and traditional activities, although unmeasured, is difficult to overestimate.
Therefore, NWFP represent an unrevealed source of nature-based solutions that can significantly contribute to Europe’s policy priorities within the European Green Deal (2019). The ongoing policy processes to which NWFP can substantially contribute include the EU Climate Action, the Common Agricultural Policy post 2020, the New Industrial Strategy for Europe 2020, the European Biodiversity Strategy 2020, the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe 2020, the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU Forest Strategy, and the EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests (2019).
In the light of this potential, however, NWFP face risks and threats. These are posed by both global and local challenges such as climate and land-use changes, uncontrolled harvesting, inadequate management, and illegal trade, along with tight market competition with fossil-based or non-renewable alternatives. These risks are exacerbated by the lack of systematic knowledge related to, among others, resource levels (distribution, productivity), harvesting and cultivation techniques, domestication, and official, reliable data on production, consumption and trade. This gap in knowledge, is also reflected in the lack of adequate regulations and management, correct definition of production methods, appropriate labelling and quality standards, ultimately affecting product transparency and safety.
Based on the analysis of risks and limitations, the white paper stresses the urgent need for action and identifies promising policy options proposed to be considered based on the specific regional, national or subnational circumstances to: i) secure the conservation and sustainable supply of NWFP; ii) build competitive, equitable and sustainable value chains; iii) improve transparency, data and information flow on NWFP and iv) establish enabling conditions in policy, financial and innovation terms.
It is a call for policy action on different scales: to the European Commission to promote coordinated regional, national and subnational programmes which improve reporting for high relevance NWFP and encourage traceability, labelling and standards for NWFP, especially valorising information about collection and production processes; to national or subnational authorities to adopt innovative fiscal and labour regimes and implement traceability systems where appropriate; to sectoral organisations and companies to increase transparency of price setting and encourage vertical and horizontal collaboration along the NWFP value chains; and to the United Nations, international organisations and academia to support countries and stakeholders to carry out the above key actions, including the collection and dissemination of data and statistics on NWFP.