Natural Products Conference Raises Awareness of Niche Industry

A USAID/FRAME conference in Washington, D.C. brought together experts from the natural products sector.
A USAID/FRAME conference in Washington, D.C. brought together experts from the natural products sector.

More than 100 experts and advocates from the non-timber natural products sector—which includes such products as rattan, essential oils, and textiles—convened in Washington, D.C., on October 3-5 to discuss common goals and develop partnerships. The Natural Products in Rural Enterprises workshop, organized by the International Resources Group on behalf the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) FRAME program, aimed to raise awareness about the potential of natural products to alleviate poverty while promoting biodiversity conservation and good governance.

For communities that rely directly on the environment for their livelihoods, developing low-impact natural products can provide an alternative to resource-intensive timber harvesting and agriculture. According to USAID/FRAME, the global natural products market is estimated at more than $65 billion. Yet although natural products provide 30–60 percent of the incomes of many rural households, the market's significance is not widely understood. "The medicinal plant sector alone is valued at over $14 billion and growing," notes USAID Project Manager Mike McGahuey. "Potential for these and other natural products to be a major vehicle for moving rural people out of poverty is as yet unrecognized."

Community-based enterprises from around the world, including the Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources, the Non-Timber Forest Product Exchange Program for South and Southeast Asia, and the Conservation through Poverty Alleviation project, which works with poor rural farmers living in and around Madagascar's national parks, participated in the event. They displayed a wide variety of natural products, including handmade paper, soaps, pens, handbags, sachets, silk scarves, yarn, and household decorations.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.