A Thing (or Two) of Beauty…… in Asia’s Forests

    FeaturesA Thing (or Two) of Beauty…… in Asia’s Forests
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    A Thing (or Two) of Beauty…… in Asia’s Forests

    A new publication has distilled evidence of how forests from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal and Vietnam are the source of ingredients for the global beauty and cosmetic industry.

    The use of natural ingredients by the cosmetics industry has increased over the past decade. But there is no comprehensive documentation on beauty products from forests.

    Natural cosmetic and beauty products are providing forest communities with livelihood opportunities as the Non-Timber Forest Products – Exchange Programme helps rural communities explore livelihood opportunities in the natural products market.

    But the arrangements for sourcing plants and resins for the cosmetics industry is anything by equitable. Natural cosmetic products often do not support local communities and deplete the forests’ natural resources.

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    Now, there is growing consumer interest in the environmental and ethical credentials of cosmetics. This has spurred interest in sustainably- and ethically-sourced beauty products, which include many forest products, also known as non-wood forest products (NWFPs).

    Growth in natural cosmetics industries is at almost 10 percent per year. In order to tap into this market to raise the income of rural, forest communities worldwide, FAO and the Non-Timber Forest Products – Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) network examined some of the different, forest-derived beauty products, which have been used since antiquity in traditional practices and trade in various Asian and Pacific countries.

    Now, a publication by the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) draws attention to the role forests play in supplying beauty products. The study, Naturally Beautiful: Cosmetic and Beauty Products from Forests, shows how these products can provide livelihood options for forest communities.

    Four such constraint-heavy products and plants the study has identified include sandalwood oil, medicinal herbs, resins and oils from the forests of Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal and Vietnam. The NTFP-EP publication also points to opportunities for growth, particularly for community-based enterprises.

    Sandalwood oil in Asia

    Sandalwood oil has been an extremely important source of income and trade in the Pacific for over 200 years. Sandalwood trees are found in various countries from India and Indonesia. Sandalwood oil is distilled from the tree’s roots, and owing to its coveted fragrance, it is added to commercial products such as soaps, candles, perfumes and incense.

    Due to the over-harvesting of these trees, stocks were decimated, and sandalwood trade became almost non-existent. However, its potential for generating income is now encouraging communities to establish new sandalwood plantations in Australia and create better trade management efforts in Vanuatu. FAO is encouraging global communities to better manage and conserve sandalwood trees in order to sustainably tap into this potential income source and preserve its cultural importance.

    Gurjum balsam resin in Cambodia

    In Cambodia, resin tapped from dipterocarp trees, commonly known as gurjum balsam, is used as a clouding agent in polishes and paints or to waterproof umbrellas and baskets. It can also be processed into an essential oil and is mainly used in the perfume industry. Many people from indigenous communities collect gurjum balsam resin as an important source of income.

    Since 2003, illegal logging and destructive harvesting has led to a production decline. The lack of supply and general lower demand has jeopardized the resin industry in the country. FAO has offered recommendations in protecting natural resources in the Cambodian forests and sustainably reviving this resin collection activity. This includes training people to collect resin more effectively, to learn filtering techniques that will add value to the products and to collect resin in new containers to reduce impurities and increase market value.

    Plant-based, medicinal baths in Vietnam

    In the Sapa District in northern Vietnam, the Red Dzao people in the Ta Phin commune have a traditional practice of a medicinal bath, referred to as “Dia dao xin”. As a part of their culture, the Red Dzao people bathe using herbal plants consisting of five to ten different varieties. They boil these plants and pour this water in barrels for people to soak in. It is believed that these medicinal baths help with fatigue and blood circulation. In addition, this treatment removes dead skin and open pores.

    The community offers these treatments for tourists in homestays in Ta Phin and sells packages of pre-mixed powdered ingredients to visitors and hotels. However, unsustainable harvesting of plants and exploitation by outsiders threaten their local business. A community joint stock company was established in 2006 to address these challenges. This company model has developed certified medicinal treatments and products, creating jobs and stable income for over 100 households which also helped to unify the community.

    Spikenard oil in Nepal

    Found in the Himalayan region, the spikenard plant, also known as jatamansi in Nepal, is used to make oil that is found in products such as perfumes, lotions, anti-ageing creams, deodorants and colour cosmetics in the international beauty industry. The collection and trade of spikenard plants provides employment for the poor in rural, high-altitude areas of Nepal.

    However, the spikenard plant is listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. Increased demand and high economic value led to over- or improper- harvesting of immature plants. Infrastructure development and human settlement further added to the loss of the spikenard habitat. However, its socio-economic value has fostered efforts by the government and several organizations to improve resource management and regulate harvesting practices. FAO is encouraging local participation in the value chain to promote community businesses. The development of markets will also enhance economic potential for spikenard oil.


    Image: Non-Timber Forest Products – Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP)

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