The extraction of Zamia skinneri from Central American forests led to its inclusion in Appendix II of CITES

Zamia skinneri, a 2.5-m palm-like cycad (Cycadaceae family), is currently included in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) (Robles et al. 1997; Maiocco 1998). Only commercial exports of seeds are allowed for species included in Appendix II. Zamia skinneri used to be extracted from natural forests throughout all its natural range in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama to be sold as an ornamental plant, in both national and international markets. Several species of Zamia grow naturally from the southern USA to Bolivia. The Central American species of Zamia live in the understory of tropical humid forests. Zamia skinneri grows in an altitudinal range from 20-1,100 m. It only grows in forests and cannot be grown in open plantations because it cannot tolerate direct exposure to the sun. Zamia skinneri is an ancient species, often considered a living fossil. In the Dominican Republic, archaeological records show that Zamia spp. was used by indigenous tribes about 1400 years b.c. The Banwari people of the Dominican Republic used to cook and eat the stems of this plant, in a manner that is similar to the use of cassava or manioc roots. Its value as food contributed to the protection of the forests in which it grows (Maiocco 1998). In present times interest in Zamia skinneri has grown because of its use as an ornamental. Much of the demand comes from the US. Due to its endangered status and high commercial value, researchers at CATIE have been studying its ecological requirements in order to design more sustainable manners of extraction from natural forests or cultivation in the appropriate environment (Robles et al. 1997; Maiocco 1998; Marmillod et al. 1998).

Extraction of NTFPs is not a priori more sustainable than timber extraction. On the contrary, NTFPs are equally threatened by overexploitation and abuse. In addition, changes in the social structure or living conditions of local people may lead to abandonment of NTFP extraction. In most cases, NTFP extraction is carried out by relatively poor sectors of the population. If their economic conditions change they may choose other less laborious and more profitable activities (Bruenig 1996).

Market forces also tend to impede sustainable management of NTFPs. Once an NTFP enters the cash economy, the usual cycle - establishing a market, rising demand, more intensive harvesting, collapse of the price, and finally substitution - tends to develop (Dawkins and Philip 1998). As demand increases there is a trend away from wild collecting and towards commercial domestication and cultivation. For example, wild-collected rubber from the Amazon could not compete with rubber from plantations of rubber trees in Asia. Even in such poverty-stricken regions as Amazonia, the long-term trend of social and economic evolution towards improved living conditions may make the collection of NTFP in natural rainforests less attractive.

Management for NTFPs can only be viable in the context of other land uses and economic activities for human populations. For example, there are reported cases where communities have organized themselves to crop communal land, extract timber, manage the forests for NTFPs, and reserve some forest areas for ecotourism (Montagnini et al. 2002).

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