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Sustainable Management of Chewing Sticks at the Okomu Wildlife Sanctuary, Nigeria

Volume 2 Number 2 - July 1993

Sylvester S. Orhiere

Chewing sticks are sold all over Nigeria as an aid to mouth hygiene, particularly in the cities where a small packet costs one Naira and a bundle of unprocessed sticks cost five Naira.

The chewing stick Napoleonaea imperialis (Family: Lecythidaceae) is a tree of the forest understorey, about six metres high, with low branches and a dense crown. It is known as Upakonrisa in Bini, Irosun-Igbo in Yoruba and Akbodo in Ibo. It is distributed from Nigeria to the Congo and also occurs in Angola.

It occurs in the Okomu Wildlife Sanctuary and it is proposed that Napoleonaea imperialis is promoted as a renewable non-timber forest product. It could be cut in the forest reserves by permit holders. Although, perhaps a minor product, in the absence of an economic alternative, it will continue to be important regionally in oral hygiene. As one of several non-timber forest products, it will encourage forest management to increase production and the co-operation of local people to process and market their products, without yielding to alternative land-uses that require deforestation. In many densely populated areas of the world, forest cover has been maintained for centuries by selective extraction from forests by local people and organizations.

There is a need for a comprehensive study of the chewing stick to document its overall economic and ethnobotanical importance and to ascertain its conservation status. Experiments also need to be undertaken to bring it into cultivation, which will in turn contribute to its management in the wild. Other plant species with similar potential include Carpolobia lutea and Carapa procera.

One of the main proposals from the international symposium held in Washington, U.S.A. called Extractive Economies in Tropical Forests: A Course of Action (the proceedings Daniel C. Nepstad & Stephen Scwartzman eds, 1992 Non-Timber Products from Tropical Forests - Evaluation of a Conservation and Development Strategy, New York Botanical Garden was reviewed in BGCNews 2(1) 1992) was that non-timber forest product extraction from tropical forests can simultaneously advance both conservation and development goals for large areas of tropical forests. As long as market forces dictate the fate of tropical forests, non-timber forest product extraction emerges as the most promising alternative that could sustain forest cover.