1st Styria Regional Stakeholder Group meeting
The Regional Stakeholder Group of Styria (RSG) and the national project members met for a first meeting to achieve a common understanding of the forthcoming collaboration.
All participants got to know each other and Harald Vacik (BOKU University) gave an introduction on the "Importance of Non-wood Forest Products and Services" highlighting the current state of knowledge in Austria. Gerhard Weiss introduced the StarTree project and its objectives.
In a workshop, the participants presented their experiences with NWFPs. The positive and negative aspects were clustered on a pinboard.
This exercise directly fed into the forthcoming round-table discussions where it was necessary to focus on three selected NWFPs that are seen relevant within the region. The group decided to further elaborate on i) stone pine (pinus cembra), ii) fruits & berries (incl. chestnut, i.e. castanea sativa) and iii) deer. Aspects of production and marketing of the selected NWFPs were then discussed in two groups:
Ad 1 "Production"
Apart from hunting (and thus game meat) NWFPs are mainly perceived as side effects of forestry, at least from the forest owner´s perspective. Due to lacking economic importance in contrast to timber production the provision of NWFPs has not been incorporated as a management goal yet. However, there is potential to support structural weak areas and positively contribute to rural development. Already existing examples (e.g. niche products like nature park specialities) indicate the variety of opportunities that may be further extended through means of innovation (e.g. new products, new ways of processing) or a revival of traditional knowledge. Main drivers in the provision of NWFPs seem to be both spatial and temporal availability (i.e. when and where is it possible to produce a particular NWFP due to natural restrictions). Further issues with respect to the potential utilization of NWFPs are the corresponding image (e.g. certificate of origin, quality aspects) and societal awareness (e.g. property/use rights).
Ad 2 "Marketing"
One of the crucial criteria in relation to the marketing of NWFP seems to be the issue of property rights (i.e. who is the legal owner of the respective NWFP). Furthermore quantity as well as quality aspects are assumed to be key drivers in this respect. To professionally market NWFPs there is the need to sustainably supply the specific raw material and guarantuee certain quality attributes on the long run. Cooperation, both vertical and horizontal, is supposed to be the key to success – the charme of a "rare" product in contrast to mass products as well as the integration of regional aspects provide an array of opportunities. These topics should be further elaborated in strong collaboration with additional stakeholders (e.g. practitioners, wholesalers, marketing companies). Realistic potential is seen for the further development of Pinus cembra products, chestnut and other forest fruits, and game.
Finally, planned activities for the RCS Styria and a possible work plan for the RSG were introduced. In a concluding discussion the group developed ideas for regional activities and potential future collaboration. Subsequent to this inspiring brainstorming session it was time to close the day with some regional specialities and thank the participants for a fruitful and productive initial meeting that really whet the appetite for further cooperation.