Non-Timber Forest Products provide new opportunities

Non-Timber Forest Products provide new opportunities
Community Futures Cedar Lake Region

If there is a single thing that sums up economic opportunity without major capital investment in Northern Manitoba it is non-timber forest products (NTFP).

Most northern communities are not close to major industries and high unemployment is always a concern. The innovative idea of developing the NTFP industry builds on the North?s long-standing tradition of living off the land and brings it into today?s context.

NTFP are a varied and diverse lot. They range from mushrooms and edibles to medicinals, to craft and landscaping products. Within the field, there is also room for value-added products, like ready for sale crafts, candies and syrups or pre-packaged mixes of forest edibles.

Cedar Lake first began its effort to jumpstart the NTFP industry in 1999 and by March 2000, with the assistance of the equally committed Keewatin Community College (KCC), and Community Futures Cedar Lake Region held a conference in NTFP in The Pas.

With enthusiastic feedback from the participants and increasing interest from individuals and communities, the event was expanded and held again in 2001 in Thompson. This time the other four Northern Community Futures offices (Greenstone, Kitayan, North Central, & Northwest) also came aboard as partners. Affirming the importance of the industry, Keewatin Community College announced during the conference the creation of a new Northern Forest Diversification Centre (NFDC), which is committed to expanding industries like NTFP and eco-tourism in the North.

The goal of the conferences was to make communities in Northern Manitoba aware of the potential economic opportunities right in their back yards and to provide assistance with new product development and identifying new markets.

With an abundance of NTFP options available it is easy to appreciate the effort Community Futures Cedar Lake Region has put into developing NTFP. The spin-offs of those two conferences are continuing. Building upon the information disseminated at the conferences an NTFP training course was developed.

The course provides participants with more detailed instruction in subjects like product identification and diversification, markets and marketing and packaging. The course was delivered to three communities in 2001, with a fourth scheduled for the fall. Here are some the results of this training: Cranberry Portage

    Cranberry Portage
  • Formed first chapter of the Manitoba Wildcrafters Harvesting Association (MWHA)
  • 12 people trained in Labrador tea harvesting, with 150 lbs harvested for testing
  • Two-month sales of $6,000 for local couple selling diamond willow candle holders
  • Couple selling diamond willow lamps
  • Spread of crafting to other people (lamp making)
  • Two individuals harvested over $1,500 of cranberry bark
  • One individual has been training with a mushroom buyer, has harvested mushrooms in Saskatchewan and plans to become a Manitoba buyer
    Cormorant
  • 16 individuals completed the course
  • 27 people trained in Labrador tea harvesting
  • Formation of the second chapter of the MWHA
  • Over $1,000 worth of highbush cranberry bark was harvested and sold for testing purposes with a potential major contract for next summer
  • Plans made to form a co-op for the production and sale of craft products
  • Three people beginning drift wood walking stick production
  • Cormorant chapter of MWHA made a presentation to a local resource management committee urging the consideration of all aspects of nature when planning local resources areas for development
    Mosakahiken Cree Nation
  • Sale of 75 diamond willow walking sticks
  • Sale of drift wood to local craft outlets
  • Seneca root order placed through NFDC
  • Training workshop for Labrador tea harvest, 25 participants
  • Two local families tapped birch trees for birch syrup and made candy; further expansion planned for next spring
  • Interest in Seneca processing potential
  • Several people exploring eco-tourism opportunities with NFDC

With the continued assistance provided to communities and entrepreneurs by CFs like Cedar Lake Region, and with the educational commitment shown by KCC, the future looks bright for NTFP in the North.