New report highlights global trade in wild plant ingredients

European Business & Biodiversity Campaign - News

New report highlights global trade in wild plant ingredients

A new TRAFFIC study has drawn attention to the wild plant ingredients used in everyday products and the need for their traceable, sustainable and ethical sourcing and trade.

The report "Wild at Home: An overview of the harvest and trade in wild plant ingredients", released to coincide with the beginning of FairWild Week 2018, demonstrates how sustainable wild plant harvesting can contribute to wider wildlife conservation goals and why global industry must adapt.

People are utterly reliant on plants for their survival, yet few appreciate that many of the consumer products in common use—ranging from herbal remedies, food, and drink to cosmetics, health supplements, and even furniture—derive from wild harvested plants. The report highlights a dozen wild plant products consumers and business should look out for in products they use, including liquorice, frankincense, gum arabic, juniper, pygeum, goldenseal, and shea butter.

Of the roughly 30,000 plant species with documented medicinal or aromatic uses, approximately 3,000 are found in international trade, an estimated 60–90% of them harvested from the wild—often with little consideration given to ensure the sustainability of supplies.

"Millions of people rely on wild plant collection both for their healthcare and for their livelihoods—from rural rosehip harvesters in Serbia to baobab fruit collectors in Zimbabwe, and the wide benefits of this harvesting are reaped by consumers across the world," said Anastasiya Timoshyna from TRAFFIC, a co-author of the report.
"But the industry utilising wild plant ingredients and consumers are paying far too little attention to ensuring plants are being traded responsibly."

In 2015, the global reported trade for medicinal plants alone was valued at over US$3 billion, a threefold growth since 1999, although the figure is likely to be a significant underestimate, as the customs code used for the analysis does not include all relevant plants. The top exporters were China, India, Canada, Germany and USA, while the top importers were Hong Kong SAR, USA, Germany, Japan and China.
An IUCN Red ListTM analysis by the IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group in 2018 found that only 7% of the known medicinal and aromatic plant species have been assessed against extinction threat criteria—and one in five of them was found to be threatened with extinction.

Overharvest and resource mismanagement are two major contributors to species declines. Growing and changing demand for wild plant ingredients often means that traditional sustainable harvesting practices are being replaced by more intensive and destructive alternatives. Examples of this include the use of heavy machinery in the harvesting of wild licorice root Glycyrrhiza spp., or the destructive collection of American Ginseng Panax quinquefolius.

If managed well, however, sustainable wild-harvesting and trade in plant ingredients could provide holistic management for other species and ecosystems, as well as multiple benefits to wild-harvesters and supply chains overall.