Securing the Future of Medicinal Plant Resources | WWF

Securing the Future of Medicinal Plant Resources

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > East Asia

Asia/Pacific > Southern Asia > India
Latin America/Caribbean


This project seeks to address the problem of dwindling medicinal plant resources and the consequent effects on both health care systems and wild populations.

It will concentrate on detailed studies of the factors associated with species threatened by trade, examining the effectiveness of actual and potential regulatory systems, building government capacity to implement and enforce appropriate legislation, and intensifying the communication of information and dialogue with relevant parties to forge cooperation in seeking solutions.


Numerous plant and animal species are relied upon as a primary source of medicine for much of the developing world's population. Medicines made from wild species are used as remedies for anything from the common cold to cancer, with traditional medicine being an integral component of national health care systems in some countries such as China.

Through the local use and production of traditional medicines, medicinal wildlife products also make important contributions to local efforts to improve human health as part of the larger development process.

Use of natural health care products is also commonplace in many industrialised countries, where consumption of animal and plant-based medicines, herbal products and cosmetics is widespread. Increases in trade, travel and communication have facilitated the exchange and adoption of treatments from, for instance, traditional Asian medicine and Western medicinal practices, among a growing segment of the world's population.

The trade to industrialised countries of raw medicinal products and packaged medicines constitutes an important source of export revenue and is a sector with high growth potential. It was estimated that the global monetary value of all plant-based pharmaceuticals in OECD countries would reach USD500 billion by the year 2000. Significant private sector involvement means there are increased employment opportunities. However, the benefits are not distributed to those working closest to the resource - the harvesters.

The potential for over-exploitation of wildlife resources is often either unknown or not fully taken into account by those dependent on the medicinal trade, the beneficiaries of the trade or the government policy makers responsible for ensuring adequate attention to conservation and economic issues. Rising demand may lead to a direct threat to species populations. A number of these animal species are already classified as endangered on the IUCN/SSC Red List, and numerous animal and plant species used medicinally have been included in CITES in an effort to stop or more effectively control international trade. These include all 5 rhino species, tigers and American ginseng.

International attention has been increasing since the mid-1980s. In 1988, the World Health Organistaion (WHO), IUCN and WWF convened an international consultation on the conservation of medicinal plants, which adopted the "Chang Mai Declaration", calling for greater attention to the importance and conservation of medicinal plants, the need to control harvest and trade to ensure continued local use and export potential, while at the same time conserving biological resources in their natural habitat.

There has been some research on the trade and conservation of medicinal plants in recent years. However, rising demand means it is imperative that research is undertaken to document volume of trade in the species and their importance to local and foreign medicinal systems. A thorough assessment of actual or potential impacts of the trade on wild plant populations will also help the development and implementation of conservation strategies for over-exploited species.


TRAFFIC will focus on geographic regions where the medicinal plants trade is a major and potentially threatened component of local health care systems owing to trade induced over-exploitation.

The 4 programme elements are:
1. Conservation of plant resources for traditional medicine in East Asia.
2. Sustaining the medicinal plant resources of the Indian Subcontinent.
3. Support for more effective management of trade in South American medicinal plants
4. Promoting international attention to, and action on, medicinal plant trade issues.

This project fits into TRAFFIC's wider programme of work on medicinal plants and animal trade for the years 1998-2000.


To date, much of TRAFFIC's work on this issue has consisted of building an information base and network from which to design and target an effective approach.

TRAFFIC will take this work a large step further by:
- concentrating on detailed studies of the factors associated with species threatened by trade;
- examining the effectiveness of actual and potential regulatory and incentive systems
- building government capacity to implement and enforce appropriate legislation; and
- intensifying the dialogue with stakeholders to forge cooperation and design strategies to achieve the goals of sustainable supply of medicinal products and conservation of wild plant populations.

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