The Essential but Invisible Trade | WWF
The Essential but Invisible Trade

Posted on 25 June 2020

TRAFFIC sounds alarm over sustainability of wild plants used to treat COVID-19.
18 June 2020 — Worldwide, there are reports of the use of herbal products to prevent and treat COVID-19. These wild plant species used in herbal treatments of COVID-19 are set to come under heightened harvesting pressure, both as a result of increased demand and because of more people turning to wild harvesting as an alternative source of income during times of high unemployment and economic crisis. The future availability of plant ingredients to support human health—through medicines, food and well-being products—is dependent on prioritising the conservation and sustainable use of their source species in the long-term.
 
Read Report: The Invisible Trade: Wild Plants and You in the Times of COVID-19 and the Essential Journey Towards Sustainability
 
In China, official traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) formulations used in the COVID-19 response utilise over 125 plant species, a selection of them wild harvested in China and beyond. They include Liquorice root (Glycyrrhiza spp), a protected species in parts of its range in China, and several species whose international trade is regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) such as ginseng root (Panax spp), Chinese Agarwood (Aquilaria sinensis), and Golden Chicken Fern (Cibotium barometz).
 
Humankind’s dependence on wild plants for essential health care and well-being has never been more apparent than during the current COVID-19 pandemic,” said Anastasiya Timoshyna, TRAFFIC’s Senior Programme Coordinator – Sustainable Trade, and Co-Chair of the IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group.
 
However, there is a complete lack of attention to the issues of sustainability in wild plant supplies.” A new report launched today: The Invisible Trade: Wild Plants and You in the Times of COVID-19 and the Essential Journey Towards Sustainability draws attention to the importance of the trade in wild plants resources in terms of economics, livelihoods and conservation alongside issues of sustainability of supplies.
 
Wild plants matter more than ever. Globally, around 26,000 plant species have well-documented medicinal uses. Around 3,000 of them are traded internationally; the majority (60–90%) believed to be wild-collected, says the report. But more than one in ten of the 19% of the species whose threat status was been assessed are at risk of extinction in the wild according to IUCN - International Union for Conservation of Nature.
 
The value of the global trade in medicinal and aromatic plant species has almost tripled in recent years (from $1.3 billion in 1998 to $3.3 billion in 2018), based on the latest available UN Comtrade data. The world’s top exporters are China, India, Germany, USA and Hong Kong SAR, while the USA, Hong Kong SAR, Germany and Japan are the top importers. These figures are likely to be significantly underestimated, as the customs code used for the analysis does not include all relevant plants.
 
It has been reported that on average 26% of European households collect non-wood forest products (NWFPs), ranging from Latvia (68% of households), the Czech Republic (58%) and Slovenia (54%) to the Netherlands (5%) and the United Kingdom (8%). Collected NWFPs—according to the same study— represent a total economic value of approximately USD26 billion (EUR23.3 billion) per year in Europe, having the largest economic importance in Russia, followed by France, Germany, and Turkey. These values and contributions of NWFPs to the formal economy, however, remain invisible in policy and practical applications.1
 
Many common consumer products—herbal remedies, food, drink, cosmetics, supplements, and even furniture—come from wild harvested plants. A taste of the world's wilderness, even from the Danube-Carpathian Region and the Green Heart of Europe might actually be sitting in a teabag in your cupboard, or inside the health supplements in your kitchen.  Although commercial wild collection is declining in Europe as populations move to urban areas, it remains an important source of income in certain regions, especially for some communities and ethnic minorities such as the Roma. With certified collection sites in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, there are now a wide variety of FairWild ingredients available on the market.
 
The report includes a “wild dozen” list of key wild-harvested plants in trade that are susceptible to harvesting pressure, and/or whose supply chains are problematic for the social inequality of trading practices. Europe is represented on the list by Liquorice root and juniper. Although commercial wild plant collection in Europe is declining as people become increasingly urbanised, it is still an important source of income for some communities locally, particularly ethnic minorities such as the Roma. A lack of equitable trade practices means that collectors are often disadvantaged. Other species in Europe to look out for, are wild garlic, thyme, sage and oregano, as well as rosehips, Leopard’s Bane Arnica montana, elderberries, blueberries, lime flowers, and even dandelions and nettles.
 
If managed well, sustainable wild-harvesting and trade in plant ingredients could provide multiple benefits to wild-harvesters and supply chains, the holistic management for other species and ecosystems, and contribute to the biodiversity conservation goals such as those discussed in the preparation of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The response to COVID-19 underscores the need for long-term conservation and sustainable use of plant species needed for healthcare and well-being.
 
A combination of full traceability, compliance with existing regulations (for example for species listed in the CITES appendices), increasing the value to producers, and credible certification schemes are important elements of creating conditions for an all-encompassing “win-win” situation. TRAFFIC’s new The Invisible Trade: Wild Plants and You in the Times of COVID-19 and the Essential Journey Towards Sustainability  report identifies priority actions and recommendations to consumers, businesses, governments, as well as conservation and academic stakeholders.
 
For more information:
Richard Thomas
Head of Communications,
TRAFFIC
Richard.thomas@traffic.org
 
Be part of the solution!
Consumers: https://www.fairwild.org/ifoundwild
Businesses: https://www.fairwild.org/what-we-offer
Find certified operators and products: https://www.fairwild.org/buy-fairwild
 
Since 2008, TRAFFIC has partnered with the FairWild Foundation, to promote the sustainable use of wild ingredients by applying the FairWild Standard throughout the herbal products supply chain. FairWild certification is a guarantee of sustainable wild harvesting, as well as fair and equitable share of resources.
 
1 Lovrić, M., Da Re, R., Vidale, E., Prokofieva, I., Wong, J., Pettenella, D., ... & Mavsar, R. (2020). Non-wood forest products in Europe–A quantitative overview. Forest Policy and Economics, 116, 102175. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. forpol.2020.102175)
 
Wild plant species used in herbal treatments of COVID-19 are set to come under heightened harvesting pressure.
© TRAFFIC
The future availability of plant ingredients to support human health—through medicines, food and well-being products—is dependent on prioritising the conservation and sustainable use of their source species in the long-term.
© LENA
A taste of the world's wilderness, even from the Danube-Carpathian Region and the Green Heart of Europe might actually be sitting in a teabag in your cupboard, or inside the health supplements in your kitchen.
© TRAFFIC
The report includes a “wild dozen” list of key wild-harvested plants in trade that are susceptible to harvesting pressure, and/or whose supply chains are problematic for the social inequality of trading practices.
© TRAFFIC