A Canadian and German consortium has begun to develop a set of principles and standards to help stop the unsustainable wild collection of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs).1 The groups involved in developing this “International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants” (ISSC-MAP) have argued that such standards are needed because current unsustainable wild collection practices, as well as land conversion and habitat loss, threaten the populations of some species of these plants.
The purpose of the ISSC-MAP standard is to ensure the long-term survival of MAP populations in their habitats while respecting the traditions, cultures, and livelihoods of all stakeholders. ISSC-MAP’s objectives are to provide a framework of principles and criteria that can be applied to the management of MAP species and their ecosystems, serve as a basis for monitoring and reporting on these species, and recommend requirements for certification of sustainable wild collection of MAP resources.2
ISSC-MAP intends to engage local, regional, and international markets and collection businesses with much-needed specific guidance on sustainable sourcing practices. This guidance will include a list of criteria, verifiers, and indicators to help prove the sustainability of wild collection.1
According to the latest working draft of the ISSC-MAP, released in June 2006 by the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group, an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 different plant species are used in traditional and modern medicine around the world.2 A large percentage of these species are harvested by wild collection practices, and the ISSC-MAP collaborators predict that this trend is likely to continue over the long term because of the relatively high cost of cultivation and domestication.
Some experts believe that cultivation will never completely replace wildcrafting because some species do not readily lend themselves to cultivation. Edward Fletcher of Strategic Sourcing, Inc. of Banner Elk, NC, has helped start many herb cultivation programs around the world. In most cases, says Fletcher, practical problems are not related to the characteristics of plant growth but to economic considerations (oral communication to
N. Dennis, February 2006). An example might be seen in devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens [Burch.] DC. ex Meisn., Pedaliaceae), where cultivation is possible, but there have been questions as to whether it can be produced in an economically feasible manner.3* Even with careful attention to duplicating the conditions of natural habitats, some species, e.g., Echinacea angustifolia (DC, Asteraceae), when cultivated, do not generally contain as high a concentration of certain sought-after constituents as specimens harvested in the wild. “It has been my experience that wild grown Echinacea angustifolia is higher in echinacosides and cultivated E. angusifolia is higher in alkymides,” wrote Fletcher (e-mail to C. Cavaliere, October 24, 2006). Fletcher acknowledges that sometimes it is possible to create specific agronomic conditions that can influence the increase/decrease of the levels of various desired/undesirable compounds.
“The development of an international standard for sustainable harvesting of wild-collected MAPs is a very complex undertaking. Issues such as sustainable yields that are species-specific, market influences, fair trade, and quality specifications all will need to be considered,” Fletcher wrote (e-mail to N. Dennis, March 7, 2006). According to a concept paper outlining the purposes of ISSC-MAP, such issues will be taken into account under ISSCMAP, which is intended to build upon existing standards and guidelines. In particular, ISSC-MAP is designed to elaborate the recommendations of the 1993 WHO/IUNC/WWF Guidelines on the Conservation of Medicinal Plants (an updated version of which is expected to be published in 2007) and the 2003 WHO Guidelines on Good Agricultural and Collection Practices for Medicinal Plants,4 both of which provide general recommendations addressed primarily to governments and other political and business stakeholders. The ISSC-MAP will expand upon such recommendations by supplying detailed management plans that must be developed for particular species and specific situations. “This could be an intimidating task,” Fletcher said, “but the need is concrete and immediate.” A principal goal of the herb cultivation programs that Fletcher and consultants like him organize is to take pressure off of wild populations.
The German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (Bundesamt fur Naturschutz, or BfN) provided startup funding for ISSC-MAP, and the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group has been implementing the project through the IUCN-Canada and WWF/TRAFFIC-Germany. They have also created an international advisory group, which includes non-government organizations, conservation and certification programs, small-scale collection enterprises, and the medicinal plant and herbal products industry, to offer input on the development of ISSC-MAP.1
The advisory group helped revise the first draft of ISSC-MAP in December 2004, and the second draft was completed in April 2005. Comments on the second draft were gathered from the advisory group and from an “expert workshop” held on the Isle of Vilm in December 2005. The Draft 2 revision based on those comments was published in April of 20055 and a Working Draft 3 of the standard was published in June 2006.2 Both drafts can be downloaded at the ISSC-MAP project Web site,6 as can the agenda for a recently held workshop that was part of the first International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) Conference on Organic Wild Production, held May 5, 2006, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, titled “Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants: workshop on potential implementation strategies for the International Standard.”7
Most medicinal plant experts consider the new standards to be significant and a positive contribution to environmental, economic, and cultural preservation and development. Mathias
*According to a representative of the Germany-based company Martin Bauer GmbH & Co., which specializes in producing teas and other botanical natural products, Martin Bauer is currently cultivating devil’s claw in Africa and believes that this will ultimately become a successful operation, despite initial challenges (V. Wypyszyk, e-mail to M. Blumenthal, December 11, 2006). Schmidt, PhD, a European medicinal plant researcher and consultant, has stated, “Bringing transparency to wildcrafting and shifting the collection practice towards cultivation has not only ecologic implications, but rather practical and positive consequences on the economical situation in situ (sustainability not only of the herb, but also of long-term income of the population) and on the quality of the raw material” (e-mail to C. Cavaliere, July 28, 2006).
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