The increased use of medicinal and aromatic plants could come to an end if the wild plant trade is not prioritised, conserved and made more sustainable.
Experts estimate that the Covid-19 pandemic will likely result in an increase in the trade of wild plants, a new report released by conservation organisation TRAFFIC has revealed.
The harvesting and selling of wild plants, many of which face extinction, is valued at $3.3 billion (about R57 billion).
Trade in medicinal and aromatic (MAP) plant species has been thriving, with top exporters being the US, India, China and Germany. Top importers are Japan, Germany, the US and Hong Kong.
Reports have also been received of herbal products being increasingly used in Africa and South America.
Official traditional Chinese medicine formulations used in response to Covid-19 alone means harvesting over 125 different plant species, many of which are wild harvested in China and other regions.
TRAFFIC senior programme coordinator and co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Anastasiya Timoshyna, said that “humankind’s dependence on wild plants for essential healthcare and well-being has never been more apparent than during the current Covid-19 pandemic”.
But she warned that despite the booming trade, “there is a complete lack of attention to the issues of sustainability in wild plant supplies”.
This puts threatened plants at risk of becoming extinct in the wild. According to TRAFFIC’s report, roughly 26,000 plant species are well-documented to be used for medicinal purposes. It is estimated that 60,000 plant species are used for medicinal purposes. Of these, around 3,000 species are traded internationally, with between 60% to 90% of them being harvested in the wild.
Only 19% of these species have been assessed, and about 11% of them are considered threatened with extinction in the wild by the IUCN.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II regulates 800 species of MAP. However, between 2006 and 2015, 25,000 tonnes of 43 species regulated by CITES were traded illegally.
Most seized plants were aloes, orchids, Candelilla, Jatamasi and African Cherry.
This reveals an overlooked aspect of wildlife trade – the illicit trade of often endangered plants.
Due to their medicinal properties, humans have come to depend on more natural medicinal remedies. A variety of plants are also used for food, drink, cosmetics and furniture. But this could come to an end if the wild plant trade is not prioritised, conserved and made more sustainable, TRAFFIC said.
Most consumers, and companies that sell these products, are often not aware that many plants are wild-harvested. A few examples include Argan oil, Brazil nuts, Shea butter, raffia, woodwind instruments made from African Blackwood, and frankincense.
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