Therapy for Medicinal Plants

A “Saving Plants that Save Lives and Livelihoods” initiative is demonstrating how implementation of international standards can ensure the sustainability of medicinal plant supplies.

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Every year, about half a million tonnes of dried medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) are traded internationally, and an unknown but substantial quantity is traded on national and local markets.

More than 50% of the plants are harvested from the wild, and the demand for MAPs is increasing world-wide. Coupled with land conversion and habitat degradation in many regions, it means around a quarter of such species are under threat.

“About 15,000 of the estimated 50,000 – 70,000 plant species used for medicine, cosmetics or dietary supplements are threatened,” says Susanne Honnef, Head of TRAFFIC’s Medicinal Plant Programme.

In many developing countries, wild-collected plants provide the only effective medicine for the majority of the rural population, because other forms of medication are either unavailable or unaffordable. In richer countries, many people have rediscovered the benefits of natural medicine.

Jane Smart, Head of IUCN’s Species Programme, says “All over the world, particularly in developing countries, people depend on medicinal plants, often for primary healthcare. It is critically important that we develop methods to harvest these resources on a sustainable and long-term basis.”

“In 2004, we jointly initiated the development of the International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP)” says Uwe Schippmann, Head of the Plant Conservation Section of the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN). "Published in early 2007, this standard now provides companies, governments, resource managers and other stakeholders in the MAP sector a specific guidance tool to develop sustainable use management systems for MAP collected from the wild.”

ISSC-MAP aims to stop over-exploitation, illegal harvest and illegal trade in wild plants, through establishing sound quota systems enabling a sustainable harvest from the wild. Central to ISSC-MAP are the customary rights of local communities and indigenous peoples, and the establishment of benefit sharing agreements over genetic resources and management responsibility, such as prior informed consent (PIC) and mutually agreed terms (MAT).

Now TRAFFIC, WWF and IUCN and others, with financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), have started implementing ISSC-MAP in projects world-wide through a joint “Saving Plants that Save Lives and Livelihoods” initiative. Currently projects, operating under a variety of conditions and organizational structures, are underway in Brazil, Cambodia, India, Lesotho, Nepal and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and with alternative funding, in China and the Ukraine.

We are happy to see the ISSC-MAP being adapted to local contexts and used on the ground. Several governments, communities, forestry departments and companies have shown a keen interest to support the ISSC-MAP and promote its uptake in their countries,” says Frank Fass-Metz, Head of Division Environment and Sustainable Use of Natural Resources of BMZ.

The current CBD meeting is expected to review the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, following recommendations made at the Convention’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice meeting in Paris in 2007.

“We all profit from the unique therapeutic effects of medicine from nature’s pharmacy,” says Sue Lieberman, Director of the Species Programme of WWF International. "But it is high time for an effective therapy for natural plant populations under pressure."

"We welcome governments, and committed companies and NGOs to join the initiative, and work to ensure products from wild plants are harvested in compliance with the ISSC-MAP,” adds Susanne Honnef of TRAFFIC.

The CBD, the world’s most encompassing conservation convention, is holding its Ninth Conference of the Parties in Bonn, Germany, from 19th – 30th May 2008. It is an ideal environment for government, business and NGO decision makers to learn more about and support the ISSC-MAP initiative. 

For more information and photos:

Contact: Richard Thomas, Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC, t + 44 1223 279068, email


A short film, outlining the principles of the ISSC-MAP is being launched in Bonn. It can be viewed at:


TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint programme of IUCN and WWF.


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