Conserving the world’s most important trees, crop wild relatives, and medicinal plants
Plants for People (P4P) is a major new initiative to assess the threat status (using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria) of at least 1,500 highest priority species in each of the following groups: crop wild relatives; medicinal plants; timber trees; and palms (6,000 in total).
This is a joint project of the Global Species Programme (GSP) and the Species Survival Commission (SSC), involving the four relevant SSC Specialist Groups (Crop Wild Relatives, Medicinal Plants, Global Trees and Palms). The P4P initiative will also collaborate with national, regional, and international specialist organizations working on economically valuable plants. This information collected will be used to refine criteria for determining sites of significance for useful wild plants species. Such information will form the basis of conservation strategies ‘on the ground’ including work to ensure the inclusion of significant sites in protected areas and appropriate ex situ strategies. In parallel a policy-influencing strategy will developed for appropriate policy fora (notably the Convention on Biological Diversity) to raise awareness amongst governments, NGOs and other relevant institutions.
Crop wild relatives, palms, wild-harvested medicinal plants and tree species are essential to livelihoods worldwide and to the global economy. Total trade is estimated at USD 115 billion for crop wild relatives, USD 60 billion for plant-based medicines and USD 400 billion for the trade in timber. Ensuring the continued availability of this resource is crucial to sustaining current, and ensuring, future human survival. These species are acknowledged in a number of international conventions as key natural resources in need of protection. The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) calls for, by 2020:-
"Seventy per cent of the genetic diversity of crops including their wild relatives and other socio-economically valuable plant species conserved, while respecting, preserving and maintaining associated indigenous and local knowledge."
The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, adopted in Nagoya, Japan in 2010, includes 20 ‘Aichi’ Targets arranged under five Strategic Goals. Strategic Goal C: Improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity includes Target 13:
By 2020, the genetic diversity of cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and of wild relatives, including other socio-economically as well as culturally valuable species, is maintained, and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.
Conservation of these important economic national and global resources serves a double purpose. These plants provide a means for survival for the world’s poorest communities. The World Health Organisation estimates that, in some African and Asian countries, up to 80% of the population rely on medicinal plants for primary health care. Clear conservation strategies focussed on where such plants occur in the wild will not only achieve biodiversity targets, but will contribute to food security and enable sustainable use of these resources for poverty alleviation, as called for in the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7.
A recent study by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, estimated that 1 in every 5 species of plant is threatened with extinction. This catastrophic loss of plant diversity is not confined to species alone; the genetic diversity within species – diversity that is essential for both adaptation to environmental change and the development of new cultivars - is also deteriorating.
Precise information about the extinction risk for socio-economically important plants is lacking, as is information on their distributions. This initiative will provide the first global insight into the conservation status of those plants that, like cotton, provide the threads from which the very fabric of human society is woven. Such assessment information will provide the basis for determining sties of global significance for useful wild plants which in turn will underpin conservation strategies required to ensure long-term world crop security, human health and timber production.
Project Overview and Scientific Approach
The initiative will be led by the IUCN Global Species Programme working closely with the four relevant IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Specialist Groups (Crop Wild Relative, Medicinal Plant, Global Tree and Palm) and with other national, regional, and international specialist organizations through undertaking assessments of conservation status for The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species to determine precisely where these plant species occur and their extinction risk.
The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria enable an objective assessment of the extinction risk of a species and are published online with all supporting information including information on the use, livelihoods value, trade, distribution maps, habitat requirements, threats and recommended conservation measures.
This information will be used to refine criteria for determining sites of significance for useful wild plants species. Such information will form the basis of conservation strategies ‘on the ground’ including work to ensure the inclusion of significant sites in protected areas and appropriate ex situ strategies.
In parallel a policy-influencing strategy will developed for appropriate policy fora (notably the CBD) to raise awareness amongst governments, NGOs and other relevant institutions. Through appropriate web-based approaches information on the project can be channelled to relevant target audiences including the wider IUCN family and to the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Key objectives, innovations and products
The objectives of this project are:
• To increase the coverage of priority plant species important for human livelihoods to The Red List of Threatened Species, a key IUCN Knowledge Product
• To develop efficient and integrated Red List assessments and training tools
The innovative products of this project will be:
• Conservation assessments for The IUCN Red List: A global assessment of the conservation status of priority plants (with distribution information – maps) important for socio-economic human well-being available on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species available online for public use;
• Key Biodiversity Areas for useful wild plants: as assessment information is generated a methodology will be developed entailing refinement of criteria for selection of KBAs for useful wild plants through workshops.
• Policy influencing: Championing Aichi Target 13 through a policy influencing strategy. Relevant policy fora include policy discussions to take place at the midpoint of this UN International Decade of Biodiversity and the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals to succeed the MDGs.
• An updated information system: Current information systems will be updated to facilitate the input of botanical data into the Red List assessment process, with the optimisation of the Species Information Service and GIS databases within the Red List Unit realized and increased interoperability with external plant databases undertaken.
• An innovative web-based approach to assessment workshops: as a response to the increasing costs associated with previous workshop approaches to Red Listing, an innovative web-based approach to assessment workshops will be developed and tested during this project with a view to its further deployment in assessing other species groups.