Published 18 May 2010

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New prescription needed for medicinal plants

Nairobi, Kenya, 18th May 2010 (IUCN / Plantlife International / TRAFFIC)—Medicinal plants are valuable species: they provide income and healthcare to thousands of people around the world. Greater numbers of people rely on traditional medicine, mostly based on herbs, for their primary healthcare than ‘conventional’ or western medicine. But 15,000 species of medicinal plants are globally threatened from, amongst others, loss of habitat, overexploitation, invasive species and pollution. 

Medicinal plant products on sale in a Chengdu market, China © T Cunningham 

To conserve this valuable natural resource, IUCN, Plantlife International and TRAFFIC are calling for governments to endorse a revised and updated Global Strategy for Plant Conservation which aims to halt the continuing loss of the world’s plant diversity.

“The importance of conserving wild plant resources such as medicinal plants must not be ignored by the world’s governments,” says Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group.

“Medicinal plants secure the livelihood and healthcare of thousands. They are also the key to the conservation of whole habitats which underpin healthy resilient ecosystems, and which can help combat serious problems we face such as soil erosion and flooding, as well as mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The significance of medicinal plants can’t be underestimated. 80% of people in Africa use traditional medicine for primary healthcare. 323,000 households in Nepal alone are involved in the collection of wild medicinal plants to sell for their livelihoods. Addressing issues such as site management, rights over resources, encouraging cultivation, developing local resource centres, collecting information on medicinal plant markets and improving terms with traders are all key to stopping more plants becoming threatened with extinction under criteria for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

“We are particularly concerned that, alongside measures to conserve forests and agriculture, the importance of sustaining wild-collected medicinal plants and their habitats is not forgotten,” says Roland Melisch, Global Programme Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC.

“The key to conserving medicinal plants lies in involving indigenous and local communities because they are the ones who know and value plant resources the most.“

IUCN, Plantlife International and TRAFFIC welcome the positive discussion on the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation taking place in Nairobi, Kenya at a meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice to the Convention on Biological Diversity, or SBSTTA. Decisions taken in Nairobi will provide a scientific basis for discussions that will take place in October in Nagoya, Japan, at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Medicinal plants are highly valued by communities all over the world. It is essential in the next decade that we work towards sustainable collection of this valuable resource, not only for nature conservation but for the well-being and livelihoods of indigenous local communities who depend on those resources’ says Elizabeth Radford, International Programme Manager, Plantlife International. 

“This new Strategy would help ensure their long term future.”