Seeds of a shea tree © Amuzujoe/CC-BY-SA 4.0

Seeds of a shea tree © Amuzujoe/CC-BY-SA 4.0


Published 10 November 2020

Joint FAO-TRAFFIC workshop on Sustainable health care, well-being and nutrition raises the profile of wild plants

Cambridge, UK, 10th November 2020—Incomplete data on trade in wild plants, as well as insufficient uptake of sustainable management practices for these species, are threats to livelihoods, plant diversity and habitats, heard a FAO-TRAFFIC workshop held on 30th September to discuss solutions to bridging the data gap on wild plants, and assess the sustainability of trade and use. 

FAO and TRAFFIC spoke about their joint work which began in December 2019 on assessing the available data for selected flagship wild plants to improve their visibility in official statistics, support more systematic monitoring, and inform associated policy and decision making. This included the development of data profiles on specific products, including Prunus africana, shea, liquorice, Brazil nuts, bamboo, cork, and gum arabic, among others. The joint work also involved the development of a prototype tool aimed at the private sector and policy makers to support the assessment of risks and opportunities related to specific wild-plant based value chains.

The collaboration with TRAFFIC enabled us not only to understand better the trade patterns of flagship wild plants, but also to develop a user-friendly framework to carry out a rapid risk assessment related to the trade in wild plants

Sven Walter, Team Leader of the Forest Products Team at FAO.Hundreds of millions of people depend on wild plant products for a living, with hundreds of millions more consuming these products or ingredients on a daily basis. Around 26,000 plant species are known to have well-documented medicinal or aromatic uses, and over 1,000 of them are in international trade, primarily as food and well-being product ingredients. An estimated 60–90% of species in trade are wild harvested. Many species are threatened through over-harvesting driven by the commercial trade, as well as habitat change due to land conversion and the impacts of climate change.

The industries using wild plant ingredients are diversifying, with many of plants becoming increasing popular food and wellness ingredients, in addition to traditional medicine. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has brought to the fore the importance of plant-based products for potential prevention and treatment, although there has been little consideration of the long-term sustainability of the species relevant products originate from or the livelihoods of collectors.

”Collaboration between FAO and TRAFFIC on wild plant issues has focussed on bringing together information about the environmental and social risks associated with wild plant product supply chains, essential information for reaching out to key audiences and achieving lasting impacts for these resources,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC.

The workshop saw presentations by Giulia Muir, wild plant specialist, on FAO’s work on wild plants; Anastasiya Timoshyna, on TRAFFIC’s work on the sustainability of wild plant trade; Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC on tools to assess sustainability opportunities and risk, and guest speaker Jim Chamberlain, US Forest Service, on tools to track wild plant harvest (experiences from North America).

Participants broke out into working groups to discuss experiences on collecting data, as well as assessing risks related to wild plant trade. Incorporating wild plants into forest inventorying, identifying key flagships to focus on, building in-country capacities to collect data, using permits as a proxy for collection, and exploring new digital tools (e.g. earth maps) where all cited as opportunities for improving the situation. The main next steps identified were the raising of funds to pursue these opportunities.