Medicinal Plant Conservation, Volume 8, Newsletter of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, Medicinal Plant Specialist Group. Bonn.
Non-wood forest products (NWFP)1 such as edible fruits and nuts, mushrooms, gums, resins, aromatic plants, bushmeat or honey contribute significantly to the satisfaction of daily subsistence needs, in particular for rural populations in developing countries. The total value of world trade in NWFP is estimated at US$11 billion (FAO 1993). The general direction of trade in these products is from developing to developed countries (Vantomme 2001). Among the most important NWFP regarding their value in international trade are medicinal plants (US$ 689.9 million), nuts (593.1), ginseng roots (389.3), cork and cork products (328.8), and essential oils (312.5) (FAO 1993).
The international trade in NWFP involves high potentials and risks: The main benefit of the international trade in NWFP is the high market value the products achieve compared to local or national markets. However, high market values combined with high demands may also cause unsustainable use since they may lead to the overexploitation of species providing NWFP. In addition, higher product values may not be equally shared among all stakeholders involved in the collection, processing, manufacturing, trade and marketing of NWFP.
A main problem in assessing the actual sustainability of NWFP utilization is the fundamental lack of information on their production, consumption and trade. Monitoring and evaluation systems are still embryonic and insufficient in order to properly collect and analyse key information related to NWFP.
Certification and benefit-sharing arrangements are, among others, two different concepts that have been developed in order to contribute to the sustainable use of natural resources and which have been applied in the field of NWFP, including medicinal plants.
Certification is a procedure by which written assurance is given that a product, process or service is in conformity with certain standards (see ISO/IEC 1996). It is often linked to the provision of labels for certified products, processes or services (Dankers 2002).
Certification programmes related to natural resource use have mainly been developed for timber and agricultural products. Four main categories of certification schemes have been identified to be of major relevance for the use of NWFP:
i) Forest management certification;
ii) Social certification;
iii) Organic certification; and
iv) Product quality certification.
Many more programmes, organizations and institutions exist that are dealing with various aspects of certification:
• Inter-governmental bodies such as the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Plant Protection Convention, which intend to be included in governmental regulations;
• Non-governmental bodies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and other international non-governmental organizations (NGO) that are focusing on private certification systems (Dankers 2002); and
• Certification of origin, for example, guarantees that a given product is derived from a certain region or area but does not assess any quality standards (FAO 2001).
Depending on their basic concepts, these certification schemes focus on different areas such as production, processing, manufacturing as well as trade and marketing. However, many schemes do not focus on only one area but include, to different degrees, several areas. Therefore, considerable overlaps and potential synergies between the different certification schemes exist.
The certification programmes discussed below are voluntary schemes, which have to be in accordance to mandatory, national and international rules, regulations and conventions. Examples of international agreements and conventions, which are legally binding to signatory countries, include the World Trade Organization agreements, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and other related laws and regulations. They set the legal frame for every voluntary certification scheme (figure 1).
i) Forest management certification
Forest management certification programmes mainly assess ecological aspects of resource management, both at the forest and at the species or product level, including chain-of-custody certification. Many different programmes exist on the international, regional and national level, which focus almost exclusively on timber products and include NWFP only marginally.
However, some programmes and organizations developed more specific guidelines dealing with the management of NWFP in natural forests, such as the Draft principle 11 of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Rainforest Alliance/SmartWood Programme Generic guidelines for assessing the management of NTFP in natural forests and the Addendum on NTFP. In addition to these generic guidelines, species-specific standards are required in order to take into account the wide range of ecological characteristics and management practices related to NWFP (Mallet 1998).
Only a few NWFP have been certified in the context of forest management certification programmes, including the FSC accredited SmartWood certification of maple syrup (Acer saccharum) in the United States, chicle (Manilkara zapota) in Mexico, brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa) in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru, and acai palm hearts and fruits (Euterpe oleracea) in Brazil (Donovan 2000).
ii) Social certification
Social certification systems, such as fair and ethical trade, assure that labour conditions are acceptable and benefits are equally shared among those involved in production and trade. These kind of trade initiatives foster business partnerships and management supply chains, which include secure and fair commercial deals and support the provision of market information (Kruedener 2000). Important criteria focusing on social issues include
• Tenure and customary rights;
• Fair returns and adequate benefits;
• Safe and healthy working environment;
• Impact on local/indigenous communities;
• Economic viability;
• Absence of child labour; and
• Ethical marketing (Mallet 2000; Burns & Blowfield, s. dat.).
Social certification related to NWFP has mostly been promoted by fair trade initiatives. However, the impact of ethical and fair trade in forest products on forest dependent people is not yet clear (Tallontire, s. dat.). In the forestry sector in general, social issues have not yet been fully addressed since certification initiatives have been largely driven by environmental rather than social concerns (Natural Resource Institute 2000).
Examples of fair-trade certified NWFP include chicle (Manilkara zapota) in Mexico (Mallet 2000) and devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) from Namibia (Leith, s. dat.). NWFP traded by The Body Shop International (1996) include babassu oil (Orbignya phalerata) and brazil nut oil (Bertholletia excelsa) in Brazil, shea butter (Vitellaria paradoxa) in Ghana, and honey and beeswax in Zambia.
iii) Organic certification
"Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agroecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity..." (FAO/WHO 1999). Wild crafted and semi-domesticated NWFP can also be considered as organic and many NWFP such as pine nuts, mushrooms and herbs are increasingly commercialized as organic food products.
An example for criteria related to the organic production of wild crafted products are the basic standards of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) on the Collection of non cultivated material of plant origin and honey (IFOAM 2000). They specify that organically collected plant material should i) be derived from a stable and sustainable growing environment; ii) be harvested or gathered in a way not exceeding sustainable yields; iii) be derived from a clearly defined collecting area; iv) not be exposed to prohibited substances; v) be harvested and gathered in a collection area that should be at an appropriate distance from conventional farming, pollution and contamination; and vi) be harvested and gathered by operators, who shall be clearly identified and be familiar with the collecting area.
A multitude of NWFP have been certified according to
organic standards including berries (Finland), palm hearts (Brazil), chicle
(Mexico), maple syrup (USA), Orbignya cohune (Guatemala) as well as mushrooms,
medicinal plants and plants used by the cosmetic industry (Mallet 2000; Viana et
al., 1996; Ten Kate & Laird 1999).
iv) Product quality certification
Product quality certification aims at ensuring that defined production standards have been taken into consideration. These standards can focus on the product itself as well as on the way it is processed and manufactured.
Product quality parameters include product identity, purity, efficiency and safety. These parameters are relevant for a wide range of internationally traded NWFP mainly used in the food and pharmaceutical industry. One example of international commodity and general standards relevant for the food industry is the Codex Alimentarius, which aims at developing and disseminating international food standards to protect consumer health and to facilitate international fair trading practices in foods (FAO/WHO, 1999b; Health Canada Online, s. dat.).
Process oriented standards include Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) or Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) guidelines. Basic elements of the World Health Organizations’ GMP for pharmaceutical products, for example, are
• "An appropriate infrastructure or ‘quality system’,
encompassing the organizational structure, procedures, processes and
• Systematic actions necessary to ensure adequate confidence that a product (or service) will satisfy given requirements for quality. The totality of these actions is termed ‘quality assurance’" (WHO 2000).
Other product specific guidelines cover to some degree ecological, social and economic aspects. Examples include the Good Harvesting Prac-tices (GHP) and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for medicinal and aromatic plants (EMEA 1999; Harnischfeger 2000) or the Guidelines for the socially and environmentally responsible production of cut-flowers (Flower Label Programme, s. dat.).
Medicinal plants are probably mainly certified according to organic and product quality standards. Forest management certification related to medicinal plants has not yet been documented by the author. However, discussions are ongoing to strive, for example, for the certification of Prunus africana in Cameroon.
Benefit-sharing means "all forms of compensation for the utilization of genetic resources [including natural products] whether monetary or non-monetary and includes, in particular, the participation [of stakeholders] in scientific research and development on genetic resources, and the making available of the findings of such scientific research and development and the transfer of technologies" (Swiss State Secretariat For Economic Affairs 1999).
Benefit-sharing arrangements (BSA) are directly linked to one main objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), "the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding" (Article 1 of CBD; CBD 2002a).
BSA aim at facilitating the agreed-upon distribution of monetary and non-monetary benefits between a provider and a recipient of genetic resources. These benefits can be shared in the short, medium and long term. The kind of benefits and the timeframe may differ among the stakeholders involved (table 1).
Table 1. Examples of monetary and non-monetary benefits. Source: UNEP/CBD (2000); ten Kate & Laird (1999), FAO (2000)
In contrast to certification systems, neither commonly accepted standards, nor indicators nor guidelines related to BSA exist. BSA are unique agreements between concerned stakeholders such as the private sector (e.g. exporters, importers, intermediaries and processors), local communities (e.g. collectors, owners of traditional knowledge, local traders), governmental bodies (on a national, regional and local level) and non-profit intermediaries (e.g. national and international non-governmental organizations, development projects, research institutes).
However, several voluntary guidelines have been proposed in order to provide a framework for BSA. Examples include the Swiss draft guidelines on access and benefit-sharing (Swiss State Secretariat For Economic Affairs 1999) and the Guidelines for equitable partnerships in new natural products development (WWF 1996). UNEP/CBD (2001) "identified key elements to be considered in the preparation of international guidelines for access and benefit-sharing" and ten Kate & Laird (1999) propose process and content indicators of fair and equitable benefit-sharing.
In the field of NWFP, BSA have been negotiated related to i) the identification and development of new products and ii) the actual trade in NWFP.
i) Identification and development of new products
Bioprospecting, "the search for commercially valuable biochemical and genetic resources in plants, animals and microorganisms" (FAO 2000), is carried out by the pharmaceutical industry in two ways:
• Random screening of chemicals found in nature;
• Screening of chemicals based on the traditional knowledge of the medical application of organisms, especially medicinal plants. This ethnobotanical screening is mainly carried out by small companies and academic institutions and is supposed to save time and money and "... 5,000 times more effective than random collection" (Rafi 1994; Rosenthal 1998).
In order to assure that i) the provider(s) of genetic resources and/or traditional knowledge receive adequate property rights and ii) the share of benefits be equally distributed among all stakeholders, including local communities, national states and private companies, BSA related to the identification and development of new drugs were developed.
In the case of a bioprospecting project carried out in
Suriname, a Forest People’s Trust Fund was set up by the project with a
US$60,000 contribution from an American pharmaceutical company. The fund is
supposed to compensate communities for their ethnobotanical contributions to the
project and aims at creating conservation incentives, financing sustainable
management projects, providing research and training exchanges and supporting
other socially and environmentally sound projects (Guérin-Mcmanus et al., s.
ii) Trade in NWFP
BSA directly related to the international trade in NWFP cover a wide range of sectors including the pharmaceutical, botanical medicine, personal care and cosmetics, and food industry. The supply channels for raw materials used by these industries are comparable since wholesalers, including exporters, traders, brokers and agents, sell to a range of different sectors (Ten Kate & Laird 1999).
Examples for BSA related to medicinal plants include Trichopus zeylanicus (India), Ancistrocladus korupensis (Cameroon), Prunus africana (Cameroon), Calophyllum lanigerum (Malaysia), Taxus brevifolia (USA), Piper methysticum (Pacific Islands), Panax vietnamensis (Vietnam), and Pilocarpus jaborandi (Brazil) (CBD 2002b; Ten Kate & Laird 1999).
In at least three cases, these BSA failed: In the case of
• Ancistrocladus korupensis, the US-National Cancer Institute stopped conducting research and development when the toxicity of the active substance they were interested in, michellamine B, was discovered (Laird & Lisinge 1998);
• Prunus africana, the main exporter annulled an agreement with governmental organizations and local harvester groups due to a disagreement with governmental organizations, which limited the maximum annual sustainable quota to 300 t of bark (FAO 2000);
• Pilocarpus jaborandi, promised benefits by the exporter such as steady income, roads, schools and clinics never materialized. In addition, many of the 25,000 collectors of wild crafted jaborandi leaves might loose an important source of income if plantations are established (Ten Kate & Laird 1999).
One major mechanism to facilitate monetary benefits used by most of the BSA in the field of medicinal plants are trust funds. They aim at avoiding problems associated with direct cash payments to individuals or communities.
Harvesters of Prunus africana bark in Cameroon, for example, who were organized in a Prunus Harvesters Union, paid a part of their income (equivalent of 2 kg of bark) to the Village Development Fund. Five months after the fund was set up, some US$1,500 had been generated. The village intended to use the money for a long-awaited water project (FAO 2000). However, the Prunus Harvesters Union dissolved after the annulment of the benefit-sharing arrangement (see above). Subsequently, a new organization, the Mount Cameroon Prunus Management Company Ltd., was established by villagers in order to carry out the monitoring, management and conservation of Prunus africana.
Certification and benefit-sharing mechanisms are complementary tools, which aim at contributing to the sustainable and equitable use of NWFP. Certification is mainly perceived as a marketing tool focussing on ecological, economic and/or social aspects. Benefit-sharing is considered as a policy tool developed during the CBD process, which puts the emphasis on equity issues.
The linkages between BSA and certification systems were also addressed by the Swiss draft guidelines on access and benefit-sharing. They encourage stakeholders "to collaborate in creating a system of certification, ... which would confirm the abidance to the guidelines by stakeholders being certified. When creating this system of certification, the involved stakeholders are encouraged to consider the suitability of any existing institution or mechanism already involved in certification and standardisation" (Swiss State Secretariat For Economic Affairs 1999).
Both certification and benefit-sharing are potential tools to reduce the negative effects of international trade in NWFP and to promote the sustainable use of NWFP. However, an in-depth analysis is still required in order to identify the key factors leading to the success or to the failure of the application of these tools. Crucial issues, which should be taken into consideration when analysing BSA and certification systems, include:
• Which certification programmes or BSA are and under what conditions, the most suitable, and for whom?
• Which mechanisms are the most appropriate to facilitate monetary benefits? Who should be the principal beneficiaries? How should they be organized?
• How relevant are these mechanisms to promote the sustainable use of NWFP, taking into account that they are only applied for selected species and specific locations?
• What is the impact of certification and benefit-sharing as policy tools that provide a multitude of non-monetary benefits, such as improved capacity, stakeholder participation and consultation and the recognition of custom, tenure and user rights?
• How do certification and benefit-sharing mechanisms actually contribute to poverty alleviation? Will they remain tools providing benefits to a limited number of people or will these mechanisms contribute to the improvement of local livelihoods on a larger scale?
• Are certification and benefit-sharing mechanisms able to promote the production of NWFP by forest dependent people viz-à-viz the production of these products through farming? (This is particularly so for medicinal plants, where "competition" between farmed and wild gathered products is high.)
• What is the potential of certification and benefit-sharing as market tools? For which products, certified or produced in the context of BSA, does a market actually exist that allows the payment of a premium price?
• How do additional costs that result from certification and benefit-sharing influence their application?
• How applicable are certification and benefit-sharing mechanisms in rural areas and by dispersed people?
• How applicable and effective are certification and benefit-sharing mechanisms as tools for the improved tracebility of supply chains?
• What methods can be applied in order to define sustainable harvesting levels, taking into account the lack of ecological information on many species providing NWFP? Do species specific standards sufficiently avoid negative ecological effects on the entire production system?
• Can certification programmes be used as voluntary control tools in order to monitor and evaluate the compliance with laws and regulations such as CITES? CITES, for example, requests for Appendix II species, which risk to become threatened with extinction, that trade is closely controlled and will not be detrimental to the survival of the species (CITES 2002).
These and many more issues have to be clarified in order to assess the relevance and applicability of certification and benefit-sharing as tools for the sustainable use of NWFP.
The FAO NWFP Programme, in collaboration with other programmes, organizations and agencies, aims at contributing to this assessment by
• Collecting, analysing and disseminating information on i) relevant stakeholders involved in certification and benefit-sharing (e.g. private sector, governmental and non-governmental organizations, labelling initiatives) as well as ii) existing certification and benefit-sharing mechanisms for NWFP;
• Implementing case studies, which aim at assessing the impact of certification and benefit-sharing on the sustainable use of selected NWFP.
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Note: The article is a summary of a more comprehensive discussion paper on the issue, which aims at setting the framework of a new programme activity of the FAO NWFP Programme. The full discussion paper is available on the website of the FAO NWFP Programme. Comments on the article are mostly welcome and should be sent directly to the author.
Sven Walter • Non-Wood Forest Products Programme (FOPW) • Forest Products Division – Forestry Department • FAO • Viale delle Terme di Caracalla • 00100 Rome • Italy • Tel.: +39/06/570-53853 • Fax: +39/06/570-55618 • Email: Sven.Walter@fao.org • FAO Website on Non-Wood Forest Products: www.fao.org/forestry/FOP/FOPW/NWFP/nwfp-e.stm .