Les plantes médicinales et aromatiques - celles qui sont communément utilisées pour traiter et prévenir malaises et maladies spécifiques - sont reconnues comme apportant une contribution importante à l'économie mondiale et au bien-être de l'homme. Elles constituent également une ressource écologique valable qui est actuellement surexploitée à des fins commerciales et scientifiques.
M. Vernon Heywood, expert retraité, s'est rendu deux fois en Argentine pour planifier et organiser, avec la Société argentine des plantes aromatiques, le Deuxième congrès mondial sur les plantes médicinales et aromatiques au service du bien-être de l'homme (WOCMAP II). M. Heywood a également prononcé le discours d'ouverture du Congrès au nom de la FAO.
Hoy día se reconoce que las plantas medicinales y aromáticas, o las que se emplea comúnmente para tratar y prevenir dolencias y enfermedades específicas, están contribuyendo considerablemente a la economía mundial y al bienestar humano. Constituyen también un valioso recurso ecológico que se está erosionando al aprovecharse en exceso para fines comerciales y científicos.
El experto jubilado, Profesor Vernon Heywood, visitó dos veces la Argentina para organizar el Segundo Congreso Mundial sobre Plantas Medicinales y Aromáticas al Servicio del Bienestar Humano (WOCMAP II) junto con la Sociedad Argentina para las Plantas Aromáticas. El Profesor Heywood pronunció el discurso de apertura del Congreso en nombre de la FAO.
Medicinal and aromatic plants - or those which are commonly used in treating and preventing specific ailments and diseases - are now recognized as making an important contribution to the global economy and to human welfare. They are also a valuable ecological resource that is being eroded by overharvesting for commercial and scientific purposes.
Retired expert Emeritus Professor Vernon Heywood visited
Speakers at the congress called for greater attention being given to plant genetic resource conservation and research. They also called for greater regulation of trade and harvesting to halt the serious loss in medicinal and aromatic plant biological diversity that has resulted from increased pressure on land and resources, unsustainable practices and the growing popularity of natural medicines and herbal products. Knowledge of many aspects of our medicinal and aromatic plants' heritage continues to develop and expand, but we still lack detailed knowledge of many of the basic aspects of such plants. These include genetic make-up, distribution, conservation status in the wild, trade and cultivation and current uses, Heywood told the congress in his keynote address.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, which was signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, created a new international legal framework to regulate access to genetic resources and to promote the equitable sharing of benefits arising from their exploitation. The biological resources which the convention requires signatory countries to list and monitor specifically includes species of medicinal value. It is estimated that globally more than 70 000 species are used for medicinal purposes. One of the greatest difficulties in assessing and managing the plant genetic resources of medicinal and aromatic species arises from their occurrence in a wide range of natural and seem-natural habitats, ranging from temperate and tropical forests to scrubland, meadows, agricultural crop fields and gardens. The wild collection of many medicinal plant species takes place without regulation and, frequently, not only the quantity but also the form of harvesting is unsustainable. All too often, loss of biological diversity only becomes apparent when a particular species is threatened with local extinction. In Hong Kong and Macao, for example, the orchid Nervilia fordii has become an endangered species. Its leaves are popular as a cold and cough remedy and, because the plant grows only one leaf per year, local collectors often dig up the whole bulb.
Commercial trade in medicinal and aromatic plants is virtually unrestricted. The difficulty in establishing the origin of imported material hampers the compilation of data on the volume of medicinal and aromatic plants harvested and traded, although statistics on trade in Europe and the United States are now being gathered. Overharvesting has two main causes. The extremely low prices for wild-collected material paid by a small number of wholesale distributors compel collectors to gather ever greater quantities of the plants; and habitat loss and population growth have increased local demand for medicinal and aromatic plants compared with supply.
As demand by local communities, pharmaceutical, perfume and cosmetic companies continues to grow and pressure on land and resources continues to increase, it is now essential to replace wild harvesting with cultivation. Unlike cultivated crop varieties, wild species are most effectively conserved in the ecosystems in which they occur naturally. In 1996, at Leipzig, Germany, governments endorsed the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources. This places the in situ conservation of wild plants, including medicinal and aromatic plants, among its priority activities.
Besides conserving wild resources and ensuring high-quality material, cultivation can present an opportunity for agricultural and rural development, especially in marginal areas. More extensive farming of medicinal and aromatic plant species can also preserve indigenous knowledge and medical traditions, which are also an endangered resource, Heywood stressed in his concluding remarks to the congress.