Interview: Bryony Morgan on the FairWild Standard and certification scheme for sustainable harvest and trade in wild plants, fungi and lichen
Bryony Morgan is Executive Officer of the FairWild Foundation, and Medicinal Plants Programme Offier of TRAFFIC.
Q: What is the FairWild Standard? When was it set up and by whom? ©Bryony Morgan
A: The FairWild Standard is a set of principles and criteria guiding best practice in sustainable harvest and trade of wild plants, fungi and lichen. The framework provided can be used to verify sustainable sourcing practices, including as the basis of a third-party audited certification scheme.
The current version of the FairWild Standard (v. 2.0) was published in 2010. It resulted from the merger of two precursors – the International Standard for Sustainable Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP) version 1.0 (2007), creation of which was supported by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), TRAFFIC, WWF and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature); and the FairWild Standard version 1.0 (2006), developed by SIPPO (the Swiss Import Promotion Programme) in co-operation with Forum Essenzia e.V. and IMO (Institute for Marketecology).
Today, the FairWild Standard is managed by the FairWild Foundation, Switzerland. This non-profit organization was established in 2008 to steward the Standard and drive its uptake. It has a Board of Trustees with a diverse range of backgrounds and expertise relating to wild plant conservation and use. We also partner with a variety of organizations that have committed to support the FairWild initiative. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, is currently hosting the Secretariat of FairWild Foundation, under the basis of a partnership agreement until 2020.
Q: What was the motivation behind the standard? What are its core objectives?
A: On the issue of wild collection, twin challenges arise from the growing global demand for wild products and corresponding pressure on species and ecosystems, and the fact that collection areas are often in economically marginalized regions. Collectors are moreover often some of the poorest members of society, with limited other opportunities for income.
The FairWild Standard aims to respond to these dual challenges, providing a framework to ensure the conservation of natural resources through the establishment of sustainable management systems; and to introduce fair trade and social accountability for sustainable development of the collection region. Its history reflects these two objectives – the ISSC-MAP was created in the context of implementation efforts for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and was designed to bridge high-level biodiversity conservation commitments with local resource management goals. The FairWild Standard version 1.0 focused mainly on social and fair trade aspects of wild collection, aiming to increase incomes and market access opportunities for wild ingredient producers, in a sustainable way.
The combined FairWild Standard version 2.0 now spans across the social, ecological and economic aspects of wild collection – aiming to provide a worldwide framework for the sustainable, fair and value-added management and trading of wild-collected natural ingredients. The core objective of the Standard is to ensure the continued use and long-term survival of wild species and populations in their habitats, while respecting the traditions and cultures, and supporting the livelihoods of all stakeholders, in particular collectors and workers.
Q: How many products have been certified under the scheme? Can you give us some examples?
A: FairWild certification is granted at the species level –implementation requires species-area management planning, and development of species-specific collection instructions and training materials.
Currently there are 17 different plant species certified, sourced from wild collection operations in 10 different countries. These include quite a range of different species, including common European species such as Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) and Dog Rose (Rosa canina), two different species of Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra and G. uralensis), Baobab (Adansonia digitata), and two species used in Ayurvedic medicine (Terminalia chebula and T. bellirica). Over 1,000 collectors are benefitting from increased income from the trade in FairWild ingredients.
Over 400 tonnes of certified ingredients are now being traded annually. The largest proportion of this is liquorice root – an ingredient used widely in confectionary and other foods; in herbal medicinal products; in cosmetics; and even the tobacco industry. FairWild-certified liquorice features as a key ingredient across several different ranges of herbal and medicinal teas.
Over 20 companies are involved in the FairWild certification scheme, and there are now six brand manufacturers offering consumers products with FairWild ingredients; further products are in development. These include herbal and medicinal teas, cosmetics, and even gin! Around 50 different labelled products are now on sale in more than 30 countries.
Beyond implementation through the FairWild certification scheme, there are numerous examples of FairWild principles being implemented by governments, communities and industry. These range from the work towards improving corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) manufacturers and traders; the use of FairWild principles to guide sustainable collection within Giant Panda habitats in China; the formalization of FairWild principles within the South African Biodiversity Management Plan for Pelargonium sidoides; the implementation of better resource management practices by communities in Viet Nam’s Bac Kan province; and the application of the implementation experience in formulating the CITES Non-Detriment Finding guidance for perennial plants. In South East Europe, a conservation project is exploring the implementation of FairWild for wild plant harvesting as an income- and job-generating opportunity for people living in the vicinity of protected areas.
Q: Can you think of one product/case that exemplifies your “vision” for FairWild?
A: It is hard to think of one product! The FairWild Standard can be applied to all wild-collected plants, fungi and lichen, which can cover a wide range of different species and collection situations. We accommodate this through the performance indicators (checklist) for the Standard, which make a distinction between species considered to be at high, medium, and low risk of unsustainable harvesting. As long as the harvest and trade of the species is legally permitted, any of these species can potentially be certified – however, the expectations of the rigour of resource management and monitoring applied would differ, depending on the likely resilience to harvesting pressure and risk of population declines.
Currently, we see a number of more common species being put forward for certification. Certification of these species certainly has its ecological benefits – the landscape level approach of FairWild helps protect other sensitive species and habitats in the collection sites, and the resource management system can allow a response to sudden spikes in demand, or increasing pressure on the target species year on year. However, going forward we would like to see more “threatened” species under FairWild sustainable management. These species, for example the CITES Appendix II listed medicinal plants, like Prunus africana, Nardostachys grandiflora, or Panax quinquefolius, typically require higher levels of management and monitoring effort. We would like to see industry step up to the challenge, and demonstrate that they can be sourced sustainably and equitably – and that this can be communicated to the public.
Overall, the species that are likely to benefit most from FairWild certification are probably those that are threatened to some extent from trade, so they will benefit from protection under the certification scheme, yet are still sufficiently abundant that wild harvest and trade will be commercially viable for the foreseeable future. Species with a very small distribution may benefit more, in the end, from being brought into cultivation and/or efforts put into ecological restoration –working through an application of the FairWild Standard principles would help to make that determination.
On the social and fair trade side, the need to increase harvester incomes and introduce fair trade principles is not directly linked to the conservation threats to the target species, so we anticipate to continue to certify a wide range of different species. Our experience has shown the FairWild principles can be applicable to a variety of social and economic contexts – not just countries of the global South – so we do not apply any geographic restriction on the scheme.
Case study examples that typify different aspects of FairWild certification are:
- Baobab Adansonia digitata in Zimbabwe. Although this African species is “Not Assessed” by the IUCN Global Red List, it is not known to be under conservation threat. However, the global demand for the ingredient is increasing, following its approval as a Novel Food in the EU, and promotion as a “superfood”. This makes the species potentially vulnerable to overharvesting at the local level, affecting species recruitment and long-term population viability. This would negatively impact rural communities, who both rely on fruits as a local food source, and also for cash income. Wild collection company B’Ayoba is implementing the FairWild Standard in Zimbabwe, and certified the first collection area in 2016. They work in partnership with rural communities in some of the most marginalized regions in the country. Under FairWild, they are putting in place sustainable management systems, and also working with fair trade buyers to increase collector incomes and invest in community projects.
- Dog Rose Rosa canina in Serbia. Wild resources are relatively abundant in Central and South-East Europe; however, the region is experiencing rapid change due to high levels of rural-urban migration and the consequent loss of wild harvesting traditions. Serbia and other countries of the Balkans are important historical sources of wild medicinal and aromatic plant ingredients, which provide a valuable source of income in particular for certain regions and ethnic groups, such as the Roma and Sinti. FairWild certification of Rosa canina is providing a new boost to wild collection by the local community, is helping to preserve traditions of wild harvesting, and has enabled the company to find new opportunities supplying to cosmetics and food industries.
- Terminalia bellirica in India . A FairWild certification project in India’s Western Ghats is applying the FairWild Standard to the harvesting of Bibhitaki (T. bellirica) tree fruits, used in Ayurvedic traditional medicine. The initiative is also helping to conserve species such as the Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis – these nest in the Bibhitaki trees, which are often cut down for firewood. The FairWild certification project supported by AERF, Pukka Herbs, DICE, TRAFFIC and others encouraged local communities to harvest and sell the fruits instead of cutting down the trees. The fruits became the first FairWild-certified plant ingredient in South Asia, and are used by in the herbal products of FairWild-licensees Pukka Herbs and Banyan Botanicals. It’s an example of a win-win situation: local communities benefit, and the hornbill keep their nests
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced/are facing?
A: Creating a sustainability standard system is a major task! It is a challenge to get a balance between the different aspects needed for a well-functioning, credible system – a good governance system that is trusted by its stakeholders; a technically strong standard developed with multi-stakeholder input and set at a level that will deliver environmental and social impact; and a rigorous yet accessible assurance system. In addition, the approach to drive uptake and participation in the scheme must find the right balance between providing incentives, ensuring costs are affordable, and providing “pushes” through advocacy and targeted awareness raising. We don’t claim to have found all the answers, but we are working hard across all these areas, together with our partners.
In recent years, we have made real advances through finalizing the various policies and procedures on the certification scheme, and are now well placed for growth. However, funding remains a challenge – we have found that much of the donor investment for sustainability standards is now directed to supporting innovation for the movement as a whole (e.g. through the ISEAL Alliance), and while we can benefit from some aspects of this, it is also important to find funding for the operation of our own system, and this affects the speed at which the FairWild initiative can develop.
Wild collection itself is a fundamentally challenging sector – complex and not very transparent supply chains, a huge variety of different species in trade, and issues such as product adulteration and species identification difficulties affecting the sector. In the wider context, the trade in many wild plants used in consumer products is often under-reported, which makes them effectively ‘invisible’ in source countries that could put more effective regulations in place. We see change towards sustainability happening, but it is a long road.
Q: Do you think the proliferation of different schemes/standards complicates matters/confuses consumers?
A: The increasing number of standards and schemes does cause complications – both for consumers trying to identify credible labels, but also on the production side. Wild plant collection operations need to fill the demand of their buyers, who may request multiple certifications – increasing the complexity and costs. We are working with our stakeholders and partners to identify how FairWild requirements can be harmonized with and implemented together with those of other standards, such as organic and other fair trade systems, reducing the costs for the operators.
On the market side, we are seeing more partnerships and co-labelling approaches developing between standard systems – this is a trend that is likely to continue, and can bring some benefits to consumers in terms of a reduction in the number of labels. However, there are some challenges to find the right partner. There are a number of initiatives that provide overviews of different labels (e.g. ITC’s Standards Map), and ISEAL have also developed a guide to help consumers recognize credible labels.
For our own standard system, we would like to see FairWild maintain its position as a leading and specialized standard for wild harvesting, influencing other standards and working together with other initiatives where possible. We are open to this, and there are a few examples of recognition of FairWild by other fair trade labels already. Our labelling rules also allow for use of other certified ingredients within composite products carrying the FairWild mark.
Ultimately, because wild harvested ingredients are used in such a wide range of products (and often in small quantities), we see it as unlikely that there would be consumer recognition across the entire array in which certified ingredients are used. We aim to have consumer recognition in sectors and products where use of wild harvested ingredients is prominent (including food, herbal products, medicines); in other sectors, co-labelling approaches and B2B assurance may become more important. What matters is that companies making sustainability claims can provide evidence to back it up – FairWild can provide for this.
Q: What is your vision for the future?
A: We aim to increase participation in the certification scheme, doubling the number of companies engaged over the next few years. Simultaneously, we aim to increase our organisational capacity to support a sustainable growth in the uptake of FairWild and increase in the volume and diversity of certified ingredients traded. Beyond the certification scheme, we would like to see FairWild principles influence industry in other ways, through incorporation into sourcing policy (i.e. codes of practice at company and/or industry association level). There are already some examples of this – but it needs to go faster!
We would also like to see a more supportive and inclusive policy and regulatory environment for sustainable harvest and trade, providing incentives for responsible practice. Often we see that wild plant collection companies and trading partners would like to do the right thing, but are struggling with bureaucratic and inadequate permit systems. There may be no real control over resource management at the local level at all. We work with partners to try to influence and improve this where possible, and also to get a higher attention paid to wild plant issues in policy arenas such as the CBD. Adherence to FairWild is included as an indicator of progress on implementation of the Target 12 of CBD’s Global Strategy on Plant Conservation – but achievement of the goals on sustainable sourcing are acknowledged to be slow.
On the side of species conservation and sustainable use, major progress is still needed to assess the use, trade and conservation threat status of key resources, and develop species management plans. Sustainable harvesting and trade of NWFPs/MAPs needs to be better integrated in national strategies and action plans, and NWFPs resources into the management of timber concessions and production forests. A corresponding investment also needs to be made into building the capacity of resource managers around the application of sustainable harvesting and trade practices.
Our FairWild vision overall is of “a fair and sustainable future for wild plant resources and people” – we invite others to join with us in making it happen!
 FairWild Foundation. 2010. FairWild Standard: Version 2.0. FairWild Foundation, Weinfelden, Switzerland. Available from: http://www.fairwild.org/documents/
 FairWild Foundation. 2010. FairWild Standard: Version 2.0 / Performance Indicators. FairWild Foundation, Weinfelden, Switzerland. Available from: http://www.fairwild.org/documents/
 For more information: http://www.fairwild.org/news/2017/8/8/new-fairwild-certification-project-brings-sustainable-and-et.html
 For more information: http://www.fairwild.org/news/2017/8/14/wild-about-rose-hips-in-serbia-newly-certified-ingredients-o.html
 Read more here: http://www.traffic.org/traffic-bulletin/traffic_pub_bulletin_27_1_FairWild_certification_in_India.pdf
 For an opinion piece on the need for better regulations, see: http://www.traffic.org/traffic-bulletin/traffic_pub_bulletin_28_2_plant_trade_regs.pdf