All wild-harvested plant-based products sourced sustainably
Contributors: N. Crouch, M. Pfab, V. Williams, A. Cunningham & D. Raimondo
South Africa has well over 2 000 plant species that are recorded as used locally for medicinal purposes – more than a tenth of the total flora. In addition to medicine, many more species are used by rural communities for food, fuel, building materials and rituals. The total number of utilised plant species has not been determined. Between 2011 and 2014, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) ran a process to determine which species are threatened or declining due to utilisation, and therefore requiring listing as threatened or protected in terms of South Africa’s National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA), Act No. 10 of 2004.
A total of 172 plant taxa were nominated for listing on the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) List. The four main utilisation pressures leading to species qualifying for listing are, in order of impact: collecting for the specialist horticultural trade (52% of species on TOPS); medicinal plant collecting for trade in local muthi markets (30%); cut flower harvesting (7%); and harvesting for formal biotrade (6%).
This target will focus on developing interventions to promote sustainability for plant-based products sourced for the specialist horticultural trade, the medicinal plant trade and for harvesting for formal commercial trade. Cut flower harvesting is dealt with under Target 6 of this strategy.
Specialist horticultural trade
Many of South Africa’s unusual plants are in demand by local and international plant collectors. Illegal collection from wild populations takes place to supply this demand. Particularly vulnerable to illegal harvesting are slow growing species such as cycads, euphorbias and haworthias. Those species with restricted distributions are most at risk of becoming highly threatened or going extinct in the wild.
Local medicinal trade
About a third of all species known to be utilised for medicine (656 species) are traded in local muthi markets. Trade in traditional medicines was estimated at R2.9 billion per year in 2007, with at least 133 000 people employed in the trade – many of whom are rural-based women. Wild harvesting and trade in medicinal species is an important livelihood for low income communities in South Africa. The majority of medicinal plants occur and are utilised in the eastern parts of South Africa. The Red List of South African Plants (Target 2) shows that of the 656 medicinal plant species that are traded, 134 are not being sustainably sourced and subpopulations are undergoing rapid declines, with 56 of these already listed as threatened with extinction.
Due to the ongoing trend of urbanisation, most of the demand for medicinal plants comes from South Africa’s urban centres. In order to service this demand, extensive unsustainable harvesting is taking place with whole subpopulations of important species already extirpated. Due to high levels of unemployment in South Africa, many individuals are opportunistically becoming involved in this trade. High levels of wastage of plant materials in the markets have been reported. Of concern is that South Africans who live in rural communal areas and who depend on access to wild plants for their healthcare and general well-being, are having their plants stolen by opportunist muthi harvesters and traders. Urgent action is required to ensure the conservation of the 134 species in decline due to harvesting. Without a coordinated approach to this conservation issue, Target 12 of the GSPC is unattainable. There is evidently a need to establish systems to help protect medicinal plant species from unregulated harvesting for urban markets.
At least eight South African plants are harvested in very high volumes and sold commercially for medicine, teas or cosmetics. These species include Pelargonium sidoides, P. reniforme, Harpagophytum procumbens and Aloe ferox, which are used in the pharmaceutical industry and four species from the genus Cyclopia, used to produce honeybush tea. The high volumes involved are currently sourced from wild populations of these species, with offtake presenting a potential threat. The management of the trade of these taxa is regulated under Chapter 6 on Bioprospecting Access and Benefit Sharing (BABS) of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA), Act No. 10 of 2004. Baseline resource assessments against which the impact of future harvesting can be measured have been undertaken thus far only for P. sidoides and A. ferox. Resource assessments are required for all of the remaining taxa in the biotrade category. Ongoing monitoring of the impacts of extraction for biotrade is required for these species, as are autecological studies to inform harvesting guidelines.
Target 12 outcomes for 2020
12.1. A landscape approach to the conservation of medicinal plants developed and implemented.
12.2. The option of substituting wild sourced medicinal plants with cultivated plants investigated.
12.3. The demand for wild sourced plants in the horticultural collector’s trade diminished through increased availability of cultivated material.
12.4. Species harvested from the wild for the formal biotrade managed sustainably.
|Target 12: All wild-harvested plant-based products sourced sustainably|
|12.1. A landscape approach to the conservation of medicinal plants developed and implemented.||12.1.1 Comprehensive baseline data for 134 medicinal species of conservation concern obtained by collating and georeferencing all herbarium specimens; by conducting targeted fieldwork across the eastern parts of the country and running a Medicinal Plant Atlas on iSpot.||12.1.1. SANBI, contracted independent botanists and iSpot users.||12.1.1. 2015–2016|
12.1.2. Priority areas for the conservation of medicinal plants identified through conducting a spatial biodiversity planning exercise. Priority areas identified in the plan categorised as:
i) Resource conservation sites that require strict protection where no harvesting is allowed (preferentially located in protected areas and privately owned land).
ii) Culturally significant resource use areas; those areas with a high diversity of plants used medicinally and for rituals (located in communal areas or on state land surrounding urban areas).
|12.1.2. SANBI’s Scientific Authority and contracted conservation planner.||12.1.2. 2016–2017|
|12.1.3. Projects to establish sustainable utilisation programmes for three culturally significant resource use areas piloted.||12.1.3. SANBI to contract service provider using GEF 5 funding.||12.1.3. 2017–2020|
|12.2. The option of substituting wild sourced medicinal plants with cultivated plants investigated.||12.2.1. A systematic review to evaluate the social context of the demand, and related trends (historic, current and future) in medicinal plant markets undertaken.||12.2.1. Anthropologist commissioned by Wildlife Economy section SANBI||12.2.1. 2015–2016|
|12.2.2. A systematic review of the economics of the trade and use of medicinal plants in South Africa and its contribution to the healthcare of its citizens undertaken.||12.2.2. Resource economist commissioned by Wildlife Economy section of Biodiverstiy Research, Assesment and Monitoring Division (BRAM) in SANBI.||12.2.2. 2015–2016|
|12.2.3 Based on the results of the systematic reviews (12.2.1. & 12.2.2.), the feasibility of state-subsidised cultivation of 50 species to replace wild sourced material investigated.||12.2.3. Wildlife Economy section of BRAM in SANBI.||
|Target 12: All wild-harvested plant-based products sourced sustainably (cont.)|
|12.3. The demand for wild sourced plants in the horticultural collector’s trade diminished as a result of cultivated material being made available.||12.3.1. A strategy devised to secure mother stock for ex situ propagation to supply the specialist horticulture market.||12.3.1. SANBI (Scientific Authority and SANBI Gardens).||12.3.1. 2018|
|12.3.2. Economic incentives for the conservation of wild cycad populations developed, involving the propagation of wild-harvested seeds for augmentation of wild populations and for trade purposes in accordance with CITES Resolution Conf. 11.11 (Rev. CoP15).||12.3.2. SANBI (Scientific Authority).||12.3.2. 2018|
|12.3.3. Taxonomists encouraged to facilitate the provision of mother stock to specialist growers for long-lived, slow-growing species as soon as possible after the discovery of the species.||12.3.3. SANBI (Threatened Species Programme).||12.3.3. 2018|
|12.4. Species harvested from the wild for biotrade managed sustainably.||12.4.1. Resources assessments commissioned for five commercially harvested species.||12.4.1. DEA Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit-Sharing (BABS) unit.||12.4.1. 2020|
|12.4.2. Harvesting permits ensuring sustainable extraction of resource in accordance with findings of resource assessments.||12.4.2. Provincial conservation agencies.||12.4.2. Annual|
|12.4.3. Resource assessment data centralised in a single database to be used as a baseline for future monitoring.||12.4.3. SANBI Scientific Authority.||12.4.3. 2017|
|12.4.4. Autecological studies conducted and harvesting guidelines produced that also take social and cultural factors into account.||12.4.4. Ecology students with funding from SANBI’s Scientific Authority.||12.4.4. 2016–2020|
|12.4.5. Monitoring conducted of status of populations for priority biotraded species.||12.4.5. SANBI Scientific Authority.||12.4.5. 2020|