Defining plants as integral to any ecosystem as the primary producers feeding local wildlife as well as humans, experts say that changes in the sustainability of wild plants could have a catastrophic effect on the whole trophic (ecological) pyramid.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the occasion of FairWild Week, Anastasiya Timoshyna, a senior program coordinator on sustainable trade at the wildlife trade watchdog TRAFFIC, said the biggest flows of wildlife in trade involve plants, not animals, contrary to general belief.

“Any major changes in this primary food source could have a catastrophic effect on the entire trophic pyramid,” she said, referring to key roles of plants as “producers” within the food chain in nature.

Launched in 2017, FairWild Week is an annual online campaign that aims to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable and equitable trade in wild plant ingredients. This year’s campaign will take place on June 21-25 with the theme “Wild Plants are Our Business”.

Touching on the large-scale use of wild plants in daily life, Timoshyna noted that many common products such as herbal remedies, food, drinks, cosmetics, supplements, and even furniture are derived from wild-harvested plants.

She went on to say that food and medicinal uses and revenue from trade are the main reasons for collecting wild plants.

“International trade, land-use changes, habitat degradation and climate change are some of the key threats facing wild plants. The global increase in the trade in plant resources is an important factor to consider when discussing the threats and trends to this group of species,” Timoshyna noted, citing the TRAFFIC reports “Wild at Home” in 2018 and “The Invisible Trade” in 2020.

Saying that around 26,000 plant species have a well-documented medicinal or aromatic use and approximately 3,000 of these are traded internationally, she stressed that an estimated 60%-90% of internationally traded species are harvested directly from the wild.

Timoshyna went on to say that approximately 11% of wild plant species are considered threatened with extinction in the wild based on International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria.

“The potential loss of any wild plant could significantly impact local ecosystems and the food chains that it supports. Direct or indirect adverse impacts on food chains can be seen all across the globe,” she warned.

FairWild standards, certification system

As a response to these concerns, working with partners around the world, the FairWild Foundation aims to improve the sustainable use of wild plants both in trade and wild collection via the FairWild Standard and FairWild certification.

The FairWild Standard is a set of guidelines that ensures the continued use and long-term survival of wild plant species in their habitats while FairWild certification means that buyers – from ingredient traders to consumers – know they are dealing with legally, ethically and sustainably harvested products.

“Sustainable wild harvesting under the FairWild Standard can provide the incentive and systems to maintain a wild plant’s habitat to the benefit of other species and entire ecosystems,” said Timoshyna.

Giving an example from China, she underlined that the sustainable collection of Schisandra berries informed by FairWild Standard principles provides 30%-60% of the annual income of villages in the region.

“Consumers and businesses can start down the path to responsible consumption today by using FairWild ingredients or looking for the FairWild label on products,” she said, referring to a way to benefit from the wild without unsustainable harvesting of wild plants.

She said FairWild certification is an important tool for trading in or using wild-harvested plant ingredients in an ecologically sustainable and socially responsible way.

FairWild Week campaign

Recalling this year’s theme of “Wild Plants are our Business” Emily King, business engagement officer at the FairWild Foundation, said the theme will encourage existing partners along with those not yet engaged with FairWild by participating in the #WeUseWild challenge on social media platforms during the week.

“The aim is to increase consumer and business awareness of wild-harvested ingredients while encouraging sharing of responsible sourcing advice and tips, putting a wider share of the industry on the path towards responsible sourcing,” she noted.

The week will kick off with the “Wild Plants are Our Business” webinar and a discussion on why wild plants are everyone’s business, with the participation of the American Botanical Council’s Sustainable Herbs Program, TRAFFIC and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization as well as the FairWild Foundation, she said.

Until the end of the week on June 25, there will be more webinars, social media challenges and online campaigns regarding the issues on the benefits of wild plant ingredients, fair harvesting, threats to these species and trade volumes.

“The FairWild Foundation works multilaterally throughout the supply chain, working with those who harvest, companies that buy and sell the ingredients, and manufacturers and marketers of finished products,” said King.

She said the foundation also supports harvesters, traders and processors on the ground to ensure that the collection of wild species from nature is ecologically sustainable.

“Consumers can play their part by purchasing FairWild-labeled products and asking brands they buy from what wild ingredients they use, where they’re from, and what they do to protect the species and the collectors involved,” King said, referring to steps, can be taken to protect wild plants.

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